Article by Emanuel Giordano

Naihanchi it is the fundamental kata of Shorin-ryu and one of the three main kata. Although some tend to affirm that Tode Sakugawa practiced this kata, written sources allow us to go back only to Sokon Matsumura sensei, then there is the world of oral tradition, folklore and legend (among the written sources we find Yabu and Motobu, respectively in Itosu no buyuden and in the 1936 interview for the Ryukyu Shimpo). This kata was the workhorse of two great masters, Itosu and Motobu, who thoroughly probed every detail. According to Yabu sensei, in the aforementioned article, Anko Asato praised the Naihanchi of Itosu sensei, underlining how it was considered the best interpretation of this kata among the experts of Shuri and Tomari. As for Motobu sensei, the abundant documentation available allows us to better understand how important this kata was for him, of which he was an undisputed expert! Although he did not like the stance used by Itosu, since it was only preparatory to the kata and not usable in combat, he still adopted a similar one, in contrast to the original position of this kata: the shiko-dachi. This last position was the one used originally, and was preserved by Yabu sensei and some of his students, such as Kanken Toyama (see photo below and the video of Yabiku Motoku, another student of Yabu). In addition, also in the Bugeikan school some Naihanchi are performed in this position, including the Tachimura no Naihanchi and the Higa no Naihanchi. A similar but slightly narrower position is instead that handed down in the Kodatsu Iha lineage.

Yabu sensei's students compared with Toyama sensei.
We do not know if Itosu initially taught the kata using shiko-dachi, or if Yabu learned this version directly from Matsumura sensei, but it is instead evident that Itosu taught the parallel-footed position for a time, as shown in Motobu's photo, and as also handed down by Chomo Hanashiro (see Hanashiro no Naihanchi handed down by Bugeikan and Oyata sensei, although the latter later changed to shiko-dachi).
However, the final position used by Itosu is the one still practiced today by most Shorin-ryu practitioners, that is, the one with the toes turned inwards. This position was certainly handed down to Chibana sensei and Funakoshi sensei (see photo below), and it is likely that it was also learned by other younger students such as Anbun Tokuda, Shinpan Gusukuma and Kenwa Mabuni. However, regarding Tokuda sensei there are some doubts, as he worked closely with Yabu sensei at Shihan Chugakko, and passed down other kata in the version of Yabu, such as Gojushiho.
So to recap: originally the kata was performed in shiko-dachi, then Itosu introduced the position with the feet parallel, then he turned his feet even more internally thus obtaining the current naihanchi-dachi, and finally the initial technique was changed from haisho (see e.g. photo of Yabu) in haito (technique with the palm of the hand facing up).
[UPDATE March 28, 2021
According to Lee Richards sensei, Oyata sensei taught Naihanchi with feet not completely parallel (heels out about 1 degree, so much less than Chibana, but still not completely parallel).]
Kyan sensei is one of the most exploited figures in Karate, especially by Westerners who boast a lineage with the so-called "Tomari-te" (for further information: Original References on Tomari-te di A. Quast), although Kyan called his school Shuri-ryu according to his pupil Shozen Sunabe. The various sources, as well as his direct testimony (Karate no omoide, May 7, 1942 Okinawa Shimpo) agree that one of his most important teachers was without a shadow of a doubt his father Chofu Kyan, who had studied with Matsumura sensei for two years. Kyan also met Matsumura sensei, who corrected the Seisan learned from his father and taught him Gojushiho. Kyan wrote that Matsumura was eighty at the time, but his pupil Hiroshi Irei explains that he was actually seventy-seven, and that Kyan must have gotten confused (Okinawan Karate, a man called Chanmie). Kyan then studied with Oyadomari sensei, Matsumora sensei and Maeda Peichin, learned the Chatan Yara no Kusanku kata from an heir of Chatan Yara, and a bo kata from the keeper of the island where Tokumine Peichin lived in exile. However, some sources, including his pupil Shoshin Nagamine, also cite Itosu sensei among his teachers.
Although not everyone agrees on this point, there are numerous sources that prove that Kyan transmitted the Naihanchi kata. Among them we have the testimony of Shozen Sunabe, one of his direct students (The Story of Shozen Sunabe by Charles C. Goodin. An excerpt of the article is available here); then there is the testimony of the Kudaka / Hisataka family, which states that Kori Hisataka learned Naihanchi from his master, Chotoku Kyan; the testimony of Kazu Taira, who had studied with Kyan sensei between 1941 and 1943 at the Agricultural Institute of Kadena (interview carried out by Advincula sensei on 29 August 1997); and obviously the testimony of two other direct students of his: Joen Nakazato and Tatsu Shimabukuro (Advincula sensei). As for Nakazato sensei, he included Naihanchi among the kata learned from Kyan sensei both in the list of kata found in his dojo (Kyudokan, not to be confused with the homonymous dojo of Yuchoku Higa sensei), both in the book released in 1988 (Kyudo). The fact that Kyan taught Naihanchi to Nakazato is further confirmed by an interview with Masanobu Sakugawa, a student of his, published in Ryukyu Shimpo on September 10, 2018. Nakazato indicated both in the aforementioned book and in the list of kata available at his dojo, which Kyan learned the kata from Sokon Matsumura sensei, although this does not appear from any of the older sources. Furthermore, Nakazato sensei used the term Naifanchi (ナ イ フ ァ ン チ), instead of the more common Naihanchi (ナ イ ハ ン チ).
