Sunday, July 4, 2021

Niseishi (nijushiho), a beautiful karate kata

Niseishi (nijushiho) 二十四歩 Kata. Examination of one of the Seiyo no Shorin-Ryu karate kata, known in Okinawan dialect, as niseishi (“knee-say-she”) shows interesting characteristics. This kata, like most Shorin-Ryu kata, is a favorite of many students. Niseishi, translates as the "24", possibly referring to 24 techniques (waza). Others suggest it refers to '24 steps'.

Kyoju Hausel, Soke, demonstrates Okinawa white crane  martial arts at Chinese New Year Celebration at the  University of Wyoming. Photo by Sandra Sinicki,  Geneva, France.
Kyoju Hausel, Soke, demonstrates Okinawa white crane martial arts at Chinese New Year 
Celebration at the University of Wyoming. Photo courtesy of Sandra Sinicki, Geneva, France.

This kata was introduced to Okinawa karate by Seisho Arakaki (1840-1918), who was a member of the Okinawan royal court and held the recognized title of Chikudon Pechin. The title indicates Arakaki was part of a special class of Okinawa elite, equivalent to the Japanese samurai. The modifier - Chikudon, relates to a level of pechin that translates as ‘district’. It is apparent Arakaki’s martial arts skills went beyond karate and into the realm of kenjutsu

Arakaki’s karate education was directed by a Chinese boxing instructor Wai Shinzan. While in China, Arakaki studied southern Shaolin gung-fu as a student of Wai Shinzan, and was educated in the art of white crane (hakutsuru) martial arts. White Crane is a beautiful, but deadly art, taught in some traditional Shorin-Ryu styles as well as to some members of Juko Kai International. The kata and bunkai of white crane Shorin-Ryu, include aesthetic movements providing the observer with visions of white cranes posing along the edge of a pond. White crane techniques resemble wings of a crane, crane postures, and even beak thrusts at eyes; while other movements display wing strikes to neck, and wing blocks. However, these are mostly absent from niseishi with the exception of wing strikes that occur near the mid point of the kata

It is reported Arakaki learned the Chinese versions of niseishi, seisan and sanseiru from his Chinese instructor, and later adapted ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ techniques to these kata to make them more pliable to self-defense.

Today, niseishi remains a beautiful, yet brutal kata demonstrating the beauty of intermixed, fast and slow movement, along with strikes that include teeth-crushing elbow strikes (hiji uchi), hammer-fist strikes (kentsui uchi), ridge hand strikes (haito-uchi), and the simultaneous over-under double punches of yama uchi to the body core. Today, this kata is practiced in many styles including Shorin-Ryu, Shuri-Ryu, Shito-Ryu, Shotokan, Wado-Ryu and even Korean Tang Soo Do.

Most martial artists have heard of Okinawan Shorin-Ryu karate master Gichin Funakoshi in that he is considered by most, as the father of modern karate. Funakoshi moved from Okinawa to mainland Japan in 1922, and taught Japanese students the way of karate, known as karate-do. When Funakoshi introduced niseishi to mainland Japan, he renamed it nijushiho to make it acceptable to the Japanese culture by using Japanese, rather than Okinawan, dialect. Breaking down ni-ju-shi-ho, the individual words mean: ni=2, ju=10, shi=4; and ho=techniques: 24 techniques.

Seiyo Shorin-Ryu members training in waves of the south China sea along the coast of Vietnam.

Sudden contrasts between slow, and explosive accelerated movement in niseishi, provides a distinct rhythm in the kata likened to tides of ocean waves crashing on a beach. The kata focuses dynamic use of hips with smooth movement like waves crashing on a beach. Because the kata was taught by Wai Shinzan, it is thought to originally be a form from the Fujian Province of China, and part of the southern Shaolin curriculum.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Passai Kata

One of the many bunkai from Itosu's Passai Dai kata - Adam (right) follows up with double high block to stop Ryan (left)
 from grabbing his throat and finishes Ryan with double back fist strike. This is just one of many bunkai possibilities for
 this part of the kata practiced by members of Seiyo Kai Shorin-Ryu Karate and Kobudo.

Members of the Seiyo Shorin-Ryu Hombu in Mesa, Arizona, are introduced to Itosu's Passai kata. In our system of Shorin-Ryu Karate known as Seiyo-Kai, members are introduced two different Passai kata: Passai Dai (大 dai meaning major) and Passai Sho (小 sho meaning minor). Passai is nearly universal in traditional karatedo schools, but the kata have many differences depending on the style of karate. Soke Hausel kept these kata intact.

The kata includes a variety of bunkaiEach ryu has their own variations of bunkai. Some historians suggest the kata was created by a left-hand martial artist; while others suggest it was designed to defend against an antagonist armed with bo. Soke Hausel noted that he sees no evidence the kata was created by a left-handed martial artist, particularly when there are more than a half-dozen movements that favor right-handed martial artists. 

As far as defending against bo? Soke Hausel claims there is no evidence for this. Anyone attempting to block a full-force strike from a bo with closed fist blocks like those in passai dai would spend a lot of time in the ER. Bunkai demos of Japanese Shotokan practitioners emphasize blocking bo, but Soke doesn't believe anyone in their right mind would survive such a strike. This is because the force of the strike of bo in flight would be greatly increased by blocking with an arm to yield an additive force of a head-on-collision between bo and arm. Visualize blocking a baseball bat swung at full force with your arm - your baseball career would be over. For those unfamiliar with Shotokan - Shotokan is variety of Shorin-Ryu introduced to mainland Japan by Funakoshi in 1922. 

As with many kata, the origin of Passai are obscure probably because karate was kept secret for hundreds of years with nothing written about the fighting art until it was introduced to Japan during the second decade in the 20th century. So, we are left to speculation as to where this kata came from, its meaning, and who was the author or authors.

