Karate Bunkai: 3 Levels of Kata Application (Omote, Ura, Honto)

One of the most important things in karate is bunkai, the practical
applications of kata. (rock music) But did you know that there are actually three different kinds of bunkai? Three types of ways that
you can apply the moves of the ancient karate forms. Well, in today’s video I’m gonna teach you about those three types of bunkai and how to know which
one that you should do. Keep watching. (upbeat music) The first type of bunkai is
called omote in Japanese. (bouncy music) Omote literally translates to surface because what you see is what you get, meaning if something looks like a block then that’s exactly what it is. A block is a block. A kick is a kick. A punch is a punch. Let’s use a low sweeping
block as an example known as gedan barai uke in Japanese. But usually we just call it a gedan barai. (rock music) See, if something looks like a duck and quacks like a duck,
and swims like a duck then it’s probably a duck. (duck quack) No need to over-complicate stuff because karate moves need to be simple to be effective,
otherwise you’re not gonna remember them if you ever have to use them in real life self defense. Occam’s razor, the easiest solution is usually the right one, so if something looks like a block, that’s what we’re gonna use it for. So when I teach a kata to
a beginner in my classes, I usually the omote type bunkai first because it’s so easy for them to contextualize the move, and it immediately gives them a sense of purpose for the techniqure they’re using. But what if you wanna do a more realistic interpretation of kata? Well, that’s the next step, ura. (bouncy music) Ura is Japanese for back,
or the other side of omote. So if omote is the surface,
the first type of bunkai, then ura is the other side,
the stuff that you don’t see. In other words, a block is
a lock is a blow is a throw. To use the exact same
example that we had before, let’s imagine a low block
applied with the ura approach. (rock music) See? What first started off
at a long distance range as a block, now turned into a medium to short distance range attack. But it’s still the exact
same cosmetic appearance of the technique. In other words, the form remains the same but the function changes because what you see is
not always what you get. Essentially, ura bunkai
are hidden, or secret, not because somebody
intentionally tried to hide the bunkai of the technique from you, but because honestly we don’t really know what the application is, because the true purpose
of many kata techniques have been lost in the sands of time. This is partly because Okinawa was bombed during the second World War, and a lot of the original
writings from the old masters were lost, but also because many of
the old Okinawan masters were an-anphabets. They were illiterate. They actually couldn’t write, so everything was handed
down through oral testimony, and since the Japanese culture in general is based on conformity, meaning you don’t wanna be
the nail that sticks out. You don’t really ask any questions, you don’t apply critical thinking, so even if you don’t
understand the true purpose of a movement, you don’t
dare ask your sensei what the true meaning is. So basically, you’re left to
figuring it out on your own, which leads to this
myth that that there are secret or hidden techniques in kata, also known as ura bunkai, when actually they’re
hidden in plain sight, and that brings us to the
third and last type of bunkai, honto bunkai. (bouncy music) Honto literally means true
or honest in Japanese, and it is the real
interpretation of the kata move. The actual meaning that
the creator of the kata had in mind when they made up the kata hundreds of years ago. So while something
might look like a block, or might look like an attack, in reality it might be
something completely different. (rock music) There are a couple of
distinguishing criteria for knowing when a technique
is honto, the truth. For instance, the hikite,
the pulling, withdrawing, or passive hand is always being used because it actually serves
a functional purpose rather than just being at the
side of your hip for show. Another way that you can
distinguish a honto bunkai is the distance, because
now it’s even closer, and the reason is simple. A real self defense
scenario, which of course is the original purpose of kata, always happens when you least expect it, when someone is super close, because if a person is
facing you from a distance that is consensual fighting,
that’s a street fight, because you can clearly see the guy who’s about to attack you
and you’re ready for it, which actually means that
you have the luxury to escape if possible, but self defense is
when you cannot escape, when it’s impossible to do anything else but actually use your karate skills to defeat the attacker. Not to win, but to not lose. In Japanese we call this
karate ni sente nashi. The purpose of karate is self defense, and this is expressed through kata. Apart from the hikite
and the close distance, another characteristic of honto bunkai is that they always finish the fight, ’cause it’s not enough
to just block an attack, or to just attack your
opponent in the groin, you have to end the fight
with the A,B,C,D,E’s. A stands for airflow, meaning
you deprive your opponent of air by choking them
out or suffocating them. B stands for blood, meaning you strangle them instead, so they can’t get any oxygen to the brain, and they pass out. C stands for consciousness, meaning you knock somebody unconscious and the fight is usually over by then. D stands for dislocation, meaning you break their
arm, you break their leg, whatever, so that the
fight hopefully is over, or at least your opponent is neutralized so that you can E, escape safely and go home to your wife, kids,
family, husband, whatever. Because it’s not enough
to just know the form, we have to understand the function, because they’re just two
sides of the same coin, and a kata without its
underlying principles of self defense is nothing
but a fancy war dance, and this is martial arts, not ballet. No offense to all you
ballet dancers out there. I’ve actually tried some ballet myself, and its wonderful. ♪ Hallelujah, hallelujah ♪ It is an art, but it is not a martial art, and karate must remain a
martial art at all times. Paradoxically enough, even
if you compete in kata where you’re judged only
on the physical appearance of the form, if you actually understand the bunkai, the intent of each technique, it will change your whole performance because now you have the right spirit, and everybody can sense that. Makes sense? I hope so. Train hard, good luck, have fun, and drop your comment below.

56 thoughts on “Karate Bunkai: 3 Levels of Kata Application (Omote, Ura, Honto)

  1. Love it ! Great lesson. I love learning all I can about original bunkai. We can count on you to stay true to the original Okinawa karate teachings.

