Bunkai (分解) literally means “analysis” and “disassembly”. It refers to the practice of putting kata into practice and applying it to fighting situations. Therefore, it works as an analysis of or the deconstruction of a kata. Technical analysis but also interpretation go hand in hand during this process. But on closer inspection it’s more the whys and wherefores of each movement and each transition, the student is looking to explain to themselves what Karate is about.
Bunkai as Economical Analysis and Interpretation
Due to the abstract nature of all Shotokan katas, their application must be creatively interpreted and technically deduced. Especially advanced students are encouraged to analyze the potential self-defense options katas offer. On the other hand, it takes some level of experience and advancement in karate in order to come to realistic interpretations and deductions.
While karateka need some degree of creativity to apply kata to a real-life conflict. Applicability and efficiency is the paramount aim. Therefore, every good bunkai follows an economic rule: Efficiency and effectiveness first, creativity second. Hence, bunkai focuses on the whys and wherefores of each movement and each action.
Bunkai suru (分解する) refers to the action of analytical disassembling the kata. In this case, only one move or a sequence of motions becomes considered in the analysis. Therefore, it focuses on the isolation of moves.
For instance, a sensei only takes into account move 3 from Kata Nijushiho.
Bunseki (分析) is also an analysis of isolated kata moves and sequences. But goes beyond bunkai suru because it focuses on the versatile applications of one technique or sequence. Therefore, it utilizes the whole range of possible interpretation and technical deduction from it.
For example, a sensei analysis move 3 from Kata Nijushiho and highlights several possible applications.
Dr. Christian Tribowski