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Iain Abernethy
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Naihanchi and Tekki Beyond Styles (Compare the Masters)

Hi All,

In another thread we were looking at how Funakoshi’s karate had evolved during his lifetime by comparing two clips showing him doing the kata Tekki Shodan at various points in history. That got me thinking about putting footage of other masters performing the kata on the site so we can look at the differences and similarities. A quick run through Youtube later and this is what I came up with.

The thing that always strikes me is that the core structure is constant through all the styles, that the commonalties far outweigh the differences, and that those differences are not significant enough, in my view, to warrant viewing the style variations as separate independent entities. It’s essentially all the same stuff.

At the seminars I use the analogy of five blind men experiencing an elephant for the first time. The first one feels the trunk and concludes that elephants are like snakes. The second one feels the tail and concludes that elephants are like a frayed piece of rope. The third one feels a leg and concludes that elephants are like tree trunks. The fourth one feels the side and concludes that elephants are like walls. The fifth one feels all around the elephant and concludes that elephants are like elephants.

The point is that what the first four men experienced was the truth; from a given perspective. However they got stuck in the details and the “big truth” was only experienced when all those perspectives were combined. I think it’s similar with style variations of kata. While knowing and refining one core version of the kata is very important, being familiar with other variations helps us to look at our kata from “other angles” and hence get the big picture. It stops us getting stuck in the detail and keeps us focused on what is truly important.

I’m of the view that the core combative principles embedded in the kata are bigger than any style. The “message” remains the same, even if the “handwriting” used to write that message varies. I sometimes think that karateka get so hung up on the tiny differences between style variations that the big picture and the overwhelming commonalties get lost.

Anyhow, I hope you enjoy comparing the clips. Please feel free to add links to other examples and I’ll embed them when I get chance.

All the best,

Iain

Choshin Chibana - Naihanchi Shodan – Shorin-Ryu

 

Hironori Otsuka – Naihanchi – Wado-Ryu

 

Gichin Funakoshi – Tekki Shodan – Shotokan

 

Tatsuo Shimabukuro – Naihanchi – Isshin-Ryu

 

Matsutatsu Oyama – Tekki Shodan - Kyokushinkai

Paul Anderson
Paul Anderson's picture

Whoa.  Nice wee bit of research there Iain.

I may steel those videos and post on our club website with a reference to you/here if I may?

I've always wondered why 99% of the footage from this age are the Kata and not the Bunkai?  I would assume that time doesn't change too much in that people were wondering 70 odd years ago about Karate application as we do, and as such there would be more written down about the core Kata applications.

I have often wondered if the excuse made by the Karate pioneers about finding your own bunkai is simply because they themselves didnt know the core applications, ie the knowledge was lost around 1850 rather than 1950.

I know there's pictures of funakoshi showing throws, but say 99% of the records simply contain the Kata.

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

Paul Anderson wrote:
Whoa.  Nice wee bit of research there Iain.

I may steel those videos and post on our club website with a reference to you/here if I may?

Thanks! Just a few minutes on Youtube though. All videos are taken from Youtube so they are not mine and are accessible everyone. So no need to reference me or the site as the videos are not mine. Delighted you feel they could be useful to you though!

All the best,

Iain

Matthew Matson
Matthew Matson's picture

Iain Abernethy wrote:
The point is that what the first four men experienced was the truth; from a given perspective.

Or as Obi Wan Kenobi said, "I think you'll find that many of the truths we cling to, depend greatly on our own point of view." Empire Strikes Back, before Lucas went crazy ;-D

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

Matthew Matson wrote:
Or as Obi Wan Kenobi said, "I think you'll find that many of the truths we cling to, depend greatly on our own point of view."

Fantastic! I like it! Wise words from a true master ... a Jedi one no less surprise

All the best,

Iain

Gavin J Poffley
Gavin J Poffley's picture

It really is interesting to see that when put next to each other there is actually very little difference overall. Far less than with other kata.

What I find personally most intriguing is the different foot movements. The version of naihanchi I practice (kobayashi shorin ryu from the Uehara Seikichi/ Shian Toma line) has far more nami gaeshi/sweeping type leg movements than almost any other version I have seen so it was fascinating to see that Isshin ryu as demonstrated here has even more still! 

