Kata Study: Tekki and Gekisai

In the previous Kata studies, I looked at the five Heian/Pinan kata which were standardised in around 1905 by Master Itosu to act as introductory forms for new students. Before the introduction of these forms, the first form students in Shuri and Tomari typically learnt was Naihanchi, which most styles now call Tekki.

It is not known whether the current Tekki Shodan, Nidan and Sandan were once part of a longer form called Naihanchi or whether there were originally two or three Naihanchi forms. But this form was and is a crucial part of training everywhere in Okinawa outside of Naha.

Infact Shoto founder Gichin Funakoshi spent the first nine years of his training with Master Azato learning only Naihanchi.

Tekki, as I will call it from this point on was in Shuri what Sanchin was in Naha – the fundamental form designed to strengthen the core and basic postural movement.

Both Itosu and Azato taught Tekki and therefore both probably learnt it from Sokon Matsumura.

I would now like to explore the origins of the form and how it was transmitted to Okinawa. I will do this with a number of theories.

HISTORY

Firstly we should point out that although the origins of this form are said to be Chinese, there is now current Chinese style that practices it. We cannot therefore say “Naihanchi is a Preying Mantis form” for example with any certainty. So instead I present these theories.

1) The Shorei theory
2) The inner claw theory
3) The hillock theory
4) The wall theory

1) The Shorei Theory

Karate forms are typically divided into two groups, Shorin Ryu and Shorei Ryu. On the surface this seems like a straightforward classification. Itosu’s style was Shorin Ryu, Higaonna’s style was Shorei Ryu. Therefore Shorin equals Shuri and Shorei equals Naha. But unfortunately it is not that simple because masters like Funakoshi and Mabuni applied that classification to all katas regardless of style. For example the Pinans are Shorin, Tekki is Shorei, Hangetsu is Shorei, Kanku Dai is Shorin and so on, despite all deriving from Shorin Ryu.

It is unlikely that if Shorin Ryu means “Shaolin Ryu”, that the Shorei refers to some other temple somewhere.

It is even more confusing since some of the forms classified as Shorei (Jutte and Hangetsu for example) are the ones with the closest affinity to Shaolin.

Funakoshi also contradicts himself. In one volume he will refer to Empi as Shorin, and in another as Shorei.

I suspect that Funakoshi may have intended to list all the traditional Shuri forms (Kanku Dai, Bassai Dai, Pinan) as Shorin and the Chinese forms imported to Naha and Tomari (Hangetsu, Sanchin) as Shorei but then he became confused when he reached forms where he did not know the origin and so oversimplified as “slow powerful forms are Shorei, fast light forms are Shorin.”

Some of Funakoshi’s writings imply he thought the two Okinawan schools (Shorin and Shorei) equated to the two Chinese schools Shaolin and Wutang but we know this is not the case. The speed of Shotokan and Shaolin may be comparable, as may the speed of Sanchin and Tai Chi but that’s where the similarities end.

But if Funakoshi believed the Naha and Tomari forms to be Shorei, and the Shuri forms to be Shorin, why did he class Naihanchi, the cornerstone of Shuri Te and Tomari Te as Shorei?

Could it be that somewhere along the lines Funakoshi heard that Naihanchi was derived from Shaio Jao (Chinese wrestling) and translated this as Shorei?

As simpler explanation may just be that Funakoshi knew this form had been introduced in recent memory by a Chinese master from Fujian. It was, therefore, Shorei.

But the Chinese master was not from the famous Kojo Dojo where people like Aragaki and Higaonna learned the white crane based forms (Sanchin, Seishan, Jutte, Niseishi, Useishi) it was introduced by a master named Ason.

Ason was also a Japanese rank meaning a prince. Ason (朝臣) was a prestigious title (under the eight kabane system), initially conferred in the Nara period of the history of Japan, on princes who had been reduced to the commonalty.

Funakoshi writes that “a Chinese named Ason taught Zhao Ling Liu (Shorei-ryu) to Sakiyama, Gushi, Nagahama, and Tomoyori from Naha”

But it wasn’t any of these men who created the Naihanchi form from their studies with Ason. It was Sokon Matsumura.

But from what style, Chinese wrestling or otherwise did Naihanchi derive?

2) One theory as to Tekki’s origins is in its name. As well as Naihanchi, it was also written as Naifanchin, which may be translated as “inner claws.”

This may suggest that Tekki was derived from one of the animal boxing forms such as lion boxing or tiger boxing. I have theorised elsewhere than one of the styles many of our forms derived from was lion boxing. The name lion cane be written in the Fujian dialect as Sai, and in Japanese as Shizhi. Could Naihanchi be some version of this? Perhaps Naihanshi, Saihanshi or Naihanshizhi

3) Another theory which seems to deserve serious consideration was presented in the 1960s after 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.

4) The wall theory. The final theory is that Matsumura developed the form completely to suit his own purposes. As a bodyguard at Shuri castle he would likely spend much of his time standing with his back against a wall, surveying any dangers in the room. He would likely move about, surveying the room while keeping his back to the wall.

Some of the movements in Tekki also seem to represent holding the opponent as a “human shield” while moving laterally – exactly the kind of thing a bodyguard would value.

