Back in 1975 of so, when I first learned Nihanchi (Naifanchi and variant spellings), not much was said except that it was our next form. This was of course long before there was an internet, few books were available on Isshinryu and those that were just showed the kata. It just was another kata to work on.
When I began training with Charles Murray, it also became just one of the kata we incessantly drilled on. I know we had some discussions about the manner of kicking/stepping involved, but that was about it.
So incessant practice, time and then black belt testing.
I knew Naifanchi was infrequently seen in open and other tournaments used as a black belt form. And around the many styles I visited there was almost no discussion about Naifanchi kata.
The one exception was when I trained with Carl Long, a shorin ryu stylist in the Shimabuku Ezio lineage. I recall he used Naifanchi in a variety of different ways. One of them contained two 180 degree turns, showing some of the potential for the kata technique in a different manner. That was interesting and I remembered and retained that in my curriculum for a black belt practice. Another variation was he used to see who could do Naifanchi fastest. Say in 11 seconds, all the time maintaining technique not devolving performance into slop. A true speed drill. Suggesting still more possibilities.
As years passed I became convinced that many black belts did not enjoy Naifanchi kata, spending less time on it. I almost never saw it in tournaments.
Then I finally saw a panther video of Angi Uzen where he was doing Naifanchi kata. And he was superb. Not necessarily the same version I was taught, but it bolstered my opinion that great Naifanchi kata was necessary to fully understand the system. In those years I was just teaching youth, and working on my own practice, continually 7 days a week.
I was not associating with others in Isshinryu, just observing them via tournament competition.
The more I trained, the more convinced I was that to fully advance into dan study of Isshinryu, the more one should improve Naifanchi kata, even if only for the lateral movement it provided.
Then I relocated to New Hampshire, a result of a job change. I began my youth program again, and started a small adult program too.
Mike Cassidy performing Nihanchi kata about 1989
Work on Naifanchi was still a keystone. In a short time I had a very highly skilled group of teen students. And being teens they had too much energy to burn. So I created a variant version of Naifanchi kata for those teen students.
A version of Naifanchi which included 2 jumping turning crescent kicks done within the kata. A very dynamic drill.
Then to not let the adults be left out of the fun, I crafted another variation which included 2 back turning stepping inward crescent kicks with the form. Not to replace Naifanchi kata, rather to become an additional drill to expand thinking about the form.
Then time passed as some of those adults became black belts. Several continued to do great forms with all of their studies. I discovered that many of the black belts preferred to spend less time on their Naifanchi kata practice.
Of course I had a response for that. I just increased the Naifanchi workout as part of class, (We had become mostly a black belt adult club.) I also incorporated Naifanchi kata drill in a stack formation (one behind the other…) Putting whoever was doing the best work on Naifanchi at that time at the head of the stack, to drive everyone behind to stronger performance.
Young Lee, Rabiah Abiaad, Don Normandin
All told, I had many Naifanchi drills to fall back on keeping everyone fresh on their Naifanchi kata.
At the same time I was going deeper into what the use of kata movement could be used for.
Where much of my work was on Seisan kata, I also had a preference in Chinto kata. I began to realize it had more in common with the Chinese forms I had studied, Not that they were similar, but a feeling that of all the Isshinryu kata, it contained the most Chinese feel of the kata.
Then after structural analysis of the kata, I became convinced the strongest reason to continue to press for great Naifanchi kata performance was because to me, Naifanchi kata was likely a preparatory form for Chinto kata.
The rotation between strikes going from side to side, building a stronger core movement allowing stronger, faster spin turn in Chinto kata.
That became the most important lesson from Naifanchi kata for me, building toward a stronger Chinto kata.
I was early into my own kata technique analysis at that time. There was so much to work on, I had only touched a small part of Naifanchi for those studies.
Now I was not just figuring this out, this was to become a core of my dan studies with my students. Walk the walk.
Then I met Sherman Harrill.
That first clinic he used application potential from Naifanchi kata footwork that blew me away, But as that time I was more focused on Chinto, Kusanku, and Sunsu kata. Eventually over a few years we got around to what he was doing with Naifanchi kata. Of course it was as eye opening as all the rest.
Of course it was consistent with how he had found the same principles for kata application.
Now this was all before I discovered the internet was coming into existence.
I soon began reading about how Naifahchi was one of the cornerstones for Isshinryu, and in time all the stuff about Motobu and those that considered what he was about was good.
I read all of it, shared such with my students at times, I honestly believed everyone who stated that was so felt that way, and many put that into their practice.
But while I have larned much from book larning, It was on the floor, and from my own experiences that held the greatest sway over what I felt.
I never doubted that the study of Naifanchi kata was important throughout our martial lives. But never accepted that it was the most important training either.
The longer I went the more convinced I became it was the necessary step to build for fuller utilization of Chinto Kata potential.
My own efforts showed me how Naifanchi kata was contained there in. Also how much tai chi potential was utilized. How much baguazhang potential was there, How much Aikido potential was being shown.
Of course it never replaced my contention that Seisan was my kingpin, or that if pressed the same strike Sherman Harrill showed was the answer too.
But the deepest study I had was focused on the never ending potential of Chinto kata.
I continue to look at as much as I can, consider as much as I can and I understand I know less and less and I move forward.
Of course I am a product of how I was trained, and I am a product of what I have experienced. And I am also a product of the work I put into my studies.
And the ravages of time have taken its toll.
I never have stopped working. This is what I can do with Naifanchi kata today.