The version of Passai we practice in Seiyo Shorin-Ryu is similar to the form taught by the Okinawan Shorin-Ryu karate masters Anko Itosu and Gichin Funakoshi. It is suggested the Okinawan kata is at least 400 years old based on a silk drawing of the kata that was analyzed using carbon isotope age dating. It is also suggested by others that the kata was originally a form named after a family on Okinawa.

But others turn to the translation of Passai to help find the origin for the kata. The kata is called Passai on Okinawa. On mainland Japan, it is called Bassai. The kata is also found in Korean martial arts such as Taekwondo and Tang Soo Do. In Korea, the kata is known as Bassahee, Bal Se, Pal Che, Palsek, Bal Sae, Ba Sa Hee, and Bal Sak. 

In Gichin Funakoshi’s 1922 book, the kata is referred to as Passai which was also the name used by Motobu Chōki of Okinawa in 1926. But for some reason, Funakoshi decided to rename the kata as Bassai in 1936. It is suggested “Bassai” was the Chinese pronunciation.

The meaning of Passai can be “to penetrate a fortress” or to “extract from a fortress”. The Japanese meaning of batsu is "to pull out or extract” while the Chinese meaning is "to seize or capture”. Additional insight comes from an interpretation of kanji for sai/soku which can mean “fort”. In the 1973 translation of Funakoshi’s book Karate-do Kyohan, the author refers to the kata as “Breaking through an enemy's fortress.”

This may be in reference to the power in which the kata (especially closed-fist blocks) is executed, as well as emphasizing power from hip rotation. The kata focuses on destroying an attacker’s defense with very strong and powerful blocks. When we practice this kata, we have a feeling of precise movements with fast execution of each individual technique, with attention to balance, speed and power. Remember the TV series ‘Tool Time’ - this is a kata that needs MORE POWER to be done properly! Each closed-fist block in the first half of the Passai dai kata needs every ounce of power, strength and speed you can muster. Your blocks should shake the walls of the dojo! If you practice this kata like tai chi (slow and with no power) you are doing yourself a great disservice and butchering the art. You need to feel the power and snap in every closed fist block!

So, it may be that the kata was an Okinawan family kata or had some other lineage. Even so, karate has its origins in Chinese gung-fu. After Okinawan martial artists learned gung-fu in China, they stream-lined or remove many of the aesthetic movements and deep stances, and developed a more pragmatic self-defense system. It is thought this kata also originated from Chinese boxing before it fell into the hands of Okinawan martial artists. This is supported by Gichin Funakoshi who stated that the form is “a Shōrin-ryū form derived from Chinese Shaolin styles”. 

Some historians point to similarities of Leopard and Lion gung-fu to movements in the kata. Okinawan karate historian Akio Kinjo believes the name of this kata originated from the Chinese term “bàoshī” meaning “leopard-lion” which is pronounced “bá-săi” or “pà-sai” in some Chinese dialects. Other historians see a resemblance to Wuxing Quan (Five Element Fist) gung fu. 

There are several Okinawan versions of Passai. The version practiced by members of Seiyo no Shorin-Ryu Karate Kobudo Kai could be termed Itosu no Passai Dai or Funakoshi no Passai Dai to imply the version of our kata was authored by these two great Okinawan karate men. Anko Itosu popularized karate by introducing it into the Okinawan school curriculum. Itosu was also known for modifying kata to fit his karate personality. He modified Passai Dai from the Matsumura version. The Passai who kata is thought to have been created by Itosu. Funakoshi, a student of Itosu, also modified the kata when introduced to Japan.

It is also interesting to note that Passai may have roots in Tomari village on Okinawa, simply because Passai dai begins with the right fist covered by the left hand, like other kata thought to have originated from Tamari, such as Jutte, Jion, Giin and Empi. This hand gesture is a common salutation in China. 

Watching some variations of this kata on videos just to see the differences employed by different karate schools. It is important to look at every variation because we can sometimes gain important insight into the bunkai. 

For the various kata bunkai, the initial stance in the kata can relate to a simple self-defense technique against a wrist grab. Other wrist grab self-defense applications are found throughout the kata and include single wrist grabs, cross-wrist grabs, double wrist grabs, as are defenses against kicks, punches, arm bar defenses, sucker punches, chokes, etc.

Training in Passai kata at the Arizona Hombu Dojo in Mesa, Arizona
The covered fist - a very nice beginning
to a powerful kata. Sensei Paula Borea
demonstrates Passai kata at the Arizona
Hombu dojo.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

BUNKAI - The Essence of Kata

Bunkai from kata (self-defense). This application shows
up in several advanced kata.
Bunkai (practical applications) are every bit as important as the karate kata they are found in. The more one trains in kata, muscle memory, balance, speed & power will improve. And when one practices kata along with the bunkai, the better their skills will be in self-defense.

But it is important to take time initially to:

(1) Take your time to build muscle memory. As your body gains muscle memory, focus all strikes, blocks and kicks (blocks need to be as powerful as strikes, but use your head because some students can not accept powerful blocks).

(2) Speed up technique and perform kata and bunkai as fast and powerful as you can. Take a few seconds and watch some of the more impressive students in a dojo - what are they doing that makes them look so fast and powerful? You should be able to duplicate & even surpass their efforts - just put in as much energy as you can in your kata and bunkai. But make sure that the technique and stance are not sloppy.

"For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart." Hebrews 4:12

You need to have focus even at the beginning of a new technique or kata. How you practice in the dojo, is how you will defend on the street. If you put in little effort, you are going to learn something, but you are also setting yourself up for a real shock if you have to use your martial art for self-defense. Take a look at any Tai Chi video. Do you think the performer of tai chi could actually defend themselves? Ask yourself. Am I fast enough to block a punch from an attacker? Can I knock down an attacker with one strike?

Another bunkai found in kata - this one occurs in Naihanchi shodan 
and others
As muscle memory kicks in when you are learning a new kata or bunkaipractice the bunkai and kata slow, but focus every single kick, punch and block. During the session, emphasize posture, balance & proper stance.

Next, do bunkai and kata with as much energy as you can muster - imagine defending yourself and you have to respond to your opponent with great force and speed.

