Kyoshi's Technique of the Week

January 20th, 2014

From Sensei Bob Dobrow
Ueshiro Northfield Shorin-Ryu Karate Dojo

Technique of the Week: Naihanchi kata: tension and relaxation


Onegai-shimasu Hanshi, Kyoshi, Sensei, and all USRKUSA Deshi worldwide,

This past year our dojo has promoted several new brown belts and I find myself
teaching, and doing, much more Naihanchi kata than in the past.

This has been an exciting boon to all of our training as Naihanchi kata offers
many special gifts to one’s karate development.

Naihanchi is the “meat-and-potatoes” kata of Shorin-Ryu karate. Before the
introduction of the Fukyugata and Pinan kata in the early 1900s, which were
originally meant to be introductory kata for beginners, children and high school
students, the Naihanchi kata were the first kata one learned. Karateka
practiced just Naihanchi for many years before then moving on to the advanced
kata.

In an article I recently read about Chosin Chibana, the founder of the Kobayashi
branch of Shorin-Ryu and the sensei who introduced Fukyugata Nidan into
Shorin-Ryu, it is said that when Chosin Chibana first studied karate under Anko
Itosu sensei, he would practice Naihanchi Shodan 200 times a day, seven days a
week. He did that for six months before being permitted to learn the next
Naihanchi Nidan.

The Red Book tells us that the Naihanchi kata teaches kiba-dachi (horse stance)
and foundation. Master Nagamine writes in the Essence of Okinawan Karate-Do
that “the most important and significant distinction of Naihanchi lies . . . in
training the lower parts of the body . . . and in building up those muscles
indispensable to karate training. The posture for Naihanchi is much similar to
the sitting posture for Zen---pulling back the waist and sitting upright with
the shoulders down and chin drawn, with strength concentrated on the abdomen.”

The kata is unique for several reasons. Unlike all our other kata, in Naihanchi
tension is HELD until the next count. Only then, is tension released. In all
other kata, as Hanshi describes in the Red Book, “there should be no tension
until the end of the technique, at which time there would be 100% muscular
contraction for a split second.” Learning to go from 100% muscular contraction
to no tension is difficult, as many of us have learned from childhood to hold
much tension throughout our body especially in the upper body, traps, and
shoulders.

Each move in Naihanchi kata BEGINS with the release of tension. What I have
found in my own training is that this is actually an excellent tool to learn to
relax! The kata forces you to grapple with the relaxation phase. Sometimes when
practicing Naihanchi kata on the deck we will do a special training exercise
where each move is broken down into two counts. The first count is the
relaxation phase: feel the tension leave your body, drop the shoulders, let the
traps, chest, and upper body relax, inhale fully and deeply. On the second
count, explode into the move and then HOLD the tension and muscular contraction,
like an isometric exercise.

Bringing intention to the relaxation phase develops body awareness.
Relaxation, combined with deep breathing, also slows us down from the tendency
to rush through the kata. One of the underlying principles of Ueshiro Shorin-Ryu
Karate is “relax and breathe”. And Naihanchi kata is a wonderful gift to help us
learn to do that.

Domo arigato gozaimasu,
Sensei Bob Dobrow
Ueshiro Northfield Shorin-Ryu Karate Dojo