Ryuei-ryu History & Ramblings: Kata Anan

By Jesse | 34 Comments

This weekend I’m going to do a seminar on the kata Anan, and when I give seminars I always do a theory session too – which can cover anything from history to philosophy to culture, depending on the context. Sometimes all of them.

Most often, this presentation is in the form of a highly technological NASA level PowerPoint presentation (with a total of ZERO bullet point lists!), projected on a big screen, which I by the way think is a great medium (in the right hands!) for totally awesome presentations.

So, in my wonderful gloryness of today, I thought I’d use you to rehearse a little.

Yeah.

That’s right.

I’m using you.

So just lend me your ear (eyes?) for a moment, and imagine you’re in my fantabulous presence as I deliver the following history (and random ramblings) about the kata Anan. And it’s not “Annan“, which seems to be a common alternative spelling on the world wide webz.

Just leave Kofi alone, kay?

Anyway, let’s start this thing:

First of all, the kata Anan (well, real spelling should actually be Aanan, but never mind…) was made famous in the late 80′s Karate tournament scene by a rather interesting bald man, who never backs down from a demonstration, named Tsuguo Sakumoto (see pic).

Today, most youngsters running around in their oversized gi at tournaments, performing almost unrecognizable versions of Anan, probably have no idea who this man is - but if it wasn’t for him we would most likely not be caring much for this kata today. Or any other Ryuei-ryu kata for that matter.

I truly think so.

Tsuguo Sakumoto, once an unknown school teacher (in physical education) from Okinawa, had been one of few fortunate people chosen to study an old half-secret “mysterious” family style of Karate called Ryuei-ryu, which subsequently became famous through Sakumoto’s tournament success with its figure head kata Anan, the kata Sakumoto used for winning the 7th, 8th and 9th World Karate Championships, the 2nd and 3rd World Games and the 2nd and 3rd World Cup.

And that’s basically why it became popular. It scored big points.

That… and it’s unique features.

But, before we talk about the kata itself, we need to talk about Ryuei-ryu a little more, the style from where Anan originates.

Just like you can’t mention a good wine without mentioning the vineyard from which it came.

You see, “Ryuei-ryu” was literally the name an Okinawan dude chose for his family’s flavor of Chinese kung fu, which, when taken to Okinawa, got blended with local traditions (mainly Naha-te and some Aragaki-te) and later regarded as Okinawan Karate. Today, Ryuei-ryu is mostly unrecognized by many Karate organizations, or bunched together with Shito-ryu (though it has much more in common with, say, Goju-ryu).

And… umm… yeah. Then… ehrm…

I feel like I’m losing track now… But that’s okay, this is just a rehearsal. I’m just using you, remember?

No sweat.

I guess I’ll just have to insert a funny picture in the presentation at this point, to quickly divert everyones attention or something. That always works.

Here:

Pretend to laugh now, so that I can smoothly change topic.

Done? Thanks.

(Let me know how that worked out.)

On to the story.

Let’s take it from the beginning. The history of Ryuei-ryu:

The founder of Ryuei-ryu was a man named Kenri Nakaima.

Kenri Nakaima was born in Kume village (the present Kume area in Naha City, Okinawa), which was then a settlement of Chinese descendants. If you’ve done your homework, you know of this place, being one of the possible sources for the Bubishi and all. Many Okinawan masters gathered here in Kume, to learn “directly from the source”, giving Kenri a real taste for martial arts while growing up.

So, in 1839, at the tender age of 19, young Kenri went to Fuzhou, Fujian Province, in China to further his study of the fist. Here he became a student of the famous Ryu Ryu Ko (hence the subsequent naming of the style) to learn Chinese Kenpo (lit. fist method) and Chinese military tactics. Some other Okinawan youngsters had actually done this before him, so this was nothing mind blowing.

Though it certainly wasn’t cheap.

Kenchu Nakaima, 2nd generation.

After many hard days, weeks, months (we don’t really know for sure) of training, Kenri was conferred full mastership of the style, and as a proof of that he allegedly received some secret instructions or documents. But if we are to believe everything we read, then so did most others who went to China at that time.

I mean, you couldn’t come home from years in China and NOT have learnt a whole system, complete with its innermost secrets, could you?

That would have been a real shame.

Anyway, secrets or not, that was the basic background for Ryuei-ryu, a school of Karate (and martial arts with weaponry, Kobudo) that is growing more famous each day, thanks to it’s proven tournament success and exotic kata.

Its pedigree has been passed from Kenri Nakaima through Kenchu Nakaima and Kenko Nakaima (which is why it’s called a family style…) to the present, with Sakumoto sensei being perhaps the most famous of the disciples of today (note that he wasn’t a part of the original Nakaima family, but was taught the style when it went public, to save it from extinction).

