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. 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. The first type of bunkai is
called omote in Japanese. 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. See, if something looks like a duck and quacks like a duck,
and swims like a duck then it’s probably a duck. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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.

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

  1. As always, valuable information. I am watching the video while waiting for the bus to go to my karate class, it will be a good subject to talk about.

  2. Kata is a mixture of kihon hence why we must master the kihon first. Once we have master the kata, this will help with the Kumite.

  3. btw ur cool! ur very active in youtube and ur always giving heart every tym I comment ur cool I hope I'll meet you in person and we will perform my favorite kata "heyansin shodan" hahahaha I Love karate and I Love karate users because karate is good in sports, street, and self discipline…

    I know the 7 ways of karate and I already memorize karate creed since white belt now I'm 3rdclass brownbelt

  4. Jesse you messed me up. I was expecting you to say “check it out” at the beginning but you said “keep watching” 😂😂😂😂

  5. In every material You add, You speek more and more truth. Go deeper and deeper into the world of martial arts… Thank you for your words… Hoss

  6. A friend of mine says “Okinawa is the place to find the best of Chinese martial arts nowadays” – what is the state of karate forerunner systems in China? Is there anything relevant left, do the two have much interface?

  7. Many people (very experienced in martial arts) used to say that kata is a waste of time. From the other hand i dont see kata techniques in tournaments, even from the best karatekas.

  8. I think most karateka are at the Omote level. I really enjoy trying to find the deeper meanings of kata … it's part of the life long journey of karate.

  9. What I find so cool about Karate is you categorise stuff so nicely. In Kung Fu we have a lot of the same concepts and ideas, it's just taught in such an eclectic fashion.

  10. Awesome once again Jesse. I been explaining this to my students too. I’ve been teaching in a Kyokushin dojo and it’s been an uphill struggle at times as they have “their way”. But I am slowly getting through with words of wisdom gleaned from your many videos, post and comments. Thank you.

  11. Boa tarde. Me chamo Garbiel tenho 19 anos e sou brasileiro. Tenho o prazer de ativar as legendas para traduzir e aprender com o Jesse e outras feras do karatê, hehehe.

    Good afternoon. My name is Garbiel I'm 19 years old and I'm Brazilian. I'm happy to enable subtitles to translate and learn from Jesse and other karate beasts, hehehe.

  12. Absolutely loved this video! We have three sensei’s at our university dojo, basics & combinations, kata, then Kumite. I’m the kata instructor and was struggling to come up with an explanation for bunkai and make it interesting for the new comers. Very helpful video sensei Jesse !!

  13. Great! Watching your videos and Iain Abernethy sensei videos really brought me to a better understanding of kata. I try it myself all the time, and I find that it opened for me a whole new level of Karate

  14. I heard one of the several reasons the most realistic bunkai was lost was because a watered down version of karate was used when it was introduced to kids in schools in Okinawa and Japan.
    While the original intent was keeping the adult training of karate more realistic, many people grew to believe that the watered down version was all there was, without throws, joint attacks and other nasty applications that they didn't want kids to practice until they had matured.

  15. Mr. Enkamp, I love your videos. I used to train karate ages ago and i've always admired many aspects of karate that are mostly over looked this day in age. One thing I noticed is that your always sporting a fresh, clean karate Gi. Im a purple belt in Bjj and we get seriouslty dirty. Do karatekas ever dirty thier gi? can you make a video describing the different parts of the gi and maintenance tips please. That would be awesome. I envy the striking martial arts because they never seem to get dirty. Thank you and fight on, the answer lies in the heart of battle.

  16. At the begining sorry for my poor English. I have to add someone about kyokushin. In deep past I practiced Shotokan by 15 years. 15 years ago I was asked by my colleague to join to his kyokushin team. I known this style because when I was an rookie in karate I have practice kyokushin first. This style was to hard, for my weak body and mind, but … I found Shotokan. I stayed in Shotokan by 15 years, so I was familiar with bunkai. It was someting what I looked for. Then when I was asked about convert back on kyokushin I was very sceptic for this style, but above mentioned team of my collegue belong to kyokushin-KAN. It was someting different. There was finally bunkai, shorten and more moveable stances. All these things was applied into kata. Dynamic of movenment was much higher, and feeling of technic was more real. In mean time I practiced some boxing, defendo wich is not style and rather simple but real effective street fighting system. All of these experiences shown me that very important is looking for and own way and collecting differences and experiences. Kyokushin ways are really different just now, e.g. Shinkyokushin are more focus on sport line and knockdown sport competitions. Their katas are completly detached from reality whithout any bunkai. Now, if you look what Shihan Hiroto Okazaki of kyokushin-kan show in bunkai of kata in look really good, but still look more like omote/level one. Even if it is omote-level gives practitioners view on realistng things hiden in katas.

