Shorin ryu kata origins

We practice 8 major Shorin ryu katas. Some people say that this is not enough, but we say it is to much. Every kata of Shorin is separate style (except Pinan), with its own techniques and tactics. You can easily invest all your lifetime in mastering just 2-3 katas. So, only dan grades practice all katas, everybody else focuses on just three (Naifanchi, Passai & Kushanku). Please, take a look.

What is kata? (Translated it means “pattern” or “flow”)
Commonly known, kata has been defined as a person “fighting against imaginary opponents.” This claim, to some extent is true, but at the same it is also misleading. It might be better to depict kata as “a handbook of self-defense techniques.” By viewing it this way, a better picture of kata will emerge. Kata is indeed an encyclopedia of techniques, helping to recall techniques that an ancient master thought necessary to perfect. In ancient times, kata was a way to preserve techniques that might have been used to protect one’s life. A master places in his kata ideas on how one can fight effectively against a common street fighter or armed assailant.

Taken from article Kata of Shorin ryu Seibukan by Kim Mitrunen & Tommi Prami

Pinnan katas

Source 1: “Seibukan katas” by Kim Mitrunen & Tommi Prami

Itosu Anko, who was a sensei to schoolchildren, developed this series of kata. Itosu took elements from different kata, Kusanku for example, and incorporated them in the series of forms. It is interesting to note there is mention that elements of the old Channan kata located in the techniques of the Pinan series. In Okinawa, there are still some teachers who say that they still know how the kata Channan is performed, but the likelihood is that the kata does not exist in complete form anymore. The Pinan series contains many high stances like choku dachi and narrow stances like neko ashi dachi. There exist many basic foundation maneuvers in the Pinan kata, as well as many basic techniques, presented in an easier format than the complete traditional kata they came from.    In many mainstream Japanese styles, Pinan is known as Heian. Funakoshi Gichin made this name change. His philosophy was to teach Pinan Nidan first because he felt it was an easier transition into the Pinan series.

The Pinan Katas (Ping ‘An in Chinese) are very important. The name Pinan means “Peaceful Mind.” This name seems to be inspired by the Bubishi. In article 1 on the History and Philosophy of White Crane. It says, “Immeasurable self-conquests are made possible through a peaceful mind and inner harmony. The strength and resiliency gained from martial art training fosters an inner force with which one can overcome any opponent and conquer worldly delusion and misery.” Pinan Shodan and Nidan were created by Bushi Matsumura, and were originally called Channan Sho and Dai. They were based on kata taught at Fukien Shaolin in the Five Elder style. The Chinese reading for this name is “Chiag Nan.” Chiag Nan was the name of a Chinese Diplomat who resided Shuri. It is possible that Bushi got the techniques from him. Itosu created Pinan Sandan, Yondan, and Godan and added them to his own system. Some sources say he took them from other Chinese kata also called Chiag Nan that he got from a Chinese master, who may have also been Chaig Nan himself. These three are not Matsumura kata, but were passed down other Shorin lines.

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Also Known As: Heian, Heinan. Meaning: Way of peace (literally, “Great Peace”, sometimes translated as “Calm Mind”, “Peaceful Mind”, “Serenity”, or “Security.”)

History: The Pinan kata series was introduced into the Okinawan School District karate program as gym training from 1902 to 1907 by Ankoh Itosu. The history of this kata is somewhat controversial – Kobayashi Shorin-Ryu stylists claim that Itosu developed all five kata using either the kata Passai and Kusanku. The Matsumura Seito Shorin-Ryu tradition states that Itosu only developed Pinan 5 by himself. (It is curious to note that Chosin Chibana, Itosu’s senior disciple and Kobayashi founder, taught only Pinan 5 and Naihanchi 3 out of respect for Itosu’s authorship.) Hohan Soken (family inheritor of Bushi Matsumura’s style) taught only Pinan 1 and 2; saying that Matsumura had devised these two and laid framework for Pinan 3 and 4.

Gichin Funikoshi revised the order of 1 and 2, changed the kata name to Heian, and initiated deeper stances and higher kicks. He also replaced front kicks with side kicks and altered other moves in the series. Funakoshi was so well known for teaching the Pinan series that he was often referred to as the “Pinan Sensei.” Interesting enough, he did not learn the Pinans from Itsou as he had already finished his training with the great mejin before they were developed.

