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Passai Kata Meaning

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 its origins.

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.


1) http://www.geocities.com/karatejmh/Passai.htm
2) http://www.angelfire.com/ok5/seidokan19/
3) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Passai
4) http://www.shorin-ryu.com/kata.html