The Development of Shorin-Ryu Kata(Nakazato-Ha)

by John R. Spence November ,2000

In countless books and publications we have been fortunate to have many different presentations of the development of uchinadi/Okinawan karate and kobudo. This article will attempt to examine the development of ryuha kata related to shuri-te and our branch of Kobayashi-Ryu (Shorinkan).

One can only be in awe of the diversity of Okinawan martial characteristics considering the close proximity of the uchinadi developmental areas of Tomari, Shuri, and Naha. The systemic formation of martial information and teachings in the areas attest to Okinawa's ability to bloom and flourish in so many situations. In the development of Te, the methodology of passing information from student to teacher had many facets as well as protocol. Kata became a common form of instruction as well as a tool for the preservation of techniques special to a teacher or their distinguishing martial art.


It was not until recent times that Okinawan systems of karate and kobudo developed into systems with set curriculum. One must remember that Te was practiced for a great period of time in secrecy, among Peichin Class, villages and families, as was Kobudo. Teachers corresponding and sharing openly their kata and techniques is more of a recent phenomena. In the late 1800's and through the 1900's, many of the famous masters of Okinawan Te and Kobudo knew each other and began to share information amongst one another. The trading of kata was common in karate and kobudo and those people who trained together adopted each other's kata or modified them to suit their own preferences. As a result, kata were not "owned" by one family, village or teacher but were practiced and modified by many practitioners and teachers. Evidence of this would be the many versions of various karate and kobudo kata that exist in the dojo of Okinawa. There is some argument as to whose kata is authentic or the original form. The likelihood that any of the kata are exactly the same in movement and position as the forefathers of karate and kobudo left them, is questionable and to call one style's kata more authentic than another would be considered opinion.

According to Author/Historian John Sells, there was a great deal of cross-training occurring in the 1960's due to the All Japan Karate Do Federation/Okinawa Branch which merged with the Okinawa Karate-Do United Association and the Okinawa Kobudo Rengokai. The roster of these associations shows a tremendous grouping of some of the most famous teachers of 20th century Okinawa and explains the diversity and trading of knowledge.


Many students become confused about the differences between Kobayashi-Ryu, Shobayashi-Ryu, Sukunaihashi-Ryu, Matsubayashi-Ryu, Shorinji-Ryu and Matsumura-Seito, especially since they are all classified as Shorin-Ryu. Besides the lineage of teachers, the variation of emphasis is usually the distinguishing characteristic to the observer but the curriculum has branched down from one or two main sources. Through this network of information, we see variation within the footwork, rhythm, bio-mechanics, speed, and angular movements. Movements themselves that exist in one Shorin kata may not be found in another kaiha or the techniques may be different. Certain groups can be recognized by their instructor just by watching their version of a shuri-based form.

Kata have remained the same but have also changed equally over time and many variations or movement alterations can be seen over a system's history. Some would argue that to change the form dilutes the original intent of the technique or bunkai. There is the preservation issue that Uchinadi is historic and so culturally important that to change it is to destroy or desecrate historical treasures. The other thought is that application should be different to the individual and that learning one person's combative preferences isolates battle effectiveness. If every enemy is different and requires a different "reaction to action" then the alteration of kata is more supported and it should be tailored to include movements that are more efficiently performed by the individual.

In Shorin-Ryu Shorinkan kata, Pinan Shodan, developed by the karate legend and educator Itosu Yatsunuku , varies from some other shuri-based systems with a mae geri instead of side kick in movement eight. Shiroma Jiro, hachidan/shorin-ryu, described that Chibana began to alter some of the movements in the Matsumura/Itosu kata syllabus, which caused a stir with some of the older senior students. Higa Yuchoku and Miyahira Katsuya were worried about the effects of not preserving the true kata as it had been passed on. Shiroma remarked that Chibana altered the kata slightly from the original versions for example; he changed the kick within the kata Pinan Shodan and Yondan from yoko geri from mae geri to make it more "Japanese." It was changed back later. However, Nakazato Shugoro, Hanshi, remarked that Chibana began teaching Itosu's shuri-te as it was passed on to him and Chibana spoke of the importance of preserving kata exactly as it was learned from forefathers of karate.

