Passai Kata: Being Response-able

Came across this lovely translation of a chapter from an old Xingyiquan book earlier (link below). Mostly written in the first person, the part about ‘night fighting’ particularly interested me because lately our training in Tachimura-ha has focussed on Passai kata, which contains various techniques and strategies for developing ‘night fighting’ skill. Of course really it’s not ‘techniques for fighting in the dark’ but rather heightened ‘response-ability’ that is being improved.

Although there is no ‘traceable’ Chinese connection to the Tachimura style, I’ve long felt the DNA of the techniques share many similarities with Xingyi.

Passai doesn’t mean ‘blindman’s kata’, that’s just what I call it. This isn’t simply because of the ‘searching hand’ method but for a host of other techniques that seek to heighten a trainee’s tactile response-ability to changing circumstance. It is more the quality of touch it develops; likened to that of the visually impaired. Ingeniously, such methods also form a defence by simultaneously attacking the opponent’s eyes too.

The progression of the kata in Tachimura Syuri-ti builds particular skillsets upon the one’s preceding it and these techniques permeate multiple layers of the physical, mental and spiritual. Passai is the stage when a trainee’s ability to respond through touch is elevated, and it’s also the first form that starts to teach how to engage a ‘trained’ opponent. (previous forms to this point concentrate on building the correct frame and engine with basic methods of unbalancing a low level to mediocre fighter.)

Note also the point about ‘hooking the small finger’ and its relation to eye-sight. There are micro movements preserved in the old kata that have a direct affect on the trainee’s physiology but few today are training with even the slightest awareness of such things. One could argue ignorance is bliss but it isn’t really because failure to understand these points is what leads to a lot of health issues in seasoned martial artists. I also think this is why masters were very selective of who they left to pass things on and why written testament of old-type karate is rare. (You learn it through doing, not intellectualising about doing.)

There are significant leg techniques in Tachimura Passai too, and these naturally open up our kakkie practise with traps, kicks, takedowns and footwork, leading to groundwork.

Almost all versions of Passai claim to have the ‘searching hand’ method but if a group no longer teaches it, and I haven’t met another Shuri/shorin group that does yet, then it remains an empty shell – a tell of a broken tradition.

The author of the Xingyi article talks in the language of how I see the fighting arts. It also highlights why I find it impossible to get excited about what I see coming from the kata tournament in Okinawa recently. There is no life in any of it because the kata seem stunted and suppressed; trinkets for show; standardised and deadpan. They’re all very ‘samey’. and yet when we hear about the art in a pre-camera age the descriptions are far more like the Chinese styles expressed by an ageing generation.