According to several sources, Funikoshi was first introduced to the Pinans during a trip to Osaka where he received instruction from Kenwa Mabuni, the founder of Shito-Ryu.

During his subsequent visits he learned a number of the kata from Mabuni that would eventually be taught in the Shotokan system. Regardless of their origin or lineage, there is no doubt that today the Pinan Series is practiced world-wide by Okinawan, Japanese, as well as some Korean styles.

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Most historians believe that the Pinan kata were composed and introduced after 1902 by Anko Itosu(1813-1915). Itosu was one of the most accomplished student of Soken Matsumura. and a teacher to Chotoku Kyan and Choki Motobu, two of Grandmaster Nagamine’s most prominent instructors. Pinan kata clearly has many similar techniques and sequences as the Matsubayashi-shorin-ryu version of the kusanku kata. Therefore many believe Itoshu derived Pinan from this form. When Karate was first introduced publicly in the high school in okinawa. Itosu did not want to give the impression that Karate -do was about violence or aggression. Consequently, he introduced Pinan kata, which translated means “Peaceful Mind”. Pinan kata strives to develop a mental state in the practitioner similar to the state of awareness in Zen Buddhism. That is, where the mind is completely relaxed, yet completely alert at the same time. In Pinan kata, the practitioner is surrounded on all sides by several imaginary opponents, but does not know in which direction the first attack will be unable to react to an attack by multiple opponents. it is essential to clear your mind of all distractions in order to change direction and prepare for the next attack. All five Pinan kata begin with an imaginary opponent attacking from the left. In Matsubayashi shorin-ryu it was decided for the first move of each Pinan kata that the practitioner should move away from the attack by steppingback with the right foot and twisting into a cat stance. In other Shorin-ryu styles the practitioner, however, moves into the oncoming attack by moving the left foot first. Psychologically this is an enormous difference. The way this technique is performed can chang the entire nature and philosophy of the Pinan form. Pinan kata is about developing the skill to move out of the way of harm by stepping at an angle in the cat stance. The practitioner must land with the weight down so that the spring is already tightly compressed once the practitioner’s leg touches the ground. in Pinan, the practitioner learns to move away which is a basic for beginner and intermediate Level practitioners. In more advanced kata, the practitioner develops the skill to move in when being attacked. The first time in the Matsubayashi-shorin-ryu curriculum that this technique is used is at the begining of Wankan kata. In pinan, step at an angle, away from the attacker so that it is advantageous to deliver the counter attack. As soon as the toes of the right foot touch the ground, use the legs to snap the hips and generate power on the blocks, When the practitioner steps back to avoid the attack they must land with their weight already dropped, so that the coil is already compressed. This create greater speed and power on the subsequent counter attack. Before turning or changing direction in pinan, the practitioner must remember to look in the direction of the attack before moving their bodies.

Seisan kata

Source 1: “Katas of Shorin ryu Seibukan” by Kim Mitrunen & Tommi Prami

Kyan Chotoku learned Seisan kata from Sokon Matsumura, the master of the Shuri-te branch. This kata contains long distance techniques like rensoku tsuki geri, which are representative of the shuri-te style. It was assumed that Seisan was the first kata taught to him by the great master Matsumura, and due to the age differences, was learned by Master Kyan at a tender age.  This kata still remains as the first major Sukunaihayashi lineage kata to be taught in Seibukan. Seisan is a powerful kata, where quick changes from shiko dachi to zenkutsu dachi come into its own as a source of power. This ancient form was a favorite of Master Zenryo Shimabukuro, and was performed by him in many exhibitions. Even at an advanced age, Master Zenryo Shimabukuro used this kata to demonstrate his excellent fitness.

Source 2: The kata of okinawa Ishin ryu karatedo by Joe Swift
Meaning 13, some people refer to it as 13 hands, 13 fists, or 13 steps. Customarily taught in both Shuri and Naha, this kata, following the tradition of Kyan Chotoku, is the first kata the Isshinryu student learns.
It is unclear exactly what the number 13 actually represents. Some think it was the number of techniques in the original kata; some think it represents 13 different types of “power” or “energy” found in the kata; some think it represents the number of different application principles; some think it represents defending against 13 specific attacks; and some think that it is the number if imaginary opponents one faces while performing the kata. Out of all these theories, this author must disagree with the last, as it is highly unrealistic that kata teaches one to handle such situations. On the contrary, kata was designed to teach the principles needed to survive more common self-defense situations, rather than a long, drawn out battle against several opponents (Iwai, 1992).

