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Bunkai, the art of analyzing a Kata


BunkaiBunkai, the art of analyzing a Kata ...

Bunkai in Japanese means "analyze, demonstrate or decompose". In a word : " Search«

So when we talk about Bunkai for a kata, it is in fact to do a research, to analyze this Kata to give meaning to the movements that compose it.

The goal is to find in each technique a real application of self-defense so that each Kata becomes a method of complete self-defense.

What are the Kata for?

A Kata is a well codified sequence of techniques with a precise form to respect.

Kata, which can be translated as "form", has several roles in learning Karateka:

  • A purely gymnastic role, which allows to work the body in a harmonious way.
  • A role of memorization, which allows to work his brain,
  • a role of meditation that will improve your concentration, ...

In short, the practice of Kata on a daily basis will allow you to develop your body and mind. Each kata makes us evolve in the knowledge of more or less different gestures that our body and our mind will assimilate better and better so that each of these gestures become engine diagrams as natural as the action of walking, of climbing a staircase , or ride a bike ...

But out of the pure context of Kata, we often wonder what is the point of learning these gestures that often seem far removed from reality.

That's where the Bunkai come in!

It should not be forgotten that Karate is not just a fighting sport, nor a simple gymnastics but that it is above all a method of self-defense.

The Kata, which are one of the pillars, or even the main pillar of Karate learning, can not therefore be limited to having only a role of learning gestures without utilities. These gestures must be able to be applied by the Karateka when he needs to defend himself, otherwise the very foundation of Karate would be meaningless.

Formerly, the Kata were transmitted from Master to students, but with an oral accompaniment that made it easier to find the meaning of each gesture and to understand what the Master Creator of Kata wanted to teach.

This oral teaching has unfortunately disappeared and we must now analyze by ourselves the kata to discover the hidden treasures. In fact I think it's not worse and I'm going to explain why ...

Karate is an art, Bunkai is the study of this art:

Karate is more than a sport or a method of self-defense, it is an art in the true sense of the word, ie an activity whose product is aimed at the senses, emotions, intuitions and intellect.

If we consider Karate as an art, we can consider each Kata as a work of art and like most works of art, we no longer have the explanation of Master to understand his message. So we will put ourselves in the shoes of an art critic and try to discover what the Kata are hiding.

What I like about Bunkai it is because, as we no longer have the Master's oral accompaniment, we must dig our brains by ourselves in order to decode a Kata.

The advantage is that we are all different, with different sensibilities, different needs ...

As for the interpretation of a painting or a poem, there are as many different interpretations of a kata as there are karatekas.

Everyone will find different applications because we are all different and that's what makes the richness of our art.

The Bunkai, the art of decoding a Kata:

So when you analyze a Kata, do not focus on what the Kata Master Creator meant. I think that anyway nobody really knows it and that in addition it would perhaps be of no use to you because we do not live at the same time, our needs are different, our sensations are different ...

In short, take in the kata what YOU need for YOU now.

To find the Bunkai of a kata (when I say Bunkai, I mean YOUR Bunkai, or one of your bunkai, because no Bunkai holds the truth ...),
take a Kata and consider it a "think stupid". As if this Kata was a complete collection of self defense techniques. It must be able to respond to all types of aggression.

So, for each technique of Katayou will try to find one or more answers for a given attack.

Ex : What can I answer with the first movement of Heian Shodan (Gedan Barai + OiZuki) if I get caught in the throat, or if I'm kicked, or if I'm punched, or if push me ???

For each attack, you search for an answer or several answers in the kata motor diagram, by analyzing each gesture, each small movement ...

You have to read in the 2th degree and do not stay locked in the role usually given to Gedan Barai, or OiZuki ... Think about movement and not technique and you'll find plenty of answers for each attack.

You should also consider that attacks rarely come from a Karateka. Indeed the probability of having to defend yourself one day in the street against a karate is low. You will have to defend yourself against someone who strangles you, who seizes you, who pushes you, who spits you in the face, ... very often in melee rather than in fist-fight ... etc.

In short, think self defense method and not modern Karate (type "classic kumite") and you will better understand the interest of Katas and Bunkai.

Once you have multiple answers to give for different type of attack in each piece of Kata, you end up with a multitude of bunkais different from your Kata:

ex: the 2e answer on a seizure in the first move, then the 1er answer on a punch in the second move ..., etc., until the end of your Kata. Another Bunkai will be the 4e response on punch in the first move, then the 2th answer on kick in the second move, etc., etc. And you can create a multitude of different Bunkai for a single Kata.

The interest is that each Bunkai has a certain coherence and in the end the Kata becomes a method of complete self-defense (ex: If you are only responding to punches, your Bunkai will be incomplete ...)

It's up to you…

Here I think you've grasped the principle, it's now up to you to brainstorm to find YOUR Bunkai. You will see that by searching for yourself you will find more things than you imagine.

To go further in understanding the Bunkai, I strongly encourage you to read the excellent book of Areski Ouzrout: Bunkai: The art of decoding kata (It's a real gold mine!)

In a few days, I will publish in video my analysis of Kata Heian Shodan which should give you research leads for your own Bunkai.

In the meantime, tell me in a comment below, what is a Bunkai for you and what it represents to you!

See you soon,

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  1. Trackback: Bunkai - Where isso? - Oyama Academy

  2. Trackback: Heian Shodan's Bunkai - Defend yourself with a basic kata.

  3. Hello bruno,

    I'm going to introduce Heian Yodan in bunkai for my grade passage, I'm looking for ideas to demonstrate it, could you help me



  4. : Bunkai: The art of decoding katas (Areski Ouzrout) is a great book for who is worth to become autonomous in the understanding of his karate.

    It is very well written, easy to read ... a bit like this blog ...

    I offered it to 3 or 4 club pals.

  5. What did I retain? Bunkai and Kata, Kata is a self defense technique and Bunkai is the art of applying it during an attack given the interpretations of Kata's technical gestures.
    Regarding the exercises, I find Bruno well in his explanations simple and educational. Now I think that to master all these sequences, it is necessary to train and still train so that they become automatic. Përso I find that these videos motivate me to learn karate. So Bruno I hope soon join your club, meanwhile I'm going to train at home.
    See you soon

  6. Hello,
    Site well done, comments of good level, detailed explanations, useful gifts. Wonderful!
    Thank you very much and persevere in this way.

  7. Hello sensei,

    The study of kata and therefore the exercise of bunkai clearly proves that karate inherits enormously old techniques of fighting samurai, including jiu jitsu.

  8. Hi Bruno,

    For me there are 3 successive stages (which should also be found during the passage of grades for example). The kata-kihon then the bunkaï then the fight. Indeed kata-kihon allows us to learn techniques and sequences. The bunkaï shows us what it can do. And the fight ends with concrete, real applications against an opponent.

  9. Hello Bruno,
    First of all thank you for your blog so rich in advice and very well presented. My vision of the bunkai would be at first the essence of the fight. Since we imagine being in the presence of one or more opponents, the kata changes shape, rhythm, comes to life. When performing a kata against one or more opponents, this notion of combat makes sense. I want to talk about a kata kata even according to the intensity of the Tori assaults and the management of the uke ma. In a second time, the bunkai is this decoding of kata in time, when we know all the wealth that resides in a kata, would it not be Heian Chudan. There is so much to say about the bunkai ... Hope this commentary has been useful and interesting. Sportily, Gérard

  10. Hi Bruno, I'm trying to understand why on karate 3 G when I want the program 'belt' or the art of warming up I always arrive on
    "In the process of elaboration" .Thank you for your answer.

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