Posted By Matthew

Like Fighting at Night

I’d like to share a story given by Bill Hayes Sensei. Pardon any paraphrasing.


One time Hayes Sensei was training with his instructor Eizo Shimabukuro on the kata Passai. This kata is known for its power generation and its sweeping motions that feel for the opponent and almost reach out to him/her.

After training, Shimabukuro mentioned that this kata was like fighting at night.

The statement caught Hayes Sensei’s attention who thought he had gained some valuable insight into the original impetus for the form. Brave Okinawans, he  decided, must have crept along during the night and dispatched their opponents using the passai kata! Certainly that explains the ‘feeling’  and ‘scanning’ hand and foot work.

Some time later the topic of Passai came up again, and Hayes Sensei engaged in discussion about how the kata came from night time fighting.

At that point Shimabukuro peered into Hayes Sensei’s eyes as if to see if there were any lights on.

“No, no”, he said. “Not at night. Like at night.”


Many times things can be lost in translation, especially when it comes to the mysteries of kata. In this case Shimabukuro Sensei was never suggesting that Passai kata was specifically for night time fighting, or that it was born from it. Instead he was trying to express that the same sensations and abilities you would rely upon at night are summoned and utilized via training in the Passai system.

Consider this: at night, you would not be able to see well. Therefore, when you make contact with an opponent, you must maintain Muchimi, or stickiness. Once that contact is made you can instinctively know where each part of your opponent’s body is. Essentially, should it be necessary, you could fight blindly.

This is an important concept to remember when considering the adrenaline dump that occurs during combat. Humans acquire tunnel vision when under extreme stress, which means you will have much less visibility (even during broad daylight) than you are used to. Therefore you have to rely on proprioception and touch response to first acquire your target and then properly eliminate him/her.

It’s important to remember that kata were not created for one specific environment or circumstance. That would be far too limiting a form of practice. Instead the concepts that are contained within each kata are omni-useful and work in harmony with the concepts of other kata.

The translation for the term Passai, which is frequently stated to be “penetrating the fortress” or “extracting from the fortress”, is not to be taken literally. The name may have a poetic connection to breaking down the barriers of an opponent, but it was never necessary to have an actual castle involved.