Article by Emanuel Giordano

The Passai sho kata, whose full name is Itosu no Passai sho, is one of the two Passai kata handed down by Itosu sensei. Compared to the kata Passai dai it is a shorter form, but it is still very important in some aspects:

  • the kata Passai dai, in the first part, is altered for didactic purposes. In fact, the typical defense and attack techniques are missing, replaced by uke-waza performed with both arms and with closed hands. The Passai sho, on the other hand, has open-handed defense and counterattack techniques. Although these techniques are often explained as defenses to be implemented against a bo (long stick) attack, this is only one of the applications. These techniques, in fact, are very useful in combat with bare hands, and contain attacks on chibu nigakiree (kyusho).
  • Compared to the Passai dai kata, the morote-tsuki (double punches) are not vertical, but horizontal. This technique, in fact, in some versions of the kata Passai requires the vertical execution of the two tsuki, while in others they are performed horizontally.
The performance of these two kata (dai and sho) therefore has the advantage of learning both didactic (use of the body) and martial (real fighting techniques) provided by Itosu sensei; it also allows you to train both applications related to vertical morote-tsuki and those relating to horizontal morote-tsuki.
Passai sho kata was and still is practiced in Okinawa, although it is often known by other names. In fact it is part of the kata of the schools: Shidokan Shorin-ryu (Koryu Passai. Abbreviation of Koryu Itosu no Passai sho), Shubukan Shorin-ryu (Gusukuma no Passai. Probably learned from Shinpan Gusukuma sensei), Bugaikan (Hanashiro no Passai sho. Arrived through a pupil of Hanashiro sensei), Seibukan Shorin-ryu (Passai gwa. In uchinaaguchi both “sho” and “koryu” are pronounced “gwa”, and the kata came through Chozo Nakama sensei, a pupil of Chibana sensei). Obviously we must not get confused with the kata that Chibana sensei handed down after his "reform". In fact, the master introduced the Matsumura no Passai (Tawada no Passai), renaming it Passai dai, and renamed the Itosu no Passai dai to Passai sho.
But how did it come to “mainland” Japan and Korea? In Japan this kata is known as both Bassai sho and Passai sho, depending on the school, while in Korea it is known as Bal Sek sho. The kata was not part of Funakoshi sensei's original 15 kata, but was later officially incorporated into Karate JKA (Shotokan), and unofficially into Karate JKS (Shotokai). It was also introduced at the Karate club of the University of Tokyo (Tokyo Teikoku University Karate Kenkyu-kai), probably by Mizuho Mutsu, author of Kenpo Gaisetsu (1930) and Toudi Kenpo (1933), books where this kata appears illustrated. Although it does not appear in Toyama sensei's books, kata was taught to many of his students, both Japanese and Korean (source: research by C. Bellina). Finally, the kata was part of the official program of Mabuni sensei's Shito-ryu, which has often led to mistakenly thinking of the latter as the primary source of this kata. In fact, there are many peculiarities that make this version different, which is instead very close to the version practiced in Bugeikan. Thus, excluding Shito-ryu, the versions arrived in the other styles have no known provenance. So let's try to understand where this kata came from.
Where do the Shotokai and Shotokan versions come from, and why are they different? Yoshitaka Funakoshi is the most accredited source for both schools, as he imported different kata, techniques and positions from different sources into both groups. This is confirmed by R. Hassel's interview with Nakayama sensei: "[...] So the kata we call Kanku Sho and Bassai Sho are simply well-known variations of the original kata, Kanku and Bassai. How they began to be practiced among Master Funakoshi's students is not a question of profound significance. It is a matter of human nature... Some of the older students, first of all the son of Master Funakoshi, Yoshitaka, from time to time practiced some of these versions that they had learned elsewhere... Ah, the younger students were fascinated. We imitated our seniors, and asked them to teach us these different forms ”. Yoshitaka sensei was also very attached to Shotokai masters Egami sensei and Ironishi sensei.
The differences between the two versions are not great, and can be explained as changes made within the two groups. In this case, the Shotokan version would have eliminated the ogami-te (technique with praying hands), and replaced the two final shuto-uke with the current techniques; while the Shotokai version performs the ogami-te rotated 90° compared to the Mutsu version, it also has the two final shuto-ukes reversed. As a reference I took the Shotokan version practiced in the Kanazawa sensei videos, and the Shotokai version prior to the recent changes, which eliminated the ogami-te.