  17. Thank you for sharing your knowledge. This makes sense in all martial arts. Im not karate student but same things aply. Samsame but different.

  18. The thing about the Omate and Ura bunkai application is no one will naturally block like that. Try using the hand that comes out before the baria as the block. This is a natural flinch reaction to a kick then the baria just must be drilled to form a load up to attack. After all from the limited Japanese i know Uke doesn’t mean block I understand it means to receive?

  19. If the real meaning of the movement were lost because of the war and because of the Okinawa Karate practioneer mentality, how does exist Onto Bunkai?

  20. And then, despite that incredible videos like this are available, there's still "kata is useless-people", as I like to call them XD

  21. JESSIE: Question. Do you consider Ura level bunkai to be suitable for intermediate students as you state above? I would think that the 'secret" "hidden" techniques of Ura bunkai would be something advanced karateka or senior students would be able to interprate. Thoughts?

  22. Thanks Jesse Sensei! I didn't know about these three bunkai approaches, till I watched this video. For example, when I learned Heian Shodan, the explanation I got for the way we turn to the right, after the first two steps of the kata (gedan-barain to the left and oi-zuki) turning to an opponent in your back, with your right (outside) shoulder, instead with your left (inside) one, which it would take more time in my mind. Now, if I use honto approach, the right-shoulder turn, could be a combination of an ura-mawashi-geri plus an ura-ken attack to an opponent coming towards your right side, while you are finishing your left opponent with oi-zuki . That opens an infinite number of applications for each kata (apologies for my bad English).

  23. To be fair, I really don't think Gedan Barai looks like a block at all. A good video though, on the basic interpretations of techniques.

    I don't mean to be rude in any way either, and I definitely see the value in the three methods of bunkai and oyo (four if you include variations of a technique).

    Thank you for bringing more awareness in the karate community to more effective methods of teaching and training.

  24. Excellent again. I had no idea there were three levels. With regard to the first level, I have heard that "no technique ends in a block", so the low block to deflect a kick?

  25. Yet another video that should be required viewing for instructors (I'm going to have to stop writing this on your videos – it's going to get repetitive, lol). Heck, it should probably be required viewing for all students too, although I guess there's a potential danger there of wanting to run before they can walk('but when are we going to work on the 'real' bunkai, sensei?'…) – simply having that explanation that the 'explanations' we were given as beginners (the omote) were just to give us a hook to hang our understanding on, rather than the final meanings, could have been very useful (and might, here in the west, encourage some to continue training who otherwise become discouraged by 'traditional martial arts not being practical' – as you point out, our society teaches us to question more – this has advantages and disadvantages…). I truly believe that the work you are doing here (like Sensei's Abernethy and McCarthy) is of great importance for the future of Karate as a whole.

  26. Jesse sensei, how about "oyo bunkai"? I understand the concept of "honto bunkai" but I have doubts, as you said, we can´t know for sure the true purpose of the techniques because they got lost.

  27. I have never trained Karate but i have learnt so much about it thru your videos, specially with the Okinawan Karate series you did that my interest has grown and the practical approach is superb. you get the feeling of what a martial art should be not just to look pretty but to be effective. Thank you!!

  28. Do you have full Kata Bunkai videos on your channel? I would love your explanations on kata, you've really rekindled my interest in Karate from years ago, despite training mostly in BJJ and Muay Thai these days.

  29. Wish karate clubs start doing kickboxing compitions on top of there normal WKF ruleset. I think Kata is a waste of time, and no one will ever chainge my mind on that.

  30. I love Katas. Learning one now. They’re tricky. What I love is their grace, precision, hidden blocks and strikes, and power

  31. Great video as always Jesse! When I get to open my school in the not near future, all of your explanations would be my core foundation. I have been training for 8 years but you help me explain it better!

  32. Great video as always. However, I see no need to teach or learn the "omote" and "ura" bunkai first since there is no practical application for them in self defense. Not to mention that it will take you endless hours of wasted training sessions to go through each omote kata bunkai :/

  33. One of your best videos Jesse. Excellent explanation of the very purpose of kata, so often forgotten. Nice to remind everyone that the reason we do what we do is ultimately so we have the weapons to defend ourselves if ever in an unfortunate situation. Thank you for your continued lessons, Sensei

  34. Awesome and fully comprehensive, eloquent and coherent explanation, of the various functions and interpretations of bunkai (application), in the various katas Sensei Jesse! In Kyokushin Karate often the same kata, across the various dojos, of the various, autonomous Kyokushin Karate organisations, can have slight different applications or bunkai interpretations and explanations, of the same movements. I definitely agree that performing a kata, without knowing or understanding its full meaning and applications of its movements, is like performing a dance or theatrical, miming routine. Looking forward to more of these videos from you, Osu!🇦🇺😊👍✌

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