This last week or so has been the first time I’ve been back in proper training since before Christmas, and it’s kicking my ass so far. Our instructor is determined to get us back in shape and strong again after a festive break of decadence and not working hard, and despite the pain and panting it’s causing so far, I’m very glad. We’ve been focusing on strength work which is always a good thing, and on top of that I have new things to learn, for the first time in ages.
There’s quite a gap between 1st Dan and 2nd, and with good reason, there’s a lot to take on board. I’ve started learning the first on the new forms I need to know, namely Naihanchi Ee Dan (Tekki nidan). The Naihanchi hyung have always seemed strange to me, very different to any other that we practice, and I hope that as I progress further I’ll start to understand more. I find it interesting that traditionally it was always seen as a really important kata/hyung, and yet it employs so few of the ‘basic’ moves that we as Tang Soo Do practitioners understand as staples of the art.
As well as the practical applications of any form, I’ve always found myself drawn to learn the origins wherever possible. Naihanchi is a nice form from that point of view, as the history is largely well-known and seldom disputed. I’ve known for a long time that the Japanese name for the form is Tekki, which translates as ‘Iron Horse’, but what I didn’t know was a) how recently it got that name, and b) that it was almost inadvertently a return to tradition. Let me try to explain a little more clearly. Naihanchi is now taught as three separate forms, but originally was brought (from China naturally) as one, longer form. This longer form was named Nifanchin, which (apparently, my Japanese isn’t great these days!) also translates as Iron Horse, but it was that stalwart and lynchpin of modern karate, Gichin Funakoshi who renamed it Tekki. He renamed it in honour of his teacher (and creator of the Pyung Ahn/Pinan/Heian forms), Anko Itosu. Between the two it became Naihanchi, which means ‘Internal divided conflict’, and that’s where it stuck as far as Tang Soo Do is concerned.
Although anecdotal, I think for once the Chinese origins of the forms might actually be explained quite well too..
In the 1960’s a kung fu practitioner, Daichi Kaneko, studied a form of Taiwanese White Crane Boxing, known as Dan Qiu Ban Bai He Quan (Half Hillock, Half White Crane Boxing). Kaneko, an acupuncturist who lived in Yonabaru, Okinawa, taught a form called Neixi (inside knee) in Mandarin. This form includes the same sweeping action found in the nami-gaeshi (returning wave) technique of Naihanchi. Neixi is pronounced Nohanchi in Fuzhou dialect, which could indicate Neixi is the forerunner to Naihanchi.
The fact that it was called Inside Knee sounds right for me, especially with the movements contained in Naihanchi Cho Dan, as anyone who has learned the form will recognise.
The fact that those three short forms are considered so important in karate, even to the extent that not so long ago teachers were teaching them to students with the understanding that they contain everything they need to know, is strange to me. That’s probably just a result of the way the arts have changed though, and the changes in training and teaching in the last hundred years. I’d love to be a fly on the wall in one of those old Okinawan dojos to see just how it was taught, practised and applied in those days.