These slight changes could have been a teaching characteristic of Chibana Sensei in his latter years he specialized in teaching only Naihanchi Sandan and Pinan Godan (out of respect for his teacher Itosu and considering their content most important) while having senior students teach the other kata in his syllabus. This may have been an example of personalizing the kata and passing on the emphasis of his technique. Miyahira Katsuya remarked that Chibana said that the karateka should mold the kata to their own body type which would explain some of the gradual changes that took place. Another theory is that Chibana also suffered for many years with cancer and although he was said to have possessed the body of a teenager in his last years, he may have began to alter the kata to conform with changes in his body.

A similar systemic characteristic can be seen when observing the powerful kata of Kyan-Ha/Chubu Shorin-Ryu of Shimabukuru Zenryo. In that system's Chatan Yara Kusanku, there is the variation of a mae geri in the kata wherein others again we see yoko-geri. These related stylistic similarities could have been due to the friendship between Shimabukuro, Chibana and the latter's senior student, Nakama Choza. Nakama and Shimabukuro shared information on training and Nakama taught Itosu/Chibana kata to his friend's son, Shimabukuru Zenpo. Kyan Chotoku was also a senior to Chibana Chosin and there is the possibility of some of his influence, although no research has shown that Chibana actually studied with Kyan or received personal instruction.

Nakazato Shugoro Kata

Nakazato Shugoro, Hanshi/ Judan, has continued the kata curriculum of his teachers, Chibana Chosen and Iju(Ishu) Seiichi. The kata are similar to those taught in the dojo of Nakazato's former peers Miyahira, Higa, Nakama and Kinjo, but have stylistic changes based on founder discretion for instructional methodology. Nakazato's kata curriculum consist of the Itosu/Chibana kata's Naihanchi, Pinan, Kusanku(sho/dai), Passai(sho/dai), Chinto and consists of foundational and developmental kihon and fukyu forms. The version of Gojushiho (54 steps) practiced in the Shorinkan is that of Nakazato's first teacher, Iju, who was a student of Shinpan Shiroma (although one report says that the kata came from Yabu Kentsu.) Chibana did not teach gojushiho but some of his students had learned a version of the kata from other sources hence the differences among the Chibana-lineage styles on Okinawa (Miyahira, Higa, Nakama, Nakazato). These are not to say that Chibana did not know Gojushiho or ever teach it but he did not make it a part of his kata syllabus. Chibana did not teach kobudo either but Murakami Katsumi remarked that he was quite skilled with the nunchaku.

It was once said that Nakazato performed kata exactly as Chibana did and in his younger days, when many of Shorin-Ryu's top instructors went to Chibana for kata instruction and correction, it was Nakazato who trained them. However, there is a noticable difference in the kata practiced by Western Shorinkan members today compared to the kata once practiced by the old guard. Shorin-Ryu kata is efficient in movement, speed and does not involve a great deal of long, deep stances, which is a distinguishing characteristic of the system.

Nakazato's kobudo lineage is also very prestigious and also unclear in many areas. Starting in 1935 under Tonaki Seiro, a student of Chinen Sanda, Nakazato studied tonfa, sai, nichokama, bo and nunchaku. After World War II, he received training under the great bojitsu master, Chinen Masami. Some of the bojitsu kata taught in the shorinkan are Shushi no Kun, Sakugawa no Kun, Sakugawa no Kun Dai Ni, and it is said that Tokumine no Kun was once also practiced. The last bo kata, Kubo No Kun, is shared with Ryuei-Ryu and Okinawan Kempo schools, possibly having been passed down from the Bushi Kuniyoshi Shinkichi, who spent his later years teaching villagers in Northern Okinawa his kobudo characteristics and interpretations.

