Friday, 22 June 2012

What is "Bunkai" in Korean?

Since I have some basic knowledge of the Korean language, I practise Taekwondo and research my forms I somewhat "often" encounter the question in the headline; "What is Bunkai in Korean?" You see untill recently there were virtually no Korean martial arts exponents who researched their forms to extract viable self defense techniques, while in Japanese or Chinese martial arts there is a long standing culture of extracting self defense techniques from their forms.

Korean Martial artists who wants to research their forms for more sophisticated combative applications beyond the basic kick, block punch explonations therefore often have to see toward other martial arts and how they go about researching their forms.

Likewise Korean terminology on the subject is not standarised, and often non existant. Many Korean Martial Arts exponents therefore borrow Japanese terminology to use in this field or even worse make up pseudo terms sounding like Korean (Bungai anyone?). This post is not going to be about how to research your forms, but it will be my contribution to give those who wants a Korean terminology when it comes to research your forms.

The term the Japanese Martial Arts exponents often use when refering to extract applications from their forms is "Bunkai". In reality this word simply means to take apart or disect something. This can for example be compared to a mechanic taking apart a motor to find out whats wrong with it or some simular situation where taking something apart to learn something would be neccesary. "Bunkai" is pronounced "Boonhae" in Korean language and contain the same meaning of taking apart something, dismantling it.

Another term that can be used when researching your forms is "Bunseok" wich means "Analisys". This is a better term than "Boonhae" in my view, as the extracting of viable combative techniques from the forms require that we analyse it. One way of doing this is by taking it apart and look at the whole movement in one posture, hence "Boonhae", but the act itself could be more clearly described as analisys of a particular form or technique.

Stuart Anslow, author of several great books on forms and two (a new one is due for sale in July) and the editior of "Totally Taekwondo Magazine" uses "Boonhae Hae Sul" as his term for patterns research. Boonhae is to take appart or dismantle, while hae sul means explonation or indepth study. This is the best usage of terms that I have found in the few books on patterns research in Korean Martial Arts. It explaines both that we are talking about a study of form, and the process to study the form in a relative short phrase. We could of course just use the term for "form" and "Hae Sul" too wich is one way I often describe applications in Korean since they are the result of an indepth study of the form in question. E.g Keumgang Poomsae Hae Sul, Chon Ji Tul Hae Sul etc.

Some Japanese Martial Arts Exponents use the term "Bunkai" as an all catch phrase when it comes to both the act of extracting the applications from their forms AND the practical usage/training of the applications they come up with. E.g "This act is a Bunkai from so and so Kata" etc. Others use different terms like "Oyo" to describe the training and usage of the applications and Bunkai to the process of finding/extracting them. In Korean we here have several terms that we can use for the training of applications and the applications themselves. If the applications you have extracted can be used for self defense then it is actually quite simple. You have analised your form (Poomsae/Hyung/Tul Hae Sul) and extracted Ho Sin Sul from it. Ho Sin means self defense and sul means skill or method or more loosely but still viable; technique. Other possibilities are Mu Sul wich simply means warrior skill, method or technique. This can be used in a broader sense than the Ho Sin Sul term since Ho Sin Sul covers self defense skills, while Mu Sul refers to any warrior skill including self defense.

Another term wich I find very good for describing "applications themselves" is "Eungyoung Dongjak". This term can be translated as practical movements. The Kukkiwon uses this term when they show applications from the forms. For example Taegeuk Il (1) Jang step 5 A/B (long front stance, low block followed by middle section punch without changing stance) was shown as a block a front kick and punch to the solar plexus in the video clip in my last post. That application would be termed: EungYoung Dongjak for Taegeuk Il (1) Jang step 5 A/B. It is a great usage really as there is no question (for those who understand Korean that is) what we are talking about. "This is the practical usage for movement so and so from that form".

Here is a short list:

The process of analysing your forms:
  • Boonhae (to take apart, dismantle)
  • Hae Sul (Indepth study, explonation or analisys)
  • Bunseok (Analisys)
The applications themselves, training of applications and using, demonstrating applications:
  • Ho Sin Sul (self defense skills/method(s)/techniques)
  • Mu Sul (Warrior skills/method(s)/techniques)
  • EungYoung Dongjak (Practical usage of movement(s) )
I am in no way fluent in the Korean language so you might want to take this with a pinch of salt so to speak, but I do think that these terms are correct and can be used. I welcome those who object to my translations or usage of the terms to comment below and if you who reads this post have anything to add that would be interesting please do so:-)


  1. Great article! I have been looking for a korean translation for the Japanese term, Bunkai for some time. This article makes sense.

  2. Fantastic, I am a Huge fan of Stuart Anslow. I have studied both Goju Ryu and Tae Kwon Do for many years, with no real way to separate (culturally) Japanese Bukai to (all the above). Great Job.

    1. Thanks for those kind words "Unknown" :-) If you like this post I am sure you will find much more on this blog that you like ;-)

  3. Nice to read your article! I am looking forward to sharing your adventures and experiences.
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