This kata means “to
breach a fortress” or “to penetrate a fortress”.(1)
Students will learn many things from this kata. It teaches how to fight
at night or when one has lost the ability to see for some reason or
another. This kata teaches how to trap an opponents attack and quickly
counter that attack. This kata teaches great weight movement or body
shifting. It has been said that the opening movements of this kata are
used to teach a student how to hide hair pin in their right hand, which
they will later attack with. The Ichigina version of the kata can be
used to teach students two different things. First it will teach students
many open hand techniques and trapping of any opponents kick with a
break of the foot. Second this kata can be ran with Getas (sandal type
shoes) which will teach the student how to defend with the use of Getas.
There are, as a minimum, ten different versions of this Kata to include
but not limited to, Passai Dai (Matsumura No Passai), Passai Sho (Itosu
no Passai), Chibana No Passai, Oyadomari No Passai, Kiyan No Passai,
Ishimine No Passai, Teruya No Passai, Tawada No Passai, Azato No Passai,
and Soeishi No Passai. Some historians state that there are at least
17 versions which can be placed into three groups: 1) Itosu-Ishimine
2) Tawada-Chibana 3) Matsumura Orthodox-Kyan-Oyadomari. (1)
Passai is a kata practiced in some styles of karate and has a large
number of variations among karate styles. Variations include kata such
as Bassai dai, Bassai Sho, Passai Dai and Passai Sho. The origins of
this kata are obscure, however there are several theories as to its
history. Some researchers believe the Passai kata is related to Chinese
Leopard and Lion boxing forms, with some sequences bearing a resemblance
to Leopard boxing (the opening blocking / striking movement in cross-legged
stance) whereas others are more representative of Lion boxing (open
handed techniques and stomping actions). Okinawan karate researcher
Akio Kinjo believes that the name means 'leopard-lion. (2)
Another theory as to the naming of the kata is that it may represent
a person’s name, or is in reference to a fortress. Other historians
have noticed the resemblance between some parts of Passai and Wuxing
Quan ("Five Element Fist") Kung-fu.
Of the Okinawan versions of Passai, a clear evolutionary link can be
seen from Matsumura no Passai (named after the legendary Sokon Matsumura),
to Oyadomari no Passai (named after the Tomari-te karate master Kokan
Oyadomari), and then onto the Passai of Anko Itosu who popularised karate
by introducing it into the curriculum of Okinawan schools. The Matsumura
version has a distinct Chinese flavour, whereas the Oyadomari version
is more "Okinawanised". It was further modified by Itosu,
and is thought to have created a "sho" (Passai sho) form of
it. Gichin Funakoshi of Shotokan took it to Japan and taught them as
Bassai Dai and Bassai Sho, where Bassai means "to storm a fortress".
The Tomari style which incorporated Oyadomari no Passai was passed down
the Oyadomari family for three generations, originally taught by a Chinese
living in Tomari (possibly named Anan), who “used very light techniques”.
Sokon Matsumura also learned Chinese boxing from the military attaches
Ason and Iwah at Fuchou.
The Okinawan’s did not have a clear definition for the name "Passai"
for Funakoshi to translate into Japanese, so he substituted it with
a similar sounding kanji, "Bassai". This can be literally
translated to mean "extract from a fortress" or "remove
an obstruction". This is thought to be in reference to the power
with which the kata should be executed, emphasising energy generation
from the hips and waist. However, the designation of Bassai by the Japanese
does not appear to have a direct relation to movements in the kata or
The Shorin-ryu version of Passai bears a close resemblance to Oyadomari
no Passai, and is a much softer kata than Shotokan’s Bassai Dai.
Further evidence that Passai has roots in Tomari is that Bassai Dai
starts with the right fist covered by the left hand, like other kata
thought to have originated there, such as Jutte (Jitte), Jion, Jinn
and Empi. This hand gesture is a common saluation in China. However,
there is some contention between researchers as to if there was a separate
Tomari school of karate.
Interestingly, the three Yama zuki near the end of Bassai Dai shape
the upper-body like the kanji character for "mountain", so
these punches are referred to as "mountain punches". This
is a common theme in Shotokan, as Hangetsu and Jutte contain postures
resembling this kanji, and some kata supposedly draw kanji on the floor
if you follow the Embusen (floor plan).
The suffix -Dai means "large" and -Sho "small".
Hence, Passai Sho is a shorter variation on Passai and also bears some
resemblances to Bassai Dai, indicating this kata may have been born
out of combining elements of Passai and Passai Sho. One notable point
is that bunkai describes it as a defense against a bo.
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. To confuse matters even more 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.
Passai has long been cherished by martial artists from both Shuri and
Tomari, and was said to be the favorite kata of Chotoku Kyan. (3) The
composer of this kata is unknown. Indeed, the Shuri-te and Tomari-te
versions of this form are discernibly similar, but which version pre-dates
the other is uncertain. Most historians, however, ascribe to the theory
that Passai derives from the Soken Matsumu tradition. Translated, Passai
means, "to breach a fortress". The practitioner develops skills
for night fighting, grappling techniques, but most importantly, the
mental confidence "to thrust asunder". Passai mentally demands
that the practitioner make a quantum leap from any kata preceding it
in Matsubayashi Shorin-ryu karate Pinan kata develops a peaceful mind:
the ability to relax and still be extremely alert. The strategy of Pinan
is to establish an angle outside the opponent's power line, and then
block and counter attack. Conversely, the strategy of Passai is to move
directly into the line of attack and breach's attack of a "fortress".
The Pinan strategy is far less risky and allows for a much greater margin
of error. For this reason Pinan is ideal for beginners, while Passai
is reserved for more advanced students. Grandmaster Nagamine noted that
Kyan never retreated in a fight, but rather stepped forwards on to the
side and counter attacked. Perhaps this was his favorite form. In the
Matsubayashi shorin-ryu genealogy, its version of Passai comes from
Chotoku Kyan and uses many open handed techniques similar to other Tomari-te
versions of the kata. Kyan learned several versions of this form: Matsumura-Passai,
Oyadomari-Passai, and Matsumura-Passai and it has been suggested his
personal version reflects elements of all three.