Roots Of Shotokan:
Funakoshi's Original 15 Kata
Part 2 - Pinan, Naihanchi, Kushanku
& Passai Kata
by Joe Swift
Editor's Note: This three
part series examines the roots of Shotokan karate
through Gichin Funakoshi's 15 original kata. The first
article discussed the controversy over
Funakoshi's classification of Okinawan karate's Shorin
and Shorei traditions by body type, as well as his
knowledge of kata. The following two articles focus
on in-depth discussions of the meaning and origin
of Funakoshi's core kata.
The Original Fifteen Kata of Shoto: The First
Pinan (Heian) 1-5
pinan two (nidan)
The Pinan series is commonly accepted as being created
by Anko Itosu (one of Funakoshi's teachers). The only
real controversy is whether he created them based
upon his knowledge of the classical kata such as Kushanku
and Passai, or whether he was reworking a unique Chinese
form called Channan. Others historians suggest the
Channan kata were originally Itosu's creations but
There has also been argument recently about whether
Itosu had created them as an adjunct to physical education,
or whether he was trying to establish a separate tradition
to further distinguish his modern karate tradition
from Quanfa (fist techniques), or Toudi (Chinese Hand,
also alternately pronounced as karate) -- both referring
to older style fighting and self-defense traditions.
In either case, the Pinan can be considered representative
of Itosu's karate. The Pinan kata are said to have
been officially introduced in the spring of 1904 (Gima
et al, 1986).
Although there is some opposition to the idea Itosu
had developed these kata, most of the primary sources,
including those by Itosu's students, point to Itosu
as the architect of this tradition. Choki Motobu,
in both his 1926 and 1932 publications, states:
"The Pinan were created by the modern Bujin
(warrior) Itosu Sensei as teaching materials for his
students, making them truly a unique form of Okinawan
kenpo, which is indeed a very joyous thing for those
who follow the Way" (Motobu, 1926, 1932).
In their early, formative years, these kata seem
to have been called Channan, but later the name Pinan
was adopted by Itosu, apparently upon hearing the
opinions of the young students (Kinjo, 1956a; Mabuni
et al, 1938; Murakami, 1991; Swift, 2000). Apparently,
many of those who learned the Pinan kata as Channan
continued to teach them under that name (Mabuni et
In contrast, another theory states that Itosu did
not create the Pinan kata, but actually remodeled
older Chinese-based kata called Channan. This theory
maintains that Itosu learned a series of Chinese Quan-fa
xing/kata (kung fu) from a shipwrecked Chinese person
at Tomari (a small seaport town on Okinawa), and reworked
them into five smaller components, re-naming them
Pinan because the Chinese pronunciation "Chiang-Nan"
was too difficult (Bishop, 1999).
An interesting side note on the Pinan kata is provided
by the Okinawan karate authority Hiroshi Kinjo. He
states that Hisateru Miyagi (a former student of Itosu
who graduated from the Okinawa Prefectural Normal
School in 1916) said that when he (Miyagi) was studying
under the old master, Itosu only really taught the
first three Pinan with any real enthusiasm, and that
the last two were rather neglected (Kinjo, 1956b).
Naihanchi (Tekki) 1-3
The Naihanchi, a.k.a. Naifuanchi (here demonstrated
by Funakoshi in his 1924 book), series is said to
be typical of in-fighting techniques, including grappling.
are three kata in modern (i.e. post 1900) karate,
with the second and third thought to have been created
by Anko Itosu (Iwai, 1992; Kinjo, 1991a; Murakami,
1991). Another popular theory is that originally the
three were one kata, but were broken up into three
separate parts by Itosu (Aragaki, 2000; Iwai, 1992).
More research is necessary to prove or dispute either
This kata (as some have suggested) was not originally
developed to be used when fighting against a wall,
but could be used for this purpose. While the kata
itself linear, moving side to side, the applications
are more often than not against an attacker who is
in front of you, or grabbing at you from the sides
or behind. Some say that the side-to-side movement
is to build the necessary balance and physique for
quick footwork and body-shifting (Kinjo, 1991b).
