The composer of this kata is unknown, but it has long been treasured by karatemen from Shuri and Tomari. Many traditions assert that Soken Matsumura created Naihanchi or based his version on older forms known to him. Most Shorin-ryu styles practice three distinct short forms of Naihanchi. The creation of the last form, Naihanchi sandan, is attributed to Anko Itosu. In other kata genealogies, both Naihanchi nidan and sandan are attributed to Itosu.
Before the creation of Pinan kata in 1907, Naihanchi kata were the first forms taught to beginning-level practitioners. According to Grandmaster Nagamine, the most important purpose of Naihanchi lie not in the fighting skills they develop, but in training the lower parts of the body through slow and steady sideways movements. Developing strong legs and hips are indispensable to karate training. According to Grandmaster Nagamine, the posture for Naihanchi is similar to the sitting posture for Zen meditation, with strength concentrated in the abdomen. Nagamine recalls that the Naihanchi kata were a favorite of Choki Motobu. Naihanchi kata does have practical application for fighting in cramped or closely confined spaces. The punching and blocking motions are short because space is very restricted. To Sensei Ota, the short techniques make Naihanchi very difficult to master. In this respect, it is useful to think of Naihanchi as technically advanced forms.
Naihanchi, or “Tekki” in Japanese, translated into English means “horse riding stance.” This refers to the way the legs are held open to straddle a horse when riding. Some practitioners perform Naihanchi with the knees directed inwards. This, according to Sensei Ota, is an incorrect posture. Some practitioners use this stance because they have not properly developed their legs. Furthermore, in The Essence of Okinawan Karate-do, Nagamine does not even mention this stance because it is not a stance that is used anywhere in Shorin-ryu.
When performing each of the Naihanchi kata, once the practitioner drops into the horse stance, it is critical to keep the height consistent throughout the entire kata. The practitioner’s height should not fluctuate up and down. According to Sensei Ota, the only way to build power in Naihanchi kata is to increase the body tension by keeping the weight low in the horse stance.
The horse stance is not a strong stance for defense from the front or rear directions. However, it is extremely strong from the left and right sides. The weight distribution is equally spread between the two legs. If the weight is ever transferred to one leg, the practitioner loses all lateral strength in the stance and is therefore vulnerable to attack from both sides. When stepping over to move in the horse stance in a sideways direction, the practitioner must try and shorten the time the weight distribution is over the supporting leg. This is one of the primary skills developed in the three Naihanchi forms.