When it comes to bunkai, it is important that after you acquire muscle memory to train with great acceleration and focus. We’ve all heard the gi sleeve and cuff ‘snap’ during class. This is your goal! Listen for that snap on every move in kata and in bunkai! The gi snap is an important training aid. But, protect your training partner by punching in the air next to him or her, that way when someone makes the wrong move, you both will survive.
Kata bunkai demonstrated at black belt clinic at the Arizona Hombu dojo by Grandmaster Hausel. Students claim
Soke Hausel is so fast that they cannot see the techniques until he make a concerted effort to slow down. This kind of 
speed and power results from training with power, speed and focus in all kata and bunkai.

Seisan (Hangetsu) Kata

In Okinawan dialect, there is a kata known as Seisan; in Japanese, it is Hangetsu. It has also been called Sesan, Seishan, and Jusan. Seisan refers to the number ’13'. Thirteen what? Thirteen hands, 13 fists, 13 techniques, 13 bunkai, 13 seconds?. But in Japanese, Hangetsu, means ‘half-moon’ referring to pigeon-toe stance (hachi-dachi) used throughout much of the kata. Even so, Seisan was applied decades, if not centuries, before it was called Hangetsu by Gichin Funakoshi.

Seisan is thought to be a very old kata, and is prominent in the Naha-Te (i.e., Goju-Ryu, Kokushin Kai) karate schools. For those of you who have studied the history of karate, you will remember, karate took on different characteristics in three different villages on Okinawa: Shuri, Naha and Tomari. The Naha practitioners emphasized body building and hardening and were considered physically powerful martial artists. At the beginning of the kata, we can see evidence of the Naha influence in slow blocks and punches that Naha schools often perform with ibuki (deep and hard breathing) and resistance. As a teenager, I remember practicing this and similar kata with ibuki and by the time we finished, a break was needed to catch our breath. That is how intense the breathing exercise is performed.

The kata is found in most legitimate karate styles including some Korean martial arts. The kata is considered to be advanced. If you are curious, I would suggest watching some videos of this kata just to get an idea of the considerable differences employed by different schools today.
Training in kata at the Arizona hombu dojo in Mesa, Arizona under the
watchful eye of Soke Hausel, Hall-of-Fame grandmaster of
Shorin-Ruyu Karate
Some legitimate karate styles that practice this kata include Chitō-ryū, Gōjū-ryū, Go Kan Ryu, Isshin-ryū, Meibukan, Moo Duk Kwan (Korean), Ninjutu Shito-ryu, Ryū-te, Ryūei-ryū, Seito Matsumura-ryu, Shōrin-ryū Seibukan, Shōrin-ryū Okinawa Seidokan, Shōrin-ryū Seiyo Kai, Shōrin-ryū, Shōrinji-ryū, Shinki-ryu, Soo Bahk Do (Korean), Koshinkai Karatedo, Shotokan, Tang Soo Do (Korean), Uechi-ryū, Wadō-ryū, Yoshukai Karate.

The Seisan kata likely originated from one of the many Chinese Kung Fu systems, but it is unknown which. There are some Chinese styles that have a form called 'Shisan' in their curricula, but a link from a specific kung-fu form to Okinawan Seisan has never been established.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Naifanchi Kata - A Time to Horse Around

Training in Naifanchi kata at the Seiyo no Shorin-Ryu Karate Kobudo Kai hombu in Arizona.
Members train using kiba dachi, or horse riding stance, which is prevalent in these three forms.

Gichin Funakoshi, the father of modern karate and a Shorin-Ryu Karate practitioner stated, “Once a kata is learned, it must be practiced repeatedly until it can be applied in an emergency: for just understanding the sequence of moves in kata is useless.” Karate taught in most Shorin-Ryu Karate dojo are designed to build balance, muscle memory, hip rotation, blocking, kicking and punching power. Each and every strike and block in kata is taught to be focused and powerful. But then there is much more to kata.

Kenwa Mabuni, the founder of Shito-Ryu Karate, is quoted as saying, "Karate is not fixed or immoveable. Like water, it's ever changing and fits itself to the shape of the vessel containing it. However, kata are not some kind of beautiful competitive dance, but a grand martial art of self-defense which determines life and death".  Could it be that these great Okinawan masters of karate knew something that those who claim there is nothing of value to kata know. I suspect so.

When a qualified person takes each kata and dissects it into several bunkai (self-defense applications), each individual bunkai (every move in kata) can be taught as self-defense. When this done over and over to educate the muscles, mushin will take over and the technique, or a variety of the technique, will appear later during karate training when you least expect it, or during a time when you need to defend yourself - but only if the bunkai is practical and it becomes part of your daily life.

Every move in kata should be able to stand alone for self-defense. Such self-defense applications are taught to increase punching, blocking and kicking power while at the same time strikes are focused on pressure points. In Shorin-Ryu schools, we also teach shitai kori (body hardening) to assist the practitioner in the ability to take strikes to pressure points. Through time, kata becomes a personal sensei (teacher), that self-instructs the student in self-defense and should include punches, blocks and kicks along with hidden techniques such as pressure point strikes, throws, chocks, releases, restraints, ground techniques, and more.

Kata is very important in most Shorin-Ryu Karate schools. A large variety of kata are taught at the Arizona Hombu dojo in Mesa and Gilbert, Arizona, as well as all of our schools around the world. Students of Shorin-Ryu Karate and Kobudo train in many of these forms including the Naifanchi kata. These three kata (forms) known as Naifanchi are practiced by nearly all Okinawa karate and Japanese schools and even some Korean taekwondo schools. The kata are known as Chulgi (Korea), Dai Pochin (China), Tekki (Japanese) and Naihanchi or Naifanchi (Okinawa), and sometimes referred to as Naifunchin. The interpretation of how they are used in training and combat (bunkai) varies from style to style and even from school to school. All three kata follow the pattern along an imaginary embusen (line) running right (migi) to left (hadari) focusing on kiba dachi (horse-riding stance).

Inside the Arizona Hombu.