TECHNIQUES

After the liberating movement of the Heian forms, a student can be forgiven for thinking Tekki is boring. After all there are no jumps or twists and turns in it. Even Japanese masters are quoting as saying things like: “Tekki is only for training your horse stance so make sure you turn your head briskly to avoid the kata being boring.”

Such an approach misses the point of Tekki.

This form is a close-in fighting masterpiece. Chokki Motobu who was a close-in streetfighter favoured this kata. In fact it is possible he knew only this kata and maybe Bassai Dai.

Tekki includes chokes, neckbreaks, elbow strikes, face smashes, keylocks, kneestrikes, fish-hooks, rips, stamps and much more. In Bushinkai we have also looked at applying the techniques as groundwork with throws and locks on the mat within the kata.


In Bushinkai, as in many styles in the Shotokan, Shoto Ryu, Shorin Ryu and Wado Ryu families, competance in Tekki is essential before the student can progress to brown belt.

The next kata under the spotlight is Gekisai Dai Ichi, otherwise known as Fukyugata or Chokyugata. Contrary to popular belief this is not just a Goju Ryu kata – it has been a part of Shorin based systems such as Matsubayashi Ryu since 1941.

Gichin Funakoshi and Makoto Gima took Shoto Ryu to Tokyo in the 1920s and following its success styles like Shotokan, Wado Ryu and Shotokai emerged. Elsewhere in Kobe, Funakoshi’s friend Kenwa Mabuni introduced Shito Ryu.

Meanwhile in Okinawa, the heads of the Okinawan styles like Shorin Ryu, Kobayashi Ryu and Goju Ryu seemed to have mixed feelings about the success of the Shoto movement. On one hand they seemed to resent Funakoshi’s sweeping changes, like renaming kata and simplifying techniques – but on the other hand they seemed to admire his organised approach. Because by the 1930s, most if not all the Okinawan styles had adopted the name Karate Do (Empty Hand Way) rather than the old terms, Karate Jutsu, Toshu Jutsu, Tode Jutsu (Chinese Hand Way) and they had also followed Funakoshi’s lead in adopting the Judogi and coloured belt system.

While masters like Matsumura (Shuri Te), Itosu (Shorin Ryu) and Higaonna (Naha Te) had died, the styles in Okinawa retained a link to the Chinese schools of Fujian with resident masters like Gokenki and Tang Daiji.

In the 1920s masters like Chosin Chibana (Kobayashi Ryu) and Chojun Miyagi, along with Gokenki worked together to form the Ryukyu Tode Kenkyukai (Okinawan Karate Research Society) and by the 1940s they were also working with the Chin Woo Society in China to better understand the Chinese origins of the kata.

In 1941 Chojun Miyagi (Goju Ryu) and Shoshin Nagamine (Matsubayashi Ryu) worked together to create a form called Fukyugata (fundamental form) which is also called Gekisai. The form is designed to be taught to relative beginners. In Bushinkai we learn it at around purple belt.

Hanshi Patrick McCarthy 9th Dan (Koryu Uchinadi) believes the origin of this kata are in Chinese Monk Fist Boxing.

Hanshi McCarthy writes: “During the years I was travelling to China and researching the origins of karate, I learned very unique two person trapping, seizing & joint manipulation qin-na set. The form contains many techniques as exampled in Goju’s Gekki-sai futari-renzokugeiko (the two-person continuous drill supporting Gekki-sai dai ichi).

“Later, when I discovered that its origins were Monk Fist quanfa, I formed a working hypothesis believing that it may very well have been connected to that which Miyagi Chojun learned from Monk Fist boxer Miao Xin (1881-1939) at the Chin Wu/Jing Mo Association in 1936….

“It must have been the original source from which Miyagi (& Nagamine) drew upon when developing Gekkisai in 1941.”

We must also look at the influence of Shoshin Nagamine, who unlike most Shorin Ryu stylists was not largely influenced by Itosu.

Nagamine’s teachers were the bad-boys of Okinawa, Choki Motobu and Chotoku Kyan, two men who were at the other end of the spectrum to the peaceful Funakoshi.

Motobu only knew about three kata. He definitely knew Naihanchi (Tekki), he probably knew Bassai, he may have known a version of Seishan and he was familiar with Channan. Forms like Nijushiho, Unsu, Gankaku and Meikyo did not seem to be on the radar.

If we look at Gekisai it does share some traits with Tekki, including the almost horizontal Embusen of the first few moves, but it also resembles Seishan (Hangetsu) in some of its combinations as well.

So Gekisai brings together the Tomari Te and Shuri Te of Motobu with the Naha Te and Quan Fa of Miyagi.

I am not personally a fan of Goju Ryu forms in general, least of all Sanchin, but when I was first taught this kata (Gekisai) by Tadanori Nobetsu, I instantly liked it, perhaps because of its Motobu/Matsubayashi influences. Reiner and Derrick Parsons have since helped me to understand it but I still view it as the kata out of our syllabus I know the least, simply because I have only been practicing this form about 9 years.

As this kata is only 71 years old it is also our newest kata, but because of its links with Louhan Quan (Monk Fist) and Motobu-ha Te I feel it is worth exploring.

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