Nijushiho, an introduction
The Name Nijushiho is a misleading name for a Kata. Its meaning is 24 movements or 24 steps but it does not give a flavor to the Kata itself. The Kata is a flowing Kata that has reminded practitioners of a Tsunami or giant wave, with its building power, turbulent speed and then the ebb of the tide as the wave crashes into the rocks and recedes back out to the ocean. Its power and grace is created by dynamic use of the hips and by the very movements that are done smoothly and much like a wave crashing into your opponent.
Nijushiho is a Kata that requires a great deal of reflection and training in order to master, its dynamic movements are often lost on the more novice trainees and only threw hard training and personal study can a student learn the intricacies of a Kata with such interesting fundamentals. Nijushiho has become the personal favorite of many masters and when researching the Kata one should watch the master of instructor like Asai as he demonstrates the Kata or Kanazawa Senseis take on the same Kata.
History of Nijushiho
Originally known by the Okinawan name Niseishi the Kata is used in many styles still practiced in Okinawa. While the name translates as 24 this may not be the meaning of the name. Many of the techniques used are re-enforced or doubled up, one instructor Hisataka of Shorinji ryu suggests that the name refers to the double up, 2 techniques equals 4 in power! Thus the use of 2 and 4 as a name. Often the Okinawans used secretive or mysterious names when creating the names for Katas.
Nijushiho is included many styles syllabus including Shito ryu, wado ryu, Shorinji ryu and Shotokan. Shorinji ryu version is very different and even more circular than most of the styles that use Niseishi. Most of the explanations for the name state that the Kata was named after the number of movements or steps that the Kata has in it. This is not exactly correct and would lead me to ask what kind of counting the masters were doing! But, the explanation is widely accepted as truth and the explanation for the wrong number of moves is that the Kata has changed over the years. I can not argue with that...what Kata has not changed?
The Kata is present in most Crane forms from Fujian white crane as many modern Kata are. The Okinawan source for this Kata is Seisho Aragaki (1840-1920). Aragaki is also the master who fostered other very popular a Kata such as Saichin, Sochin, and Seisan/Hangetsu. Anko Azato (1828-1915) was also known to have done Niseishi, but it has been suggested his version, which he greatly changed, is not the Shotokan version. But, Azatos version of the Kata did Influence the Nijushiho of Shotokan.
Azato was a upper level aristocrat (peichin class) who was a Senior government statesman, scholar and Karate instructor as well as a well respected swordsman. Azato was also Sokon Matsumruas Assistant at matsumuras Garden dojo in the Shuri castle. Azato used his sword training to help him change Katas and to use his ideas to teach movement more influenced by Sword fighting than chinese boxing. Gichin Funakoshi was a student of Azato for many years but he did not originally use this Kata in his training. Harry Cook suggested that Funakoshi had forgotten the Azato Version of the Kata. He sent his students to Mabuni for a Kata exchange or training exchange to pick up some of the lost Kata. This is were the Aragaki version of Niseishi was learned and brought into Shotokan. Azatos version, which again was influenced by his sword training, had circular and included fast in and out movements with side stepping. the stances were higher and the Kata was not as smooth as Aragakis version. The Aragaki version was also longer and linear and the Shotokan Version is not as choppy as the Azato modified version.
The Shotokan version further appears to have been 'shotokanized' by Gigo Funakoshi and the seniors at the JKA who went to visit Mabuni. But it does remain very similar. One source, Hisataka, also states that the Kata done in Shito ryu and Shotokan may have its roots in Kudaka Village and the original Kata is presumed to come from the Dragon style of Kung fu as well.
In an effort to make his Okinawan (and thus, foreign) art more palatable to the then nationalist Japanese, Funakoshi changed the name of the Kata from Niseishi to Nijushiho. Both names mean "24 steps." However, this is not simply an interpretation of the number of movements or techniques extant in the Kata. 24 is related to 108, which is an auspicious number in Buddhist scriptures. Both 2 and 4 are divisors of the larger number. 108 refers to the 108 'afflictions' of the soul, which are to be symbolically stricken down in events like Kagamai Baraki (Japanese New Year). The Kata Gojushiho (originally Ueseishi) is "54 steps", another divisor. It is a likely possibility that both Kata were so named as a reference to this aspect of Buddhism. Although the Kata have come down to karate practitioners via Okinawans, who mostly rejected Buddhism in favor of their own animistic beliefs, the original kata came from the Chinese, who embraced it.
This does not imply that the Kata itself is a Buddhist exercise- the Buddhist zymology is only an artifact of its originators, who were most likely Buddhists of some flavor.
The name Nijushiho or 24 is not really a direct interpretation of the name. the number 24 is related to 108 in the Buddhist religion, an important number. It is thought that the Kata and the Gojushiho (54) Katas have been named as such to connect them to on of the major religion of the time. This does not mean it is a Buddhist exercise however, the Buddhist symbology is only an artifact of its Chinese roots. Despite its many numeric symbology the most striking part of the Kata is its water theme and its physical incarnation of water in movement.
The rhythm and flow that makes this Kata unique are important to master. Spinning, turning and good control of stance are essential to making the Kata resemble a wave of movement. The opening movements are said to best depict the idea of water in the movements. It must be noted that the Kata is very difficult to perform and make it aesthetically pleasing, but one of the most well known practitioners to take up Nijushiho was Asai sensei. Asais performance of Nijushiho was a thing of beauty. I should caution however that a student not try and follow Asai Senseis performance of this Kata. His body was not exactly human and I dont think any of us can do what he did.
The Kata itself has such a strong "wave" theme that it has taken on the characteristics of waves smashing onto the shores. Not only that but most practitioners do refer to Nijushiho as a "water" Kata or as the "tsunami" Kata.
My favorite person to watch doing this Kata was Asai sensei. My only regret was not meeting him while he was alive and watching him perform this Kata with his flair and unique abilities. His body could simply do things it was not meant to do. I began studying the Kata when my instructor asked me to find a personal Kata. It was not really a Kata that I thought I was built for, but it became a favorite of mine after I began training in it and trying to perfect the difficult movements. I noticed that the Kata had a great deal of hip movement in it and started to research this by working on the hip movement in the Kata. It was very interesting to se how the hip is used like a spring and or a rubber ball, forced in one direction and then released to travel the other direction.
Dingman Sensei is fond of this Kata and when I told him I was going to take on this Kata as a task he told me to pay attention to the details. He also called it the "tsunami" Kata or wave Kata. This was to show me that the Kata should act like a wave. Crashing in to the opponents and destroying their attacks before drawing them back into the counter. A very interesting analogy that paid off for me when I started to learn the form. By visualizing the Kata as a wave motion I had an easy time working on the feel of the Kata.
Nijushiho is not a very popular Kata in many ways. To advanced of some to grasp and looking a little on the strange side for a Shotokan Kata, many students do not practice it and miss out on the body dynamics that are offered in the Kata. One should not work on Nijushiho until they have Bassai Dai and Kanku Dai down, these two Kata will help the student understand the hip aspects of Karate’s "tsunami" Kata.