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Wanshu Kata Meaning

This kata emphasizes speed and a throwing technique. Wanshu kata was introduced into the Tomari district of Okinawa in 1683 by a Chinese envoy or Sappushi of that name.(1) Some historians suggest a man by the name of Ji Wang (Jpn. Oshu, 1621-1689). (2) It is possible that it is based upon or inspired by techniques that were taught by Ji Wang. The problem with this theory is that why would such a high ranked government official teach his martial arts (assuming he even knew any) to the Okinawans? Also, Ji Wang was only in Okinawa for 6 months(Sakagami, 1978).

Ji Wang was originally from Xiuning in Anhui (a geographic section of west central China), and was an official for the Han Lin Yuan, an important government post (Kinjo, 1999). In order to become an official for the Han Lin Yuan, one had to be a high level scholar, and pass several national tests (Kinjo, 1999). Just preparing for such a position would be such a time consuming task that is would all but rule out the practice of martial arts. However, assuming that Ji Wang was familiar with the martial arts, the Quanfa (a generic Chinese term referring to martial arts) of Anhui is classified as Northern boxing, while the techniques of the Okinawan Wansu kata are clearly Southern in nature (Kinjo, 1999).

So, was Wanshu named after Ji Wang, or someone else? This is as yet unknown. However, in the Okinawan martial arts, kata named after their originators are not uncommon. Some examples include Kusanku, Chatan Yara no Sai, and Tokumine no Kon. It is entirely possible that this kata was introduced by a Chinese martial artist named Wang (not the offical Ji Wang). As the reader probably already knows, in the Chinese martial arts, it is common to refer to a teacher as Shifu (lit. Teacher-father). Could not the name Wansu be an Okinawan mispronunciation of Shifu Wang (Kinjo, 1999)?

Other schools of thought are that Xianhui Wu (Jpn. Go Kenki, 1886-1940) or Daiji Tang (Jpn. To Daiki, 1888-1937), two Chinese martial artists who immigrated to Okinawa in the early part of the 20th Century, may have been responsible for the introduction of the Wansu kata (Gima, et al, 1986). As a side note, Wu was a Whooping Crane boxer and Tang was known for his Tiger boxing. They were both from Fujian.

This existing KATA is the embodiment of his teaching. Sappushi were the official governmental contact between China and Okinawa. Wanshu taught Chinese Kempo to the village people.(3) His martial expertise inspired his followers to combine the best of his teachings into the kata we know as Wansu. His teachings were passed on to Karate Sakugawa, who taught Chokun Macabe, who is believed to have developed the kata practiced today. Chokun Macabe taught Kosaku Matsumora who taught Maeda Peichin who taught Chotoku Kyan. Kyan taught the kata to Tatsuo Shimabuku. Wansu Kata is of the Tomari-Te lineage. This Tomari-Te form was eventually included in Shorin-Ryu. Following Wanshu, there is nearly a century gap until our knowledge of the development of Karate re-surfaces with Kung Shang K’ung or Kusanku. The ready positions in all other Shorin-ryu kata are quite different than the ready position in Wanshu. However, this position is consistent with many opening salutations in Chinese style forms. Historically, these postures were ways of identifying and differentiating between specific organizations. According to Grandmaster Nagamine, the hidden fist strike is the signature technique of this kata. Wanshu lived and worked in Tomari, and aside from his diplomatic responsibilities. He also instructed a small following of disciples in a style called Shaolin White Crane Fist Boxing. Wanshu taught the practitioner also develops the secrets of taking the opponent up and off his feet and throwing him to the ground.

Wansu is known as the “Dumping Form” which relates to its easily recognized throw. This kata blends fluid movement and lightning fast technique to create a lethal dance that is effective in kata competition or on the street. Wansu provides graceful lines while delivering thunderous striking power. The kata introduces the student to some new concepts. These include slipping punches, using the cat stance to step back out of harms way, cross punches, and side stepping. Wansu is popular in other styles and is called “Empi” in Shotokan. One translation for “Empi” is swallow, which was reputed to be a nickname for Sappushi Wanshu. The lethal techniques of this kata more closely resemble those of a falcon than a swallow. At any rate, Wansu is a marvelous combination of beauty, grace, and power. It ranks as a favorite among kyus and dans. Wansu is also known as Ansu or Unshu. (4)

The opening moves of Wansu are unique to Isshinryu’s katas. The signature of the kata moves smoothly into a covered fist posture. Wansu is reputed to have a hidden punch and many believe it is located at this point. Wansu is common to many styles of karate and although there is a hidden punch in some of the Wansus of other styles, there is no hidden punch in Isshinryu’s version of Wansu. This opening move signifies contact. A touching or grabbing move in which you gain control of your opponent. Wansu contains many Kyusho-Jutsu and Tuite techniques just as it contains more than the one throwing technique. For the first time, students are introduced to the concept of grabbing an opponent’s obi or clothing and pulling him into a punch. This type of move is repeated in other katas, but this is usually the first time this concept is introduced.

Wansu Kata employs a wide range of stances. These include Sho Zenkutsu dachi, Nekoashi Dachi, and Soto Hachiji dachi. Techniques used in the kata include: open hand blocks, a pair of knee smashes, grabbing techniques, elbow strikes, two side kicks, simultaneous open hand strikes to the sides, and sidestepping evasive moves. Slip your opponent’s attacks, then counter attack is the general theme for this kata. The term for the pattern that a kata makes on the floor is called “Embusen.” The embusen for this kata forms a cross pattern on the floor.

Wansu consists of approximately 48 movements, which makes it somewhat of a short kata.¬ It takes approximately 45 seconds to perform. Its floor pattern is similar to a plus sign (+). Wansu is defending against 5 opponents, and introduces open hand strikes along with knee lifts (Hittsui Geri). It consists of low blocks, open middle blocks, double blocks, grabbing techniques, middle punches, hammer fists, elbow strikes, 2 side kicks and 2 front kicks. It also makes use of avoiding punches and then, counterattacking, instead of blocking and counterattacking.¬ The stances used are: Seisan, Neko Ashi, Tsuru, Zenkutsu and Seiuchin Dachi. Wansu consists of very strong attacks and defensive positions.¬ This kata starts and ends at 2 different points quite a distance apart.

Many believe the original version of Wanshu was much longer than the modern kata, which derives from either Kyan or Itosu.

1) http://www.shorin-ryu.com/kata.html
2) http://www.fightingarts.com/reading/article.php?id=222
3) http://www.isshinryu.com/wansu.htm
4) http://www.munozisshinryu.com/wansu.htm