I guess that what this means is that some versions place more emphasis on showing that in most positions the kata puts you in you always have the option of kicking or sweeping the oppoents legs and thighs while others leave that point implied but not demonstrated. 

michael rosenbaum
michael rosenbaum's picture

Here is a video of Angi Uezu (Isshinryu-Tatsuo Shimabuku's son-in-law) performing bunkai for Nahanchi:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xrtr_YndMZA&feature=related

It's interesting to note the footsweeps, or avoidence of, and the emphasis on sideways fighting which is how the kata is largely viewed within Isshinryu today.

Ironically, there are a several different versions of Nahanchi within Isshinryu. The reason being is it seems Shimabuku (system's founder) was constantly experimenting and depending upon the time when you studied with him the verison of Nahanchi you learned could vary. Some stress the footsweeps more than others, some execute a vertical punch in place of the hammersmash, but conceptually they all reamin the same. However, since the Isshinryu's popularity in the states is due to returning Marines who were stationed on Okinawa at different times, each variation of Naihanchi is considered the "true way" since as I've heard time and time again, "Master Shimabuku taught it to me that way." laugh

Mike

Th0mas
Th0mas's picture

I love this kind of review, it is not just interesting in terms of understanding Kata Applications but it gives insight into the development and evolution of kata applications over time. Which then leads on to discussions about other aspects of the human condition that kata training touches upon (teacher-pupil relationship, development of dogma and the role cock-up and error play in tradition etc). Great stuff :-)

I would hypothesis that if it were possible to measure the degree of difference at any given point along the kata flow, as expressed by the different styles of Naihanchi, those parts of the kata with the highest variation are the ones by which the original application meaning was least understood by the "fathers" of the later styles of Naihanchi/tekki.  (or the opposite of my conclusion could be true - which is another reason why I love this stuff)

(n.b. The term "style" I don't think really describes adequately the process of change over time. These things are not static and unchanging which is what I think the bucket-like description "style" implies  - but for want of a better word I have used it)

Based on my very limited observation; an example of high variation in the kata is the point just after the second series of leg cross-overs (at 14 seconds on the Funakoshi video). It appears that all the styles vary at that point (except Shotokan and Kyokushin - which is not surprising).

The variety as I see it is as follows ( apologies, I am not being pejorative with the terms "block" and “strike” etc,  just using the name to aid the description of the form rather than function):

  • Downward block with elbow strike followed by back-fist
  • Simultaneous downward block with inside-outside block
  • Simultaneous downward block with raised elbow block followed by simultaneous pressing block and head punch.

This degree of variation suggests to me that over time this part of the form has evolved as different teachers have changed the form to fit the function they believe it demonstrates. which then has become stylised or codified in dogma and tradition as later generations of students have tried to match the form (rather than function) of their masters etc.

Anyway I would love to know what application the originators of Naihanchi were modelling at that point in the Kata, and then compare it with the later interpretations.... 

Jr cook
Jr cook's picture

Thomas, I agree with the last bit about the evolution of the forms by different teachers placing emphasis here or there. The question that I always come to next is were these changes a result of varying applications or just the way that instructor liked to do things?

In my earlier years of training I remember that our governing body would often make slight changes to kata. Details such as, the hand is opened, not closed at this point in kata X. This would then become the new correct way to perform the kata.  We were never given any sort of explanation for the change. Maybe no one knew enough to ask. My theory is that the changes were less functional and more aesthetic. Or, they were based on someone in charge having reviewed a photo or video of some master doing it that way. Enough said, change the kata.

Back to my point. The variations we have today may not be entirely based on function. As we are in the Kata Application section of the forum I will assume that we are martial artists who have an interest in bunkai and applied kata. But I think it's important to keep in mind that just because we are practically minded, that doesn't mean all of our predecessors were. And as I have found, you can be the master or head of a system of martial arts (allowing you to edit the kata for future generations) without knowing squat about practical karate!

Jon Sloan
Jon Sloan's picture

michael rosenbaum wrote:

Here is a video of Angi Uezu (Isshinryu-Tatsuo Shimabuku's son-in-law) performing bunkai for Nahanchi:

Bunkai like that makes my teeth grind. I always wonder, when I'm watching masters do that, why they taught it in that way. I honestly believe that most of them do/did not know what those moves were for and simply repeated what they'd been told by the prior generation. I think we've been through a 100 year black hole in regards to realistic/practical/useful outside the dojo applications of kata movements. We're finally out of it now thanks to the research and critical approach of certain current generation karateka.