Kinjo Akio, noted Okinawan karate researcher and teacher who has traveled to China, Hong Kong and Taiwan well over 100 times for training and researching the roots of Okinawan martial arts, maintains that this kata originally had 13 techniques, but due to a long process of evolution, more techniques were added to it (Kinjo, 1999). He also maintains that the Okinawan Seisan kata derives from Yong Chun White Crane boxing from Fujian Province in Southern China.

It is unsure who brought this kata to Okinawa, but we do know that in 1867, Aragaki Seisho (1840-1920), a master of the Chinese-based fighting traditions (Toudi) demonstrated this kata (among others) in front of the last Sappushi, Zhao Xin (Tomoyori, 1992; McCarthy, 1995, 1999).

The main lineages that include Seisan include those passed down from Matsumura Sokon, Kyan Chotoku, Aragaki Seisho, Higaonna Kanryo, Uechi Kanbun, and Nakaima Norisato, among others. Shimabuku learned this kata from Kyan. Both the Kyan and the Shimabuku versions of this kata strongly resemble the Matsumura no Seisan (see Sakagami, 1978).

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Some say that this is the oldest kata that is still practiced. Seisan means “crescent moon” or “13 steps”.  It is definitely from Fukien, China, because it is also known to be had in Fukien Shaolin Monk Fist, Dragon and Lion Boxing Kung Fu styles. In Okinawa, there are two different versions. The Naha-te version is pretty much like the Chinese, but Shuri-te version is quite different, and evolved differently. The Naha-te version was either handed down by Liu Liu-Ko, a Chinese master, brought to Okinawa by Higashionna Kanryo of Naha-te. However, some say that it was passed down in Kunida long before Higashionna came along. As for the Shuri-te version, some say that Takahara Peichin and other early Shuri-te masters handed it down.

Naifanchi kata

Source 1: “Katas of Shorin ryu Seibukan” by Kim Mitrunen & Tommi Prami
The Naifanchi (Daipochin) kata comes from the famous Okinawan karate-ka, Choki Motobu, who is famous for his actual active testing of bunkai in real fighting situations. This sometimes happened by suspicious means, and many a teacher would watch this kind of conduct with disapproving eyes. It was said that Choki Motobu knew only three kata, the Naifanchi series, Wansu, and Passai Guwa. Motobu for the most part, was victorious in his use of the kata bunkai. In many Shorin-ryu styles, Naifanchi (Heishugata) acts as foundation to further kata (Kaishugata) like Sanchin in the Goju-ryu system. Master Tatsuo Shimabukuro, the founder of Isshin-ryu (blend of Goju-ryu and Shorin-ryu), was quoted as saying that, “Naifanchi is mother to Shorin-ryu and Sanchin is father to Goju-ryu. When these two come together then Isshin-ryu is born.”

The primary stance in this series of kata is kiba dachi, which emphasizes the strengthening of the legs and hips. A distinct characteristic of the kata is the technique where the circular movement of the arms protects the head in a block, while simultaneously setting up the opening for the uraken. The appearance of kata can be seen as simple, but from careful study and practice of the bunkai, it is very rich in techniques, and is seen as an effective fighting system.

Bushi Matsumura created both Naihanchi Shodan and Nidan from a kata called Naifanchi that he got from a Chinese Master named Ason. Some believe either Itosu or Choki Motobu made Naihanchi Sandan. Naihanchi Sandan is not a Matsumura kata, passed down other Shorin lines. Funakoshi called Naihanchi by the name Tekki, meaning “Iron Horse”, which refers to the stance used in it. “Iron” refers to its strength and stability. “Horse” refers to the fact that it resembles a man riding a horse. There is more than one possible meaning for the word Naihanchi, and they are both very plausible. The pronunciation of Naihanchi was originally Naifanchi, because that is the way it was pronounced in China. The particle ‘Nai’ means “inner” or “inside” and probably refers to pointing the toes inward. ‘Fan’ means a clawed foot of a certain animal. ‘Chi’ means the soil or foundation. So the original name probably meant something to the effect of being rooted to the ground in correct stance. Chin could mean “battle” as it does in the word Sanchin. The word ‘Naihan’ could refer to the narrow paths through rice fields that resemble squares. Therefore, it could mean “battle in a rice field.”