Itosu was considered to have mastered the original
Naifuanchi (Aragaki, 2000; Nihon Karate Kenkyukai,
1955). It is also thought that changed the original
kata. Kenwa Mabuni (1889-1941), a direct student of
Itosu and founder of Shito-ryu karate-do, supposedly
learned the Naifuanchi kata from an old expert named
Seihaku Matayoshi. Upon showing this kata to Itosu,
Mabuni was told that the way he performed it was the
old way, and that Itosu had researched and improved
the kata, so Mabuni should practice it the new way
instead (Iwai, 1992, 2000).
So important was the Naifuanchi kata to old-style
karate that Kentsu Yabu, the martial arts instructor
at the Okinawa Prefectural Teacher's School, often
told his students "Kata wa Naifuanchi ni hajimari,
Naifuanchi ni owaru" (Kata begins and ends with
Naifuanchi) (Gima et al, 1986). Yabu often admonished
his students that one must practice the kata 10,000
times in order to make it one's own. Even Funakoshi
recalled in his autobiography that he spent a total
of ten years learning and practicing the three Naihanchi
kata while studying under Itosu (Funakoshi, 1956).
As far as the origins of Naifuanchi are concerned,
there are several theories, but unfortunately little
if any evidence to corroborate or disprove them. The
oldest written references to Naifuanchi's history
are probably in the books of the renowned fighter
Choki Motobu. Motobu stated in his two books, "Okinawa
Kenpo Toudijutsu Kumite-hen" and "Watashi
no Toudijutsu" that Naifuanchi was imported from
China, but is no longer practiced there (Motobu, 1926,
1932). Unfortunately, this author is unable to confirm
whether or not Naifuanchi is still practiced in China.
Noted Okinawan karate historian Akio Kinjo relates
his own experience in researching the roots of Naifuanchi.
In the 1960s, he sought out Danchi Kaneko, who had
studied a Taiwanese form of White Crane boxing known
as Ban Qiu Ban Bai He Quan (lit. Half Hillock, Half
White Crane Boxing). Kaneko, an acupuncturist who
lived in Yonabaru, taught a form that would be pronounced
Neixi (lit. Inside-Knee) in Mandarin Chinese, which
includes the same sweeping action found in the Nami-gaeshi
or returning wave technique of the Okinawan Naifuanchi
kata. This technique is shown below, as demonstrated
by Motobu in his 1926 book.
The "returning wave" (the term actually
coined by Funakoshi to explain an Okinwan technique
to the Japanese), involves sweeping the sole of one
foot up to the thigh of the other leg. Some have alternately
interpreted this move to be a block of a kick, avoiding
a sweep, a stomping down, or kick to an opponent's
Kinjo also states that subsequent research in Fujian
revealed to him that Neixi is pronounced "Nohanchi"
in the Fuzhou dialect. From this, Kinjo feels that
Neixi is the forerunner of the modern Okinawan Naifuanchi
kata. (Kinjo, 1999)
However, even with this speculation, many questions
remain unanswered with regard to the origins of this
the first move of Kusanku (Kanku) kata
Described by some as a "night fighting kata,"
no references to night fighting are found in the primary
references coming out of Japan and Okinawa, leading
this author to conclude that such interpretations
were contrived to fit movements of this classical
kata that are not very well understood.
In the year 1762, a tribute ship sent to Satsuma
(the Japanese clan based in Japan's most southern
island, Kyushu) from the Ryukyus (the island chain
in which Okinawa is the principle island) was blown
off course during a storm and landed at Tosa Province
(named after the Tosa clan) on Shikoku island, where
they remained for a month.
The Confucian scholar of Tosa, Ryoen Tobe (1713-1795),
was petitioned to collect testimony from the crew.
The record of this testimony is known as the "Oshima
Hikki" (literally "Note of Oshima",
the name of the area of Tosa where the ship ran aground).
In this book, there is some very provocative testimony
by a certain Shionja Peichin, describing a man from
China called Koshankin, who demonstrated a grappling
technique (McCarthy, 1995; Murakami, 1990; Sakagami,
It is commonly accepted that Koshankin was the originator
of the Okinawan Kusanku kata (Kanku), or at least
inspired it. However, there are several unknowns in
this equation. First of all, was Koshankin his name
or a title, or even a term of affection? Second, if
it was a title or term of affection, what was his
real name? Third, what martial art(s) did he teach,
and how do they differ from the modern karate kata
of Kusanku? Most of these questions are still being
researched by this author and others.
