Senshin: The Enlightened Mind

Martial Arts Blog

normrobitza On December - 4 - 2014

15Bunkai is an essential part of karate training. Many groups do not practice bunkai and therefore do not truly understand the meaning of the kata (forms) that they are practising. The biggest reason for not practising this part of karate is that people do not understand what bunkai really means.

Bunkai literally translates to analysis or disassembly of kata. Traditional bunkai doesn’t stray far from the kata and that is where the first error that some instructors are making. They are taking the katas and totally changing them. The point of bunkai is to be true to the kata. The masters created them in the order they are in for a reason. I know that most of the kata do not have a traditional bunkai that we are aware of. Many have been lost to time but why would they want us to be changing the direction of or techniques of a kata to suit the ideas that we have come up with for the bunkai. Don’t change a thing, stay true to the kata.

I think the biggest issue is that the karateka gets overwhelmed while practising bunkai. They are used to performing the kata and could even be considered a master of the form that they are practising. Now introduce opponents and they will freeze up and forget the movements that they have been performing for so long. Bunkai is just the kata! You have been working on the kata for a long time and hopefully know them well. Just relax and think that you are performing the kata.

Here is what I teach my students to help them not be overwhelmed. Treat the bunkai of a kata as several little sparring matches or mini-bunkai. For example, in Heian Nidan the bunkai starts off as a three move sequence. A block, arm break and block/strike combination. Deliver these three movements with speed and power and then finish strong with a kiai. This short sequence is bunkai 1. The next series is the same and is bunaki 2 and so on. Think of each sequence leading up to todome-waza (finishing blow) as a mini-bunkai. Follow the finishing blow with a pause a moment before moving on to the next series of attacks/counters. By breaking a bunkai down it is easier to learn and will help the karateka understand the application better.

The International Karate Daigaku ( has made bunkai an important part of the training forĀ its students. Each student is taught the traditional bunkai for the katas as they progress through the ranks. It is also part of the Black Belt tests for each level and has been added to tournament as a team competition. Bunkai teaches students not only how to further understand their kata but how to develop their self-defence and kumite (sparring) skills.

The clubs that do not practice bunkai are leaving out a large part of their karate training. Those that forget to practice bunkai are hurting themselves and neglecting the tradition of karate.

Below is Heian Godan Bunkai performed by students of the Amherst Shotokan Karate Academy part of the Maritime International Karate Daigaku.


Categories: Teaching/Training

Leave a Reply

Featured Posts

I’m a Sensei!

What makes a person a Sensei? There are a lot of factors involved but what gives a person the ability to call themselves Sensei? Ok, first what does the word mean? Sensei translates to “one who has gone before” or “one who has walked the path ahead”. It synonymous with the term “teacher” but in […]

It is my instructor’s fault!

This happens often, a student or parent complains that the outcome of their testing was not what they expected. The student isn’t successful or gets a low level pass so they blame the results on the examiner or the instructor. Then they either give up, change to a different dojo or different style. The problem […]


Achieving a goal is something that is to be celebrated but don’t fixate on it. As a white belt the main goal is to become a black belt. This is true but each beginner should start off with basic goals, learn how to tie your belt, memorise the first kata and learn all of the […]

2017 IKD World Camp

In 2 weeks, the IKD will hold the 6th IKD World Honbu Camp. The organisation has grown with leaps and bounds over the past few years and recently expanded into Australia. Each year at Camp there has been a theme, last year was kobudo, weapons. This year will have two themes. The Science of Karate […]

Search my site

Twitter Updates

No public Twitter messages.