Source 2: The kata of okinawa Ishin ryu karatedo by Joe Swift
Naihanchi (a.k.a. Naifuanchi) is typical of in-fighting techniques, including grappling. There are three kata in modern (i.e. post 1900) karate, with the second and third being thought to have been created by Itosu Anko (Iwai, 1992; Kinjo, 1991a; Murakami, 1991). Another popular theory is that originally the three were one kata, but were broken up into three separate parts by Itosu (Aragaki, 2000; Iwai, 1992).

This kata was not originally developed to be used when fighting against a wall, but this does not preclude such interpretations. While the kata itself goes side to side, the applications are more often than not against an attacker who is in front of you, or grabbing at you from the sides or behind. Some say that the side-to-side movement is to build up the necessary balance and physique for quick footwork and body-shifting (Kinjo, 1991b).
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Also Known As: Daipochin, Naihanchi Sho, Ni & San, Teki, Chulgi, Nihanshi
Meaning: Iron Horse, Fighting Holding Your Ground.

History: The kata is a widely used international form, which is performed in many different styles of Karate as well as Kempo and Taekwondo today. Because of the kata’s complexity and length it was divided into three sections for student learning and practice. The originator of Nihanchi Sho is unknown but it is known that the three katas were practiced as one single kata by Master Sokon (Bushi) Matsumura around 1825. Naihanchi was however handed down to Matsumura from earlier times. This kata was also the favorite form of Yusutsune Itosu (1830-1915) who was nicknamed “Iron Horse” because of his performance of this kata. Itosu is said to have modified Sho and Ni and developed Naihanchi San. This was confirmed in the writings of Mabuni and Funakoshi.

Kenwa Mabuni, the founder of Shito-Ryu, learned all three from Ankoh Itosu. However, first, while traveling and studying, Mabuni learned a form of Naihanchi from a student of Matsumura’s namved Matayoshi. When Mabuni returned and showed the kata to Itosu, his teacher remarked that it was similar to the kata Matsumura had devised after training with a Chinese attache named Channan. It was at this time that Itosu confirmed that he (Itosu) had modified them as well.

Around 1895, Master Choki Motobu popularized the kata by daily performing the three forms as one kata at least five hundred times. The three Naihanchi katas performed as one became known as Motobu’s Kata, and he is said to have stated many times, “There is only one kata necessary to develop and excel in karate, and that is Naihanchi as one.” The form was developed as a defense against four to eight opponents, with performer pinned against a wall defending to the right, left or from the front, but never from the rear.

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The composer of this kata is unknown, but it has long been treasured by karateman from Shuri and Tomari. Many traditions assert that Soken Matsumura created Naihanchi or based his version on older forms known to him. Most Shorin-ryu styles practice trree distinct short form of Naihanchi. Before Pinan’s invention in 1907, Naihanchi kata were the first forms taught to beginner level practitioners.

The most important purpose of Naihanchi lies not in the fighting skills it develops, but in training the lower parts of the body through slow and steady sideward movements. Developing strong legs and hips are indispensable to karate training. Accrding to Grandmaster Nagamine the posture for Naihanchi is similar to the sitting posture for Zen, with strength concentrated in the abdomen. Nagamine recalls that the Naihanchi kata were a favorite of Choki Motabu. Naihanchi kata is useful when there is limited space.

The punching and blocking motions are short because space is very restricted. The short techniques make Naihanchi a very difficult kata to master, and some consideration might be given to thinking of Naihanchi as a more technically advanced level form. Naihanchi, or Tekki in japanese, translated means horse when riding. Some practitioners perform Naihanchi with the knees directed inwards. This is incorrect posture and the practitioner do this because they have not properly developed their legs. When performing each of the Naihanchi kata, once the practitioner drops into the horse stance it is critical to keep their height consistent throughout the entire kata. The practitioner’s height should not fluctuate up and down. The only way to build power is not a stance is a strong stance for defense from the front and rear of the practitioner. However, it is extremely strong from the left and right sides of the practitioner. The weight distribution is equally spread between the two legs. if the weight is ever transferred to one leg the practitioner looses all strength in the stance from the sides and is vulnerable to attack from the left and right sides of the body. Therefore, when stepping over to move in the horse stance in a sideways direction, the practitioner must try and shorten the time the weight distribution is over the supporting leg. This is one of the primary skills developed in the three Naihanchi forms.

