The naming of "naihanchi", "naifuanchi" or "naifunchin"

Hot on the heels of my blog article "The naming of sanchin", here are my thoughts on the naming of the kata most widely known as naihanchi, but otherwise known as tekki (in shotokan), naifuanchi, naifanchi and naifunchin.

For the purposes of this blog I shall refer to the kata as “naifunchin” (our preferred name). This is because this is how my instructors were taught to refer to it when they were in Japan and Okinawa in the 60s. The name is not often used now and the more common "naihanchi" predominates.

It is said that naifunchin is to the shorin styles (shuri and tomari te) what sanchin is to naha te: the fundamental conditioning (heishugata) form. There is some evidence to suggest that Chojun Miyagi practised the form even though it was not included in his syllabus.

There are various legends associated with the origins of naifunchin, however no written records of this kata survive. All that is known with any certainty is that it was passed down from the source of all the “shorin” schools, Sokon Matsumura. Researcher Akio Kinjo1 speculates that it is derived from southern White Crane. Its side-to-side embusen (line of movement) is also strongly reminiscent of many southern Arhat/Lohan/Monk fist schools.

It is interesting to note that the name of the kata has only ever been written in katakana, not kanji1. Kinjo1, 2 suggests that the kata may originally have been called "nohanchin". He and others believe that the name refers to the use of the inside sweeping motion of the knee and leg (nami ashi). This is presumably on the basis that the kanji "nai" ("nei in Mandarin) means "inner".

However this proposal relies on two potentially flawed assumptions: first, that the character "nai" survived "Okinawanization" where the other characters in the name mysteriously did not, and second, that the nami ashi is such a fundamental characteristic that it warrants naming the kata after it. In fact the nami ashi only occurs twice and is hardly representative of the form.

If there is any characteristic feature of the kata, it is the horse stance, known in Mandarin as "mabu" and pronounced in Japanese and Okinawan as "mabu/mafu/maho" (literally "horse step"). It is important to note that the kata is traditionally regarded as meaning "horse riding kata", prompting Gichin Funakoshi to rename it "tekki", meaning "iron horse" or "iron horseman".

Another salient point is that naifunchin is regarded in the Shorin school as a fundamental kata in much the same way that sanchin kata is a fundamental kata in all of the Naha te systems (eg. goju-ryu). It seems odd then that while the latter is named after its principal feature, namely its stance, the former is not.

Accordingly the Occam's razor principle might suggest that the name naifunchin is nothing more than a mispronunciation of "mafuchin" (meaning "battle in horse stance"). Similarly "naihanchi" could well have come from "mahochin" - another rendering of the name. The idea that "n" was mistakenly substituted for "m" over time in a largely oral tradition is hardly surprising given the similarity between the two consonants. The mistaken addition of further vowels and consonants is also hardly inconceivable if one considers the Okinawan pronunciation of kata such as "suparinpei".


1. See Mario McKenna's article "Naihanchi"

2. See Joe Swift's article "The Kempo of Kume Village" in Meibukan Magazine No. 6

Copyright © 2008 Dejan Djurdjevic