Naihanchi Kata Footwork Training Exercises

An enbusen (performance line) diagram for Isshin-Ryu Naihanchi footwork variations

When doing kata training, it is not generally accepted to modify any part of the kata, including the footwork. That said, it is not completely unheard of. Oyata Sensei of RyuTe was known to change the footwork of his kata from time to time, to better illustrate the applications. More recently, Onaga Sensei of the Shinjinbukan has been known to modify the stepping of some kata–primarily the three Kihon Kata that were developed by Chibana Chosin Sensei–to emphasize tai sabaki (body evasion). As you can see in the diagram, above, Isshin-Ryu also makes use of such modifications. Much like performing a kata hantai (mirrored), these types of modifications are not meant to create new kata, but rather to improve one’s understanding of the kata, and develop the movements necessary to perform a wider variety of applications.

In our dojo, we do not teach kata with modified footwork, but many of the instructors do practice their kata with different timings and footwork during our personal training time. Every now and then, we will ask our students to try these modifications during class, but it is not required. Naihanchi is the easiest kata to do this with, as the enbusen is extremely simple. The most basic footwork exercise we do with Naihanchi is the mawashi-ashi (turning step) exercise, seen in the video, above. To do this exercise, you simply spin 180 degrees every time you step into kosa-dachi (cross stance) in the kata. This is the same type of footwork you would use to execute a throw, or a joint lock that requires twisting power. Those types of applications become much easier to see in the kata when you utilize this footwork.

Another drill that you can do with Naihanchi, which I find to be the very beneficial, is the tai sabaki exercise, which you can see in the video, above. This exercise focuses on the evasive entry methods of the kata, where you apply the concept of issun hasureru (avoid by an inch) as you slip past your opponent’s attack to counter them. To do this, you step forward into your kosa-dachi, instead of stepping side-to-side, as the attack should always be coming from in front of you. You will notice that, as I do this step, my body will tend to lean, which helps me to avoid the attack. In this training session, I was leaning forward, to go underneath or around attacks, but you may also choose to remain upright, or lean sideways. This footwork will also result in orienting you sideways to your opponent, as the kata indicates you are meant to do. This makes it much easier to see how you might be able to move around your opponent’s attacks as you apply the kata, as well as highlighting some applications that off-balance the opponent, or generate twisting power as you move.

Kosa-dachi can be utilized in a variety of ways in Naihanchi

Two other exercises that I like to do, on occasion, are the hineri exercise and the shirizoku exercise. Hineri (twisting) Naihanchi is basically the opposite of the mawashi exercise, in that you twist into kosa-dachi and then step through, rather than stepping to kosa-dachi and twisting around. The shirizoku (step back/withdrawing) exercise is essentially the opposite of the tai sabaki exercise. Rather than stepping forward into kosa-dachi, you step back into kosa-dachi, and then step through. Both of these utilize slightly different methods of tai sabaki, and apply the twisting function of kosa-dachi in different ways.

Naihanchi is a kata in which the footwork is implied, more than it is explicitly shown. This is different from kata like Passai, Kusanku, or even the Pinan kata, which all show footwork that very closely works with the applications of the kata. As I mentioned in my article on kosa-dachi bunkai, you can do a lot with a simple step/stance. For this reason, I find that exercises like the ones I have shown, here, to be very useful for Naihanchi training. If Naihanchi is part of your system, I am of the opinion that you should be exploring the kata in a wide variety of ways–not just in the practice of drilling applications with a partner, but also with the practice of the kata, itself.

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About Noah

I began training in karate (Shuri-Ryu) in the Summer of 2006. Subsequently, I started training in judo, kobudo, and iaijutsu within the next 6 months. During my training there, I earned the rank of Sankyu (3rd Degree Brown Belt) in Shuri-Ryu, Gokyu (Green Belt) in judo, a certification in the use of the bo, and passed proficiency tests for the four tachigata of Shinkage-Ryu iaijutsu. I moved to Arizona in the Summer of 2008, and continued training and researching karate at home. I continued regular training in judo at a local club until 2010, when I was able to start training in Shorin-Ryu with Sensei Richard Poage. I have been training with him ever since, and currently hold the rank of Shodan (1st Degree Black Belt) in Shorin-Ryu under him. In addition, I began studying KishimotoDi under Sensei Ulf Karlsson in 2014.