Coming from a more 'pragmatic' than 'traditional' background, I am incredibly skeptical about patterns / kata. The explanations I have been given did nothing to change my mind. If I asked a teacher why we do a pattern, I get answers like 'its for balance, developing technique, power, mental fortitude e.c.t.' and clearly that is wrong. Its not an efficient way to train for those qualities. I like Iains explanation of patterns because it makes sense. Its something I can accept as true. If we take patterns as what they are, a way of recording techniques, this gives them value.
Or does it? because the patterns are an abstraction of those techniques, and therefore the meaning is lost. Its like recording a dvd for people in the future, but no dvd player. The old masters recorded these techniques for us, but we have no way of determining the origional techniques. Any bunkai we do is our interpritation of those kata. And if we are imposing our own techniques onto them, then we are not doing what the origional masters wanted, even if we try really hard to.
In light of that, bunkai becomes a framework that we (maybe even subconciously) insert our favorite techniques into. my question then, is that seeing as we ultimatly choose what techniques we think that kata records, all it is recording is us. It no longer fullfils the role of a method of recording. If kata is a starting point for bunkai, why not skip it and go straight to a bunkai based system, i.e. drilling a technique?