It originated in the 17th century and was named for a Chinese master named Sappushi Wanshu, an emissary from China to the King of the Ryukyu Islands. Wanshu taught his style of Chinese Boxing, later called Tomari-Te, to the local Okinawans beginning in 1683. He was known colloquially as the "Birdman." The kata was passed from Takahara Peichin to "Tode" Sakugawa, then to Soken Matsumura, and finally to Chotoku Kyan. Chokun Makabe, a student of Sakugawa, is thought to have developed Wansu Kata as it is practiced today. Wansu is actually a White Crane/Black Tiger form stripped of the animal movements by the Okinawans. The original name of the form prior to its inception into Okinawan Karate is Hwang Ying Yang Pao.

Wansu translates as the "Dumping Form" because of the unique "fireman's carry" technique placed in the middle, the bunkai for which is usually interpreted as grabbing an attacker in the eyes and groin, and rotating 180 degrees in order to drive the opponent into the ground. Symbolically, Wansu means "Karate is my secret" because of the opening move in which the fight fist is covered by the open left hand and circled in front of the chest to form a reinforced block.

It is a forceful kata with moderate wave, Wansu poses the question of distance to the karateka. Initiative must be developed and a positive spirit accepted. Wansu teaches the karateka to recognize and seize an opportunity. This point is arrived at by understanding the distancing between opponents. Wansu includes a number of defensive moves through which the karateka will learn not only to block an attack, but also to evade an attack by side-stepping and then quickly counter-attacking. Bridging between stances is done fluidly, another tenet for which this kata is noted.

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