Sunday, 12 January 2014

Naihanchi - Self Defence?

Naihanchi (Tekki) is one of the most commonly practised kata in Karate today, a cursory search online shows many hundreds of interpretations and applications for the techniques. The most common themes and assumed context for use is civil self defence and fighting, in spite of the obvious flaws and impracticalities for this type of application and function. In order to make the fight 'fit' it is common to see deviations and changes to the kata movements when applied. If the form does not resemble functional use, shouldn't the form be changed to align with the function? if not then two different things are being practised under the same name.

The curious fist formation used in Naihanchi calls into question the assumption that it is for striking of any kind. Punching or striking with this fist actually increases the chances of a dislocated fore-knuckle and offers no advantages or increase to the speed, power and delivery of a strike or punch. If the original intention of this fist shape was for hitting then perhaps it should be abandoned or an alternative understanding sought.

Naihanchi is limited to the parallel horse stance and in footwork to a cross step, hardly the basis to prepare someone for the dynamic movement required to deliver varied explosive punches and strikes in a random exchange. Again if this was the original function intended for the Naihanchi kata perhaps time would be better invested in learning to hit, move and fight like the best punchers and strikers in the world who prove time and time again the efficacy of their method, instead of a faith based practice that lacks any real evidence to prove its efficiency. Here is one of the all time greats;

So if the Naihanchi kata are not punching and striking or preparatory methods for a ballistic exchange, what would be an alternative? 25 years of dedicated research and collated evidence by Nathan Johnson and the Kodoryu group demonstrates that the intended function for the Naihanchi kata is joint locking. The three Naihanchi kata restored to a single form catalogue a series of locking techniques designed to control and restrain a person without causing long term injury or harm. This itself could imply origins within the context of civil arrest, as the method avoids striking the person being restrained when it would make restraining them far easier to do so. The locking function when examined closely breathes new life and meaning into the Naihanchi fist, stance, step and sequence of movements. Here is an example of a segment of Naihanchi shodan broken down to demonstrate;

One more example from Naihanchi sandan broken down for demonstration;

So with the alternative locking function in mind, the form and its components begin to take shape. The Naihanchi fist is demonstrating gripping using the strongest part of the hand, the stance provides a strong base and traction to hold onto a struggling detainee and the cross step is a way of stepping that maintains strength in the posture and grip so movement and positional change are possible. The sequence catalogues locking techniques and variations to keep a person from escaping and standing up. Most importantly the function does not require the form to be altered or deviated from when applied or practised with a partner. The solo form is exercised as the function dictates and is not a loose template for approximations resulting in a multiplicity of functions and practises under a single name.

Presenting the complete catalogue and compiled evidence is beyond the scope of a single blog post but more will be added over time, the aim here is to raise questions about the accepted ideas of the Naihanchi kata and to invite those interested to come, experience and critique the evidence for themselves.

Please contact us with any comments, questions or most importantly for training please email Tom Maxwell at, thanks for reading!!!

Friday, 10 January 2014

Kodoryu Karate and Kobudo Research Group

The Kodoryu group is dedicated to researching the original functions of the antique kata inherited from China as well as examining the history, culture and traditions that gave birth to the methods and ideas of encoding martial arts and practices in forms.

The research conducted by Nathan Johnson and assisted by Kodoryu (formally Zen Shorin Do, Chan Dao ) members past and present began over 25 years ago looking into the Naihanchi kata and Sanchin in its various forms. As the research has shifted course and moved with growing evidence and discoveries Johnson has published several works detailing his findings. The research continues and has expanded into examining other kata such as Seisan and Kusanku which we look forward to presenting in the near future.

It is often commented that the original functions of kata are lost and so there is no point in speculating what they might have been used for, with Karate kata enthusiasts being better off immersing themselves in creative interpretations of the movements which suit their own personal practice and preferences. The obvious question in response to this idea is why not just make up your own kata? which would allow for a fuller expression of personal experience and skill development specific to the developmental lines of the desired function and context. Instead of forcing experience, skills and ideas into movements and shapes originally synthesized for a different purpose. 

It may be true that we will never know exactly what the original meaning of all the techniques in each kata were but the same could be said of ancient languages, an example is Egyptian hieroglyphs, there is fierce debate about the meaning and ambiguity of many of the glyphs and how they should be read but the point is tireless research has given us a very good understanding of a large body of the glyphs which can only be built on and improved. The antique kata did have an original function and it was this function that was the basis for collecting together various skills and techniques in the forms. Once the underlying function is understood the process becomes a matter of working out each movement (technique) within the context and function.

The key to recognizing the underlying function requires a multi-faceted approach, asking a series of questions, many repetitions of the kata itself so the form is literally known inside and out, experimenting with the possibilities of the movements in isolation and in relation to the other movements with compliant and non-compliant training partners. As the information and understanding develops and experimentation continues it is possible to arrive at a breakthrough or series of breakthroughs revealing the function of the form. This process requires the same dedication as any other type of academic research and may take many years to yield results. The hypothesis will evolve as the body of information and evidence grows. It can be a painstaking process, mistakes will be made and it is possible to go off on tangents that lead in completely the wrong direction. I know this from my own experience of researching the kata Kusanku, the direction has changed many times over the years I have been attempting to decode this form which is intensely frustrating and at times daunting. Finally having a group of seniors and peers to critique and put to the test findings and ideas keeps research moving in a positive direction with fresh insight and advice always at hand.

The process itself is incredibly rewarding and worthwhile, providing a constant demand for learning and development. As well as giving a fascinating glimpse into the antique Martial arts of China and the Ryukyu kingdom. For anyone interested in our group and the research we would like to extend an open invitation to come and experience the evidence for yourselves!

Please contact us with any queries, questions or most importantly for training, email Tom Maxwell at