of Shorin-ryu Seibukan
the following article, I will briefly describe the kata of Shorin-ryu Seibukan,
and their origin. Describing kata by text is very difficult. One must remember
that a kata, by itself, is a complete fighting system, and a book could be
written using one kata as a subject source. Another purpose of this article is
to clarify what “is” traditional Okinawan kata.
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.
of kata were meant to be tools against an opponent in a dangerous situation, a
situation that might occur in the daily course of life. In some literature about
the beginnings of karate, it is stated that the art was developed out a need to
defend oneself against the attack of an armed samurai. To some extent this is
true, but when you review the practical applications of kata techniques, you
discover many grabbing, grappling, punching, and pressure point techniques. Most
of which are used in close in fighting situations.
karate increased in popularity on mainland Japan, a move to modify it to a
position similar to Kendo and Judo, was endorsed. This changed the kata in form
and bunkai (application of technique). Competition and militaristic doctrines
forced traditional Okinawan karate to change and conform to the mainland Japan
philosophy of “martial arts.” The focus had changed from a sole form of
self-defense and character building, to a blend of self-defense, art
(karate-do), sport, and nationalistic spirit.
time passed, karate was vastly becoming a tournament sport event. Techniques
from the master’s kata were being lost in favor of point kumite and tournament
style kata. Traditional self-defense kata and techniques were disappearing, and
people that were in search of good traditional karate arts were hard pressed to
find it. Except on a small island south of mainland Japan, Okinawa.
this island, traditional karate was still being practiced and taught. Here
ancient masters like Chotoku Kyan, were practicing karate-do. They not only
trained on the perfection and polishing of kata forms, but also the practice of
bunkai, or kata technique applications. Usually with was done with a partner,
which differs from the more modern day jiyu kumite. This form of training was
considered as important as the kata itself. Many Okinawan masters, like Choki
Motobu, proved that this kind of training had effective uses. This type of
traditional training is preserved, intact, in the Seibukan Shorin-ryu karate-do
system of the Shimabukuro Zenryo lineage.
The Kata of
Master Nagamine Shoshin originally created Fukyugata Ichi. This kata is
meant to be the first basic kata practiced, and contains basic movements of
karate-do. Body dynamics are in basic sequence so that a beginner can easily
understand them. Also basic punches and blocks are contained in this kata. A
major characteristic of this kata is the use of choku dachi (legs straight
stance). This version of the kata, along with the modified version of Fukyugata
Ni, were developed in joint cooperation with other Okinawan member systems (Rengokai
and Okinawa Prefecture), as a representation of traditional Okinawan styles,
mainly for joint demonstrations and exhibitions. Due to the large difference in
Okinawan style kata, stances, and movements, it was agreed upon to create the
two kata solely for this purpose.
Miyagi Chojun (Modification of Gekisai Dai Ichi)
Master Miyagi Chojun originally created this kata. Fukyugata Ni is also
known as Gekisai Dai Ichi in Gojuryu. The Goju-ryu kata, Gekisai Dai Ichi
and Ni, were created by Miyagi sensei in 1940. In their development, he had two
ideas in mind: Spiritual and physical development of the individual, and to
increase the popularity of karate. It was also important to him that kata was
suitable for everyone despite of age and physical condition. The name of kata is
quite harsh because it means to “destroy.” Miyagi sensei chose the name to
promote self-esteem of the young people, their training spirit, especially
because they were living in hard times due to the war. Fukyugata Ni includes
powerful and sharp techniques, and Miyagi himself emphasized that they should
perform them with full speed and power. The main stance in this kata is sanchin
dachi. This stance is made by slightly bending knees with toes pointed forward.
Basic form two (Fukyugata Ni), is one level harder than the first. The series of
movements and bunkai in this kata contain catching and throwing techniques.
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.
It is speculated that Kyan Chotoku developed the Ananku kata. From
several sources it is claimed that Ananku is Taiwanese in origin, and that
Master Kyan brought it from Taiwan to Okinawa. However, the appearance of this
kata is very Okinawan in form, movement, and technique. Many of the techniques,
stances, and movements are representative of existing Sukunaihayashi kata.
