Article by Emanuel Giordano

Although it is unknown when the Naihanchi nidan and sandan kata were developed, their creation is attributed to master Itosu Anko. In fact, although there are rumors that the Naihanchi nidan kata was created by Matsumura Sokon sensei, they are not supported by any written evidence, and they give in in the face of what I am about to explain.
The Naihanchi nidan and sandan kata were first described in 1922, in the book Ryukyu Kenpo Tode, by Funakoshi Gichin sensei. There are also some drawings in this book, and it is noteworthy to point out that the performing position was shiko-dachi, unlike the Naihanchi shodan kata, whose execution required the naihanchi-dachi position (with the toes rotated internally, as in Shorin-ryu. Funakoshi then changed the position of the feet as early as 1925, as can be seen in his second publication).
Examining the versions closest to the original, those that have undergone fewer alterations over time, namely those still practiced today in Shorin-ryu 小林流, three elements appear quite evident:
  1. The kata have maintained the use of the body, the ashi-sabaki, the tai-sabaki, as well as the lateral progression typical of the Naihanchi shodan kata.
  2. Many of the techniques of these kata are taken from other kata (e.g. Passai, Chinto, etc.).
  3. The other techniques are repetitions of those of the Naihanchi shodan, or are elaborations of the same.
A similarity therefore appears clear between the Pinan kata and the Naihanchi nidan and sandan kata, namely that these forms act as a container of techniques and applications coming from other kata. This suggests their modernity, as they are probably teaching and training tools for beginner students.
Take for example the central part of the Naihanchi nidan kata. The soto-uke performed laterally with the other hand open as support, the one that precedes the hiza-geri, is nothing other than the initial technique of many Passai kata (the applications are also the same). The same thing applies to the first movement of the Naihanchi sandan, which is also present in the Itosu no passai and the Matsumura no Passai.
My teacher, Maeshiro Morinobu sensei, often underlined these similarities during his lessons, both at the level of execution of the form of the kata and with regards to its applications. It is no coincidence that in Shorin-ryu, before being able to study the Passai, Kusanku, etc. kata, it is necessary to study the form and applications of the 5 Pinan and 3 Naihanchi.
Given the above, it is therefore clear that these two kata are the result of a skilful fusion work, having the Naihanchi shodan kata as its basis, and the fighting techniques of other kata as tools. Unfortunately we do not know whether the creation of these two forms preceded or followed that of the Pinan, and therefore whether the Naihanchi nidan and the Naihanchi sandan represent the prototype of the Pinan kata or not, or whether they were instead created taking inspiration from them.
  • "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)