Bassai Sho, an introduction
Bassai Sho should be practiced after mastering Bassai Dai. The two Kata for a series that complement each other, while Bassai Dai outwardly shows power and solemnity, Bassai Sho demonstrates calmness in its techniques and contains a feeling of inner strength and tranquility while performing its movements.
The characteristics of Bassai Sho include the arc like movements of the hands and feet and the use of the sword hands, ridge hand and tiger mouth. The techniques learned in this Kata are defense against a stick or staff attack as well as different ways to apply the Bassai movements against an unarmed opponent. The palm is often used for this purpose and strength is important for each block, especially against a heavy stick. Wrists, elbows and knees must be flexible and stances must be stable.
Of specific importance are the correct applications of power and appropriate speed in execution of the techniques. This is a good Kata for learning how to block strongly and counter attack sharply. One will also find out a great deal about turning and spinning along with timing and breathing. Bassai Sho has many interesting points to consider when doing the Kata. It is much like Bassai Dai and even shares a similar embusen.
Not many people do Bassai Sho; it is a difficult Kata to master and has many unique balance points to worry about, but the person that can do this Kata well will learn a lot from it.
History of Bassai Sho
Shotokan practice a "smaller" version of Bassai Dai, called Bassai Sho. Itosu is thought to have created this from a version of Bassai practiced in Shuri city. But to confuse matters a bit Bassai Sho is written exactly the same way as a Chinese form know as Ba Ji Xiao which has a counterpart form known as Ba Ji Da (from the Ba Ji Ch’uan style), so perhaps this Kata pair and the Dai-Sho naming scheme originates from China, invalidating the claim Itosu authored most of the -Sho kata. This is only a theory that was put forth however.
Sometimes translated as to 'remove or extract from a fortress' or 'to penetrate a fortress' the word "batsu" which makes up part of the name does mean to extract. While Passai was a very popular Kata in Okinawa it has been suggested that more than 11 version of the original Kata exist. It is most commonly believed that Bassai 'Sho' was created by Anko Itosu and was based on Dai. The Kata would appear to have a large amount of stick fighting counter in it. This seems to be a common thread in most of Itosu’s Kata.
One story told to explain this habit of Itosu’s comes from a story about his childhood. Apparently Itosu’s father, a Samurai class gentleman, would tie Itosu to a tree and poke him with a stick to teach him spirit. Itosu therefore worked hard to develop skills to disarm his father; this then made it into his Katas. The last movements of Bassai Sho appear to be the original ending of Bassai Dai! At some point the ending for Bassai Dai was changed to the more aggressive Shuto attacks. Mabuni's Bassai Dai still has the original movements at the end of the Kata. On several occasions he wrote of the confusion he had over the changes in some of the Kata he had shared with the JKA and he had worked on with its members. It is more than likely Itosu had been taught a version of Bassai that was different than Passai Dai and he took the form and altered it to suit his means and it is from there we have Bassai Sho. While Bassai Sho has a different feel than its counterpart, at points it is lighter and fast and other it is much like Bassai dai in its feeling of motion, pressure placed against the opponent and its great generation of power. Some historians feel that the original Passai Kata is related to lion and leopard boxing styles in China. Akio Kinjo believes that the original name in Chinese may actually mean 'leopard/lion'.
Another idea is that the original name is reference to a person or a specific fortress by name. Other historians also note a resemblance between parts of Passai and Wuxing Quan (five element fist boxing) Others point more recently to a kind of evolution of style and ideas of the older masters. Matsumura's Passai was very Chinese looking, circular and more loose in the stances, with deflections and powerful counters, Oyadomari taught a tighter more Okinawan version. Some think Oyadomari’s version was further refined to make Itosu’s Bassai Dai or even the origins of Bassai Sho. Oyadomari’s Kata was passed down from three generations and was originally taught to the family 'Ba' a Chinese person living in the Tomari village area. Possibly Anan, who used very light techniques in his movements hiding powerful moves, Matsumura also learned Chinese boxing form Anan and Iwah of Fuchou so it is possible it is his Kata after all. The one aspect that Bassai Sho has that Dai does not is the use of stick defense and the use of more natural and refined body dynamics to produce power where Dai is brutal strength and power, Sho is more about movement and subtle dynamic shifting.
Bassai Sho is a very intricate and complex Kata that is often over looked by senior students in their pursuit of the nature of Shotokan. The graceful and deceptively peaceful Kata has a hidden and powerful spirit. My favorite person to watch do this Kata was Enoeda Sensei. I often would watch him do this Kata in videos, as I have never met him. He was powerful and had a dignity to him during this Kata that brought out its regal nature.
Underneath the surface of the Kata, below the regal dignity and the slow and smooth techniques lies a very effective Kata that should be studied after one has mastered Bassai Dai. The Kata is an extension for a series that deal with the two more popular fighting situations in Okinawa at the time.... unarmed and with a staff. The Kata itself is filled with ideas on how to do some unique techniques both against and armed attacker and an unarmed attacker.
Practice of Bassai Sho should start to be looked into after Nidan as before Nidan one is simply trying to master the basic Kata and explore some new intermediate level Kata. At Nidan a student is ready to start to find out the nature of the style they study and this means learning and exploring the more advanced Kata.