The Naihanchi (Fighting with Stealth) Series is the first of the fundamental katas taught in our system. It should be thought of as a self-contained fighting system, rather than part of the Shorin-ryu fighting system. In classical times, a karateka would study this kata and application for years. While that is kept in mind, it is this school’s belief that it would be excessive to do that. However, this should attest to the value of this system and the importance of fully understanding its moves and applications.
The Naihanchi katas have been taught in the Shorin-ryu system for generations. While their movements have been passed on from teacher to student over the centuries, their creator’s name has long been lost. These katas were first taught by Matsumura to Anko Itosu. The Naihanchi katas were once one long kata consisting of what we now refer to as Naihanchi Shodan, Nidan, and Sandan (first, second and third). Most likely at the turn of the century, when karate was trying to be integrated both in Okinawan schools and on the Japanese mainland, the katas were split into their modern three parts. As parts or a whole, they are still referred to as fundamental kata(s). Many kata were then added, such as the Pinans, to teach skills needed to perform these fundamental katas.
On Okinawa, there are several ways to pronounce the name of this kata. I have always pronounced, and heard it pronounced, as Naihanchi. This is simply how it was taught to me. There is no translatable difference in using the “h’ in the sound versus the “f” in the Naifanchi pronunciation. In Japanese, the utilization of the ‘b”, “t”, or “h” with some words does not change the meaning. This is comparable with the English language when placing emphasis on the pronunciation of a word such as tomatoe. Phonetically, it may be sounded out as ‘toemahtoe”. This is not the only example of multiple pronunciations for the same translation. The word kobayashi translates to “small forest”. The kanji “林” means “forest” and is pronounced either “bayashi” or “hayashi”. It means “forest” in either case, but to most, “kohayashi” would sound wrong. To my knowledge, there is no known reason why you would need to use Naifanchi instead of Naihanchi.
In Okinwana dialect, Naihanchi translates to “stepping with stealth”. This is significantly different from the Japanese rewording to “Tekki” by Gichin Funakoshi. Tekki translates to “iron horse”; describing the unique stance used in Naihanchi. While this seems like a small difference, you can see a notable change in the movements in Shotokan (Japanese) vs. Shorin-ryu (Okinawan). In Shorin-ryu, the steps are silent and with stealth. In Shotokan, they are large movements that are often done with a stomp. As the name changed, so did the movements (or name with the movements, depending on how you view it).
Shosin Nagamine, founder of Matsubayashi-ryu, wrote in his famous book The Essence of Okinawan Karate-do, “The kata is often called kibadachi or Tekki, which means ‘horse riding straddle,’ in mainland Japan. However, nothing but the term naihanchi has been traditional among karatemen in Okinawa.”
The Bunkai for Nahainchi is unique from almost any other kata. An emphasis on Kiba dachi teaches karateka to use wide stances in a very defensive manner. Simultaneous blocking and striking is a repeating theme in all three of the katas. Many of the moves are possible ways to defend oneself from grappling techniques employed by an opponent.