Like most karate people, I have studied a number of kata directly from various secondary and tertiary sources (people) as well as from media (books, videos) but continued to seek out primary teachers. There are many qualified teachers out there and I am not saying one must seek out THE primary source, but it happens. For example, I have personally studied Wankan, Rōhai, and Wanshū in depths under the late Nagamine Takayoshi sensei at the Matsubayashi-ryū Karate-dō Kōdōkan Dōjō in Okinawa. Nagamine sensei was probably the strictest and most relentless karate teacher I have ever had. I also performed all of these kata during gradings at that same place and did not fail and also performed Wankan on official occasions for the honbu dōjō. So you can assume I know a little about what I am talking about. I learned many other kata but mention these three here since they are related in lineage and technique.
About Wankan, Nagamine Shōshin (1978: 240) said:
This kata is said to be the creation of a master in ancient times, but the creator is unknown. Wankan belongs to the old kata. It was handed down by the warriors from the Tomari area and has been handed down to the present day. Its characteristics are many passages in which defense and offense are performed in one single action, that actions are formidable, and that it is a kata of medium length.
According to that, Wankan is an old kata that was handed down in Tomari and its creator is unknown. “Old kata” might refer to a kata that has existed in the 19th century and that has not been altered to suit physical education at school in the 20th century.
What else is there to know about Wankan?
In 1969, Kushi Jōkei performed Wankan on occasion of the National Special Invitational Kata Demonstration presented at the Nippon Budōkan in Tōkyō (Nagamine Shōshin performed Chatan Yara no Kūsankū on the same occasion). Kushi was born in Tomari in 1908. An expert in Okinawa sumō and direct disciple of Nagamine Shōshin, Kushi served as the vice-instructor of Matsubayashi-ryū Nagamine Dōjō since the 1950s. In the article addressing the demonstration, Wankan is described as “Tī of the Tomari system” and that while its creator is unknown, it has a long history.
Accordingly, already in 1969 Wankan was considered an important kata in Matsubayashi-ryū. Considering this, I remember that Wankan had been the typical group performance kata of the Matsubayashi-ryū honbu dōjō and Nagamine Shōshin himself performed it on various public occasions. Even his last public performance, shortly before his demise, he performed Wankan at the 1997 Okinawa Karate and Kobudō World Tournament Master Demonstrations:
I was thinking, therefore, that Wankan might have a special significance. Let’s dig a little further.
In 1959, in an article published in the Okinawa Times, Nagamine sensei first wrote about the history and technique of Wankan as follows.
Wankan – In the pre-war days [the practice of] this kata was aborted, but by gathering and compiling the recollections of a couple of Tomari elders, the kata finally revived. The kata is as short as Rōhai, but profound. Speaking of its special features, there are many kicking techniques, and changing the kicking leg is a highlight, and it is also a decisive skill.
In other words, Wankan was discontinued and not practiced anymore. As can be seen from the article, a number of elders from Tomari who remembered parts of the kata were consulted, and the kata was reconstructed. It is implicit that Nagamine sensei reconstructed it, but he does not explicitly refer to himself in this article.
When did that take place? In the 1997 Nagamine Obituary News, the narrator says,
The kata performed is Wankan. When Mr. Nagamine was 25 years old, he carried out a fact-finding survey based on interviews and revived this traditional kata.
In other words, Wankan had been almost lost but was revived by Nagamine sensei in 1932.
What about the technical characteristics of Wankan? In the 1969 Okinawa Times article, it is said that:
The technique of makite (Oki.: machidī) is described as one characteristic of Wankan. In it, the performer catches the opponent’s attacking arm and – without letting the arm escape – strikes a finishing blow.
Makite translates to “winding hand.” The technique is found in Wankan, Rōhai, Wanshū, and Passai, which in case of Nagamine sensei are all kata of Tomari-te provenance. It is therefore proper that it was referred to as a “Tī of the Tomari system.”
Makite is described in Nagamine (1975: 146) as follows:
When standing in [left] neko-ashi-dachi, and when deflecting your opponent’s [right] attack to your middle level, you swiftly shift your body (tenshin) [to the left], and as in sequence 1 and 2 [in the photos] above, when profoundly deflecting with your right hand sword (shutō), simultaneously wrap the opponent’s arm and trap it under your armpit. Without hesitation, attack the side of his torso with your left fist. Then, the left hand instinctively protects the thoracoabdominal vital points and prepares for the next attack [by trapping the attacker’s right arm].
It is done like this:
What is the special significance of Wankan? Why did Nagamine sensei perform it even on occasion of his last public performance?
The following is based on the fact that Wankan had been aborted but recreated by Nagamine sensei in 1932 by consulting a number of Tomari elders. I also believe, and this is conjecture, that he pieced thekata together: Otherwise any of the elders could have just taught it. Based on this, I believe the significance of Wankan is as follows: Wankan is a prime example of how various schools in the post-war period appropriated the names and techniques of classical kata while at the same time they “forgot” where they took got it from, and while altering the kata more or less. Naturally, in the 1950s onward, nobody thought it would ever be possible to retrace a kata visually and by sources. We know it better today.
To underpin my point, in the following I will provide a short overview of Wankan as I believe was appropriated by other schools.
Kata called Wankan that are something else
Shōtōkan has a Wankan, too. Except the three kick-punch combos towards the end it is a completely different kata. It begins with something similar to the kaki-wake found in Gojūshiho and has some tsuki, geri, and kansetsu-waza. Even among Shōtōkan practitioners it seems largely unclear where this kata came from and when it was added.
Therefore, Shōtōkan’s Wankan is “something else” (and should actually be dropped).