The Sai kata, Nakaima no Sai Dai Ichi, Nakaima no Sai Dai Ni and Nakazato no Sai(sai dai san) are similar to Kuniyoshi style and are almost identical to those practiced in Ryuei-Ryu/Nakaima-Ryu). Sai Dai Ichi also contains many of the same movements and patterns in Towada no Sai as well as Kuniyoshi No Sai found in Okinawan Kempo groups, with slight differences within the form.

The second kama kata are Nakazato's however Kama Dai ichi is referred to Nakaima no kama. It is likely that Nakazato created his own kata these after the influences of his instructors. This is very common in Kobudo considering that for a very long time, there were no systemized kata. For instance, Taira Shiken was one of the first instructors actually to systemize or form curriculum for nunchaku-jitsu.


There is much debate on the actual creators of the shuri kata that is practiced today, although we do know that some of the forms actually existed in China and were brought to Okinawa. One of the most common kata in Shorin-Ryu is Kusanku, said to have been created by Sakugawa Satunushi based on the teachings of the Chinese military envoy who lived in Okinawa around 1715. There exists many versions of the form although they resemble the same pattern in performance. Kusanku Dai/Kushanku Dai is most associated most with the lineage of Sakugawa and Matsumura and is called Kanku Dai in Shotokan. In the Kyan-ha shorin styles, the kata Chatan Yara Kusanku is practiced which utilize the influences or techniques of that teacher. Kusanku Sho is very similar in pattern to Kusanku Dai and is believed to be created by Itosu Ankoh. A great educator, it possible that Itosu chose to modify Kusanku Dai and adding the Sho version for people with different learning styles. There exists another version, Shiho Kusanku, which Itosu is also credited in developing that is practiced by some Shito-Ryu groups.


There are many versions of Chinto that exist in Shorin-groups as well as Isshin-Ryu. Some of the kata follow a straight line pattern while some move at 45 degree angle. It is said to be named after a Chinese sailor who became shipwrecked on Okinawa and according to legend, began to steal chickens and supplies in order to survive. Bushi Matsumura was sent ,as the king's greatest warrior, to hunt down Chinto and arrest him. He eventually found him and learn martial techniques from the sailor. Versions of the kata include Matsumura no Chinto, Itosu No Chinto, Yabu no Chinto, Kyan No Chinto.


There are geographic and stylistic versions of Passai or Patsai which was thought to be originally introduced to Okinawa by Matsumura. There exists many versions of this kata but all resemble a similar pattern. They are recognized by the following: Koryu Passai; Matsumura no Passai(Passai Dai); Itosu no Passai(Passai Sho); Ishimine no Passai; Chibana no Passai; Oyadomari No Passai; Tawada no Passai. Translated as "to penetrate a fortress", the originator of the kata is thought to be Matsumura although it most likely existed in China before the latter introduced it to Okinawa


The Pinan kata were created by Itosu Ankoh Yasutsune after the channan or Chiang Nan(Chinese) forms although some believe that they are taken from Kusanku Dai, however, many postures in Tai Chi and Hsing-I are found in the Pinan forms. One theory is that Itosu developed these forms because they were easier to learn and dangerous techniques could be removed from them so that the kata could be taught to youth



These kata are commonly referred to as "nifonchin", Tekki(Shotokan), Nihanchin or Diapochin(chinese) and are common in many of the Shorin groups. Nihanchi Shodan and Nidan are thought to have come from Matsumura while the third kata was created by Itosu. Chibana Chosin taught only the latter out of the three in his final years out of respect to Itosu. There have been many explanations given about the intent of the kata from "fighting on rice paddies" to fighting with one's back against a wall." The author's teacher believes that although the kata is performed in side to side fashion, it is meant to be performed to the front with angular application. The applicability of this is more reasonable then trying to execute the kata's bunkai with one's back against a wall.

