Article by Emanuel Giordano

Reading an article recently published by Motobu Naoki, I decided to take the time to try to reconstruct all the changes made to Yabu sensei's Naihanchi kata over time. When we talk about Yabu sensei's Karate, obviously, we are talking about the Karate that he taught at the Shihan Gakko, first under the guidance of Itosu sensei, then as a reference teacher. It is useful to remember that the importance of Yabu sensei in the school Karate environment was only second to that of Itosu sensei, placing all the others, Funakoshi sensei included, on a lower hierarchical level, as testified by one of his students, Miyagi Hisateru, who also collaborated and trained with Funakoshi sensei after emigrating to "mainland" Japan. The topic has been dealt with in detail in several articles published in the past.
The sources considered for this research are:
- Yabiku Motoku student videos ( The video was recorded in Brazil in 1951, while Yabiku sensei studied at Shihan Gakko from 1905 to 1910 (Itosu sensei started teaching Karate at this school in 1906).
-Okugi hijutsu Karate-do, book published by Toyama Kanken sensei in 1956. Toyama sensei studied at the Shihan Gakko from 1906 to 1911.
-Karate-do, a book published by Miyagi Hisateru in 1953 (the version examined is the 1955 reprint). Miyagi Hisateru studied at Shihan Gakko from 1911 to 1916.
-Information provided by Gima Shinkin sensei, reported in the article cited at the beginning of this research. Gima Shinkin sensei studied at Shihan Gakko from 1912 (then, theoretically, until 1917).
-Ryukyu Kenpo Karate (1922) and Rentan Goshin Karate Jutsu (1925), written by Funakoshi Gichin sensei.
-Video Naihanchi by Funakoshi, recorded circa 1935 (
-Bunbukan School, questioned about Gusukuma Shinpan sensei's Naihanchi.
-Photo of the students of Yabu sensei performing Naihanchi, dated 1932.
-The video of the students of Yabiku sensei unequivocally shows the use of the shiko-dachi position, as well as a cross step made by crossing the first foot over the second, and then lifting the latter a lot while performing a namigaeshi.
-Toyama sensei's book clearly shows the use of the shiko-dachi position.
-Miyagi's book shows and describes two positions, one preceding the description of what looks like a preparatory exercise, and one in the execution of the kata itself. The first position is Itosu's naihanchi-dachi, while the second is the naihanchi-dachi with the feet almost parallel. The distance between the feet is that of a shin, and in the crossed step the feet are used exactly as shown in the video of the students of Yabiku, that is, performing a namigaeshi.
-Gima describes a position identical to that used by Miyagi in the execution of the kata, however the distance between the feet is described as a shin plus a fist, exactly as it is used in most Shorin-ryu schools.
-Funakoshi describes and shows Itosu's naihanchi-dachi position in the 1922 book, but the shiko-dachi position also appears in the same book, but is used for the Naihanchi nidan and sandan kata. In the 1925 book, however, the author describes the naihanchi-dachi almost as in 1922, but the photo shows a position with the feet parallel. However, in the photographic sequence of the Naihanchi shodan, nidan and sandan kata, the position used is a shiko-dachi, although not as broad as that which appears later in the 1935 book.
-In Funakoshi's video, recorded around the year 1935, the master performs the three kata using a large shiko-dachi and a similar (but simpler) step to that of the Yabiku video and Miyagi's book.
-According to reports from Nakamoto Mamoru to Manuel Vignola, the Naihanchi kata of Gusukuma Shinpan is performed with a position with the feet "parallel". Gusukuma also studied and worked at school under the guidance of Yabu sensei.
-The photo of Yabu's students, which according to reports from the latter's nephew to Motobu Naoki dates back to 1932, clearly shows a very large shiko-dachi, like the one in Funakoshi's 1935 book, and in Toyama's 1956 one. 
From what emerges from these sources, and from what we know about the Naihanchi kata, it is possible to draw three possible conclusions:
1- Yabu sensei initially taught kata using the shiko-dachi position, as handed down by Yabiku sensei and Toyama sensei. Later he modified the kata and began to use a position similar to that of Motobu Choki sensei, as did Gusukuma Shinpan, Miyagi Hisateru and Gima Shinkin later on. Eventually, he returned to using the shiko-dachi position in the 1930s, as evidenced by the photo from 1932. In the meantime, however, the naihanchi-dachi position of Itosu sensei was also transmitted, as evidenced by the book by Miyagi Hisateru.