  2. Kind of like with the speed bag how do we use the motion sure it's useful to learn how to hit someone that's coming towards you and timing but the only time it's useful as a hammer fist Wich we see in mma and not boxing so why is it there?

  3. Lesson to all teachers hidden knowledge is not instructive and to the students out there avoid any one trying to sell you "hidden/secret knowledge" if they cant explain it they probably dont understand it.

  4. It was that Freaking Block from SHOTOKAN Unsu " that poped up into my head while u were explaining Omote Bunkai😂 Then i realized the video with Sensei Lian abernethy
    Oss Jesse , Wonderful Explanations..🥋

  5. Kyokushin being my start in karate, definitely did not include any of this knowledge. Thanks for the information. I'm trying to adapt your mind set of practicing all karate, not styles.

  6. sir ur explanation is super,"we can trace the original roots of kata in india at kerala & tamilnadu places namely kalaripaiyat and marmakalai if ur interested u can see ancient scripts available", all the best & have a nice day..!!!!!

  7. I practice several katas. Each kata has a personality of its own. To gain deeper understanding, it is necessary to visualize actual combat. Thus this particular video is quite timely. Thanks.

  8. 本当にびっくりした! Ballet is tough! Tougher than martial arts, in some ways. We view is as delicate and elegant, but the amount of inner strength – physical and emotional – it takes to make it look that way is herculean. Ballerinas are athletes, more than anything else. Don’t underestimate them 🙌🏼 anyway, I read these terms for the first time in Paul Walker Sensei’s book “lessons with the master”. It was just a little note and didn’t offer much explanation (if you have read the book, you will know it’s a diary of his 3 years training in the JKA hombu under Master Kanazawa and some of his best senior instructors, so it mentions something it was talked/taught about in the dojo, sometimes going into detail but other times leaving it at that). So I had a note in my own diary to research this topic (still hadn’t gotten to it) and suddenly here you bring us this video! So thank you very much for making it! The amount of things I don’t know surpasses the ones I think I know. Always learning 🙃

  9. Where do you see Bunkai going? Will the big international org accept truthful bunkai? Will we be seeing this in competitions, rather than omote bunkai performance?

  10. Great video Enkamp Sensei , your final words and explanation are great and full of knowledge , and think the same about the traditional visión of the kata and the meaning of bunkai

  11. To those who think kata is useless muct watch this video. Kata is the base of all fighting stances and techniques ❤💪👌👌👌

  12. aside from those 3, there's another one which is buki (weapon), in which the kata movement either comes from weapon usage, or can be used with weapon. for the low block example in the video, you can try it by holding a bo stick. further bunkai of it may come from using sickle(s) or other farming tools : )

  13. I love Kata. I have been practicing karate and kobudo Katas for over 30 years. Having said so I must say that some advanced bunkai are sometime leading so far from the original form that it needs to be repeated as a specific kumite of his own. So in one hand we build up conditional drills and in the other hand à specific additional work is needed to get bunkai fine understanding. Something that had always puzzled me.

    Small bone VS Big bone…what do you think is gonna win?

  15. This was the best and most informative video on kata bunkai ever ! now I understand why there are so may different versions of bunkai for same kata. thanks 😀

  16. Great video Enkamp-san. When discussing Bukai, though not a Karateka, I show Jodan Ude Uke type techniques as a possible lapel choke. Specifically Daisho Eri Jime as it is known in Judo and some styles of Jujutsu.

  17. The truth is that in Kuyokshin this was never really a topic, it took me several years to discover these other aspects of Karate. Through training with people from other styles and learning Katas which had nothing to do with Kuyokshin. Of course there are Katas in Kuyokshin, but as it is a relatively historically new style, there are examples of "black holes" which you need to fill in by studying other styles and train with people from other styles. And of course read a lot, but in the long run, all the years I have been training with athletes from different styles, has made me get a better understanding of the importance of Kata and it's practical application. A good friend of mine, she had won several national titles in Kata and many years ago she told me, you have absolutely no idea about Kata and it's execution and practical applications. That was a wake up call, since then I have constantly tried improving my Katas, but still after so many year's, I have only seen the tip of the iceberg. I wish I had discovered it before and paid more attention to it rather than being stuck with bad habits, "incorrect execution", and being an ignorant about the importance of Katas in our beautiful and fantastic sport. 🙏

  18. So good to have a traditional martial art exponent in this day and age. I believe strongly in the old techniques. Thanks for sharing your passion.

  19. Every jesse's videos tell me that Karate is the right answer. But in my country , all of that disappeared. Now it's just old sensei who doesn't want to share with younger one , they want to keep school under their belt. They run federation and they have a very close minded version of karate. Teaching kids to go to competition for fame and growing their school without any studying of Bunkai etc. In fact , i was Green Belt almost Blue belt in Wado Ryu in a well known dojo in my country. Where the sensei is one of the highest , 7th dan, with 2 students who compete in european tournaments etc. And believe me or not in 3 years of Karate i never saw Bunkai ,in fact never heard this word in 3 years. And i was friend with Brown Belt of the dojo so if thet were practicing at higher level i would have known. Sad very sad…Karate where i live is just 30min kata , 30 min kihon and 15min kumite for scoring point that's it.

  20. I learn soo much from you. My Shihan life in Japan and i send my Videos to him. Here on YouTube i learn from Jesse Sensei 🙂

  21. Great video Jesse-San. One of my favorite aspects of studying Karate is training the Ura and Honto. I love turning basic blocks or strikes into locks and throws !

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