When in horse-riding stance, the practitioner (karate ka) may imagine being part of a cattle drive in Wyoming. Visualize climbing into a saddle whether on the back of a horse, or on the sawhorse at the Texas Roadhouse while placing your boots (in Arizona - your flip flops) in stirrups. Your feet will be parallel while your knees are bent to straddle the horse. This is what kiba dachi should feel like (try this at the Texas Roadhouse and just tell your waitress you are practicing karate should she ask).

As you practice Naifanchi kata, keep this feeling in mind. Now imagine riding a short pony named ‘Shorty’. The only way you can keep your feet from dragging on the ground on Shorty is to emphasize the bend in your knees (hiza). I can’t emphasize how important it is to practice this stance (dachi) correctly as beginners tend to relax and avoid deep knee bends while throwing a partner over their legs during bunkai practice. This can lead to hyper-extension of a knee – so keep those knees bent!

Wyoming Horse riding stance,
(c) sketch by Soke Hausel
Because of the use of kiba dachi throughout these kata, many have speculated they were designed for samurai to train in combat karate (karate-jutsu) from horseback. But this is not possible. The status of samurai was revoked during the Menji Restoration (beginning in 1868), and karate had not been introduced to the Japanese people until more than 50 years later in the 20th century. It was still a secret on Okinawa.

Others suggest the kata were designed to teach peasants to fight on rice paddy dikes. In this scenario it is suggested the word 'naihan' in Naihanchi refers to ‘narrow path’ through a rice paddy. And if ‘chi’ were pronounce ‘chin’ (as in Naifunchin) it could imply ‘battle’ as it does for Sanchin (another common shorin-ryu kata). Thus naihanchi it could be interpreted as ‘battle in a rice field’
Kiba dachi on the rocks – practicing kata at 8,500
 feet in the Laramie Mountains on 1.4 billion year 
old Sherman Granite in 1985.

Still others suggest these kata were designed to teach close quarters combat for a defender with his back against a wall. With this in mind, most waza (techniques) in Naihanchi seemed to be directed against attackers from the front and sides. But, there is at least one exception - the first waza in Naihanchi Nidan that is almost always interpreted as a defense against a bear hug from behind. But the more we examine this technique, it is apparent there are many applications including defense against single and double lapel grabs, and single and double wrist grabs.

What if the creator of this kata only had a long, narrow, training hall or small yard in which to practice? I suggest this only because I know some martial artists who have private dojo (gym or martial arts school) in their homes that are tiny such that Naifanchi kata would fit in their dojo.

I suspect these kata were taught not only for close combat education, but also to build leg strength and endurance. As a teenager, I spent considerable time training in kiba dachi due to a lack of space in the small Black Eagle Federation dojo in Sugarhouse of Salt Lake City, Utah where I trained in karate. We practiced nearly all basics (kihon) and fighting (kumite) from kiba dachi. Kiba dachi was also used to build leg strength and power.

Front kick (mae geri) at the University
of Wyoming about 1993.
There were many nights we stood in kiba dachi for muscle strength and stamina. Our sensei (teacher) invented ways to torture that actually benefited us in the long run. In one exercise, our partner climbed on our thighs from the back while leaning on our shoulders to add weight as we squatted in kiba dachi with our hands on our knees to provide stirrups for our partner. We did this often. Other times we repeated dozens of squat kicks from kiba dachi where we dropped to a full squat, rose to kiba dachi and followed with mae geri (front kick). Other times, we squatted in a deep kiba dachi while our junior sensei walked around punching or kicking each of us in the stomach or ribs as part of body hardening (shitai kori). On other evenings, we would squat in kiba dachi while practicing outward blocks while sensei came around to each of us, punching with full power so if we missed our block, we would hear about it after waking up on the floor later that evening. After sensei cycled through all of us, we were ordered to squat lower and the exercise would begin again and again until we stood in a deep squat that any Shaolin monk would have been proud of. It was a stance we all knew well. This was usually followed by duck walks.

Master Cho of the Shaolin,
(c)pencil sketch by Soke Hausel
When we practiced self-defense in the dojo, nearly all applications were applied from kiba dachi perpendicular to our opponent. So, for my experience, I suspect the author of these kata enjoyed close-in fighting and felt the kata movement gave him or her feeling of conflict while providing leg strength exercise. I would love to teach kiba dachi the same way I learned because it would improve everyone’s strength, stances, and provide fond memories for all of you to tell your students one day. But our dojo has too many students with knee and back problems inherited from long ago. Remember, when I trained under these harsh conditions, I was a teenager with a good back, knees, and few memories of pain.

One of the main characteristics of Naihanchi lies in training the lower parts of the body through slow and steady sideward movement. When practicing these kata, one needs to maintain the same shoulder height throughout the kata (without bobbing) with weight distribution equally spread to each leg. According to the late Okinawan Grandmaster Shoshin Nagamine (1907-1997), the posture for Naihanchi is similar to a sitting posture for Zen, with strength concentrated in the abdomen. Soke Nagamine recalled that Naihanchi kata were a favorite of Choki Motobu. Motobu was famous for brawling in the red-light district on Okinawa, and credited the Naifanchi kata as containing all one needs to become a proficient fighter.

Sensei Hausel stands in kiba dachi
with 400 pounds of weight on his back at the
University of Wyoming.
Most kata in karate came from China and were modified by Okinawan royalty and body guards for pragmatic self-defense. Kata were designed as living encyclopedia for martial arts techniques, bunkai, physical fitness and building a karate mind. One of the oldest references to Naifanchi is found in a book by Choki Motobu (1870-1944). Motobu claimed Naifanchi was imported from China, but was no longer practiced by the Chinese.

Motobu was taught these kata by Sokon Matsumura (1809-1901) and Motobu taught his own interpretation of Naifanchi which included tode-like grappling and throwing techniques. Initially there was one Naifanchi kata that was separated into three kata by Anko Itosu (1831-1915). The original kata was apparently lengthy.