Th0mas
Th0mas's picture

Jon Sloan wrote:

michael rosenbaum wrote:

Here is a video of Angi Uezu (Isshinryu-Tatsuo Shimabuku's son-in-law) performing bunkai for Nahanchi:

Bunkai like that makes my teeth grind....<snip>

Totally agree....It was that particular video that got me thinking.

Th0mas
Th0mas's picture

To JR Cook

Certainly my experience in Shotokan Karate since the 80's has been that the various minor changes to Kata, that have been mandated from the central governing body, seem purely based in the asthetic. The lack of knowledge of the originally intended application for specific kata has certainly not been a limiting factor in the traditional teaching of Shotokan.

 

Jr cook wrote:
Back to my point. The variations we have today may not be entirely based on function. As we are in the Kata Application section of the forum I will assume that we are martial artists who have an interest in bunkai and applied kata. But I think it's important to keep in mind that just because we are practically minded, that doesn't mean all of our predecessors were. And as I have found, you can be the master or head of a system of martial arts (allowing you to edit the kata for future generations) without knowing squat about practical karate!

I would agree and have taken that as a given, certainly in the case of shotokan Karate kata which have been evolving down the non-functional route for some time. But what I was interested in is what happened prior to the kata becoming "traditional" and the forms becoming baked into a particular Style's dogma. How many of the variations we see in today’s kata versions are actually just Stylised (and I mean that in the real sense of the word) representations of the same bunkai.

Cheers

Tom Runge

nielmag
nielmag's picture

along with watching the variations in this kata, im wondering what the purpose of using kiba dachi throughout the kata?  Was it just leg strengthening, what are possible combat applications?  Some styles are higher than others in the stance.  I understand the stability, but I feel totally immobile.

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

nielmag wrote:
along with watching the variations in this kata, I’m wondering what the purpose of using kiba dachi throughout the kata?  Was it just leg strengthening, what are possible combat applications?  Some styles are higher than others in the stance.  I understand the stability, but I feel totally immobile.

Hi Niel,

When it comes to the original nature of kata I’ve never bought the “leg strengthening” argument and believe all stances have functional combative uses. I also feel stances are “momentary snapshots” of positions we need to assume for a given technique. They help ensure we get bodyweight into the technique. So we don’t assume the stance and then fight from there – which would lead to a lack on mobility – we move into the stance while delivering any given technique and the instantly move onto wherever we need to be next. All this is explored more in this podcast: http://www.iainabernethy.co.uk/content/my-stance-stances-podcast

As regards Naihanchi specifically, we need to remember a lot of movements are applied from the side; which is what the sideways direction in the kata represents. Motobu wrote, “Twisting to the left or right from the Naihanchi stance will give you the position to be used in a real confrontation. Twisting ones way of thinking about Naihanchi left and right, the various meanings in each movement of the kata will also become clear.” (Page 31 of “Watashi no Karate-Jutsu” translated by Patrick McCarthy).

The sideways angle gives a position tactically, and it also ensures effective hip motion. I cover this a lot more in my “Beyond Bunkai” DVD, but in the clip below I briefly discuss the stance at around two minutes in.

In the heat of conflict we do not need to get the stance exactly right, the general position and motion that the kata gives us are what we need. As regards the height of the stance, that will totally depend on the position of the enemy. If he is short or has bent his legs, then a low stance will be needed to align our striking weapons with the enemy. If he is taller or upright, then a higher stand is needed. If the enemy is pushing into us, we may also want to drop the stance to maintain stability for that instant. Each style makes a decision on the height of stance for there “default solo version”, but in reality we all need to vary what we do according to the dictates of the situation.

