Thoughts on Nepai – Nipaipo – Nijuhachiho
Thoughts on Nepai – Nipaipo – Nijuhachiho

Thoughts on Nepai – Nipaipo – Nijuhachiho

The kata Nepai was once an obscure kata found only in two Karate-do systems, namely Shito-ryu and Tou’on-ryu. Yet over the last twenty years or so there has been a mini explosion in the number of versions of Nepai that are practiced outside of these two original styles. This increase in the number of Nepai kata that you can view is a bit odd for a few reasons. As I mentioned in my introduction, the kata was retained by very few Okinawa karate styles and their respective founders. The only two that I know of were Mabuni Kenwa and Kyoda Juhatsu both of who learned it from Go Kenki during their involvement in the Karate Study Group. Go Kenki, as we all know, was the Chinese tea merchant and crane boxer who immigrated to Okinawa at the turn of the 20th century. Perhaps other students involved with the Karate Study Group may have been familiar with it, but as far as I know they never passed it down.

Another thing to consider is that Mabuni, who was a prolific author, did not list Nepai (or as Shito-ryu refers to it, Nipaipo) in any of his Pre-WWII publications. Hence information on Nepai was extremely hard to come by even in Japanese. Indeed, I don’t know of any mention of Nepai in any Japanese language Karate book until the 1980s when Otsuka Tadahiko and  Tokashiki Iken wrote about it in their respective publications. Tokashiki wrote about how he had traveled to Oita prefecture to learn Nepai from Kanzaki Shigekazu the inheritor of Kyoda’s Tou’on-ryu.

Coming back to Mabuni Kenwa, about twenty odd years ago his son, Mabuni Kenzo, published a book where he briefly talked about Nepai (Nipaipo). Unfortunately, it was so vague that it added no new information about the kata. So how was it that people came to know about the kata Nepai? Of course Nepai is illustrated in the Bubishi, but without a working knowledge of the kata or crane boxing, it would have been impossible to decipher the crudely drawn and recopied illustrations.

In all likelihood the Nepai craze started in the early 1990s when China began to open its borders and Karate teachers began traveling there to find Karate’s “roots”. Crane boxing was presented as a possible relative to Karate. Nepai was probably demonstrated and as one of its more eloquent kata, it was adopted by some of those teachers. Next there was the explosion of the internet in the early 2000s and the ability to upload video via Youtube and other sites in the mid-2000s, the number kata that could been found under a search for “Nepai” truly went off the charts.

Although Nepai is a very interesting kata, it should not be seen as the “be all and end all” of kata. Of late, many people have equated obscure crane based forms as some form of “holy grail” in karate. This is simply not the case.

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