Sunday, 12 January 2014

Naihanchi - Self Defence?

Naihanchi (Tekki) is one of the most commonly practised kata in Karate today, a cursory search online shows many hundreds of interpretations and applications for the techniques. The most common themes and assumed context for use is civil self defence and fighting, in spite of the obvious flaws and impracticalities for this type of application and function. In order to make the fight 'fit' it is common to see deviations and changes to the kata movements when applied. If the form does not resemble functional use, shouldn't the form be changed to align with the function? if not then two different things are being practised under the same name.

The curious fist formation used in Naihanchi calls into question the assumption that it is for striking of any kind. Punching or striking with this fist actually increases the chances of a dislocated fore-knuckle and offers no advantages or increase to the speed, power and delivery of a strike or punch. If the original intention of this fist shape was for hitting then perhaps it should be abandoned or an alternative understanding sought.

Naihanchi is limited to the parallel horse stance and in footwork to a cross step, hardly the basis to prepare someone for the dynamic movement required to deliver varied explosive punches and strikes in a random exchange. Again if this was the original function intended for the Naihanchi kata perhaps time would be better invested in learning to hit, move and fight like the best punchers and strikers in the world who prove time and time again the efficacy of their method, instead of a faith based practice that lacks any real evidence to prove its efficiency. Here is one of the all time greats;

So if the Naihanchi kata are not punching and striking or preparatory methods for a ballistic exchange, what would be an alternative? 25 years of dedicated research and collated evidence by Nathan Johnson and the Kodoryu group demonstrates that the intended function for the Naihanchi kata is joint locking. The three Naihanchi kata restored to a single form catalogue a series of locking techniques designed to control and restrain a person without causing long term injury or harm. This itself could imply origins within the context of civil arrest, as the method avoids striking the person being restrained when it would make restraining them far easier to do so. The locking function when examined closely breathes new life and meaning into the Naihanchi fist, stance, step and sequence of movements. Here is an example of a segment of Naihanchi shodan broken down to demonstrate;

One more example from Naihanchi sandan broken down for demonstration;

So with the alternative locking function in mind, the form and its components begin to take shape. The Naihanchi fist is demonstrating gripping using the strongest part of the hand, the stance provides a strong base and traction to hold onto a struggling detainee and the cross step is a way of stepping that maintains strength in the posture and grip so movement and positional change are possible. The sequence catalogues locking techniques and variations to keep a person from escaping and standing up. Most importantly the function does not require the form to be altered or deviated from when applied or practised with a partner. The solo form is exercised as the function dictates and is not a loose template for approximations resulting in a multiplicity of functions and practises under a single name.

Presenting the complete catalogue and compiled evidence is beyond the scope of a single blog post but more will be added over time, the aim here is to raise questions about the accepted ideas of the Naihanchi kata and to invite those interested to come, experience and critique the evidence for themselves.

Please contact us with any comments, questions or most importantly for training please email Tom Maxwell at, thanks for reading!!!

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