Wanshu kata

Source 1: “Katas of Shorin ryu Seibukan” by Kim Mitrunen & Tommi Prami
Maeda Chiku taught this Tomari-te lineage kata to Chotoku Kyan. Wansu is rather short, but technically difficult kata, much different than Seisan or Ananku. It contains many techniques where block and counters are made simultaneously. Also Wansu contains it’s trademark “hard” technique, the effective use of kataguruma (fireman’s carry) throw.

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Wan-Su (Wang-ji or Wang ch’i) was the name of a Chinese Crane practitioner who came to Okinawa in 1683, and taught his art. Apparently, he had some connections with Shaolin. According to some sources, the kata Wan-Su and Wan-Su Dai were transmitted by him from China anciently, or at least the techniques in them. They are from a Shaolin Crane derivative. It is generally accepted that the kata were passed down Tomari-te lines. However, according to some sources, they were not exclusive to Tomari, because a Shuri-te practitioner by the name of Matsu Higa studied under Wan-Su. They are not Matsumura Kata.

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Wanshu kata was introduced into the Tomari district of Okinawa in 1683 by a Chinese envoy or Sappushi of that name. Sappushi were the official governmental contact between China and Okinawa. Following Wanshu, there is nearly a century gap until our knowledge of the development of Karate re-surfaces with Kung Shang K’ung or Kusanku. The ready positions in all other Shorin-ryu kata are quite different than the ready position in Wanshu. However, this position is consistent with many opening salutations in Chinese style forms. Historically, these postures were ways of identifying and differentiating between specific organizations. According to Grandmaster Nagamine, the hidden fist strike is the signature technique of this kata. Wanshu lived and worked in Tomari, and aside from his diplomatic responsibilities. He also instructed a small following of disciples in a style called Shaolin White Crane Fist Boxing. Wanshu taught the practitioner also develops the secrets of taking the opponent up and off his feet and throwing him to the ground. Many believe the original version of Wanshu was much longer than the modern kata, which derives from either Kyan or Itosu.

Pasai kata

Passai kata bunkai – demonstrated by sensei M. Stanic
Source 1: “Katas of Shorin ryu Seibukan” by Kim Mitrunen & Tommi Prami
Passai is an age-old form, and one of the oldest versions of this kata is Seibukan’s Oyadomari Passai. Passai is often explained as a low light or night fighting kata, because of it’s many sagurite (searching hand) techniques. The name of the kata means to “break through the fortress.” It might have received the name from the beginning movement where the defender throws a strong forward movement combined with an augmented chudan-uke, meant to unbalance of attacker. After this powerful start, the kata changes characteristics by making fast blocks and strikes with open hands to vulnerable points of human body. There are many angular movement changes, all quickly executed and in varying degrees. In the last part of the kata there is combination technique where the attack is avoided by ducking the opponents attacking arm, while simultaneously blocking the opponents other arm and striking a key point in the stomach region. By bending the body one can add extra power to the strike. This technique has disappeared in many of the modern karate style’s version of Passai.
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The name pasai means “To Breach or Break Through”. The versions practiced most in Shuri-te styles are the Matsumura versions. Contrary to popular belief, Bushi Matsumura created both of these, probably from pre-existing kata he got from Yara and Sakugawa. There are other versions out there that are not Matsumura. The Matsumura Seito versions come the closest to Matsumura’s originals than any others.

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Pasai has long been cherished by karateka from both Shuri and Tomari, and was said to be the favorite kata of Chotoku Kyan. The composer of this kata is unknown. Indeed, the Shuri-te and Tomari-te versions of this form are discernably similar, but which version pre-dates the other is uncertain. There are several versions of this form: Matsumura-passai, Oyadomari-Passai, and Matsumura-Passai and it has been suggested the his personal version reflects elements of all three.

Useishi kata

Source 1: “Katas of Shorin ryu Seibukan” by Kim Mitrunen & Tommi Prami
This kata is sometimes referred to as the drunkard form, because it contains movements where the kata performer mocks a staggering move. As a result of this unorthodox and crafty technique, Gojushiho is noted for techniques that throw the opponent off, by surprise. This makes the Gojushiho kata different in appearance from the other kata represented within the Sukunaihayashi system. Notable bunkai techniques include throwing, crane style strikes, and attacks toward weak joint areas.

