Practical Kata Bunkai: Naihanchi / Tekki Shodan

Naihanchi (or Naifanchi/Tekki Shodan) is a karate Kata, performed in straddle stance. It translates to ‘internal divided conflict’. The form makes use of in-fighting techniques (i.e. tai sabaki (whole body movement)) and grappling. In Shorin-Ryu and Matsubayashi-Ryu Naihanchi Shodan is the first Ni Kyu (Brown Belt Kata) although it is taught to Yon Kyu (Green Belts) occasionally before Evaluations for the Ni Kyu rank. It is also the first Shorin-Ryu kata to start with a technique to the right instead of the left. There are three modern kata derived from this (Shodan, Nidan and Sandan). Some researchers believe Nidan and Sandan were created by Anko Itosu, but others believe that it was originally one kata broken into three separate parts (probably due to constraints of space). The fact that only Naihanchi/Tekki Shodan has a formal opening suggests the kata was split.

Itosu is reported to have learned the kata from Sokon Matsumura, who learned it from a Chinese man living in Tomari. Itosu is thought to have changed the original kata. The form is so important to old style karate that Kentsu Yabu (a student of Itosu) often told his students ‘Karate begins and ends with Naihanchi’ and admonished his students must practice the kata 10,000 times to make it their own. Before Itosu created the Pinan (Heian) kata, Naihanchi would traditionally be taught first in Tomari-te and Shuri-te schools, which indicates its importance. Gichin Funakoshi learned the kata from Anko Asato. Funakoshi renamed the kata Tekki (Iron Horse) in reference to his old teacher, Itosu, and the form’s power.

The oldest known reference to Naihanchi are in the books of Motobu Choki. He states the kata was imported from China, but is no longer practiced there. Motobu learned the kata from Sokon Matsumura, Sakuma Pechin, Anko Itosu and Kosaku Matsumora. Motobu taught his own interpretation of Naihanchi, which included te (Okinawan form of martial arts which predates karate) like grappling and throwing techniques.

In the earlier days of karate training, it was common practice for a student to spend 2-3 years doing nothing but Naihanchi/Tekki, under the strict observation of their teacher. Motobu Choki, famous for his youthful brawling at tsuji (red-light district), credited the kata with containing all that one needs to know to become a proficient fighter.

The following video shows Iain Abernethy demonstrating practical application from the first section of Naihanchi/Tekki Shodan demonstrating some of the stand up grappling aspects taught in the Kata.

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