The problem with this kata and many others is that too many practitioners are caught in the belief that ti chi ki or bunkai is supposed to work in the same way that the kata is performed, which is ridiculous. If that were so than the kata would be counter-productive-isolating a student in a restrictive set of movements without the understanding of angles and free-movement in a defensive/offensive situation.


Although this kata has many versions, it is difficult to place the exact Chinese origin or it's Okinawan founder. The form can be traced back to China, as with many Shuri-Te and Naha-Te kata, and contains many movements similar to White Crane technique. There is also some thought of the kata having been developed resembling Okinawan Dance movements. Translated in English as "fifty-four steps", this kata is referred to by names of various teachers in regards to their personal mark on the form. It was also referred to as Useishi and there exists gojushiho sho and gojushiho dai in Shotokan and Shito-Ryu groups.


The difficulty, which arises when studying kata, is that, like in education, the information stays relatively the same but the methodology in which it is presented to the student changes to the teaching style of the instructor. One problem is the geographical and physical gap that exists between the senior Okinawan teachers and their representatives in the United States. If one does not have the monetary means or invitation to visit Okinawa for training or the opportunity to train with a direct representative, (not a break-off group who study their own interpretation of the style) they don't have the immediate resource of actual information.

You only have what has been taught for a period of time from teacher to student and it is hard to say how far down they are in the line of information passed. There is to consider the issue that the Okinawan people consider karate to be a very special and guarded treasure as are their senior karate heads. There is much that we are not shown and that many of us will never know about the kata and their contents.

That is not to say that these associations or research groups do not have a valid curriculum, concept base or some link to a legitimate information contact in the Ryukyus or with a generational contact. As educators, teachers and professors are constantly going to sources and the origins of information to better their understanding and depth of the information that they pass on. Once the teacher begins to feel that they have reached their peak of their styles curriculum, the information can begin to go "high and to the right." It is important that we continue to preserve the content of these incredible forms.

Kusanku(sho/dai, Chatan Yara, )

Naihanchi Shodan, Nidan, Sandan

Passai Sho(Itosu-Passai)
Matsumura Passai(dai)
Oyadomari Passai
Pinan Shodan, Nidan, Sandan, Yondan, Godan
Rohai(Itosu 1,2,3)



Naihanchi Shodan
Naihanchi Nidan
Naihanchi Sandan
Pinan Shodan
Pinan Nidan
Pinan Sandan
Pinan Yondan
Pinan Godan
Passai Sho
Passai Dai
Kusanku Sho
Kusanku Dai




Shushi no Kun
Yamane no Chinen
Sakugawa No Kun
Nakazato no Sakugawa No Kun
Kubo no Kun
Nakazato No Tonfa
Nakaima no Sai Dai Ichi
Nakaima no Sai Dai Ni
Nakazato no Sai Dai San
Nakazato no Nunchaku Dai Ichi
Tonaki no Nunchaku Dai Ni
Nakaima No Kama i
Nakazato No Kama Dai Ni
Nakazato No Eku

***It was told to me on Okinawa by Sokuichi Gibu, Hanshi that Nakazato, Hanshi's tonfa kata was not made up by Nakazato Sensei and that it was introduced into the Shorinkan curriculum after Nakazato learned it from someone else.

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Conversations with Kyoshi John Sells, May 2000
Conversations with Kyoshi Doug Perry, Hachidan, U.S. Director Shorin-Ryu Shorinkan Kyokai 1999-2000
McCarthy, Patrick. "Taira Shinken: The Funakoshi Gichen of Kobudo Part 1" Bugeisha Magazine (March 1997) Issue #2 pg. 18-23
McCarthy, Patrick. Classical Kata of Okinawan Karate . ( 1st Edition) Burbank, California: Ohara Publications, 1987
Alexander, George. Okinawa: Island of Karate . (Revised edtition). Lake Worth, Florida: Yamazato Publications 1998
10 Conversations with Shihan Jiro Shiroma, Arizona 1996