According to various sources, Itosu learned Naifanchi from Sokon Matsumura who had learned it from a Chinese man living in Tomari (a neighborhood of the Okinawan city of Naha). The form was so important to old style karate practitioners that Kensu Yabu (a student of Itosu) often told his students “Karate begins and ends with Naifanchi” and urged his students to practice the kata 10,000 times to make it their own. Before Itosu created the Pinan kata, the Naihanchi kata was traditionally introduced as the first kata learned in the Tomari-Te and Shuri-Te schools. 

In a 1922 book entitled ‘Tote: Ryūkyū Kenpō’, Gichin Funakoshi attributed Naifanchi kata to the Shōrei-Ryu lineage. This is what I was also taught as a teenager, that this group of kata was originally a Shōrei-Ryu kata. Shōrei-Ryu, also known as Naha-Te, is often referred to as Goju-Ryu karate, the style of karate practiced by some of our students who moved here from Yuma, Arizona.

Today, Naifanchi kata include three forms referred to as Naifanchi Shodan, Naifanchi Nidan and Naifanchi Sandan. Naifanchi is from the Ryukyu (Okinawan) dialect but is also pronounced Naihanchi. In our hombu, either pronunciation will work.

Gichin Funakoshi, father of modern Okinawa
Karate. (c)pencil sketch by Soke Hausel.
Sometime after the kata were introduced on mainland Japan in the 20th century, Gichin Funakoshi (the father of modern karate) changed the name of the kata to Tekki (鉄騎). This change was made by 1956 and was used almost exclusively by Shotokan karate groups. However, Shorin-Ryu martial artists retain the original name. Funakoshi supposedly renamed the kata Tekki (Iron Horse) in reference to his teacher Itosu. It has also been suggested that Funakoshi renamed the kata to reference to the distinctive feature: the horse-riding (kiba-dachi) stance. In fact, the kanji used to write Tekki () and kiba dachi (騎馬立ち) both employ the graphic for horse (ideograph with four legs).

Hanshi Finley, 7th dan, trains in kiba dachi at the University of Wyoming
The three kata can be powerful making use of close-fighting techniques using grappling, footwork and handwork (te sabaki). The side to side movement in a horse-riding stance is designed for balance and strength and for body shifting. When practicing these kata, focus on a deep stance keeping your knees pushed out to your sides to develop leg muscles. In the early days of karate, it was common practice for a student to spend 2 to 3 years doing nothing but Naihanchi under the strict observation of their teacher.

At the Arizona Hombu in Gilbert and Mesa, Arizona, students train in these kata until they learn all of their bunkai (self-defense applications) before moving on to another kata. But during this training, they also learn many other martial arts including kobudo, jujutsu, various self-defense applications and samurai arts to keep the students from getting bored. Not all Arizona martial arts schools teach naifanchi kata but they are a very important part of the curriculum at Grandmaster Hausel's school in Gilbert, Mesa, Arizona, who taught martial arts for 3 decades at the University of Wyoming prior to moving to Gilbert, Arizona.

Bunkai from Pinan Yodan and from Naihanchi Shodan practiced by Lexi and Janet at the Hombu Dojo
Gavin and John practice bunkai from Naihanchi Sandan kata.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Karate Kata and Zen in Arizona

It was in 1964, I walked into my first dojo (karate school): the Black Eagle Federation Dojo where Oyama's Karate was taught. We were initially told we were training in Goju-Ryu Karate, but later it was established we were students of Kyokushin Kai. It didn't matter to us, all we knew was we were learning karate. The dojo was small, musty and very primitive. The smell of stale sweat, blood and tears permeated the school. Not only did we learn to block as hard as we punched, we learned full contact karate and the only protective gear was an athletic cup: any part of the body was open to attack - groin, feet, legs, arms, chest and even the neck and face - we quickly learned to block effectively for self-preservation.

"Would you walk into a wilderness without a map? Then why would you consider karate without kata?" Soke Hausel

Karate in the 60s. Photo of Senpai Dan Hausel (and geologist) performing
'yoko tobi geri' at the University of Utah with Tim Smith (geophysicist).
It was the toughest training I ever went through - but I was only a teenager. Years later, I found basic training in the Army to be a breeze after karate. Later, when I was at the University of Wyoming, I discovered a martial arts association that was just as tough as Kyokushin Kai but more demanding. This association had the added benefit of learning a wide variety of martial arts - it was the best move I had ever made in martial arts - I applied for membership to Juko Kai International. At JKI, we trained in many martial arts, were taught extreme body hardening: the variety was very important to me as it made martial arts exciting and interesting.

"Kata can be liken to a GPS used to navigate through karate" – Soke Hausel

When I was at the Black Eagle Federation Dojo and later at the University of Utah Wado-Ryu Karate Club, we practiced kata: kata was shrouded in mystery. It seemed like we practiced kata for no reason other than to practice kata. There was no explanation to their purpose.

"The purpose of kata training is not to be bound by form but to transcend form and evolve."

Sensei Paula Borea and students train in Pinan Nidan kata at the Arizona Hombu, Gilbert and Mesa, Arizona.
It wasn't until much later, while a member of the University of New Mexico Karate Club, the University of Wyoming Shorin-Ryu Karate Club and at Juko Kai International, that I discovered kata contained everything one needed for self-defense, comprehension, training - it was like reaching enlightenment in Zen. Kata is a training method unique to traditional martial arts. It teaches power, balance, acceleration, mediation, self-defense and focus.

"If there is no kata, there is no karate, just kicking & punching", Soke Shoshin Nagamine (1907-1997)

In our system of Shorin-Ryu Karate and Kobudo, we have more than 70 kata. Each kata has its own bunkai (applications) and all students learn both the kata and the self-defense applications to progress. And both the kata and bunkai are not sacred. There are times of discovery that require one or the other, or both, to evolve.

