The first part of the word Bunkai is 'bunk'


humbug; nonsense

Over the last decade or so, I can claim some experience as a practitioner who studies systems for their bunkai or boonhae. Literally, this is the identification of the combative application of movements within each system. bunkai for Karate kata, and boonhae for Korean hyung.

Taekwondo 'W' Blocks or Mountain Blocks. The sketch you see comes from my notebook on Toi-gye pattern applications and is one of the possible application of the 'block' as a defence against a kick - and can be applied from the front or from the back of the opponent. You may also use the leg raise as a strike against the support leg, or to sweep it. The photo in the foreground is of me learning Karate kata Jitte or 'Ten Hands' from Kyoshi Gary Simpson - which has the very same block done through it. In Taekwondo, we call this kata Sip Soo hyung. 

The journey has been tedious, but I don't lack diligence. I've done funky things such as looking at the personification of hyung names for their strategic approaches to combat, ala the Art of War. I've dissected movements to append throws, locks, and takedowns to various techniques. I've studied similar techniques from a variety of systems to 'fill in the blanks,' to decode patterns.

The irony is that I bring experience from my exposure to other arts (read non hard-style arts) to resolve what I see as holes in the Taekwondo syllabus. In the last 10 years of doing this, the trend to unearth bunkai and boonhae has gained momentum, fueled by excellent instructors and information dissemination that can only have happened because of the Internet.

But you can have too much of a good thing. There is 'bunk' in bunkai when the process to identify a new tactic or a new throw or lock takes over the more imminent need to get a student drilled in a particular style. From where I come, the most experienced bunkai proponents are excellent fighters. They have great combative skills. They are also excellent technicians. And then they continually work on expanding their outlook and abilities. In fact, I have observed the very same mirrored in authors whom I know lead the push to explain tactical applications - they are fighters first. The intellectual work came after their hard won skills.

The point I'm making is that they didn't do it the other way around.

While I am not against accumulating knowledge, I don't think it's wise to say here is a particular move, and here are one hundred different ways I can show you how it is applied. Maybe it's me but I think that's an awful way to teach something. Put it this way, when I was training aiki, we learned 10 basic techniques for our 9th kyu grading. I aced that grading, fyi. Now do you know what is taught at 8th kyu? Well, most of those same techniques, with variation. Similarly at 7th, it's the same-old, with progression.

My current thinking is that I want my students to be able to have a staple of tactics to help them blitz through an attacker's strikes WHILE stressed and WHILE trying to guage what the attacker is doing. This means they need a tightly focused range of simple techniques. These drills need to be top-of-mind and they need to be able to done indiscriminately against a variety of attacks - so they can work if attack or control comes from the left or right side of the opponent.

These drills are then varied by adding a layer of skills on top of it - just like the aiki grading example.

The following videos are drills in which I have been using to help my students gain the effectiveness I think is needed to engage in close range hand-to-hand combat. They have been highly influenced by my work analyzing the Traditional Taekwondo system over the last 10 years. I hope you appreciate I've taken pains to achieve this level of simplicity.

It's not to say that these drills can be magically used in isolation - the student needs a heap of essential skills allowing them to strike or cover or move or time their tactics. Such can be learned in tandem with these drills. And then, as I've said, the student adds additional skills which plug into this starting point.

I have been asked before if this is Taekwondo, and I have had to point out locations in patterns which identify where these tactics come from. The short answer is that I have come to this conclusion whilst relying on this system to do its job - for the last 20+ years. But focusing on such details misses the point - don't just look at the finger, look at the moon ... the bunkai has been chosen to help the practitioner. It's not there as just another technique.

Thank you indulging me in my little rant, and I hope you've enjoyed it in the spirit it was intended. If you have, please help support a little project of mine by 'liking' the FaceBook page of International Alliance of Martial Arts Schools. IAOMAS is a free member support system, and I'm organising a conference to promote it here in Western Australia at the end of this year. And of course, I'd like for it to be well supported. Perhaps you can come join me in the event? Or tell your friends about it?

Until next, stay safe.


  • Personal Reflections on Taekwondo
  • Front Kick Counter, and Lessons on Applications
  • How to Decode a Taekwondo Pattern
  • Nerding Out on Kata Bunkai

  • External Links


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