A comparison of Naifanchin kata (Toyama, Motobu, Funakoshi)

The concepts of martial arts were handed down from generation to generation through kata. Traditionally, the secret kata, the secret tec...

The concepts of martial arts were handed down from generation to generation through kata. Traditionally, the secret kata, the secret techniques encoded in these kata, and the historical background of the style were taught only to a small circle of students. As the generations passed, the secret kata were modified, and therefore some of the old techniques and parts of the historical knowledge were lost. Today, our knowledge is based on folk memory and on a small number of books written in the beginning of the 20th century by martial arts experts such as Hanashiro Chomo, Funakoshi Gichin, Mabuni Kenwa, Nakasone Genwa and Choki Motobu.

Despite these books, we must realize that our knowledge of the times and the work of the masterssuch as Kushanku, Matsumura, Itosu, Higashionna is merely anecdotal. Thus, the information about the lives of these masters and the essence of their martial art available today is reliable only to a limited degree. However, even though it may be hard to trace back and reconstruct this information, studying these masters, their lives, and the kata they taught greatly enriches day-to-day training. As a comprehensive art and path of personal development, Karatedo encompasses all aspects of life.

It allows practitioners to explore their art in all stages of their lives, not only physically but also from philosophical and historical perspectives. Let's go to Naifanchin kata. The Naifanchin kata is one of the oldest kata in Okinawa karate and was known in Shuri-te and Tomari-te. Together with Passai, Kushanku, Useishi, Chinto, Seisan, Channan and Hakutsuru kata, Naifanchin kata belongs to the forms which had already been passed down by Matsumura Sokon. Along with Seisan kata, Naifanchin was one of the basic kata used to introduce novices to the training of technique and physical fitness.

By introducing karate as a means of physical education at elementary schools in Okinawa, Itosu brought to public attention an art previously trained only by a select few. This process was accompanied by a thorough reform of teaching methods and led to an expansion of the kata curriculum.

Above, we saw which kata had already existed in the time before Itosu. Itosu revolutionized karate, he adapted it to meet the requirements of group training and created a variety of new katas. (Pinan I-IV, Passai sho, Kushanku sho, Rohai I-III, Naifanchin I-III). Similar to the three Naifanchin kata, Pinan (5), Kyoku (7) und Rohai (3) are trained in groups of kata with different stages. In these groups of kata, the different stages represent different degrees of difficulty. However, an analysis of the three Naifanchin kata shows that Naifanchin Shodan is the basic form and Naifanchin Nidan and Sandan are only variations which, from a technical point of view, include no major innovative elements and technical advances compared to Naifanchin Shodan. Many believe that training only Naifanchin Shodan is sufficient to gain deeper insight into the underlying concepts of the kata.

Itosu expanded Matsumara’s kata curriculum on a large scale. Looking back from today’s vantage point, however, we can say that this expansion caused the “tradition” to be diluted. Nowadays, many more katas are being taught in the different schools than in the days of Matsumura, which invariably means that less time can be devoted to each individual kata. We must not overlook, however, that it is precisely Itosu’s revolutionary spirit and his courage in breaking with tradition that made the global spread of karate possible. The following pictures show Naifanchin Shodan performed by Toyama Kanken, Funakoshi Gichin and Motobu Choki. I hope you enjoy analyzing the pictures.


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