"Kata is the origin of Karate. If there is no Kata, there is no Karate! Without kata, there is no martial art - instead it becomes nothing by primitive street fighting!" - Soke Shoshin Nagamine

"One must embrace thedo mu genproverb, there can be no end to learning and that karate begins and ends with the study of kata". Soke Shoshin Nagamine

Training in kobudo kata at the Arizona Hombu, Chandler, Gilbert, Mesa 
and learning 
bunkai (applications) for the kata below.

Hanshi Andy Finley from the Casper, Wyoming dojo trains with Sensei
Patrick Scofield from the Arizona Hombu.

Sensei Bill Borea trains with Dr. Neal Adam, Dai-Shihan, at the Arizona Hombu

Monday, October 1, 2012

Traditional Karate Kata

The path, known as the way or 'do' in Japanese. There are many paths: some
lead to righteousness 
It is said karate is kata & kata is karate. Kata provides a living encyclopedia of basics, self-defense applications (bunkai), muscle memory, timing, visual and physical focus. But kata must be treated seriously always keeping in mind timing and focus when you train. If you have no snap in your blocks, kicks & punches, then this how you learn karate – and the next time you are attacked in the Cowboy Bar, you will defend without power and with lack-luster effort. Whenever I train in kata, I focus every technique and practice kata slowly and periodically with great acceleration.  Whenever I finish a single kata, I am sweating and breathing hard - this is how kata should be done.

Next time you practice - imagine having to defend yourself with the power and focus you currently use to practice kata: this is how you are teaching yourself to defend on the street. I can’t emphasize this enough. If you are punching with no power or snap, you are training to do the same for future self-defense scenarios. This does not mean that you have to do every single kata full speed and power – but it does mean that you need to consider practicing each kata at least three times in each session: twice relatively slow with extraordinary snap in your punches and blocks (in other words – focus) and the third time with acceleration of technique (but also keeping your stances and timing in check).

Several years ago, I traveled across the continent to attend an international black belt clinic hosted in Florida. I was told at the clinic, I would test for godan (5th dan) in front of the grandmaster (who was and still is my instructor). At the time, I only knew of a couple of legitimate living grandmasters - extraordinary martial artists. So I was concerned about testing in front of the Grandmaster – but decided I would do my best and if it wasn’t enough, at least I tried. When I was called to test, I was surprised I was not only testing in front of the grandmaster, but also testing in front of about 250 yudansha (black belts) ranging from 1st to 9th dan. It was make or break.

Training in Naihanchi kata at the Arizona Hombu, Winter 2014
Much of the exam was kata, and I did every kata I knew – all with extreme focus and maximum power. During the exam in a large gym, there were other activities going on, but all stopped to watch my test from beginning to end. At the end of the test, I must have been 3 or 5 pounds lighter from sweating, but I was also promoted to godan and told by some yudansha that it was the most extraordinary exam they had witnessed. Two individuals even told me it was as if the building shook from the power (ki) of my punches. I was successful, because I had been practicing all kata at least twice a week (with focus) along with teaching several classes.

As you learn more about kata, you will discover hidden meanings & techniques. And in some cases, you will discover new techniques that no one ever thought of. As an example, one of Arizona yudansha – Dan Lang was testing for shodan and part of his exam was demonstration of Wanshu (Empi) kata. In the kata, he discovered one of the techniques can be used as taiotoshi (body leg drop). Now it seems so obvious, but why had no one ever seen this before? This is typical of kata.

Kata include training exercises for dachi (stances), uke (blocks), geri (kicks), uchi (strikes), ma (distance & timing), omote (techniques that are understandable), ura (hidden techniques), miegakure (techniques purposely hidden from outsiders or just plain misleading), ki (internal energy), ibuki (breathing), shitai kori (body hardening), tien hsueh (pressure point strikes), nage waza (throws), hitotsuki (one-punch knockouts), okurasu goroshi (killing strikes) and other techniques. Kata is the heart & soul of karate. Without kata, karate cannot be considered karate-do. Even so, there are kyoru systems, (ancient Okinawan fighting schools), that do not have kata and are referred to as karate-jutsu rather than karate-do. Even so, these old schools have considerable focus on traditions and respect for rank.

Kata should be practiced keeping bunkai (applications) in mind while applying sufficient focus with every technique. Recently, I was reading a book entitled ‘Moonwalking with Einstein’. The author mentions tools used to memorize seemingly impossible numbers of words or ideas simply by installing interesting images at different points along a walk, and then just remembering the walk. The method is so efficient; legend suggests that one King of Cyprus could recite the names of every soldier in his army. Today, some people (mental athletics) employ this same method to remember the order of two or more shuffled decks of cards, whole books - things that most of us think are beyond us. And none of these people have photographic memories.

This made me think about kata. Kata can be liken to a walk – a walk that must be learned in detail. After this walk is learned, we apply self-defense applications along every turn of the walk. By doing so, every single feature of a kata, no matter how subtle, can be used to trigger self-defense applications that can be embedded into one’s long term memory. Personally, I use this method in teaching martial arts. Not only do I extract basics (kihon) from kata to use to warm up classes, I try to find different combinations of basics to keep students from getting bored. When I teach self-defense, I often go back to kata to extract techniques for teaching self-defense (bunkai). I do the same for kobudo, ibuki, shitai kori, etc.

"If there is no kata, there is no karate, just kicking & punching" - Shoshin Nagamine

KATA of Seiyo Shorin-Ryu
Kihon (Basic) Kata. Kihon kata of Seiyo Shorin-Ryu include two that are unique to Seiyo Shorin-Ryu and designed to teach hip rotation while striking (tsuki) and basic kicks (geri). The basic kata are termed Taikyoku (太極) and translate as ‘first cause’: the original taikyoku forms were apparently created by Gichin Funakoshi of Okinawa and we still teach two of his kata.

Yan Ma of the University of Wyoming Campus Shorin-
Ryu Karate Club performs Pinan Godan kata.
These are not only used to teach basics but also to instill self-confidence. When teaching martial arts, it is very important that a sensei focus on both self-confidence and technique. There must be a balance between these two. If a sensei focuses too much on technique while constantly hovering over students, self-confidence will suffer, and the deshi will not be able to complete any technique without looking to the sensei for guidance.  It is important as sensei to teach technique and leave our deshi alone to discover for themselves. And in doing so, we must demand all students learn to respect rank and respond with ‘Oss’ when corrected. This is part of learning self-confidence. In Okinawan karate, students of all ranks must bow lower than seniors and respect their seniors in every way.