And here we are today. With a handful of unique kata handed down to us, known as Heiku, Paiku, Pachu, Ohan, Paiho and Anan, among others. Some public, some still “secret”. And some pretty interesting kobudo too.

So let’s talk more about Anan then.

The “mothership”.

3rd generation, Kenko Nakaima.

Actually, to talk about Anan would be wrong without knowing a little about the preceeding kata Heiku, Paiku and Pachu. On more than one occasion Sakumoto sensei told me himself that you can never do a good Anan if you don’t know the others before.

But anything goes in love and war, right?

Consider Sport Karate war then.

Because never in the history of Karate has there ever been a more abused, twisted and skewed kata than Anan.

And I blame this one partly on Shito-ryu wizard Teruo Hayashi, founder of Hayashi-ha Shito-ryu, who apparently “learnt” (that can be disputed) the kata in Okinawa and codified it to meet his Shito-ryu standards, which basically opened up for everyone to do the same, using this new Shito-ryu version as model… leaving out all the real awesomeness of Okinawan Karate at the same time.

However, with that being said, many people claim Sakumoto sensei re-arranged the Anan kata too, along with Heiku, Paiku and other Ryuei-ryu kata, for modern sports competition. Which I don’t doubt, since he admits this himself. But this is only in trivial technical details.

The essence is still there.

“So what’s the fuss about then, Jesse-san? Okay, a guy went to China, learnt some cool stuff, made his family proud, passed the knowledge along, his descendants taught it to the public and now everybody’s doing backflips in their seats?”

Well, Anan is a pretty different kata.

And I just hink it’s a shame that it’s been so (yes, I’m going to use a cliche now) watered down in recent times because if there’s ANY fairly accepted tournament kata that has the potential of displaying true Okinawan concepts of Karate (like muchimi, chinkuchi, dynamic sliding and shuffling footwork etc) among these numerous staccato and artificial modern creations of today’s Sport Karate scene, then it’s definitely Anan.

True dat.

Did I tell you it’s my favorite kata by the way?

Furthermore Anan has basically no slow posing movements, no regular straight punches (you only do two uraken in the whole kata, and that’s it for closed hand strikes), it has eight (8!) kicks, and unique evasive manoeuvres (talking tenshin, taisabaki, small “don-don” hops and nifty sideways footwork) along with these brilliantly brutal “charging bull”- style shotei/teisho palm strikes that instantly animate old fables of people being killed from having their nose bones punched up their brains (that was a myth, right?! RIGHT!??).

I mean, it’s just wicked sick.

So, when I see these modern “Annan” creations (see what I did there?… yay, spelling pun… yaay…)  it makes me a bit…

Sad.

[here's where I show the following picture of a sad cat to get everyones sympathies]

It’s sad both for the onlookers, who are expecting a masterpiece of refined Okinawan Karate, and for the performers who, although they don’t know about it, are missing out on so many sweet things they need to be practising in order to gain deeper insight in this thing we call Karate.

I can’t seriously imagining doing Anan like any regular Shotokan/Shito-ryu huff n’ puff tournament kata (which is the common way I’m seeing), leaving out all the GOOD STUFF that is so incredibly fun to practise, and show!

Let me give you some examples by video.

(Yes, you can integrate videos into a PowerPoint presentation).

Here’s a nicely done Shito-ryu version:

Now, having shown this and pointed out some stuff which is too boring to write here, I’ll ask you to compare it to the Okinawan version, performed by the (former) Japanese national team, who were actually coached by Sakumoto sensei (though he sometimes said they did “this and that” wrong):

See the difference in body mechanics, techniques, stances, timing and tempo? Not to mention kimochi.

(by the way, who is this mysterious man that keeps uploading these?!)

At this point I will probably, as usually, go into some weird off-topic discussion on the main characteristics on Ryuei-ryu, and how it differs from other styles.

Some notable details being (“must… resist… temptation of using… bullet point list…NOOO!!!!”):

  • Shuffling slides, steps and jumps (okuri-ashi, suri-ashi, tsugi-ashi etc.) instead of regular steps or simply standing still.
  • Heavy use of shizen dachi (a.k.a moto dachi) instead of zenkutsu-dachi, neko-dachi etc.
  • Old style morote-gamae (think old pictures of Motobu Choki/Nagamine Shoshin/Chibana Choshin etc.) instead of kakiwake uke, tatzuna-gamae etc.
  • Different versions of kake-te, closed fist (washi-zukami) or from below, instead of regular open handed kake-te from above.
  • Uses rare, Kojo-ryu inspired, kamae (tenchi-gamae, teisho-gamae, ippon-gamae, anya no kurai etc.) in the beginning, middle or finish of a kata (most often all three).
  • Often has sets of twos (longer combinations) instead of sets of threes (single techniques).
  • Little, or no, use of 45 degree angles in embusen; preferring east, west, north, south instead.
  • Many unusual closed hand formations (nakadaka-ken, washi-de, handa-ken, hira-ken, ippon-ken etc.) but little, or no, open hand strikes and thrusts (nukite, shuto-uchi/uke etc.).