2- Yabu sensei taught kata with the position then handed down by Gusukuma, Miyagi and Gima (like Motobu). Subsequently, between the end of the 1920s and the 1930s, he modified the kata by introducing the shiko-dachi, a modification also adopted by his former students Yabiku and Toyama, but not by Miyagi and Gima, who were already in mainland Japan in 1921 and 1922. In 1935, Funakoshi sensei had already changed the position in shiko-dachi, as evidenced by the book Karate-do kyohan, probably following the research done by his son Yoshitaka in Okinawa (where we know almost for certain that he frequented another Shihan Gakko master: Oshiro Chojo), or from the contacts he had with Toyama Kanken, before the relations between the two deteriorated. As mentioned in point 1, in the meantime the naihanchi-dachi position of Itosu sensei was also transmitted, at least until the period in which Miyagi frequented Yabu and the Shihan Gakko. However, Yabiku arrived in Brazil in 1917, which makes it difficult for any subsequent contact between him and Yabu. Despite this, the only video we have available is that of 1951, that is 34 years after his arrival in Brazil, 34 years in which Yabiku may have met Yabu again (e.g. during the latter's visit to Hawaii), or some other Okinawan immigrant who had practiced Karate under Yabu in Okinawa, and who may therefore have shown Yabiku the "new" position. I think 34 years is a long time, and given the numerous changes that took place in a short time in Okinawa and in mainland Japan, I think it is necessary to investigate more about what happened in those first years of Yabiku sensei's stay in Brazil. I take this opportunity to congratulate Puro Karate for the excellent work done in this field. 
3- Yabu sensei taught all three postures, each having a different purpose. A partial confirmation of this comes from the book by Miyagi Hisateru, where both the position with the feet turned inward and the position with the feet parallel are shown. The text following the first photo also describes the side walking method, and could easily be a mere exercise to improve the execution of the kata. The text says to cross the left foot over the right and, once the force (body weight) is transferred from the right foot to the left, lift the first to the left knee in a wave motion (namigaeshi), and then strike down with the cut of the foot (ashigatana de fumikiru). As mentioned above, this particular passage is reflected in the video of the students of Yabiku sensei. A noteworthy fact is that Motobu Choki sensei described this way of moving as typical of Itosu sensei. The source of this information, recently covered in an article by Motobu Naoki, is a text written by Motobu Choki, published in 1934 in Karate no kenkyu, by Nakasone Genwa. Here too, however, we have a discordant datum, represented by the Naihanchi kata of Chibana sensei, heir of Itosu sensei. The latter, in fact, as can be seen in a vintage video (, and as can be found in the kata performed in the schools derived from him (Shidokan, Kyudokan, Shubukan, Shorinkan, etc), he did not perform namigaeshi at each step (which instead practiced in Nagamine sensei's Matsubayashi-ryu), but performed a side walk very similar to that of Motobu sensei. It is instead evident both from the video and from today's way of performing the kata, that the namigaeshi was followed by a fumikiri (diagonal kick performed with the cut of the foot). Nevertheless, the foot must not be banged against the floor (a detail also criticized by Motobu sensei and Funakoshi sensei), but the descent must be cushioned with a particular movement of the toes and ankle. In fact, among the applications of this technique there are both fumikiri and fumikomi.
As has already emerged from previous researches, published in the corresponding articles, relating to various kata of Yabu sensei, such as Kusanku, Pinan shodan, Pinan nidan and Gojushiho, taught, over time, within the Shihan Gakko (normal school), Yabu sensei certainly cannot be defined as a conservative but, rather, an innovator! The fact that he had the opportunity to study pre-Itosu Karate, in fact, does not preclude the possibility that he did what he did, that is to modify and simplify, over time, the Karate that he taught within the school environment, especially at Shihan Gakko. Not only, therefore, he handed down the changes made by Itosu sensei (both the generic ones, and those designed for teaching Karate at public schools), but he continued to modify his Karate even after the death of his master, or rather, he continued to modify the Karate he taught in schools.
It is also evident that to base our thinking and our research on stereotypes such as: "Master Dude only taught in this way", or "Master Dude, in those years, taught in that way and only in that way, then in the following years he changed method / position / technique" can only lead to wrong conclusions and to spread clichè far from the reality of the facts. As we have just seen, different and contemporary sources report methods that are sometimes similar, sometimes different. Moreover, sometimes, the same source can report more information, testifying to the fact that, yesterday as today, sometimes the masters taught two or more different ways of performing a given kata / technique, in order to train different things. Think of Miyagi Hisateru's Naihanchi, or the one described by Funakoshi sensei in 1925 in the book Rentan Goshin Karate Jutsu. Both authors describe the position in a certain way, but in the kata they show a different position.
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  • "The legend of the masters of Okinawan Karate: Biographies, curiosities and mysteries"  (here)