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.