Kata: What's in a Name?

Back when I first learned the kata Naihanchi Sho, I didn’t find a lot of examples of it on YouTube. However, I recently started reading a book called Shotokan’s Secret: The Hidden Truth Behind Karate’s Fighting Origins and learned the Shotokan guys have a different name for the kata: Tekki.

I did a search for Tekki, and found quite a few examples. Shotokan is a much more well-known style than the Shuri-ryu I study, but they share similar roots. When Gichin Funakoshi, founder of Shotokan, brought karate to Japan, he changed several of the kata names from Okinawan to Japanese, thus Naihanchi became Tekki.

Here’s footage of Funakoshi himself running the Tekki Sho kata:

Our interpretation of the kata is very similar, especially given the variances I’ve seen between some of our kata and the same kata run by other schools. You can find a clearer video by a modern Shotokan sensei here. We have slight differences in the techniques at the beginning and end of the kata, but something key we share is the rotation of the hips. If you look at the video I linked previously, there is far less hip rotation in the Matsubayashi-ryu interpretation. At least there’s less by this black belt (empi/elbow strikes excepted). Of course, he displays a lot less kime, too, but that’s a whole ‘nother discussion.

The variations in kata continue to amaze me. They seem to be very different, but at the core you sometimes find they share the same ideas and training goals. You think of tradition as being something concrete, especially given the Japanese culture it descends from, but in reality it’s very fluid, evolving with the touch of every instructor in a given lineage.

Incidentally, I’m about halfway through Shotokan’s Secret and it’s a very interesting read. The author, Bruce Clayton, gives new perspectives on the history of karate in relation to Okinawa’s political situation, particularly in the 1800s, and he cuts through a lot of the legend and mysticism associated with many of the old karate masters. If I had one complaint it’s the way Clayton seems to dismiss some of his reference material and the bias he shows toward Gichin Funakoshi (the author makes no bones about being a Shotokan sensei). He takes a brief paragraph to discuss Funakoshi’s faults, but seems to have no problem slamming Funakoshi’s contemporaries like Choki Motobu and Chotoku Kyan (full disclosure: Shuri-ryu claims Choki Motobu in its lineage).

Still, I’m very much enjoying the book, and I highly recommend it to any karateka, regardless of style affiliation. Clayton’s discussion of what he calls the Shuri Crucible and the arrival of the American Navy in 1853 are a great insight into how and why karate came to be.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

4 comments

  1. Noah L says:

    It’s also called “Naifunchi” and a couple other odd variations. Shorin-ryu and Wado-ryu, in my experience, still tend to call it Naihanchi, but it isn’t as popular for them as it is for Shotokan. I remember hearing Shiroma Sensei in Hawaii talking to his students about how important Naihanchi was after seeing Mr. Johnston run O’Naihanchi (Sho, Ni, and San put together into one long kata). None of his students liked Naihanchi or thought it was important until they saw Mr. Johnston run it.

  2. Mike says:

    I’ve seen it as Naifanchi, too. Almost like chasing down the variations of Wansu — Wunsu, Wanshu, and so on.

    I think it may be my favorite kata so far. I look forward to looking all of O’Naihanchi. I’ve seen Naihanchi Ni, but not San.

  3. Noah L says:

    Yeah, and then of course there are totally different variations–Naihanchi to Tekki, Wunsu to Empi, Kanku Sho to Wanshu, Kwanku, or Unsu. Fun stuff :P

    I liked it, but I was REALLY looking forward to Bassai Dai, so hopefully I can get to niikyu under Mr. Bisanz so I can learn it, haha.

  4. Bart Scovill says:

    We’ve started a comparative study of kata here: http://warriorpages.ning.com/group/kataresearchsociety. I’ve studied the Matsubayashi-ryu, Wado-ryu and Shuri-ryu versions of Naihanchi, and of all the kata I’ve learned in multiple styles, this is the most consistant. But that makes it harder to train the different variations because it’s easier to confuse.