However, as can be seen from the photo in the Kyudo book, it is Itosu's Naihanchi. The characteristic features are obviously the position of the feet and the use of haito instead of haisho. Someone then objected that this is not the kata transmitted in the dojo, but a kata used only for the book. However, this collides with four very solid elements: 1- no evidence has been issued to support the words; 2- as can be seen from the photos below, the same version of the kata is present in the official internal videos of the school; 3- apart from very slight differences, the kata is the same one performed by Tatsuo Shimabukuro (who, as we have seen above, had learned it from Kyan. Video); 4- Kyan talks about his meeting with Matsumura, where as we have already said he only mentions the kata Gojushiho, but not Naihanchi or anything else. Assuming that today two versions are taught in the Shorinji-ryu carried out by the students of Nakazato sensei, there is however no evidence that it was done even before.
It must be emphasized that some people have disputed the fact that Nakazato learned the kata from Kyan, saying that in fact he would have taken it from other sources, but this not only does not coincide with what he and his students stated, but Nakazato's thesis is supported by the fact that, as already mentioned, Tatsuo Shimabukuro sensei also transmitted the same kata, also claiming to have learned it from Kyan (see above). 
From whom did Chotoku Kyan sensei then learn this kata? There are two possible answers: 1- he could have learned it from Itosu; 2- he may have learned it from some of Itosu's students, in this case Anbun Tokuda and Shinpan Gusukuma. It has in fact been shown that Kyan frequented / collaborated with these two masters.
Furthermore, according to an interview with Seikichi Iha by Chris Willson and James Pankiewicz, Kyan used to attend Shinpan Gusukuma sensei's dojo about once a week to study Karate together.
[UPDATE March 28, 2021
The author states that the following information has been reported by third parties. According to Dan Smith sensei (Seibukan Shorin-ryu) Joen Nakazato sensei added Naihanchi later, as he did not practice it in 1969. According to Neal Simpson sensei (Isshin-ryu), Nakazato sensei told Jeff Perkins sensei that he learned Naihanchi from Chozo Nakama sensei. Neal Simpson sensei also says that before learning it from Nakama, Nakazato also learned it from a student of Hoan Soken sensei.]
Funakoshi sensei studied with several teachers, and although his main teacher was the nobleman Anko Asato, he also studied with Itosu, Arakaki, Higaonna, Kyuna, Taitei Kojo (for only 3 months) and Matsumura. It is also plausible that he had contact with Kodatsu Iha while working as a teacher in Tomari, since his Seisan and Wanshu are very similar to those Nagamine learned from Iha himself (thesis also advanced by Hiroshi Kinjo sensei). However, the kata he taught in "mainland" Japan roughly correspond to the kata that Itosu, Yabu and Hanashiro taught in Okinawan schools, with the exception of Gojushiho and with the addition, instead, of Seisan and Wanshu. 
As for his Naihanchi, for a long time the research has been based on what appears in Rentan Goshin Tode-jutsu (1925), that is a kata performed with the feet parallel, although in some photos a very slight hint of shiko-dachi appears. However, a closer examination of his first book, now very rare, Ryukyu Kenpo Tode (1922), shows how Funakoshi sensei initially taught Itosu's naihanchi-dachi, the one also adopted by Chibana sensei and other students. In fact, as mentioned at the beginning of the article, looking at the detail of the position of the feet, it is clearly indicated that the tips were turned inwards. From this we can therefore deduce that Funakoshi already made some changes between his arrival in Tokyo (1921) and 1925, as I will also show in another future article.
But the changes didn't stop there. In fact, a still different kata is shown in Karate-do Kyohan (1935). The position, in fact, varied from that with the feet parallel, to a Yabu sensei style shiko-dachi, called by Funakoshi kiba-dachi. Why this further change, and from whom did he learn this version? Two theories can be developed, although the author is more inclined towards the second: 1- Funakoshi dusted off an old version of the kata learned, perhaps, by Asato sensei or by others; 2- Funakoshi imported this version from Kanken Toyama, a pupil of Itosu and Yabu, who arrived in "mainland" Japan in 1930. In support of this thesis there is the fact that the two probably collaborated in the first years, so much so that one of the two Gojushiho of the current Shotokan style was imported from Toyama sensei (the other was imported from Mabuni sensei). Why were Toyama's Gojushiho and Naihanchi imported? Probably because they were those taught by Yabu sensei in Okinawa, and therefore two "ancient" versions of these kata.
The kata was then further modified by his students and his son, who adopted the current kiba-dachi, an even wider and lower position than the Shorin-ryu shiko-dachi (the Goju-ryu's one is wider and lower), but with feet parallel. This position is found, in fact, in the Tekki JKS (Shotokai) and in the Tekki JKA (Shotokan), while in the Funakoshi Shorin-ryu of Shinken Taira, the naihanchi-dachi of 1922 was maintained. In conclusion, Funakoshi sensei changed three positions to the kata over 13 years.
[UPDATE March 28, 2021
In Ryukyu Kenpo Tode (1922) there are also some drawings of Naihanchi nidan and sandan in which, instead of naihanchi-dachi, shiko-dachi appears. Furthermore, the description also indicates the use of this position, although it is indicated by the name hachiji-dachi 八字 立]
Thanks to Manuel Vignola for his collaboration.
For more information you can read:
  • "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)