Article by Manuel Vignola

For some time, both in various articles published on the internet but also in books, we read that the kata Passai Gwa (sometimes written Guwa) taught by Zenpo Shimabukuro (1943) of the Seibukan school would be the kata Passai learned by Choki Motobu (1870-1944) during his studies with Kosaku Matsumora (1829-1898); this form, "extremely rare", was transmitted by Motobu only to two of his students, Chozo Nakama (1899-1982), who in turn taught it to Zenpo, to whose family he was very attached, and Katsuya Miyahira (1918- 2010) of the Shidokan school, which handed it down under the name of Koryu Passai.

Nevertheless, however suggestive this attribution may be, this does not correspond to the truth, as directly stated by Zenpo Shimabukuro. Passai Gwa is simply the Okinawan dialect translation of the kata Passai Sho (Sho = Gwa), the creation of which is traditionally attributed to Anko Itosu (1831-1915), and is equivalent to the Bassai Sho kata of Japanese schools such as Shito-ryu, Shudokan and Shotokan, but also of Okinawan schools not deriving from Chosin Chibana, such as that of Shinpan Gusukuma (1890-1954) and Chomo Hanashiro (1869-1945). Zenpo Shimabukuro has in fact stated several times, in various interviews also available on the internet, that the Passai Gwa was taught to him by Chozo Nakama, who in turn learned it from his Master Chosin Chibana (1885-1969), of which he was an senior student together with Katsuya Miyahira. The rarity of this form in Okinawa comes mainly from the fact that the vast majority of Okinawa Shorin-ryu Karate has been influenced by Chibana (the schools of Gusukuma, Hanashiro, etc. are extremely small, made up of very few students who are not interested in fame, moreover, most of Nakama's senior students such as Ankichi Nakamura have in turn eliminated this form as extra curriculum), and he omitted this form in his teaching, so much so that it was not part of the official curriculum of his school, preferring behind Itosu's own suggestion to pass on the Passai learned from his brother-in-law Shinkazu Tawada (1851-1907), a pupil of Sokon Matsumura. A student of Chibana, Pat Nakata, in an interview with him stated that his Master developed his own teaching curriculum directly with the help of Itosu himself, believing that there were too many kata to learn: Itosu advised to focus on classical kata of Shuri Te, preserving the Matsumura Passai learned from Tawada as Passai Dai and teaching the Itosu no Passai Dai, developed by Itosu, as Passai Sho. Consequently, Chibana eliminated from his teaching the original Itosu Passai Sho, which from that time on was sometimes known as Koryu Itosu no Passai Sho (abbreviated to Koryu Passai) and sometimes as Gusukuma no Passai, since Shinpan Gusukuma was one of the few to pass it on. Nakama's Passai Gwa, Miyahira's Koryu Passai and Gusukuma's Passai Sho are very similar, but Zenpo's kata has been adapted to the rest of his school, so there are differences both in techniques and in the use of the body.

Anko Itosu, Choshin Chibana, Chozo Nakama, Zenpo Shimabukuro

Although Choki Motobu specifically mentions the kata Passai in his book Watashi no Tode Jutsu of 1932, attributing to it Chinese origins but specifying that at the time it was practiced only more in Okinawa, and specifying there are two versions (Dai and Sho), and although the oral tradition count it among the forms practiced by the famous Master *, in his teaching he concentrated almost exclusively on the kata Naihanchi shodan, convinced that within it there was everything that was necessary to know, therefore at present it can be said that, given he practiced it, none of his pupils, and not even his son Chosei, learned his version.

* (Shoshin Nagamine wrote that Matsumora taught Choki the Naihanchi and Passai kata but not fighting, taking this information from Kin Ryojin, a famous Okinawan musician and friend of Choyu Motobu. However, it would not be the first time that Nagamine has confused some data in his books. In fact, during an interview with Choki Motobu, in 1936, the son of the musician Ryosho Kin was present, who asked Motobu to confirm what his father once told him, namely that Motobu had hit Matsumora in the face during a training session of kumite, receiving a positive response and thus contradicting what Nagamine reported).

After clarifying this point, it should be noted that there are three other Passai that can be linked to the Motobu family.

The first version, of which there is also a partial video available on the internet, is known as Motobu Udun no Passai. This form was handed down by Chomei Motobu (1885-1956), eldest son of Choyu Motobu, older brother of Choki Motobu. Emigrated to Osaka in the first half of 1900, he never taught karate publicly on the mainland, however he had received lessons in his youth from his father, one of the foremost experts on the island. Chosei Fukuhara learned this version which later spread in the school of Chosei Motobu (1925), of which he was a friend, however it is unknown who taught it to Chomei (presumably his father). It should be noted that Fukuhara was also a pupil of Yara Choi, a pupil of Chojin Kuba, who in turn was a pupil of Kotatsu Iha, an senior student of Kosaku Matsumora. If we analyze the Motobu Udun no Passai, we can see a very strong similarity with the Tawada Passai, integrated by elements taken from various versions widespread in Tomari, specifically:

  • The kata begins in a very similar way to Yara Choi's Matsumora no Passai and more generally of the Passai typical of the Tomari area, with extensive use of nukite directed to the throat. Practically a Tawada Passai performed with open hands;
  • While in the versions influenced by Anko Itosu there is a great use of the ukiashi-dachi position, there is not this stance;
  • There is not either the classic gedan-shuto technique typical of the Shuri Te line (eg Itosu and Tawada), nor the gedan-barai of the Tomari versions, but there is the sagurite ("hand that seeks") as for example in Chomo Hanashiro's Passai Sho;
  • The kicking technique turns out to be a sort of sokuto-geri jodan, an uncommon feature in Okinawan Karate;
  • The manji-uke precedes, exactly, as in the Tawada Passai a gedan technique performed in kosa dachi;
  • After mikazuki-geri (rising kick) and elbow strike (same as Tawada Passai), subsequent low-medium defense techniques are performed sideways, as in some versions of Tomari (but also as Shuri's Nishihara Passai), and not frontally as for example the Tawada no Passai, moreover with the torso inclined forward downwards, as in the Oyadomari Passai performed by Hiroshi Kinjo;
  • The last two techniques are not sagurite, as in the versions of Shuri and Tomari, but classic chudan-shuto, such as Gusukuma Passai Sho and Koryu Passai.
Therefore, although it maintains, as roughly all the various versions, the classic sequence of the kata Passai and in particular a clear similarity with the Tawada no Passai, we can also note a relevant influence of the versions practiced in Tomari, in particular of the Matsumora Passai and of Oyadomari's version; it is not known who taught this kata to Choyu's eldest son, however it could be a synthesis made by the father of various versions (which was extremely frequent at the time, each Master reworked the acquired materials) in a single form that would have remained the prerogative of the Motobu's family. Choyu Motobu was one of the most prominent personalities on the island and, belonging to the highest social class, had had a first-rate training in martial arts, from Sokon Matsumura and Anko Itosu but we know that he also studied with Kosaku Matsumora of Tomari, as his brother Choki Motobu wrote. Currently this form is preserved by Chosei Motobu's association.

Chomei Motobu, Chosei Fukuhara, Chosei Motobu
Although things are still not entirely clear, let's now analyze the kata handed down as Passai Sho in the Seidokan school of Shian Toma (1929-2013). According to some of his students, he also studied with Uchima no Tanmei, who taught him some kata, including the Passai of Chomo Motobu (nicknamed Motobu Toraju), second son of Choyu Motobu, who also emigrated to “Mainland” Japan, which had studied with both his father Choyu and his uncle Choki Motobu among others. We do not know who this Uchima no Tanmei refers to, but there are two hypotheses: in a newspaper article, on the occasion of the martial arts exhibition held in 1961 sponsored by Okinawa Kobudo Kyokai, Uchima Anyu performed in a peculiar version of the kata Naihanchi (this too would be derived from Chomo Motobu). Born in 1938 on the island of Minami (Okinawa archipelago), he studied with his uncle Yasuichi (or An'ichi), who had lived and studied with Motobu Toraju (Chomo) for a period. The prevailing hypothesis would be to attribute this kata to An'ichi Uchima (Tanmei is a term used to indicate the elderly), also because Anyu did not study directly with Chomo. This kata differs considerably from Motobu Udun no Passai and most of the other Passai practiced in Okinawa: there are many soto-uke (such as Itosu no Passai, Ishimine no Passai); the morote-tsuki are performed laterally; there is the technical combination of soto-uke, mae-geri and two tsuki, typical of the kata Seisan and Ananku. Furthermore, some techniques typical of most versions of the kata Passai are not present here, which makes this form unique, although, as mentioned, we are not yet certain of their origin.

Chomo Motobu, Anyu Uchima, Shian Toma
Finally, it remains to examine the Passai transmitted in Shigeru Nakamura's Ryukyu Kempo (1891-1969). Seiyu Oyata (1930-2012), in fact, repeatedly stated to several of his long-time students (in particular his most advanced student JD Logue reported it in his book Ryukyu Kempo: History and Basis) that his Master Nakamura had studied, among others, with Choyu Motobu (1857-1928), older brother of Choki Motobu, and from him he would learn the kata Passai. The Passai of this school is similar (to a certain extent) to the Motobu Udun no Passai and the "Tomari" versions, however it does not have the characteristic nukite present at the beginning of the kata, there are three sagurite instead of three gedan techniques, the kick is a sokuto-geri (although not as high as in the Motobu Udun no Passai), and the two final chudan-shuto are missing (here replaced by two sagurite, as in Tomari's versions). Similar therefore to the Motobu Udun no Passai, but somewhat different, it is possible that it was modified by Nakamura to adapt it to his thought.

Choyu Motobu, Shigeru Nakamura, Taika Seyu Oyata
In conclusion: we can say that, although some sources attribute the practice of kata Passai to Choki Motobu, and although it is very likely that this information is correct, there are no certain and written sources that confirm this theory or not. None of his students learned it, not even his son Chosei or other longtime pupils. The version often known as Motobu's Passai, Zenpo Shimabukuro's Passai Gwa, actually derives from Chosin Chibana, and is none other than Anko Itosu's old Passai Sho, adapted by Zenpo to his style. Katsuya Miyahira may have learned it, as well as from Chibana, also from Anbun Tokuda or Shinpan Gusukuma. However, Chosei Motobu currently retains a version of Passai that came from Choyu Motobu's eldest son, but it cannot be ascertained from whom Chomei Motobu learned it (although probably from his father Choyu). According to some sources, Shian Toma's Passai Sho would be a kata transmitted by Chomo Motobu, second son of Choyu, to Yasuichi Uchima, and would have come to Toma or directly from the latter (as the term Uchima no Tanmei, ie "Uchima the elder ”), or through his nephew Anyu, who in 1961 performed one of the kata of Chomo Motobu's lineage, the Naihanchi. Finally, Oyata attributed his Master (Nakamura)'s version to Choyu Motobu. No doubt there are some similarities in the kata with the Motobu Udun no Passai, however there are also important differences, which could mean a substantial modification of the original form by Nakamura, who had had other Masters such as Chomo Hanashiro, whose teachings could have profoundly influenced this version.
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