All the best,

Iain

akaobikenobi
akaobikenobi's picture

Yes kata is the language of Karate if you like.  ‎"Original nature of Kata" fundamentally kata is made up of techniques. Each technique should have an objective, or a collection of techniques assimilated as One (group) to cause an effect. Food for thought, what if the "stances" were techniques in their own right i.e Bagua (leg locks). We already have the best inherent Weight transition & transference mechanisms which we can test to a far greater degree without Kata. I think Kata is what flick paper books are in comparison to HD video :)

nielmag
nielmag's picture

iain abernethy wrote:
When it comes to the original nature of kata I’ve never bought the “leg strengthening” argument and believe all stances have functional combative uses. I also feel stances are “momentary snapshots” of positions we need to assume for a given technique. They help ensure we get bodyweight into the technique. So we don’t assume the stance and then fight from there – which would lead to a lack on mobility – we move into the stance while delivering any given technique and the instantly move onto wherever we need to be next.

This makes a lot of sense, but my confusion comes in the fact that the way I was taught, we are in a deep kiba dachi the entire time, emphasizing deep knee bend and keeping hip low (I understand this may be an aesthetic emphasis).  In other katas going from stance to stance, we see the weight transfer, change of positioning, the "snap shot" Iain is referring to.  However in this kata, the whole movie is in one stance!  From the other versions ive seen, I believe this kata is in the same horse-type stance throughout as well. 

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

nielmag wrote:
In other katas going from stance to stance, we see the weight transfer, change of positioning, the "snap shot" Iain is referring to. However in this kata, the whole movie is in one stance!  From the other versions ive seen, I believe this kata is in the same horse-type stance throughout as well.

It is not so much the movement from stance to stance within kata that matters, but the movement from wherever you are in combat into the stance as you apply the kata technique. If you’ll forgive me, I think you may be confusing “map” and “territory”. Also, the “snapshot” is a snapshot of combat not of the kata itself.

In a fight I will be wherever I need to be (theoretically this could be anywhere), I will then shift from that unknown position to the required stance as I apply the method of the kata (ensuring good position, power and weight transfer in the process), and then move onto wherever I need to be next. The movement into stance is what gets the bodyweight behind what I’m doing.

In the kata I will be in the preceding position, I will move into the next stance, and then onto the following technique in the kata. Because this is a series of techniques, which in all likelihood will not be applied in that order in combat (see my clip above), it is not the movement between techniques within kata that really matters. It is instead the movement from wherever we are in combat to that momentary position (i.e. stance) that really matters.

The kata is the map. Combat is the territory. When we use the map in the territory (bunkai drills and sparring like in the clip above) we learn to navigate the terrain. That will include how to move our bodies to best effect. We can’t learn that solely from the map / kata.

In short, the way we will truly learn to shift weight is in our two person drills using the kata as the guide. Sticking to the solo kata itself won’t do it. Naihanchi / Tekki kata is therefore series of similar positions we can adopt in combat. It is the adapting of those positions in partner drills that teaches us to move effectively; not when we push all the “snapshots” end to end as per the kata.

If you’ve not heard it yet, I think the “Stance on Stances” podcast will really help explain my thinking on this in more depth. I hope that helps?

All the best,

Iain

Th0mas
Th0mas's picture

Iain Abernethy wrote:

<snip> ..I cover this a lot more in my “Beyond Bunkai” DVD, but in the clip below I briefly discuss the stance at around two minutes in. <snip>

Knowling that I am in danger of sounding like a fan-boy, but sod it,  great clip Iain..seriously thinking of getting the Video.

Cheers

Tom

miket
miket's picture

This is an interesting thread for histroical purposes, I like that you put all of these in one spot!  Your applications highlights are very solid, esp. compared to the contrasting illustration.  Nice work, Iain!

shoshinkanuk
shoshinkanuk's picture

Nice clip Iain, really like what your doing with kata bunkai.

We work in a similair way - more around using the whole kata in a semi 'sparring' manner, ie one person constantly attacks with a range of common methods and the defender is 'forced' to react with any techniques from a particular kata they are working, then the next stage is to do it from all the kata they are working on. I guess it's semi compliant in reality.

It doesn't have quite the dominating effect you show so well for sure, but it has been a very effective way for Bunkai to just to 'happen' (or Oyo to be more specific), it really shows if a student 'knows' the kata and many are surprised as to the range of techniques they repeatedly use, often quite different for each student.

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

Hi Gents,

Thanks for the kind words about the clip. Good to know you like what you see and it mirrors things done in your own training and teaching. Always nice and reassuring to hear that others think along similar lines ;-)

All the best,

Iain

diadicic
diadicic's picture

Found some more bunkai.

Sorry I don't know how to embed the video.

Dom