That’s all I can come up with, off the top of my dome, at the moment.

You will easily find more by browsing youtube.

Interesting, isn’t it?

And… yeah, that’s basically it. At this point I’ll probably ask “Do you have any questions?” and after having answered those, we’ll continue practising Anan along with its brutal Okinawan/Chinese Ryuei-ryu Tiger fist muscle ripping applications.

And, yeah, most likely I’ll point out and demonstrate a gazillion small details along the way, making sure all of the participants grasp the essence of Anan - with its “nuts and bolts” that, after all make, up Ryuei-ryu and Okinawan Karate at its best.

At least that’s what I think.

Nice…

Wish me luck!

The Ryuei-ryu Emblem

About the author

is a self-titled Karate Nerd™, best-selling martial arts writer, unreasonably handsome elite athlete, autodidact, karatepreneur and carrot cake aficionado. He really thinks you should become a Karate Nerd™ too.

34 Comments

  1. Tashi

    October 12, 2010 at 11:25 pm

    Thank you, Jesse!!
    I very like this karate style and i’m a Sakumoto-sensei’s big fan!!!
    Good job and Good luck!!!!

  2. Shane

    October 13, 2010 at 12:06 am

    Nice article! I was hoping to ask a question about Sakumoto-sensei since I know you’ve trained with him. I am planning to study at Okinawa University next year where I heard Sakumoto-sensei is part of the faculty. Do you know whether or not he’s part of the University’s Karate club or if that’s just his “day job” and only trains at his own dojo? Good luck at the seminar!

    • Jesse

      October 13, 2010 at 12:28 am

      Hi Shane!

      As far as I know, Sakumoto sensei is an (art) teacher in Shuri, close to his home, and not in Okinawa University which is some drive away. I’m pretty sure I would have recognized him in the hallways of OkiDai when I studied there myself :)

      (He doesn’t have his own official dojo.)

      Good luck, and have fun! :D Their Karate club rocks by the way!

  3. Diego Romero

    October 13, 2010 at 1:17 am

    interesting!

    on the note of hayashi’s version, i think you might find this interesting:

    http://www.goju-ryu.info/Portals/0/HakutsuruDigest/DIGEST30.TXT

    check post 3

    FWIW, the hayashi-ha versions i’ve learned of pachu and paiku are slightly different to most if not all the other shito-ryu versions i’ve seen (although the competition performances i’ve seen tend to be a bit “stiff” and maybe more on the shuri-side of the movement quality spectrum)

  4. Daniel Osiris Rios

    October 13, 2010 at 6:18 pm

    Hi Jessey , very good your post, excellent, i have one question?,i learned Aannan of MIYAKE SENSEI , chief of shukokai shitoryu in EEUU(many shukokais around the world). He was teach of FUKUDA , several times panamerican Champion.Annan of Chojiro Tani Line has less substance okinawense?
    a lot of hugs
    Daniel
    note:I have trained with antonio diaz Ryuei ryu in 2004 and continues to make ryu Ryuei Annan is doing even if Inoue has Shito ryu

    • Jesse

      October 14, 2010 at 1:06 am

      Hi Daniel!

      How nice! You seem to train with good people. But I don’t really know how the Tani-ha Anan looks, sorry…

      I love Diaz Anan! Very sharp:D

  5. Steve B

    October 13, 2010 at 8:13 pm

    Excellent article, and very timely. 10 days ago, our association attended a weekend seminar with our soke, Mr Yamada of the Shitoryu Shukokai Karate Union. We revised Pachu and Anan, taught by Mr Kamohara and Mr Oshita. Bunkai were taught and practiced.
    The version of Anan taught by Mr Oshita was identical to that of the Japanese team in the above video. There was a lot of discussion about the side stepping in Anan and the use of the shotei strike to attack the heart of the opponent.
    I would like to hear any more information about the bunkai for these kata, if you have the time to share.
    Many thanks,
    Steve B

    • Jesse

      October 14, 2010 at 1:08 am

      Hi Steve!

