Naihanchi Kata

by Javier Martinez, Puerto Rico Isshinryu Karate


Beginning of Naihanchi

From the Book Naihanchi Kata, Secrets Revealed


This technique is designed against a grab.

1. The opponent grabs your right hand with his right hand.
2. Lock his wrist.
3. Push down his wrist to lock his body.
4. Start moving toward his elbow. (This movement creates a lot of pain)
5. The opponent falls.

The steps are considered as part of the first technique, and not as part of the second technique.
(Remember that in the second part of Naihanchi the block is done without the steps.) 

Detailed view of the wrist lock.
The whole technique should be done in no more than three seconds.


 About the Origins of Naihanchi Kata

From the Book Naihanchi Kata, Secrets Revealed

Very similar in structure with an ancient Chinese Kung Fu form known as “Dai-Po-Chin”, practiced a century ago near the South region of the Yangtze River.  It is believe that Naihanchi is the Okinawan name for the Naifuanchi introduced by a Chinese Master named Ason. This kata was one of the most important in Okinawa at that time, its linage started with Ason to Tomoyose - Gushi - Sakiyama and Tomigusuku. According to some historians, this line ended, however, with Master Tomigusuku when the original aggressive techniques weren't passed on.

Reference can be found on page 4 of Funakoshi’s 1922 publication Ryukyu Kempo Karate-jutsu, that indeed master Ason, was a White Crane master who's stay in Okinawa appears to have been prolonged. He left behind a linage of prominent students such as: Sakiyama, Gushi, Nagahama and Tomoryori.

The Ason-line was one of the first martial art schools in Okinawa, and existed already when Kanryo Higaonna (Higashionna) returned from China. Like Higaonna’s school, this school was influenced by the southern Chinese styles. Therefore it is not surprising, that Naihanchi kata was also a requirement in the Higaonna’s school, but ended however when Miyagi and Kyoda never included it in their curriculum. The Naihanchi was transmitted only by the direction of the “Shuri-te” (term recently used).

The aggressive basis-concept of the original Ason-Naihanchi was a form of fighting on restricted area. According to some sources, techniques in Naihanchi were designed to be used on narrow bridges, woodland paths, cliffs of the rocks, riverbanks and stones, which are covered with algae and therefore the stand aggravated. This exercise arranged a special manner to move, which is was not included in today’s Tekki (a Naihanchi derived form).

The attacks of the kata aimed at vital areas, joints and ligaments. Because its origins can be linked to the Chinese systems of the south, (although can be linked with a Chinese martial art known as “Tam Tui”or “Seeking Leg”), it is possible that in the advance level it requires some knowledge about Dianxue.

According to Morio Higaonna, Sensei Kanryo Higaonna (1853-1917), handed the Naihanchi kata  himself down into the Naha-te around 1877.  As a young man, he became a sailor on the Shinko-Sen, a vessel engaged in regular trading and cultural expeditions to China. On one of those expeditions, he bravely rescued a drowning child. When he returned the child to its parents, he discovered that the boy’s father was a renowned Chinese martial artist Master known as Liu Liu Ko (Xie Zhongxiang). When a grateful Master Liu offered  Higaonna a reward,  he instead asked for instruction in the art of Chinese boxing.

It was Higaonna who later taught the kata koshiki (old style) Naihanchi which is still practiced as a typical kata of the Shorei school.

Itosu linage theory

According to this theory, the form reached in Itosu’s school first. Master Itosu divided the kata into three independent forms, which he called Naihanchi-Shodan, Naihanchi-Nidan and Naihanchi-Sandan. It is believed that Ason-Naihanchi had more than 100 movements originally, and the two last Naihanchi variants weren't invented by Master Itosu, but he merely broke the original form into three isolated kata practices. Around 1925, Master Funakoshi exported this kata to Japan and renamed it as Tekki, meaning "Iron Horse", which refers to the stance used in it. "Iron" refers to its strength and stability. "Horse" refers to the fact that it resembles a man riding a horse.