Gōhakukai has a Wankan. This school says that their Wankan has been handed down from Matsumora Kōsaku to Iha Kōtatsu and further to Nakasone Seiyū and Tokashiki Iken. They claim to have inherited the original Tomari-te.
I have carried out an analysis of the techniques of Wankan in the Gōhakukai school. Wankan of Gōhakukai is composed of various techniques from Gōjū-ryū kata. The techniques were taken and choreographed in bits and pieces along a new enbusen. Watch my Wankan overview here, whole video here.
Between the 1950s and 1970s or so it was probably cool to create kata, do some name dropping, and claim some lineage, because no one will ever find out.
In short, this Wankan is “something else,” and certainly not “original Tomari-te.”
Wankan that miraculously entered other styles
Shitō-ryū has Wankan (most often called “Matsukaze”). It clearly has the same base in both enbusen and techniques as Wankan in Matsubayashi-ryū. The difference is that Shitō-ryū performs it by using modern competition-style movements. Also, at the end, a there is one additional move, which can also be found in either Kūsankū Dai or Passai Shō. It was probably simply added at the end of the kata to make it special.
Well, for those who still haven’t heard the news: Nearly all Matsubayashi-ryū including Tomari Passai, Chatanyara Kūsankū, Rōhai and Wankan were learned by Shitō practitioners from Matsubayashi practitioners since the 1950s. These kata have never actually been “Shitō-ryū kata.” However, they were smuggled into “Shitō-ryū” at the time when the JKF only allowed kata from the four big styles (Shōtō, Wadō, Gōjū, Shitō). This case is actually a shame for the Japanese karate world. It is at least a case for consumer protection, the consumers being the karate world population of more than 100 Million people. It was unethical and does not qualify as sportsmanship. It includes at least false labeling, false advertising, and technical manipulation of kata in Japan only to have an advantage in competitions. It is therefore just and reasonable that Karate was not allowed as an event at the 2024 Olympics in France.
In short: Wankan of Shitō-ryū came from Matsubayashi-ryū.
Gensei-ryū has a Wankan. It has the exact same enbusen and techniques as in Matsubayashi-ryū. Actually, I asked an expert in that school and he told me that Gensei-ryū has several kata coming from Matsubayashi-ryū.
In short: Wankan of Gensei-ryū came from Matsubayashi-ryū.
The Shōrinji-ryū Kenkōkan also has a Wankan which has clearly the same base as in Matsubayashi-ryū. However, you need to look closely since there are a lot of additional moves, including the final move already mentioned in the “Shitō-ryū Wankan.”
I am actually too lazy to look into this in detail.
In short: Wankan of Shōrinji-ryū Kenkōkan came from Matsubayashi-ryū until someone proves otherwise.
Wankan with the same origin as Matsubayashi-ryū
Shōrin-ryū Shūbukan (Uema dōjō) also has Wankan. This kata has clearly the same base in both enbusen and techniques as Wankan in Matsubayashi-ryū. This is no wonder since Shimabukuro Tarō was a teacher of Uema Jōki. And Shimabukuro Tarō learned Wankan from Iha Kōtatsu from Tomari.
In short: Wankan of Shōrin-ryū Shūbukan has a very similar lineage as Wankan of Matsubayashi-ryū.
Murakami Katsumi (1976: 121–132) also wrote about Wankan, which he also studied from Shimabukuro Tarō:
A representative kata of Tomari-te, it is a brilliant kata that is nimble, fast as lightning, profound and rich in variety. It is the type of kata that you want to do many times. It is a kata that is very useful for actual combat.
The question remains
How did Nagamine revive Wankan? Did he reconstruct it together with Shimbukuro Tarō?
Shimabukuro Tarō’s Wankan has been published by Murakami Katsumi and it is 100% identical with Wankan of Nagamine. Wankan of Shimabukuro Tarō’s student Uema Jōki (Shūbukan) is also 100% identical with Wankan of Nagamine.
Right now, no more can be said about this.
There is one important thing to note: Nagamine sensei clearly said that the kata was reconstructed from the memories of “a number of elders from Tomari.” Therefore, all versions of Wankan that look related to the Matsubayashi-ryū version must be based on the reconstruction apparently finalized by Nagamine sensei (and possibly Shimabukuro Tarō).
Takamiyagi Shigeru et.al.: Okinawa Karate Kobudō Jiten, 2008.
“Shuri-te, Naha-te toha kotonaru maboroshi no Karate – Tomari-te nazo ni semare!” (Extremely rare Karate different from Shuri-te and Naha-te – Approaching the Mystery of Tomari-te!) In: Gekkan Karatedō. February Issue 2003. Fukushōdō 2003.
Murakami Katsumi: Karatedō to Ryūkyū Kobudō. Seibidō Shuppan, Tōkyō 1976.
Murakami Katsumi: Kata no Kokoro to Waza. Shin Jinbutsu Ōraisha, Tōkyō 1991.
Nagamine Shōshin: Shijitsu to Kuden ni yoru Okinawa no Karate, Sumō Meijin-den. Tōkyō, Shin Jinbutsu Ōraisha 1986.
Nagamine Shōshin: Okinawa no Karate-dō – Rekishi to Densetsu o Mamoru. Tōkyō, Shin Jinbutsu Ōraisha 1975.
Okinawa Kōkai no Yūbe (A Public Evening in Okinawa). National Special Invitational Kata Demonstration. Okinawa Times, 1969-09-21.
Nagamine Shōshin: Karate Stories. Okinawa Times, 1959.
© 2020, Andreas Quast. All rights reserved.