      Thanks for the info, interesting!

      Perhaps I’ll just shoot an informal video of my interpretation and upload instead? I’ll see what I can do!

      • Ørjan

        March 29, 2012 at 2:56 pm

        Yeay:-) Please do

  6. Szilard

    October 14, 2010 at 6:15 pm

    If you look at the shito ryu version and compare it with basic kata like pinan done by shito ryu karateka, you will find the performance with an integrity of the stile. For example look at this:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N_ulfdFXmck
    or even better if you look at this greenbelt performance:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6--s8q4QdKk
    (As far as I know it is a shito ryu spinoff stile)
    There is consitency in the stile, and they might want to keep the consistency more than keeping the bunkai intact. Showing control and strength seems to be more important than bunkai in some stiles.

    To play on your song metaphor, look at this:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mtjxrf2Vg7g
    It is great on its own right.

    Or if you prefer: “There is no best bottle.”

    On the other hand, looking at it from a different angle, there obviously are people who do not give a flying Funakoshi for bunkai. Maybe there is a market for a stile that uses basic kata only. Just imagine (as in: “I had such a nightmare last night, this is what I dreamed up”), so let me torture you a little, just imagine a stile built on:
    4 Taikyoku, 5 Pinan, 2 basic Tekki, 2 Gekkisaidai, 2 Ryobu-kai Tai Sabaki, 8 Taeguk, 8 Palgwe, Wankan, Sanchin, Tensho, Shimpa, Saifa, Seisan.
    No Bassai, no Kusanku, no Tekki 3, no Seipai, etc… absolutely NO Anan.
    OK, just to add insult to the injury, lets add the basic Chen stile Tai Chi forms into the mix.
    For bunkai: the joint manipulations dreamed into the kata.
    For kumite: Pushing hands only.
    It could be called “the glorious ultimate no pain stile McKarate”, pretty much anyone could learn it, but chances are it would have to break away from the belt system, and use instead something like the boy scout merit badges…
    Oh my god, I have a cruel imagination, don’t I.

    • Jesse

      October 15, 2010 at 1:23 pm

      You, my friend, are cra-a-azy! ;)

  7. Diego Romero

    October 14, 2010 at 9:23 pm

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-7DIm4ePi0o

    Hayashi-ha anan performed by shihan Julio Martinez, now if Inoue-ha shito-ryu (Inoue having been Hayashi’s uchi-deshi)

    • Diego Romero

      October 14, 2010 at 9:32 pm

      *of

      sorry, typo :p

  8. Tashi

    October 18, 2010 at 4:05 pm

    Hello Jesse-san,
    I have a question for you…The name of the founder of the ryuei ryu was Noristo Nakaima or Kenri Nakaima? Why some people call him “Norisato” and Other “Kenri”? I know that Sakumoto-sensei call him Kenri. Can you give me some information about it?
    Thank You

  9. zerodtkjoe

    October 20, 2010 at 10:52 am

    Thanks for the info

  10. Moeter

    October 30, 2010 at 3:00 pm

    That was a very good article. The Team Kata is almost the same way how I learned it this summer from Shinichi Hasegawa.

    Maybe a little old. I didn’t see any of Ookis Katas from the World Championsships in Belgrade but I guess it will have several differences to the Kata from the video.

    By the way.. i cant believe Ooki lost against Valdesi >.< 3:2

    Do u have the videos Jesse-san? i really NEED to SEE them.

    Im looking forward to an answer and some vids :P

    Arigato gozaimashita

  11. Veniamin

    November 3, 2010 at 2:32 am

    Hello Jesse! Very interesting work. I some times was at sensei Sakumoto on Okinawa. Acted on Sakumoto Fest where even has won. Has gone to Sakumoto what to study in the present Annan, Paiku, Heiku. I plan to invite the sensei to Russia.

  12. James

    November 8, 2010 at 1:07 am

    Have you ever trained with the Arashiro family in the USA? The reason i’m asking is because I do Shudokan and after learning the Ryuei-ryu “package”, gone to seminars, and seen applications and all that good stuff and i’m starting to consider switching styles to Ryuei-ryu and hopefully learn a lot more about it. I just need to know if the Arashiro family have the best Ryuei-Ryu dojo in the USA.

    • Jon

      December 13, 2010 at 7:34 am

      The question of ‘Best’is dubious. What’s most imporant is whether or not the teacher you choose is authetic and a good match for you. There are two main teachers and their groups teach Ryueiryu in USA. Both organizations have different goals. One is sport based competition karate and the other is a private group preserving the original art and practices. Good luck!