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The composer of this kata unknown. Most modern versions can trace their genealogies back to either Itosu or Kyan. Kyan learned versions of this kata from Matsumura of Shuri and Oyadomari of Tomari. The spear hand movements distinguish Gojushiho from other kata. Gojushiho has been labeled the “drunken monk” from because certain movements are designed to appear off balance to the unsophisticated eye. The practitioner. however, should maintain perfect control and balance during execution of these movements. Literally, however, Gojushiho is translated as “54 steps”
The 54 steps, however, does not refer to the number of counts or movements in the kata. According to Zenko Heshiki, Kyoshi 7th Dan in Matsubayashi-ryu, the 54 steps refers to the concept of 108 Defilements in Buddhist philosophy. These defilements or faults cause both the body and mind to suffer in Buddhist philosophy. When a Buddhist sees numbers. that are factors of 108 (54,36, or 18) according to Heshiki, he is reminded of the Defilements. In Goju-ryu there are kata like Sepai, which means 18, Sanseru which means 36, or Supernpei which means 108. The relatedness of these numbers between kata from different styles is striking and suggests more than pure coincidence. Many Buddhist temples have 108 steps leading to the shrine. As each of these steps are climbed, a defilement is enlightenment. Perhaps in the same way, as the Karateman practices Gojushiho he is symbolically polishing his spirit to receive the true benefits of karate training.

Chintou kata

Source 1: “Katas of Shorin ryu Seibukan” by Kim Mitrunen & Tommi Prami

Chinto is one of the treasures of Seibukan. This version of the kata is taught only to Seibukan family members. It was favorite kata of Kyan Sensei, and is undoubtedly a Sukunaihayshi kata.  It is taught at a higher level of student, usually in the Nidan class. This is partly due to the fact that it is a very demanding kata to perform, and the bunkai is hard to master. Ancient masters of Tomari were very fond of close combat techniques, and you can see these techniques in the Chinto kata. Many of the bunkai involve locking maneuvers, throws, all characteristic of close combat type of techniques.

Source 2:
The composer of this kata is unknown, but we know the form was a favorite of Kyan and Ara kaki. Chinto means “fighting to the East” , and the embusen for the kata si performed in a straight line< but in a diagonal from the opening stance. Most version of Chinto derive from either: Matsumura of Shuri which use a straight forward and back embusen, or Matsumura of Tomari, which use a side a side to side embusen, or Chotoku Kyan whichi use a diagonal embusen. The Kyan version of Chinto clearly traces it’s origins back to the Tomari-te kata of Matsumura. The Matsubayashi-ryu version of Chinto comes directly from Kyan.
The kata is characterrized by dynamic movements using kicking techniques including the flying front kick. Chinto contains may changes of direction all along the same straight line pattern, and requires an advanced level of skill and balance to perform properly. The signature movement where the right arm moves in a backwards., circular movement is performed three times during the kata. The verb “to invite: in japanese provides insight into the application of this movement in the kata. Indeed, many kata contain movements that suggest an invitation to the opponent to attack.
Source 3: The kata of okinawa Ishin ryu karatedo by Joe Swift
This kata is said to have been taught to Matsumura Sokon by a Chinese named Chinto, but this legend cannot be corroborated. According to a 1914 newspaper article by Funakoshi Gichin (1867-1957, founder of Shotokan karatedo), based upon the talks of his teacher Asato Anko (1827-1906), student of Matsumura Sokon):

“Those who received instruction from a castaway from Annan in Fuzhou, include: Gusukuma and Kanagusuku (Chinto), Matsumura and Oyadomari (Chinte), Yamasato (Jiin) and Nakasato (Jitte) all of Tomari, who learned the kata separately. The reason being that their teacher was in a hurry to return to his home country.” (sic, Shoto, 1914).

It is believed by this author that the “Matsumura” in the above excerpt is a misspelling of Matsumora Kosaku, of Tomari. The fact that Matsumora Kosaku, is evidence that Matsumora may have also been taught this kata as well (Kinjo, 1999).