In teaching kata, some styles use as many as six Taikyoku kata. We have four in Seiyo Shorin-Ryu.

  • Taikyoku Shodan - Developed by Gichin Funakoshi to emphasize proper blocking, punching, stances, balance and respect.
  • Taikyoku Nidan - Developed by Gichin Funakoshi.
  • Taikyoku Sandan - Developed by Soke Hausel to emphasize gyaku tsuki (opposite hand punches), hip rotation & focus.
  • Taikyoku Yondan - Developed by Soke Hausel to teach basic kicks.
Similar basic kata are found in other styles of karate and are named juni no kata, fukugata, etc.

Soke Hausel teaches Pinan Nidan kata at the Arizona Hombu in Mesa.
Pinan Kata. Pinan (平安) (Ping-an) translates as 'peaceful mind'. According to 'Martial Arts - A Layman's Guide' and 'The Overlook Martial Arts Dictionary' Pinan kata were developed by Yasutsune (Anko) Itosu between 1903 to 1906 when karate was introduced to public school system on Okinawa Prefecture. These five kata were simplified from two longer kata known as Kusanku and Chiang Nan (also Channan). According to legend, the original Chinese kata (Chiang Nan) has been lost, but was originally introduced on Okinawa by a Chinese martial artist.

Shihan Vance of Cheyenne, Seiyo Shorin-Ryu
practices bunkai from Pinan Nidan with Sensei
Schroeder of the Utah Shorin-Kai
After dissecting the original two long forms, Itosu named his new five kata as Pinan (Mark Bishop, 1989, OkinawanKarate, A & C Black, publisher, London). Funakoshi, however; termed these Heian (‘peaceful and calm’) when he introduced karate to mainland Japan. Karate was also introduced to Korea. One style known as Tang Soo Do (the style of Chuck Norris) teaches these kata but they are termed Pyong-an on Korea. These are also taught to traditional Taekwondo practitioners.

We preserved these basic five kata with modifications unique to Seiyo Shorin-Ryu. Each Pinan kata in Seiyo Shorin-Ryu is accompanied by realistic bunkai (applications): a set of self-defense techniques for each step in kata. The applications include defenses against unarmed & armed assailants and incorporate strikes, kicks, pressure point activations, throws & restraints. Notable are simultaneous block-strike combinations (common in Juko-Ryu) as well as powerful strikes followed by throws (nage waza).
Sketch of Chuck Norris of Tang
soo do by Soke Hausel.
  • Pinan Shodan
  • Pinan Nidan
  • Pinan Sandan
  • Pinan Yodan
  • Pinan Godan
Naifanchi Kata. Naifanchi (ナイファンチ) (Okinawan dialect) is pronounced Naihanchi in Japanese and renamed Tekki (鉄騎) by Gichin Funakoshi when he introduced these on mainland Japan. These are three kata referred to as 'horse-riding' forms that are performed in a linear pattern focusing on kiba dachi (horse riding stance). The kata is designed to teach hand and leg strength. 

Arizona grandmaster Soke Hausel demonstrates application
from Naifanchi Shodan Kata at clinic at the
University of Wyoming assisted by Sensei Kyle Linton
from Colorado.
One colorful figure in Okinawan history, Motobu Choki was known as a brawler and spent much time in the tsuji of Okinawa (red light district) testing karate. He indicated these kata were all anyone needed to become a proficient fighter.

In Seiyo Shorin-Ryu we break down each individual technique into ippon kumite (one step sparring).  Each bunkai is followed with and additional strike or throw that is not choreographed.
  • Naifanchi Shodan
  • Naifanchi Nidan
  • Naifanchi Sandan
Passai Kata. Passai (披塞) kata, known as Bassai in Japanese, include two kata that translate as ‘Penetrating a Fortress’ although other translations have suggested it could refer to ‘Leopard-Lion Form’. These are also practiced in some Korean styles of karate (Taekwondo, Tang Soo Do and Soo Bahk Do). The origin of these is unknown, but they have similarities to Chinese Leopard, Lion and Wuxing QuanKung Fu. The suffix ‘dai’ translates as large and ‘sho’ translates as ‘small’.
  • Passai Dai
  • Passai Sho
Jion Kata Group. This series of kata, known as Jutte (also spelled as Jitte), Jion, and Giin (also spelled Jiin) provide many interesting techniques.  Jutte (十手) translates as 10 hands, is believed to have been named because practitioners who master this kata, are be able to defend against five adversaries (with 10 hands). Others have suggested that the translation actually refers to the Japanese weapon known as the jutte as some of the hand positions suggest a jutte. This kata is also practiced in the Korean styles and called ‘Sip Soo’.  Some techniques in the kata can be used to take a bo from an adversary. Jion (慈恩) translates as ‘mercy’ but also refers to Jion-Ji, a Buddhist temple. Jiin (慈陰) translates as ‘inverted mercy’.
  • Jutte
  • Jion
  • Giin
Kusanku Kata.  Kūshankū (公相君), Kūsankū,  Kōsōkun or Kankū-dai (観空大) is named after a Chinese diplomat from the Fukien Province of China who taught this kata to Okinawan martial artists. Gichin Funakoshi renamed it Kanku-dai (Japanese). The kata are also practiced in Tang Soo Do as Kong Sang Koon. The two kata have a similar embusen (pattern of movement) and both are very long and complex. In Japanese, they translate as “Looking at the Sky" because of the unique opening move where the martial artist looks to the sky.

Looking to the Sky in Kusanku Dai
This kata is typically taught to advanced yudansha (black belts) because of length and complexity. They have at least 65 steps and more than a hundred hand techniques.

