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Naihanchi (ナイハンチ)

purple belt
  • Naihanchi translates as "iron horse"
  • Naihanchi has also been translated as "surreptitious steps"
  • Naihanchi has also been translated as "sideways fighting"
  • Naihanchi has also been translated as "horse riding straddle stance"
  • Naihanchi has also been translated as "returning of the wave"
Run Time:
2 min 35 seconds
Naihanchi consists of 67 movements, 34 going one way, followed by 33 going in the opposite direction
Techniques Learned:
  • Double overhead blocks
  • Open-hand Shuto blocks
  • Ibuki Breathing
  • Circular blocks
  • Gaki Blocks
  • Elbow breaks (Arm)
  • Rapid fire techniques (punch, punch, kick, punch)
  • Seiuchin stance
  • Crane Stance
  • Foot break
  • X-block
  • Presentation (Bow in)
  • Double down Shuto blocks
  • Step slide to the side

Naihanchi Kata Tree

Sakugawa -- Matsumora -- Motobu -- Kyan --Tatsuo Shimabuku


The exact date Naihanchi was founded is not known, but it is considered to be close to 200 years old. It is known to have been formed some time in the late 1700's. The founder of Naihanchi is not known, but it was taught to Master Soken Matsumora by Tode Sakugawa. Matsumora is given credit for actually formulating the kata into a teachable pattern. He introduced the kata to Okinawa around 1825 by performing it in public for the first time. It was Choki Motobu, a well-known student of Matsumora's that popularized the kata in the late 19th century by performing it well over 450 times. Naihanchi became known as Motobu's kata in Okinawa a short time after this. Master Shimabuku studied this kata under both Master Motobu and Master Kyan, before adapting it for Isshinryu. It is not known which Master instructed him first.

About Naihanchi (ナイハンチ)

Naihanchi is the 3rd kata taught in Isshinryu and is required for promotion to purple belt. Naihanchi is taught after the karte-ka learns Seiuchin Kata. Even though Naihanchi is the shortest of all the Isshinryu katas, its main purpose, to develop the hand techniques of the practioner, is essential to any karate-ka.

Naihanchi originally written as "NAIFANCHI," was divided into 3 parts early in the 20th century, because of its original length and difficulties in teaching this kata. Tatsuo Shimabuku used what he considered the best techniques of each kata and combined them to form the Isshinryu version of Naihanchi.

Naihanchi is the only Isshinryu kata with no forward or backward steps. Naihanchi's floor pattern (embusen) is a straight line, first to the right then to the left. Naihanchi defends against 4 to 8 opponents attacking from the front and sides, while the defender is pinned against a wall with nowhere left to move but sideways.

Naihanchi gets its name from the 3rd basic Isshinryu stance. Naihanchi stance is a very mobile and yet stable stance. This is the only stance used throughout the entire kata. Naihanchi is executed with very fast speed.

Naihanchi is the only Isshinryu kata that has both hands open in the beginning moves. Naihanchi consists of elbow strikes, pressing wrist blocks executed both to the front and side, hammerfist strikes and blocks, low blocks, and spearhand strikes. The practitioner of Naihanchi will also avoid 9 foot sweeps and execute multiple blade kicks to the knees. Naihanchi introduces for the first time, "morote tates," double vertical punches. "Nami gashi" has become this kata's trademark. It translates as "returning wave," which comes from avoiding the 9 foot sweeps. Naihanchi consists of 2 kiais, both are executed during the "morote tate" strikes.

About Naihanchi (ナイハンチ):
By: Joe Swift

Naihanchi (a.k.a. Naifuanchi) is typical of in-fighting techniques, including grappling. There are three kata in modern (i.e. post 1900) karate, with the second and third being thought to have been created by Itosu Anko(Iwai, 1992; Kinjo, 1991a; Murakami, 1991). Another popular theory is that originally the three were one kata, but were broken up into three separate parts by Itosu (Aragaki, 2000; Iwai, 1992).

This kata was not originally developed to be used when fighting against a wall, but this does not preclude such interpretations. While the kata itself goes side to side, the applications are more often than not against an attacker who is in front of you, or grabbing at you from the sides or behind. Some say that the side-to-side movement is to build up the necessary balance and physique for quick footwork and body-shifting (Kinjo, 1991b).

Interestingly, most versions of Naihanchi start to the right side, including Itosu, Matsumura and Kyan's versions. Isshinryu's Naihanchi starts to the left. There are others that start to the left as well, including that of Kishimoto Soko lineage schools like Genseiryu and Bugeikan (Shukumine, 1966), the Tomari version of Matsumora Kosaku lineage schools like Gohakukai (Okinawa Board of Education, 1995), and Motobu Choki's version (Motobu, 1997). This last may account for Shimabuku Tatsuo beginning his Naihanchi to the left.

Isshinryu Naihanchi is basically a re-working of the classical Naihanchi Shodan, in order to keep it in line with the principles around which Shimabuku built his style. The main reason Shimabuku did not retain Naihanchi Nidan and Sandan is probably because his primary teacher Kyan did not teach them (Okinawa Prefectural Board of Education, 1995).