Now, what exactly is Chinto? There appears a form called Chen Tou in Mandarin Chinese (Jpn. Chinto, lit. Sinking the Head) in Wu Zho Quan (a.k.a. Ngo Cho Kuen, Five Ancestors Fist), which was a style popular in the Quanzhou and Shamen (Amoy) districts of Fujian (Kinjo, 1999). Chen Tou refers to sinking the boy and protecting the head. In the Okinawan Chinto kata, this is the first technique, but in the Five Ancestors Fist it is the last (Kinjo, 1999). However, this being said, this author has yet to see the Chen Tou form to make a comparative analysis. It is, however, worthy of further investigation.

There are 3 distinct “families” of Chinto in modern Okinawan karate: Matsumura/Itosu lineage (performed front to back), Matsumora Kosaku lineage (performed side to side), and Kyan Chotoku lineage (performed on a 45 degree angle). Looking at technical content, we can see that the Matsumora and Kyan versions are nearly identical, which is only natural since Kyan learned this from Matsumora.

Kushanku kata

Source 1: The kata of okinawa Ishin ryu karatedo by Joe Swift
Often described in Isshinryu as a “night fighting kata,” this form was passed down from Kyan Chotoku to Shimabuku Tatsuo. Interestingly enough, no references to night fighting are found in the primary references coming out of Japan and Okinawa, leading this author to conclude that such interpretations were contrived to fit movements that are not very well understood.

In the year 1762, a tribute ship sent to Satsuma from Ryukyu was blown off course during a storm, and ended up landing at Tosa Province in Shikoku, where they remained for a month. The Confucian scholar of Tosa, Tobe Ryoen (1713-1795), was petitioned to collect testimony from the crew. The record of this testimony is known as the Oshima Hikki (literally “Note of Oshima”, the name of the area of Tosa where the ship had ran aground). In this book, there is some very provocative testimony by a certain Shionja Peichin, describing a man from China called Koshankin, who demostrated a grappling technique (McCarthy, 1995; Sakagami, 1978).

It is commonly accepted that this Koshankin was the originator of the Okinawan Kusanku kata, or at least inspired it. However, there are several unknowns in this equation. First of all, was Koshankin his name or a title, or even a term of affection towards him? Second, if it was a title or term of affection, what was his real name? Thirdly, what martial art(s) did he teach, and how do they differ from the modern karate kata of Kusanku? Most of these questions are still being researched by this author and others.

For now, suffice it to say that Kusanku is a highly important kata in the Okinawan martial arts, and has spawned many versions over the years. Some of them include the Kusanku Dai/Sho Itosu Anko lineage styles, the Chibana no Kusanku of Shudokan, the Takemura no Kusanku of Bugeikan and Genseiryu, the Kanku Dai/Sho of Shotokan, the Shiho Kusanku of Shitoryu, and the Yara no Kusanku of Kyan Chotoku lineage styles, including Isshinryu. Of course, there are numerous others as well.

Kyan Chotoku is said to have learned Kusanku in Yomitan under a certain Yara Peichin (Nagamine, 1975; 1976). It is unknown at this time whether there is a familial relationship between this Yara Peichin and the Chatan Yara who is believed to have studied under Koshankin during his mid-18th century visit to Okinawa.

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“Kanku” in Japanese can be translated as “to view the sky” which is often used to explain the opening movement of the kata (Ota 1). However, according to most experts, Kusanku or Kung K’ung is the name of a Chinese military envoy who introduced the kata in Shuri around 1761. Many believe the kata Kusanku derives from Sokon Matsumura. Kusanku instructed Tode Sakugawa, Matsumura’s principal indicate an earlier origin than Matsumura. The Matsubayashi-ryu version of the kata comes down from Chotoku Kyan who learned the kata from Yomitan Yara, The grandson of Chatan Yara. Kyan aiso was familiar with the both Matsumura’s and Matsumora’s version of the kata.
According to Grandmaster Nagamine, Kusanku is most magnificent of all Matsubayashi-ryu kata. It is also the most difficult to perform. The signature stance (use picture of Nagamine) of Kusanku is a perfect example of the athleticism required to perform this kata. The practitioner is also required to go down to the ground (Ota 2) and leap in the air to execute a kick. Furthermore, Kusanku is clearly the longest kata in Matsubayashi-ryu and requires advanced levels of stamina and strength to perform well.
Many experts have asserted that Kusanku is the form that Itosu based the Pinan series of kata. Clearly many movements are used in Pinan. Therefore, for technical explanations on these important sequences, it is best to refer to the chapter on Pinan kata.

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