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.