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WadoBen's picture
Different terms used in bunkai

I am after a little help, as usual, I have read lots of books, forum posts and websites about Bunkai and there are lots of different terms used to describe different levels of bunkai and no 2 descriptions seem to match up for each term and I was hopping that you good people could give your opinions and a good description of each of the following terms







ky0han's picture


it is rather confusing right :o).

Here is my take on those things. Others may have another take on that subject.

Bunkai means to dissamble the Kata into short sequences that might belong together. Bunseki means to analize the moves in those sequences and come up with ideas. Oyo means to apply your ideas on and with a partner.

Omote and Ura are two sides to the same medal in the japanese culture. Omote is the obvious and Ura is the hidden introverted side. Some use that for certain levels of martial knowledge.

My approach is this:Your Oyo or application can be an obvious one which is easy to learn and implement. When you analyze Kata and find applications for the moves you start with the moves that are in that Kata. Those movements are just examples representing the underlying principles. When you start to apply those principles than you are at the Ura level. So when you apply techniques that are not represented in the Kata but are based on the same principles that a teacher is trying to teach you with the help of that particular Kata then these are Ura or not so obvious applications.

Henka means change, variation or diversion. So here you change the Omote form of a technique. For example when there is a Tsuki-technique to Chudan level you simply change the level to Jodan or Gedan. When a close fist was used you try a palm heel or whatever. You start to apply a motion that looks like a thrust to not just punch but to lock or throw and so on. In this stage you can identify further principles. For me that also means to look at older version of a certain Kata and/or how this Kata is practised in other styles .

Okuden is from the Menkyo grading system of the older japanese martial arts often refered to as Koryu Budo (oposite to the Gendai Budo - the modern martial arts). Back then there was no Kyudan system for grading people. No colored belts and stuff. This menkyo  system was not standartized and every school had a slightly different system. One example is the following one.

Shoden - the beginning stage Chuden - the middle stage Okuden - the stage of deeper understanding Menkyo Kaiden - the teaching license

Some also use Kakushi (Bunkai, Oyo, Henka, Kakushi) which means hidden. That is were the magic is happening often associated with dubious stuff like Chi a strange use and mystification of pressure points and so on.

All those terms are thrown arround totally out of context most of the time. So don't let them confuse you. Not everthing needs an oriental name in my eyes. The funny thing about technical terms in any field is that everybody understands them differently and when people start to use them in conversations the are getting deluded into thinking that they are talking about the same things were in fact they are sometimes being at cross purposes.

So for me there is the analysing part (Bunkai/Bunseki) and then there is the practical part (Oyo). When you can apply a technique superficially only in a certain situation it is Omote and when you understand the principles an you can apply them in any situation that is Ura.

I hope that helps.

Regards Holger

Edit: I forgot the links for further readings


http://www.chrisdenwood.com/uploads/2/4/3/3/2433362/__adaptable_karate_1.pdf http://www.chrisdenwood.com/uploads/2/4/3/3/2433362/__adaptable_karate_2.pdf

Black Tiger
Black Tiger's picture

Thanks Ky0han for your explaination

WadoBen's picture

Great help thanks Ky0han

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

I’d totally agree with Holger’s definitions (great post Holger!) but I found myself nodding along most strongly with the following:

ky0han wrote:
Not everything needs an oriental name in my eyes. The funny thing about technical terms in any field is that everybody understands them differently and when people start to use them in conversations the are getting deluded into thinking that they are talking about the same things were in fact they are sometimes being at cross purposes.

I was guilty of this and in my earlier writings I did make use of these terms because they were part of how I was teaching at the time. I no longer use the terminology on a day to day basis though as I find it makes nothing clearer. At its best it adds nothing: at its worst it adds another layer of confusion for students to peal back. Sure having Japanese terms for everything can sound good, but to western ears it rarely leads to clarity and hence it is another one of those things I’ve dropped. The cover all term of “bunkai” is what I use these days with the various aspects and subsections being explained in plain English.

All the best,


WadoBen's picture

Iain I completely agree with what you said I tend to stay away from the terms when I'm teaching my own students, but all the reading that those of us dedicated to our arts do we come across all these terms being used and it's confusing when they sometimes contradict each other. Your comment about just keeping it all under the title of bunkai makes a lot more sense. 

ky0han's picture

Hi everyone,

happy to help.

I totally refrain from the term bunkai and all the others.

For me it is just Kata and Kata-Gumite allthough I explain those terms to my students in case they stumble across them.

Regards Holger

roverill's picture

One thing I would like to add or ask is this: sometimes one hears a sensei using the terms 'hiden' and 'ura' with regard to non-obvious bunkai/oyo, and I wonder whether there is a generally agreed distinction in meaning between these two terms in this context?



ky0han's picture

Hi Richard,

Karate was passed down secretly until the Meiji Restauration. A Teacher never had more than a hand full of students at a time I guess. The knowledge was passed down verbally and those verbally instructions are called Kuden. Hiden just means secret instructions/tuition.

So in order to get to the Ura level someone has to teach us how to get there. The teacher is using Kuden to instruct the student and gives away his "secrets" (Hiden). You can use what ever fancy term you want.

For example: a lot of people have read the books "Hidden Karate" Vol.1 and Vol.2 by an anonymous author using the alias Higaki Gennosuke. His rules for bunkai are such Kuden he allegedly received from his teacher who in turn allegedly received them from Funakoshi himself. Now that they are public they are no longer secret I guess. blush

Regards Holger