    • Cherilynn

      January 15, 2013 at 9:19 pm

      Hi Veniamin,

      I know this is a really late reply to your post, but just wanted to reply in case you were still interested. My son and daughter train with the Arashiro family in San Diego, and we love that they stay true to preserving the art form. Unfortunately we have to move from San Diego and the one thing thing that saddens us the most is leaving behind our dojo. That is how we found Jesse’s website…trying to figure out which styles are closest to Ryuie-Ryu.

      Thanks!

  13. Oleg

    November 14, 2010 at 3:38 am

    Jesse, great work, thank you very much.

    Looking at Luca Brancaleon’s performance, I must say that to me this is absolutely not a hayashi-ha shito-ryu version. This guy looks to me more like a shotokan practitioner. I’ve been practicing hayashi-ha shito-ryu for years and the version of Anan we practice in Australia is very much the same as sensei Sakumoto’s one. Pretty much every move, every stance, side shifting and shuffling, etc.

  14. Scot

    November 30, 2010 at 7:36 am

    Jesse,

    You know Anan is named after the northern mountains in Vietnam. It’s actually a reference to a place. After Norisato Nakaima trained in China he traveled around before he went back to Okinawa. Anan was one of the areas he visited and learned this kata from. There are actually two Anan katas, Sho and Dai, or as most call it Anan and Anan Ni.

    Good luck and best wishes!

  15. andrei dima

    January 26, 2011 at 5:17 pm

    Hello!

    Thanks for this article.I saw on youtube some examples of Ryuei Ryu Kata.With the japanese team and Sakumoto Sensei.
    Interesting.If it is possible please explain more things about Pachu Kata . It’s name significance , history , origin and practical applications.
    Thank you.
    all the best , Andrei

  16. Anthony Willis

    March 1, 2011 at 4:21 pm

    Great job! you seem very knowlegable on ryuei ryu. What is the translation for Anan?

    • Jesse

      March 1, 2011 at 5:15 pm

      There is no real translation of Anan, as it is traditionally written with katakana (the phonetic “alphabet”). But, of course, some people will always give you various “kanjified” explanations anyway, created in modern times to “fit with the sound” (as is the case with most old kata like Jion, Passai, Chinto etc…).

    • Scot

      March 10, 2011 at 5:25 am

      Anan was named after the region where Nakaima received the kata. It’s from the Amam mountains in northern Vietnam.

  17. Duane

    March 6, 2011 at 8:22 am

    Hello Jesse, great job! just a comment, the Japanese male team train in Shitoryu so there may be minor differences caused by the differences in kihon and some of the difficult moves have been simplified for team kata. Watching the female team kata would probably (from 2008 worlds) give a better interpretation of Ryuei Ryu as they were Sensei’s students.

  18. Sergio E. Alemán

    June 30, 2011 at 3:00 pm

    Jesse, thank you for your work, I learned a lot. I agree with you when you say that Kata semminars should include theory, history, culture, philosophy, and I would like to add the practice and the analysis of the movements and purposes of the movements,,, and yes, you are right, we must respect the context when Kata was given by the first time… too much still to learn in this beautiful martial art of the Karate-Do…

  19. Kurt Borgne

    February 17, 2012 at 6:40 pm

    Hi Jesse, most interesting the day after witnessing two black belt ladies work the kata off in tandem for an audience of Kuniba-kai novices in Stockholm. You say: “…about the kata Anan. And it’s not “Annan“, which seems to be a common alternative spelling…”. Taking the kanji ?? for it, I would rather have it An-nan for a correct Japanese pronounciation. Could you elaborate, please. (Japan freak but still kyu-gai)

    • Jesse

      February 18, 2012 at 12:53 pm

      Hey Kurt-san. The name of the kata is originally written in katakana (as with most traditional Okinawan kata) but has lately been replaced with fancy modern kanji that “fit” with the pronounciation of the name (in order to give the name a comprehensive meaning). The katakana is “A-NAN”.

  20. Garin

    February 22, 2012 at 4:28 am

    What some forget is the Okinawan Kempo also has a version of Anan. Nakaima Sensei had many students including Odo Sensei. Especially with the kobudo.

  21. Connor

    March 28, 2012 at 1:45 am

    SENSEI. I love you for writing this article.

    Can I have a…late pass?

    Have you heard of Sensei Minikami? He is Shito, but he has his own style of Anan and I really like it. It’s technically Shito, but most of the stances and techniques are more similar to Ryuei-ryu.

  22. btona

    November 1, 2013 at 3:20 pm

    oss, i just want to ask, i learn hayashi ha shitoryu, then im surprised to see that annan that i learnt is more like okinawan style than shitoryu, can you explain it?

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