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.
Chomei Motobu, Chosei Fukuhara, Chosei Motobu
Chomo Motobu, Anyu Uchima, Shian Toma
Choyu Motobu, Shigeru Nakamura, Taika Seyu Oyata