Toudi Kenpo (1933)
But where did Yoshitaka (Gigo) Funakoshi learn this kata? There are 5 possible answers to this question, and they are all related to a simple fact: the ogami-te is present only in some versions of this kata, while in the others it is not present (eg Shito-ryu and Bugeikan), or it is replaced by techniques with similar applications (eg Shidokan Shorin-ryu).
  1. Mizuho Mutsu. The kata, as already mentioned, appears in the two texts of Mutsu. Mutsu learned this kata in Okinawa together with Jisaburo Miki. Although he does not mention the source, he records in Kenpo Gaisetsu the names of the masters he met, namely: Chojo Oshiro, Chotoku Kyan, Moden Yabiku, Chojun Miyagi and Kentsu Yabu. Of these, three belonged to the Itosu lineage, and were also teachers at Shihan Gakko: Oshiro, Yabiku and Yabu (sources: "Okinawa Karate Timeline and 100 Masters", T. Hokama; "Okinawa Kobudo", M. Nakamoto). Gichin Funakoshi was president of the Tokyo University Karate club until 1930, then resigned following the introduction of bogu kumite by Mutsu and other senior students. Nevertheless, Otskua and others attended the club for a few more years, and Yoshitaka Funakoshi may have done the same thing as he was working as a radiologist at the same university.
  2. Chojo Oshiro. Yoshitaka often went to Okinawa between 1929 and 1935, where he attended several karateka, including Chojo Oshiro sensei. The bo kata present in Shotokai were in fact imported by Yoshitaka from the Yamanni-ryu style. Having therefore already seen that Mutsu may have learned the kata from Oshiro sensei (as well as from Yabiku and Yabu), it is plausible to think that Yoshitaka may also have learned the kata from this master.
  3. It is also possible, although less likely, that he learned it from another teacher during one of his trips to Okinawa.
  4. Toyama. As mentioned above, although there is no written evidence that Toyama sensei brought this kata with him from Okinawa, it has emerged from the aforementioned research that the master taught this kata to several students, including Yoon Byung-In sensei and Tsuchiya sensei. In addition, two other Toyama sensei students also passed down this kata, Takazawa sensei and Ichikawa sensei. Through some research I conducted, I was able to trace several videos relating to the schools founded by the aforementioned masters. The characteristic ogami-te is featured in each video, and the rest of the kata is almost identical to that of Mutsu sensei. Both the Korean version and the one deriving from Takazawa sensei end with the characteristic shuto-uke performed in both directions, while the versions of Tsuchiya sensei and that of Ichikawa sensei end as the Itosu no Passai dai, i.e. with two kake-uke / saguri-te. This particular then brings them closer to the Shotokan version. Obviously, a reciprocal influence between the various Karate schools present in Japan cannot be excluded, as has emerged over and over again from the research carried out.

    But what does Yoshitaka have to do with Toyama and the Shudokan? As emerged from the research conducted on the Gojushiho kata, there were several contacts between the students of the Shotokan dojo and Toyama sensei. The relationships are also confirmed by H. Kanazawa in the book The complete kata, as well as by an interview given by T. Kase sensei to Graham Noble, in which a meeting between Yoshitaka and Toyama is mentioned.
  5. A set of the first 4 hypotheses.

I end the article by explaining that the ogami-te is a technique that is applied both as joint manipulation (Tuidi) and as a throwing technique. The topic was also examined by Naoki Motobu in the attached article.
  • "Shorin-ryu Karate: kata 2" (here)
  • "Shorin-ryu Karate: kata" (here)
  • "Shorin-ryu Karate: The legacy of the bodyguards of the king of Okinawa" (here)
  • "The legend of the masters of Okinawan Karate: Biographies, curiosities and mysteries"  (here)