For now, suffice it to say that Kusanku is a highly
important kata in the Okinawan martial arts, and has
spawned many versions over the years. While there
are numerous others, some of main kusanku versions
Kusanku Dai/Sho of Anko Itosu lineage styles
Chibana no Kusanku of Shudokan
Takemura no Kusanku of Bugeikan and Genseiryu
Kanku Dai/Sho of Shotokan
Shiho Kusanku of Shito-ryu
Yara no Kusanku of Chotoku Kyan lineage styles
Although it is said that Funakoshi learned Kushanku
from Anko Asato, after a careful comparative analysis
it is my belief that he in fact learned it from Itosu
(as Kushanku Dai that Itosu had re-worked for his
physical education curriculum). More research is necessary,
however. Kanku Dai (the modern Shotokan version of
the Itosu Kushanku Dai kata) is one of two standardized
Shotokan forms designated by the Japan Karatedo Federation
(JKF) for kata competitions.
Passai kata has perhaps spawned the greatest number
of confirmed versions than any other kata in the Okinawan
self-defense traditions. Although the roots of this
kata are obscure, there are several theories as to
Okinawan karate researcher Akio Kinjo feels that the
Passai kata is related to Leopard and Lion boxing
forms (Kinjo, 1999). He believes that the first step
in the kata, where one steps in, twists the body sideways
and performs a strong strike/block with the closed
fist (here demonstrated by Funakoshi in his 1924 book),
is representative of Leopard boxing, whereas the use
of the open hand and the stomping actions are more
representative of Lion boxing. The name itself, Kinjo
holds, actually means "Leopard-Lion," which
would be pronounced "Baoshi" in Mandarin,
"Baassai" in Fuzhou dialect and "Pausai"
in Quanzhou dialect (Kinjo, 1999).
Other theories as to the original meaning of the
name Passai include "eight fortresses" (Bishop,
1999). Noted Okinawan karate historian Tetsuhiro Hokama
has even hypothesized that it might represent a personal
name (Hokama, 1999). Katsumi Murakami, a direct student
of such luminaries as Choshin Chibana (Shorin-ryu),
Motokatsu Inoue (Ryukyu Kobujutsu), Juhatsu Kyoda
(Toíon-ryu) and many others, calls upon his
knowledge of Chinese martial arts when searching for
the possible roots of Passai. He says that some parts
remind him of the Wuxing Quan (Five Elements Fist)
form of Xingyi Quan (kung fu) (Murakami, 1991).
Of the Okinawan versions of Passai, a clear evolutionary
link can be seen from the "Matsumura no Passai"
(named after the great karate master Soken Matsumura
c.1809-1901) to the "Oyadomari no Passai"
(named after the Tomari karate legend) and then on
to the "Passai Dai of Itosu" (Kinjo, 1978,
1991). The Matsumura version seems to have retained
an essentially Chinese flavor, whereas the Oyadomari
version is a more "Okinawanized" form, which
was further modified by Itosu into the uniquely Okinawan
modern version seen today (Kinjo, 1991).
Noted Shito-ryu instructor and researcher Toshihisa
Sofue discusses the theory that Passai was developed
as a lead-in to Kushanku kata, by citing that most
of the "Shuri" styles of karatedo today
teach the Pinan, Naifuanchi and Passai before entering
into the study of Kushanku (Sofue, 1999). However,
he contradicts his own theory by also citing that
Passai, while containing some similarities to Kushanku,
is indeed an independent tradition, based upon the
fact that it contains several unique features that
are not found in Kushanku (Sofue, 1999).
Funakoshi's Passai is clearly the Passai Dai of Itosu,
which is very similar to the Ishimine no Passai, believed
to be passed down by Bushi Ishimine (Murakami, 1991;
part of this three article series will
discuss the kata
Seisan, Wanshu, Chinto, Jitte and Jion.
About The Author:
Joe Swift, native of New York State (USA), has
lived in Japan since 1994. He works as a translator/interpreter,
and previously served as an assistant instructor
at the Mushinkan Okinawa Karate Kobudo Dojo in Kanazawa.
Swift now resides in Tokyo and will be opening a
a branch of the Mushinkan Dojo (Okinawa Shoreiryu)
in that city. A well know karate historian and researcher,
Swift has published articles in the Dragon Times
and other leading martial arts journals and on a
variety of martial arts sites around the world.
He is a Contributing Editor for FightingArts.com.
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