In Shotokan, one practices all three Tekki variants. But when you compare the movements in these versions, like for example, the Kiba-Dachi of the Shorin-ryu and quite particularly the concept of the side way stance and side way movement from the Itosu school, which was typical of the Shorin-ryu Naihanchi, you can notice that this old kata had suffered fundamental changes. The manner of the Shorin-stance opened the lower body and shifted the tensions to a higher area. This was intensified still more, because in Japan the Kiba-Dachi was wider and the knees were turned much more outside. The consequence was the lost of the original techniques along with energy and breathing patterns.

Modern Tekki variants have only a minor meaning regarding her original application for combat. The reason for this is that the aggressive interpretation of this kata was lost in the Ason school, thus, changing the Shorei typical breathing and stance concept. These new variants won new contents as Okinawan karate was exported to Japan. There are Shotokan Masters, who measure the progress of her pupils to this how they perform Tekki. They state, that one shouldn't demonstrate the true Tekki before 10,000 repeats. It is also said that Master Funakoshi practiced nothing else but Tekki kata in his youth for over 10 years.

Matsumura theory

Another theory establishes that Matsumura studied under Ason for some time. Matsumura’s students claim that it was him who took this kata and broke it up into two parts: Naihanchi Shodan and Nidan.

Decendants from Matsumura linage claim that Naihanchi Sho and Ni were originally one kata. After learning this kata from Matsumura Sokon, Itosu Yasutsune separated it into two forms and added the third variation.  They give different reasons for the side to side movement of the kata; fighting on a rice patty dike, fighting with your back against a wall, or simply that it's a basic pattern that is easy for beginners to learn. All of which are probably correct.

But according to the Sui Ken system, the origins of Naihanchi Sandan are more obscure. It is not a Matsumura kata at all, but it may have its origin in Ason's system also. Some believe either Itosu or Choki Motobu made Naihanchi Sandan. There is more than one possible meaning for the word Naihanchi, and they are both very plausible. The pronunciation of Naihanchi was originally Naifuanchi, because that is the way it was pronounced in China. The particle “Nai” means “inner” or “inside”. “Fuan” means “uneasy”. “Chi” means the soil or foundation. Chi could mean "battle" as it does in the word Sanchin. Therefore, it could mean “fighting inside of an uneasy ground.”

In a 1972 interview, Soken Sensei, said that Naihanchi was the name of a Chinese man who was living on Okinawa. The kata was most likely either created by him, or from techniques and concepts taught by him. Like many other Masters, he attributed the origin of Naihanchi to a Chinese man named Ason, whom Matsumura Sokon is known to have trained with. Perhaps this is the man Soken Sensei was referring to.

On the other hand, another theory states that Gojushiho and Naihanchi Kata are from the same Chinese source and are considered as White Crane Katas. According to this theory both Katas were brought to Okinawa by Matsumura after a six-month trip to Taiwan.

In Taiwan he met a White Crane Chinese Master named Chanan. Funakoshi wrote that an unidentified man from Fuzhou drifted to Okinawa from a place called Annan, (maybe we are referring to the same master)  Annan is in fact an historic region (c.58,000 sq mi/150,200 sq km) and former state, of central Vietnam. The region extended nearly 800 mi (1,290 km) along the South China Sea between Tonkin and Cochin China.

Chanan taught three Katas to Bushi Matsumura; Chanan-Sho, Chanan-Dai and Ping An. If the theory is true it could imply that Okinawans never received the true “secrets” with the kata, due to the short time Matsumura spend in Taiwan. According to this theory, Matsumura devised Naihanchi Sho and Dai from Chanan-Sho and Dai respectively.

It is said that it was around 1901 that Itosu (Matsumura's student) devised Naihanchi-Shodan renaming Matsumura's Naihanchi Katas as Nidan and Sandan. From Ping An Kata Matsumura devised Pinan (known nowadays as Pinan Shodan), and by 1903 Itosu had devised four additional Pinan Katas which he enumerated as # 2, 3, 4 and 5. Itosu named Matsumura's Pinan as # 1, in respect to his teacher. However, Pinan Nidan (#2) was taught prior to Pinan Shodan (#1), because this one (Matsumura's) is more technically advanced.

Books by Javier Martinez: