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Paul_L's picture
Kata - Chinese Roots but Un-Chinese Applications


I have just joined but could not see a welcome section, so I will introduce myself here. Konbanwa!

I practice Wado Ryu as well as a mixed martial art based on Wing Chun with a bit of Shotokan thrown in; the two martial arts the instructor practices.

I have started to find that with the more Chinese based techniques I learn a lot of my Wado Ryu starts to make more sense. It occured to me the other day that many Kata orginate from Chinese martial arts, but often the applications that are commonly taught are very Un-Chinese-like (un-Kung Fu like).

As an examle in Naihanchi the first move after the sideways step has been explained to me as a chop which can be a strike or a shuto-like defence. However, I find that this makes more sense as a Wing Chun style defence where you let the incoming strike feed into you guard and then deflect it using rotation of the forearm by twisting your palm so it faces upwards. This then leans in nicely to either a poke of the attackers eyes or a control to get in close for the elbow.

I also think that Naihanchidachi is the same as a Wing Chun stance. I cannot comment on the authority of the information, but apparently it is referred to as Number Two Character Goat Holding Stance! The mind boggles, and I can only assume there is a bit of comic mis-information going on there.

It does seem logical to me that original applications even in Karate would have been much more Kung Fu looking and over time fluidly changed as the Japanese and then Western cultural imprint modified them.

Obviously this is based on what I know and not on what I don't know, so interested to find out the thoughts of others.


Mark B
Mark B's picture

Hi Paul, The Naihanchi boxing system is something of a speciality of mine, I actually teach an application from linear energy exactly as you describe. I teach Naihanchi not from a Bunkai or application approach but from from an energy and concept approach. It's not an "application" as such as it is entirely dependent on the energy and intention of the opponent

Wastelander's picture

Welcome to the forum! As for introductions, there is a sticky post in the General section for that: http://www.iainabernethy.co.uk/content/introduce-yourself

This is going to be longer than I expected. Sorry!

As to your comments regarding kata applications, I suspect you will find similar revelations if you were looking at Silat, or Kali, or even Japanese koryu jujutsu systems. Anything where the applications are taught in full conjunction with forms, rather than in a disjointed manner, or not at all, as often happens in karate. I will point out that older karate methods were much more about circles, redirection, and blending of "energy" (strength, movement, balance, etc.) than more modern karate are. Take a look at the KishimotoDi version of Naihanchi (Tachimura no Naihanchi), for example, and you will see a much softer, more flowing approach:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MTlJZDXdXgY https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=snF7J3kj5-U

This isn't all that surprising, considering the fact that it is a Shuri-Te system that did not have any influence from Itosu Anko or his students. You can see some similar softness in Matsumura Seito, although even Soken Hohan Sensei incorporated methods from Hanashiro Chomo, if I recall correctly. The softness of Motobu-Ryu Udundi is a bit excessive for my tastes, and I tend to agree with Matsumura Sokon in thinking that it is too "flowery" in its approach. Even so, you can find plenty of good techniques in it, if you choose to train them differently.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P3j82ipeO14 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Geca-mAs4Kg

The way you describe your idea for the deflection with the haito-uke in Naihanchi sounds very much like what Jan Dam Sensei shows in this video, and it comes from Onaga Yoshimitsu Sensei's Okinawa Ti curriculum (Shinjinbukan)


I think you will find similar circular methods on various Okinawan arts, and that a lot of the uke-waza in karate are more effectively utilized as limb control methods, as well, which is something you can see a lot of in the work of Taira Masaji Sensei and Paul Enfield Sensei:



With regard to the Naihanchi name, specifically, we actually have no idea what its original translation was. It was written in katakana, rather than kanji/hanzi, so it was written phonetically, which doesn't transmit a direct translation. We don't know if the word was Uchinaguchi, or one of hundreds of Chinese dialects, or several Japanese dialects, or some blend, making translation all but impossible, at this point. Don't read too much into the translation of the name. As far as the stance, itself, you'll note in the KishimotoDi video, above, that the stance used in their Naihanchi is shiko-dachi, not Naihanchi-dachi. As far as I can tell, Naihanchi-dachi is purely a development of Itosu Anko, who was a long-time student of Nagahama, who was a Naha-Te instructor who famously said he only taught Itosu the body conditioning/strengthening methods of karate. It is likely that he transferred a Sanchin-esque approach from Nagahama to the Naihanchi of Matsumura--something which can be seen in the Naihanchi shime testing that we still see in some schools:


Some people dispute this, citing Motobu Choki's Naihanchi-dachi which, although his feet aren't "pigeon toed" as he described Itosu's, is still very similar, and distinctly not shiko-dachi. I would point out that Motobu still trained with Itosu, and given his "rough-and-tumble" nature, likely would have picked up on the body conditioning/strengthening methods, even if he didn't go about them in the same manner. I will also note that we can see in Motobu's books that, although he demonstrates Naihanchi in a Chinese-style "mabu" horse stance, many of his techniques utilize shiko-dachi:

I will also point out that not all of Itosu's students used his inward-toes approach to Naihanchi-dachi. Funakoshi Gichin, for example, can be seen demonstrating Naihanchi kata in shiko-dachi. Most people seem to notice this the most in a picture of him doing a demonstration as an elderly man, and chalked it up to his physical inability to do the stance anymore, but even his books show him using this stance when he was much younger:

Additionally, students of Hanashiro Chomo and Yabu Kentsu, who were, themselves, senior students of Itosu, used shiko-dachi for their Naihanchi kata:

We can also see shiko-dachi used by practitioners of "Tomari" systems, which are essentially Shuri-Te systems with a slightly different flavor. The most notable example of this would be Oyata Seiyu Sensei:

For a still-living example of the "Tomari" Naihanchi stance being shiko-dachi, we can look at Yamashiro Yoshitomo Sensei, who teaches on Okinawa, and is actually teaching a successful MMA fighter (who had a poor run in the UFC at one point, but has improved since) named Kikuno Katsunori:


So, with all that in mind, I wouldn't get too caught up in Naihanchi-dachi. It's great for structure, buckling the opponent's legs, and generating good striking power, but for the throws and joint locks, I tend to prefer shiko-dachi. In any case, in the context of Naihanchi, itself, the inward-toes approach to the stance is a (relatively) newer addition. Not a bad one, necessarily, but a change from the old approach.

I apologize for getting so long-winded with this reply. I get a little excited about Naihanchi :P

Mark B
Mark B's picture

The Naihanchi Dachi is a posture which teaches rooting and the efficient transfer of ballistic energy at close quarters. As the practice of Naihanchi is perfect for teaching close quarter combat this is ideal as within the Naihanchi Dachi, with just a little shift in emphasis impact to anatomically vulnerable targets, or closing into grappling exchanges where sharp, intense exchanges of energy are to be expected can easily be achieved. The drop into ShikaDachi is simply a transmission of energy which is caught on camera, I wouldn't read too much into that. In the first instance the Naihanchi posture teaches us how to deliver impact or stand up grapple. What happens from there is simply the evolution of the motion/energy. I also wouldn't attach too much to the similarity to the Wing Chun stance, as I personally believe the pigeon toes stance to be a new (relatively) addition to the Naihanchi kata. It may enhance conditioning but in combat it is of little use, unless of course you offset the stance in the fashion of say, Seisan Dachi. When we discuss application practices then we're shifting into an area of personal preference. I don't teach "Bunkai" as such within Naihanchi. Everything is purely concept & principle driven. Within my teaching the Naihanchi boxing system teaches all the elements you'd expect - setting up impact, joint attacks, trapping, sticking, takedowns, attacks to vulnerable targets, releases, the manipulation and use of energy through soft and hard etc but it is purely based on energy and intent - I teach this through the use of Tegumi exercises. In my view this is the approach taken in the old days and from my own experience lends itself to an effective system for self defence where the initial attack is unknown. In many ways my approach does look very Kung Fu, but really all we're talking about is receiving and countering energy to deliver trauma to an opponent. As humans are essentially the same anatomically then by definition the methods to cause pain and trauma will essentially be the same, so there will naturally be similarities, and they will interpreted based on the eyes of the beholder. I would focus more on what the form can teach you & what you want from it. P.s apologies for the lack of paragraphing. For some reason my phone won't allow it on here.

Cataphract's picture

Stances aside, I think Paul_L made an important observation. Kata come from a Kung Fu context and should make sense in the light of that context. Wing Chun allegedly has some Crane in its DNA and so has Karate. Naihanchi probably was a Crane form originally. It can't hurt to "compare notes".

The typical knee inward stance is Wing Chun's variation of horse stance body structure. There are basically two camps in Southern Chinese martial arts. Some like their knees outward, some inward

Paul_L's picture

Wonderful replies. I have far more to think about that I initially thought.

@Mark B - I have seen some information on Naihanchi Boxing and thought that the principles were a nice blend of those from all cultures concerned. I used the term Kung Fu just to differentiate what I see as one of the general princples behind Chinese martial arts (receiving, dissapating and countering energy), as opposed to how and Kihon is often taught, at least initally in Karate.

Myself and friend have started to set up a small area - 2 x 2 metres and we spar 3 minute rounds just in that small area. Some of the moves in Naihanchi does start to make sense after doing that for a while. You have nowhere to go but around or hold you ground and it is the same for the other guy and you find yourselves engaged in a constant effort to control your oppoenents limbs. We wear boxing gloves when doing this, so you really have to work hard to use your posture, legs and arms to restrict your oppoenents options.

@Wastelander - Lots to take in there and nice information on "softer" approaches. I also really enjoyed the videos of Taira Masaji and Paul Enfield, the first looking very much like Sticking Hands, but without the hands sticking, if that makes sense.

My post wasn't about Naihanchi per see, but all Kata with Chinese roots. For me it seems to be making more sense to approach the applications from a Chinese martial art perspective and then see if that idea can develop naturally into more Karate-ish techniques. I find that often with this way the applications show themselves more naturally, rather than the shoehorning in of techniques that can happen. I hasten to add that thi sis not something that I see on this forum.

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

There’s some great posts in here! Thanks everyone! Great thread!

Pressed for time, so here is one key observation:

My great grandfather is in my DNA, my Y-chromosome is identical to his, but I look nothing like him. He’s also not my only ancestor; there are seven other people in that generation. All of his decedents look different too. You’d never know my cousin was related to me from looking at him. When we ask why karate looks “un-Chinese”, it is like asking “Why does Iain look unlike Michael when they have the same great-grandfather?” It’s to be expected. Some commonality, but lots of differences too.

Karate draws on many sources, but it is not identical to any of those sources. Nor is any given strand identical to any other strands of the developments from those sources (as the fact we have styles of karate demonstrates).

There is not one “kung fu” but many “kung fus”; all of which are markedly different from each other. I don’t think we can say there is a uniform “Chinese-ness” that flows through all the arts associated with China. In the context of this thread, that is very important.

Karate draws on many “kung-fus”. You then have the indigenous Okinawan systems, the Japanese systems, the Thai systems, etc all of which also play a part in karate’s evolution. Various strands of karate draw from various sources, and then they evolve further. You also get “cultural imports” too, such as the “do-ethos” from judo, the strict discipline from the military, etc. The kata that form karate have been through this process.

It’s entirely unsurprising that karate looks different to other systems because it is different. It is not going to be the same as any of its sources, and it is not the same as any other modern-day systems either.

When it comes to application, there is obvious commonality between karate and some aspects of some Chinese systems; but there is not an overaching commonality, and no such commonality exists across all Chinese systems. Much of what commonality there is will primarily because of common combative needs and issues. However, there are key differences too.

A knife-hand to the neck where the hiki-te clears a path is very karate. It may not be what other systems do, and it may not be considered to be very “Chinese” by some - not that there is the universality in Chinese systems that using such a term implies - but it works and is very, very karate :-)

All the best,


Paul_L's picture

Good counter-points Ian. Certainly helped me clear some of the fluff from what is really an idea still in it's fledgling state.

I think I may have come across as saying that the original bunkai are superior to the Karate applications that we see today. Really it is just an idea that if we could look (or try at least) at the applications as they were originally when first taught, for example when Mr Chinto taught it to Mr Matsumara, or see what applications a practioner of a different art would have something interesting may become apparent. This is not to say that it will be better or have more authenticity.

The whole idea came from when I looked a bits of kata from the perspective of a different martial art I saw a few very natural applications that seemed like they could be a steppingstone to the Karate that I am more familiar with.

Of course I did make the rash assumption that although a kata may have reportedly been taught in Okinawa by a Chinese person that the kata was based on a formulised Chinese martial art, which is a bit of a whole in my think I must admit.

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

Paul_L wrote:
The whole idea came from when I looked a bits of kata from the perspective of a different martial art I saw a few very natural applications that seemed like they could be a steppingstone to the Karate that I am more familiar with.

I think that can be a very valuable process and it’s certainly one I can relate to. We can recognise common ideas across systems, that we name not see from the monochrome viewpoint of a single point in time and a single system.

Personally, I think we are best served measuring by function because it is a solid measure. Measures such as “Chinese-ness” are problematic because they are vague constructs that infer a uniformity that never was. “Authenticity” is also another problematic measure because is also infers an historical consistency that also never was. Karate has constantly been changing and evolving. The most authentic measure we have is to use the same one that past masters did, and that is function.

So, I’m totally with you on the idea of using other systems to reflect on our own. My reservations were around the suggestion that there is an historically consistent and uniform Chinese-ness that should be used as a guide. Totally with you on the general point though.

All the best,


PS Thanks for all the active participation! We have around 50 active posters and 1000s of readers. I’m happy for people to use the forum as they see fit, but if we have more writers, the readers have more to read :-)