I personally know of one ‘egg-head’ professor, after being promoted to shodan in Shotokan, offered to teach a class in ‘beginning karate at a University of Wyoming where he was also teaching engineering. For some unknown reason, he decided to teach his karate students, Kusanku Dai, one of the more complex kata. You can imagine the frustrations of these students who had never performed a karate punch or kick prior to his class. By the third class, the room was filled with one person – the professor.
  • Kusanku Dai
  • Kusanku Sho
Group 7 This group of kata includes Niseishi (二十四歩) (introduced as Nijushiho to Japan by Gichin Funakoshi), Unsu (雲手) and Chinte (珍手). Niseishi kata (Okinawan dialect) is practiced by Tang Soo Do and named E Sip Sa Bo. The kata has 24 steps which is where it receives its name, but its origin is unknown.

Unsu (Unshu) translates as ‘cloud hands’ because of the motion of hands in the opening move of the kata. They are suggestive of clouds gathering for a thunderstorm.

Chinte translates as ‘rare hand’, ‘unusual hand’ or ‘Chinese hand’. It has unusual close quarter strikes along with taitoshi nage waza (body leg drop throw). The strict Japanese schools, like Shotokan, include a strange set of backward hops at the end of the kata that do not occur in other styles.
  • Niseishi (24 steps).
  • Unsu (Cloud hands)
  • Chinte (Chinese hand form)
Group 8 Kata. Wanshu, also known as Anshu and Ansu (Empi in Japanese) was taught to Okinawan martial artists by a Chinese delegate named Wang Ji in 1683 A.D. Wang Ji is said to have been a martial artist of Fujian White Crane Kung Fu. The name of the kata may reflect this Chinese delegate’s name, and may translate as ‘dragon boy dumping form’ or as ‘strong arm form’. There are two principal versions of this kata, one from Matsumora Shorin-Ryu and the other from Itosu. When Gichin Funakoshi introduced this kata to Japan, he renamed it Empi (also Enpi) kata. Empi translates as ‘flying swallow’. Members of Tang Soo Do call this Wangshu or Yun Bi.

Kata training at the University of Wyoming
Sochin kata (壯鎭) translates as ‘tranquil force’ in Japanese. This is a powerful kata likely from the Naha-Te school in Okinawa.

Seisan translates as ‘13 steps’ or ‘13 killing positions’ in Okinawan. In Japanese, this kata is known as Hangetsu and translates as 'Half-Moon Form' where it derives its name from the common use of hachi-dachi stance throughout the kata. This kata provides a feeling of a moving arch or half-moon due to common pigeon toe stances designed to protect the groin area from kicks. The form is originally from the Shorei-Ryu school. It is called Seishan in Korean.
  • Wanshu (Empi) kata. "Flying Swallow".
  • Sochin kata. Based on the powerful 'Rooted stance".
  • Seisan (Hangetsu). 'Half-Moon Form'.
Group 9 Kata. Okan or Wankan kata (王冠) are separated into two forms – Wankan Dai and Wankan Sho. These are believed to be from the Tomari-te school of Okinawa karate. The Seiyo version of Wankan Dai is different from kata practiced by other styles and incorporates a few of Soke's favorite techniques. Wankan translates as ‘Kings Crown’ and is also referred to as Okan kata.

Gojushiho (Useishi) Kata training at Arizona Hombu in Mesa.
Useishi or Gojushiho (五十四歩) kata translates as ‘54 steps’ (photo to right – Useishi kata). In some schools, there are two nearly identical kata: Gojushiho Dai and Gojushiho Sho. Because these two are so similar, Soke Hausel combined them into one kata. Gojushiho is also known as Useishi in the Okinawan dialect.

Anaku (安南空) kata was developed by Chotoku Kyan and translates as ‘Light from the South’ or ‘Peace from the South’. It is a relatively simple, but powerful kata from the Matsubayashi Shorin-Ryu system.
  • Wankan Dai.
  • Okan (Wankan Sho)
  • Gojushiho (Useishi)
  • Anaku
Hakutsuru  Kata. Kata of the White Crane include Rohai. Rohai translates as ‘vision of the white crane’ or ‘vision of the heron’.  The original Rohai kata is thought to have been created by Kosaku Matsumora and later broken down into three kata by Itosu.  Gichin Funakoshi took these three kata and again combined them into one that he named Meikyo (明鏡) (translates as ‘polishing a mirror’). In the Seiyo Shorin-Ryu style, members not only learn Meikyo, but also a separate kata we retain the name of Rohai.

White crane wings from Hakutsuru Dai Kata Photo of Soke Hausel of the Mesa, Arizona Hombu teaching White Crane Shorin-Ryu Karate Clinic at the University of Wyoming in 2010.
Other kata of white crane include Chinto (renamed Gankaku by Funakoshi) (岩鶴). Chinto, according to legend, was the name of a shipwrecked Chinese sailor (also known as Annan) who became known as a great fighter on Okinawa and taught techniques to some Okinawan martial artists. Chinto translates as ‘fight to the east’ or ‘fighter to the east’ in reference to China or more likely to this particular sailor. When Funakoshi introduced this kata to Japan, he renamed it Gankaku "Crane on the Rock". Some say this was done to appease the Japanese by removing any reference to China due to anti-Chinese sentiment at the beginning of the 20th century. It is also known as a one of the Rohai kata.

Hakutsuru Dai and Sho kata are considered as advanced kata and have many unusual techniques that mimic movement of a cranes. For example, there are crane wing blocks (see above photo), and many pressure point strikes. It is thought these forms were originally developed by a Chinese female kung fu practitioner who created the kata while observing movements of white crane. The white crane kata have several deceptively powerful strikes and blocks.
There are many other empty hand karate kata taught by other martial arts styles (such as Goju-Ryu and Shito-Ryu) that include Annan, Annanko, Happiken, Jyuroku, Kururunfa, Matsukaze, Nipaipo, Ryuko, Saifa, Sanchin, Seiryu, Seiunchin, Shisochin, Suparinpei, Tensho, etc.