Western New York Karate Center
Shihan Bill
July 1, 2016


The term, bunkai, can be translated as “analysis” or “disassembly” and it is most often applied in martial arts to kata.  Through kata bunkai, a martial artist will disassemble a kata in order to extract fighting techniques from the movements.  The fighting techniques extracted from a kata in this manner are called, oyo.  Kaisai no genri is an excellent system from Goju-ryu for conducting kata bunkai and will be the subject of another article.  That article will be somewhat lengthy and technical. This article will instead focus on ippon bunkai and is rather brief.

The challenge in kata bunkai is that the “actual” threat that some aspect of a kata is responding to is a matter of conjecture.  The threat that was known at the time of the creation of the kata, hundreds sometimes thousands of years ago, is lost to time.  A defensive move, appearing as a “side block” could be a response to an attempted punch, but it could also be a response to an attempted kick or an attempted hold as part of an attempted throw or choke. With an ippon, the opposite is true.  The martial artist starts with the exact and actual threat being declared.  The challenge in ippon bunkai is determining the best fighting technique to manage that threat.

The analysis performed in ippon bunkai is going to be affected by a variety of factors beyond the exact offensive tool or technique being examined. First is the relative position between the martial artist and the attacker; the attack could be coming from in front, to the side, or from behind.  Another is range; the attack could be at long range, medium range, short range, or at close quarters (see the essay “The Sweet Spot”).  But, given that one will likely need to deliver multiple strikes to effectively neutralize the attacker, the third consideration regards follow-up strikes as well as kakuzi waza.  To best determine the most reasonable follow-up strikes will require that the martial artist has an excellent grasp of ukemi.  Failing that, ippon bunkai will benefit from a martial artist studying human anatomy and human physiology.  Regardless, it should be understood that the first action one takes in neutralizing a threat will lead to a reaction from the attacker.  That reaction will often be reflexive but could also be informed by training.  When designing ippons utilizing bunkai, it is therefore important to not only consider the various initial responses and the follow-up actions, but one should also consider, what to do if any one technique fails to work as intended due to error or being countered.

Ippon bunkai is thorough and thoughtful approach to developing self-defense techniques that should deepen and broaden one’s sense of both kihon and kata.  One should approach ippon bunkai to not only train, for example, that a side block isn’t the only response to a punch to the chest, but also that a side block can’t be thought of as sufficient enough to stop another attack from being launched by the same opponent.

Through ippon bunkai one should strive to develop a technique that makes the neutralization of the opponent, not simply the attack, its goal.