Here is a brief comparative breakdown between similar individual
movements in the kata, Ananku and other Sukunaihayashi kata:
uke, with sliding forward
to shizentai dachi
uke, chudan uke same time, ryote tettsui, oi tsuki
uke- renzoku chudan tsuki - maegeri – chudan tsuki
uke- renzoku chudan tsuki - maegeri – chudan tsuki
uke, lift leg, maegeri, gedan barai, chudan tsuki, chudan uke
uke, by sliding backward.
uke, by sliding backward.
In the Kyan lineage of kata, Seisan is taken from Shuri-te’s master,
Sokon Matsumura. Movements, which were taken from the kata Wansu and Passai
represent tomari-te, but Ananku seems to be more a mixture of Tomari-te and
Shuri-te, rather than Taiwan/Chinese martial arts.
If this kata was created by Master Kyan, and designed to emphasize
representative techniques of various systems he learned from, then a comparison
can be drawn from his own students Zenryo Shimabukuro (Seibukan), in his Wanchin
kata, and Tatsuo Shimabukuro (Isshinryu), in his Sunsu kata.
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.
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.
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.
Wanchin is the kata of Zenryo Shimabukuro. It is built from elements of
other kata which sensei learned from Kyan Sensei. The Wanchin kata name is a
combination of the kanji from Wansu and Chinto. Zenryo Sensei wanted the name to
sound Chinese, thus Wanchin in the kanji writing. Zenryo Sensei believed
strongly that simultaneous block and counter techniques were of primary
importance. The movements of Wanchin kata demonstrate many of these types of
techniques, taken from Passai, Seisan, Gojushiho and Kusanku.
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.
Yara Pechin (Yomitan)
Kusanku is the longest and most difficult of Sukunaihayashi kata. It is
also the most beautiful kata of our style. This is a favorite of Hanshi
Shimabukuro Zenpo, and he freely demonstrates it at all exhibitions, seminars
and demonstrations, always receiving admiration from the audience!
Tokumine No Kun
Tokumine No Kun was the only weapon kata passed on by Kyan sensei. It is
assumed that it was the only weapon kata that he had formally learned. The
“colorful” master, Tokumine Pechin, on the Yaeyama Islands taught this kata
to him. This particular version of bo (staff) kata is quite rare, even on
Additional Kata of
For many years, Master Chozo Nakama was a close friend to the
Shimabukuro family. He was also one of the foremost disciples of Master Chibana
Chosin, as well as having the honor to know for many years, the famous Okinawan
fighter, Choki Motobu. Because Nakama Sensei was humble, modest and an honorable
master of karate, his name did not become very well known in the modern day
martial arts world. Master Zenryo Shimabukuro encouraged his son, Zenpo
Shimabukuro, and his nephew Zenji Shimabukuro, to train under one of greatest
Okinawan martial art’s sensei, Chozo Nakama. Through formal introduction and
request, both were accepted as students of this great master.
The following list of kata contain the forms that were learned by Hanshi Zenpo
Shimabukuro, and are now part of the kata syllabus in the Seibukan system.
Movements and bunkai of this kata have not been changed to fit the Seibukan form
of techniques, and are preserved as Hanshi Shimabukuro learned them from Master
Nakama. This can be seen in the stances and delivery of technique. When
comparing these to other of Nakama and Motobu student’s version of the kata,
you will see they are very much alike.
(Itosu no Pinan)
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 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.
(Itosu no Jion)
Chosin Chibana is credited with teaching this powerful kata to Chozo
Nakama. It differs from the others, because it emphasizes defenses for hair
grabbing. At the time of Chibana Sensei was living, some men used to wear their
hair in a topknot. These topknots were very easy to grab, and an excellent way
to gain control of an opponent. The technique in Jion that addresses this type
of attack is very effective in “relieving” oneself of a hair grab from an
opponent. Some modern day systems, through misunderstanding of this technique,
or modification to meet current trends, have changed this unique technique to a
normal jodan uke in the bunkai explanation.
(Motobu no passai)
This kata is extremely rare, even in Okinawa. Some believe this is a
fact because Motobu taught this version of Passai Guwa to a very select few
individuals. Along with Hanshi Zenpo Shimabukuro, there is only one person who
is noted to teach this kata in present days, Hanshi Katsuya Miyahira. This kata
is very special and unique, because it has bunkai techniques to guard against
and disarm a bo (staff) attack.