(Originally written around 2015…?)
There are three karate terms that are pivotal concepts in karate training, however two are often neglected while the third is confused to be more than it actually is.
The first term in Bunkai (分解), which almost all karate practitioners, and even those from other styles have heard, but usually misunderstand. Bunkai is often used to mean something along the lines of “applications of forms.” However this is not what Bunkai is at all. Bunkai literally translates to “breakdown” or “analysis.” This can be done when taking a form and examining a section of it, but can also be done with an individual technique.
So why is this process of breaking down and analyzing (Bunkai) forms and techniques important? Most people know the answer to this. It is done so that an application can be found and experimented with. This leads us to our second term, the often neglected Ōyo (応用). Ōyō is the actual application that we seek. As soon as something is being applied it is now ōyō. Are all applications viable? Absolutely not! So what happens when a movement does not fit what we want to apply it to? As students often ask, “what if…?”
This is where we get into slightly modifying a technique, so that it’ll do what we want it to. This change is called henka (変化) and is a natural and integral part of training in karate. Techniques can be modified for a variety of reasons, such as: to accommodate a height difference, weight difference, footing, angle, a perceived counter, setting up a counter, etc. This is why there is such variety in how kata are performed throughout styles. Slight changes were introduced throughout history and even under the same teacher you’ll find students doing things differently, and often enough you’ll find it’s because, “that’s how Sensei showed me to do it.”
So remember bunkai is not an application of forms but a way of studying it’s parts. Applications are actually ōyō. And change is not always bad.