I think that most karate masters, old timey japanese guys from the 20th century did not know the applications of the kata that they were teaching. I just got done watching a three part documentary on Mastubayashi Shorin-ryu karate. This documentary was created by Takayoshi Nagamine, who was, until he died, 10th dan, and headmaster of that style. He begin his training with his father, Shoshin Nagamine, who founded Mastubayashi Shorin-ryu, at the age of 6. His father was taught by Motobu, Kyan, and a whole bunch of other well-known Okinanwan karate-ka. Anyway, his credentials are top-notch, but in this documentary he shows the bunkai of various kata, and it is the same tired old, bollocks. We have all seen it, two or three people around you, all attacking from a distance, individually, with karate attacks that are as slow as mollasus, and you block, and block, and block, ad nauseum without any attacks. Obviously not very effective as we all know. So why would a man, who is obviously a good karate-ka, with a formidable heritage, teach such utter garbage? I posit two scenarios:
1. He knows the true applications but is reluctant to show them on camera because they are too dangerous/secret etc?
This doesn't make any sense. They say that karate takes years to master and learn. I've been doing it for a decade now and I'm still learning. Some kid watching these moves, and the true application wouldn't be able to effectively pull them off, and if they do, so what? Also, a secret? Seriously, are we living in some 1960s kung-fu movie here?
2. He doesn't know any true applications, has never thrown a punch in anger before, and the people who taught him karate didn't know the realistic applications either.
This seems the most realistic answer. If this is the case, and we have lost the applications then technically, people like Iain, and other bunkai revisionists, who look to the kata for inspiration in order to derive realistic, street-applicable applications are miles ahead of these folks, who probably didn't know anything.
This is quite the contrarian view considering all the stories that I have read regarding the old masters fighting prowess. I honestly believe that many of these folks would have been hard to beat independent of their karate training just by their very nature, but I don't think that they knew dick all with regards to the realistic application of kata. With karate being an art that has not been subject to much change in the past 100 years, you'd think that these realistic combat applications would have stuck around, and would have been passed down, and therefore dojos around the world, with decent linages would have been teaching said applications. The evidence seems to suggest otherwise.