This has been weighing pretty heavily on me the last few weeks. A friend of mine refuses to train in anything related to kata, but he's familiar with the concepts behind them because I've tried to "evangelize" him to our bunkai ways over the last decade or so. Recently, we had a conversation about kata and bunkai, the pros and cons. He acquiesced the fact that kata practice had value, but kept bringing up the point that we don't actually know the original intentions of the creators of the kata because it has been lost to time. Since that is true, I couldn't refute the point. He went on to suggest that the only way to learn karate bunkai at all would be to study other styles and see where movements are similar, but that such an endeavor would be for a karateka interested in exploring their style and the broader world of martial arts.
I've spent the last few weeks pondering the conclusions that we reached in that conversation: that karate and kung-fu styles that we have both studied (as they were originally created) are lost to time, that kata/form training has real value if the original bunkai is known, and that learning other styles in an attempt to reconstruct the bunkai of "dead" (his word) kata is great for the prosperity of karate but not an efficient way of gaining combative skill.
Given that the above is true (and I'm open to hearing refutations for any or all of it), it appears to me that the best way forward (when talking about efficiency, which seems to be the goal of kata in the first place) is to learn "kata-less" arts that teach a certain range of combat (boxing, muay thai, etc.) and create our own kata for the close range movements that require a partner to practice (judo, jujutsu, etc.).
I'm not suggesting that such is the way forward, or that these conclusions are ironclad (as I said, I welcome refutations), but if they are then this makes sense to me. My primary goal is combative skill, but a close second is enjoyment of the martial arts, and I enjoy practicing karate very much.
Any thoughts on this?