Naihanchi is a core kata of most karate styles, since this form focuses on developing explosive leg power, joint locking, fighting from both head-on and side-facing postures, and fighting in confined spaces. Before 1920 CE, a popular training regimen was to practice Naihanchi exclusively for three years, as it comprises an entire fighting system. Nahianchi is are still widely studied by Advanced students of most karate styles, but since Naihanchi is a long and technically complex kata, it is typically broken down and taught in thirds. Most dōjō only require Naihanchi Shōdan (i.e., the first third of Naihanchi), as it is thought to contain the most important movements. Goshin-Jutsu students are recommended, but not required, to study Naihanchi Shōdan. While it is beneficial, we believe that the study our other kata takes precedence.
It is uncertain where this kata came from; the origin story varies from style to style. Some claim it was the created long ago by one of the great karate masters (e.g., Sōkon "Bushi" Matsumora, Ankō Itosu), or it was borrowed from some obscure and forgotten kung-fu style. The claims of foreign influence are likely because:
- “Naihanchi” is always spelled phonetically, rather than with kanji.
- The Chinese influences on karate's development karate were all downplayed for marketing purposes when Gichin Funakoshi introduced karate to Japan. This led Funakoshi to rename all of the foreign-inspired kata, which is why Shōtōkan and Shōtōkan-derived karate styles refer to Naihanchi as Tekki (“Iron Horse”).
- Slide your right foot up to your left foot, entering an attention stance.
- Using your shoulders alone, rotate your arms up along your sides. Form a diamond with your thumbs and index fingers directly overhead. Look through this “Eye of Heaven,” and return to attention stance.
- Drop into a right cat stance, with a double downward pressing block, with you left hand atop of your right hand.
- Quickly look to #7. Invert your cat stance and step your right foot to #7, entering a horse stance with a right haishu uchi to #7.
- Immediately follow up with the following series, all directed at #1:
- Without re-chambering your right hand, step your right foot to #3, into a transitional right hook stance. Immediately step your left foot to #3, into a horse stance, rotating your right forearm clockwise into a chūdan uke.
- Left groin-level punch to #1. Without rechambering, simultaneously rotate your forearms into a left chūdan uke and a right downward-fist block.
- Touch your left elbow with the back of your right hand. Execute a left jab, and immediately re-chamber, so that your left elbow still touches the back of your right hand.
- Quickly look to #3. Left nami-ashi, and slide your right foot out to #3, entering a horse stance with a supported outside hammerfist strike to #3.
- Right nami-ashi, and pull both of your hands to your right hip for a variation of a left ude uke.
- Slide your right foot out to #7, entering a horse stance facing #1 with a double punch to #3.
- Perform a left haishu uch to #3, and immediately follow-up with the following series, all directed at #1:
- Without re-chambering your left hand, step your left foot to #3, into a transitional left hook stance. Immediately step your right foot to #7, into a horse stance, rotating your left forearm counterclockwise into a chūdan uke.
- Right groin-level punch to #1. Without re-chambering, simultaneously rotate your forearms into a right chūdan uke and a left downward-fist block.
- Touch your right elbow with the back of your left hand. Execute a right jab, and immediately re-chamber, so that your right elbow still touches the back of your left hand.
- Quickly look to #7. Right nami-ashi, and step out to #7, entering a horse stance with a supported outside hammerfist strike to #7.
- Left nami-ashi, and pull both of your hands to your left hip for a variation of a right ude uke.
- Slide your left foot out to #3, entering a horse stance facing #1 with a double punch to #7.
- Open your hands and shift into left full-side-facing. Simultaneously pull right leg and arms into an attention stance. Goshin-Jutsu bow.
Naihanchi is a peculiar kata, because the pattern it traces (embusen) is just a horizontal line; you only move back and forth, like in Mortal Kombat or Street Fighter II. Because of this, Naihanchi Shōdan allows you to train inside of small apartments, hotel rooms, or other confined spaces.
Both hands are actively engaged at all times; if an arm is not striking or setting up a strike, they are applying a lock.
The supported outside hammerfist strike in Movements 9 and 17 resembles an uraken uchi, with your palm facing downward. The opposite-side hammerfist pushes against the forearm of the striking hand, to add its power to the blow. Alternately, it pins and ties up one of the opponent's arms. Additionally, it helps form a wedge, for a passive defense.
Gaze through the “Eye of Heaven,” and gaze into yourself, to remind yourself of whatever personal reasons led you to karate training in the first place (Movements 1-2).
Dropping into a right cat stance, with a double downward pressing block is an extremely diverse an useful move, which can deflect straight punches; block all kicks (especially knee kicks) by preventing opponents from entering crane stance; break out of from front chokes and lapel grabs; and is one variation of the inside wrist release. You should experiment with this, and contemplate all the possible bunkai of seemingly inconsequential movements (Movement 3).
An opponent rushes in from #7; since you’ve elected to remain in a side-facing posture, the number of possible vital points they can strike has been minimized, so they try to grab you and maneuver behind you. However, you hit them with a backhanded smack (Movement 4), which stuns them long enough for you to reach behind their head, and pulling them into an inside elbow strike. To keep the opponent from collapsing atop of you, you clear them off and away from you with a downward-fist block, and finish them off with a hook punch to the temple, for good measure (Movement 5).
Since the opponent has collapsed in an unconscious heap on your left side, you cannot move to the left without stepping over them. Alternately, this step over could easily be replaced with a stomp kick. Immediately afterward, an opponent attacks from #1 with a left pursuit punch or haymaker, but you wrap their arm around theirs, trapping it in a variation of the standing arm bar (Movement 6). Immediately follow up with a left punch to their groin, then twist and off-balance them with an arm lever (Movement 7). Trap the opponent’s arm, and throw a front-foot punch to their temple or the side of their jaw (Movement 8).
Another opponent approaches from #3, with a left pursuit punch or haymaker, or grab. You immediately stop them with a supported outside hammerfist strike to #3 (Movement 9). The opponent tries to counter by striking or grabbing you, but you deflect or break free by shrugging their attack off with an ude uke (Movement 10), and trapping their hand with a punch to the solar plexus, or taking them down with a variation of kokyūhō (Movement 11).
The kata then mirrors itself from the other side, using the same bunkai for the same attacks, but with all of the directions reversed (Movements 12-19), and then the kata ends (Movement 20).