Monday, July 11, 2016

Naifanchi (Nihanchi – Naihanchi and all variant spellings)


After I made blue belt I began my study of Nihanchi kata with Dennis Lockwood. There were no explanations of what the kata was,  just the study and practice, practice, practice. Another puddle of water on the dojo floor.


And after many years yet another instance that nothing that my instructors taught me was ever found to be wrong. Their classes were not history lessons, just the study of Isshinryu. And for the most part I kept the same path.


Only after black belt were there ever occasional discussions about other things. That left to the individual a choice to pursue Okinawan history or not. It did not have much to do with our actual practice.


You might note I do have a lot of history on my blog. This is so they do not have to begin where I did, if they find an interest in the subject, but it is totally voluntary.


When I began reading what was available, I accepted that almost everything I read was true. Then studying more, I found I had a lot of unlearning to do too.


When I learned Nihanchi kata, I was amazed that there was something that matched what I experienced in reality. In those days I was a construction laborer. You know someone who digs footers for foundations, one who totes things, etc.


One of the experiences I had was to move across mats of rebar laid out for concrete floor pours. Now one way to cross rebar was to walk atop the mats, stepping carefully not to trip and fall. Another method was to step in between the rebar and step laterally between the steel.



This is what I recognized. Interesting that Okinawans developed this method of stepping. Carefully stepping high to cross the rebar sections and into the next free space. Of course I never mentioned this in class, just did the kata.


So when later I read a variety or reasons the Okinawans developed this form, stepping across rice patties was something that made some sense to me. Not that I paid much attention to the story, nor did I teach it. Much later learned Okinawan rice was not grown in that type of patty. At least from what I have read.


The other stories did not concern me much, then again I never was teaching anyone to defend attacks outside a wall.


What the stories did inspire me was to use challenges to Naihanchi training for the adult students. At times we did Nihanchi kata on balance beams. On sections of a tree cut into pieces, forming a place to practice stability stepping between those tree sections.


Isshinryu’s Nihanchi kata is one that begins stepping towards the left, however I learned to to the kata mirror image so it would make it easier for all my students to see me moving the same way they were moving. Of course I taught this to the instructors I developed.


Which eventually led me to realize that it really didn’t matter which way you went, you were still doing the same kata. Then the adults started working the kata both ways.


Another drill was to do Nihanchi in a stack, one behind the other.

Variety of practice making life more challenging.

Likewise the theories that Nihanchi was teaching lateral movement for defense. It makes sense from one point of view as you are moving laterally, and many applications can be found for that movement in certain situations that can be encountered.

But, there are NO rules as to what application potential can be, meaning that you can move in externally of internally turning towards the attack, and you can move away externally or internally turning towards the attack, and use movement from Nihanchi kata to defeat an attack. The upper and lower body movements provide potential, much potential that can be used.


Back in the early 1980s I trained with Carl Long, a Shorin Ryu stylist. He taught me several Nihanchi practices that I have also done from time to time.


The first one was Nihanchi kata as a speed drill, seeing who can go the fastest under say 10 seconds. Always doing full technique at the same time. It is an interesting practice.


The other practice is more interesting, It is doing Nihanchi with a series of turns. Start as normal but after the initial elbow strike, chamber, low block and then strike across the body, when you step across you pivot 180 degrees toward what had been your rear, and then continue the kata normally. Again when that section repeats itself again step across and again pivot to the original front of the kata, and close as normally.

This version of Nihanchi open new potentials of application.


Then I had teenage students with too much energy. So I began a teen brown belt practice, Doing Nihanchi kata with jumping spinning crescent kicks. Slake off their extra energy. And though they do not admit it, it became a fun practice for them, with the jumping spinning crescent kicks.

A version for older more dignified karate-ka was to do the form with grounded stepping and turning crescent kicks.


When you train people for a long time it helps to find new ways to keep working at the kata.


I realize Nihanchi is something of a holy grail for some karate-ka. Finding it integral to their art. In some ways I agree with that. But personally I find Nihanchi kata has a different role.


I see Nihanchi kata as a basic training too preparing the core strength for better Chinto kata practice. The use of the side to side strikes strengthens the core for the spins in Chinto kata. That spin uses the same core muscles, and to me Chinto is far more important to my black belt practice.


A long time ago, before youtube made so much available, a topic was floated that the origins of Nihanchi kata was the Chinese form (and System) Tam Tuie.   Those proposing that had never seen the form and were relying on written descriptions that the form was performed side to side.  The form was in my studies with Rothrock Laoshi, and it is performed side to side, but not the same way Nihanchi kata was. It turns you to face the side head on and perform the form head on that way. A different thing all together. (Tam Tuie is a very worthy study in its own right)


The Nahanchi form in the Itosu lineage is also thought to have been a predecessor for the lateral movement in the kata studies Nijushiho and Gojushiho. Which by coincidence we have included in our training. But not the source version of the Shotokan Tekki ShiDan (their version of Nihanchi).

For further reference there are several groups that include Nihanchi starting to the left.

These days I just do the form several ways. As seen below and a version just stepping out, No crossover stepping. I also do the form with short sticks in my hands for force enhancement.
I have not begun to plumb the depths of Nihanchi.

Note: I chose the varied spellings for Nihanchi (Naihanchi- Naifanchi, et al) as ways I have seen the kata spelled at different times. All of which refer to the same kata. At this point in time, I tend to use whatever spelling comes to me at the time. My Isshinryu has never been a spelling challenge.

1 comment:

Victor Smith said...

Karate and the martial arts have proven to be very fluid in how they have flowed in many ways across the globe. Many have made that happen and still are doing so. In almost every way there is nothing that has not changed many ways.

Some of them are uncomfortable, some silly, For even the most dedicated traditionalists, the training remains focused in a dojo. Even the idea of a dojo had changed from the original meetings in an instructors back yard, or perhaps a meeting place in the forest.

Consider training where everyone wore sandals, so one kicked them off and trained barefoot. Then the training practices were focused on using every aspect of the foot.

But today around the world such training is not using what people are wearing, their shoes. Which should require very different training practices. Shoes do not need practice to kick with shoe toe tips. Very different methods are needed to deliver a shoe with impace enhanced, as opposed to an empty foot.

I began to explore those differences long ago. A considerable amount of the year we train outside wearing shoes. The method of stepping needs adjustment, the manner of kicking needs adjustment.

And not just shoes, changes for different garments are needed too. The total art needs to be concerned with environmental relevancy.

Or so it seems to me.