Nanbudo is a relatively recent martial art, of Japanese origin. It was founded by Yoshinao Nanbu (1943—) in 1978. It has its roots in many Japanese systems such as aikido, karate and judo.

The system of martial arts known as Nanbudo was founded in 1978 by Doshu Yoshinao Nanbu. Mr. Nanbu was born in 1943 in Kobe (Japan), in the Nanbu family, a traditional Bushi (Samurai) family from the Iwate-prefecture on Northern Honshū.

He grew up in a milieu where martial arts were greatly respected. Amongst other distinguished family members was his grandfather, Yoko Zuna, a famous Sumotori. Growing up in a very martial arts-orientated family, he started learning martial arts at an early age. At the age of five he started learning Judo from his father, a 5th Dan who taught the Kobe police force. After a few years he started learning Kendo from his uncle.

At the age of 18, he entered the University of Economic Sciences in Osaka. There he discovered Karate. He learned Shito ryu and Shukokai Karate under Masters Tani (8th Dan) and Tanaka.

He quickly grew very proficient in this discipline, and in 1963 he won the Japanese University Championship, at that time the most distinguished Karate championship in the world.

Following his successes in Japan, Henry Plée, a great French karate master, invited him to come to France to compete. He won most of the competitions (it is said that Mr. Nanbu has never lost a match in career as a competitor), and returned to Japan after a few years.

There he was entrusted with the task of spreading Shukokai in Europe. After a few years, judging his task complete, he founded the system of Sankukai (still practised today). However, he felt that Sankukai was an incomplete system. Furthermore, he was weary of the political intrigue and pettiness surrounding him. He retreated from all activities in 1974 and withdrew to Cap d’Ail. There he meditated upon the nature of martial arts, and in 1978 he emerged with a complete new system, called Nanbudo. Ever since, he has been refining the system. Today he is technical director of the WNF (Worldwide Nanbudo Federation), and holds seminars all over the Nanbudo-practising world.

Nanbudo as a system: Nanbudo is a system with its roots in Japanese Karate. Although it has many similarities with this system, it is considered as an independent system.

Nanbudo is a martial art, and as such teaches the traditional Japanese ways of combat. However, as a system, Nanbudo includes much more than just fighting techniques. The system is intended as a holistic method of self defence and training, and combines kido ho and budo ho, the techniques for health and the techniques of combat. It is based upon four concepts: breathing, energy manipulation, gymnastics and spirit/ mental strength. The techniques are a combination of traditional techniques from Japanese martial arts and Master Nanbu’s own philosophy.

They are based on movements and patterns in nature, and are intended to work as a system to strengthen the body, as well as prevent many modern-day illnesses. The defence techniques in Nanbudo include punches, strikes, kicks, throws, locks, joint and pressure point techniques, and grappling techniques. The majority of techniques are unarmed, but the system also uses the weapons bo (six foot staff) and bokken (sword). The system can be roughly divided into four parts: Kata, Randori, Ju and Ki.

Kata: Kata is a concept shared by all forms of Karate, as well as many other Japanese, Korean and Chinese martial arts systems. It is a formalized pattern of movements, a defence against one or more imaginary opponents. It is intended to teach the practitioner control and balance, and serves as a help in learning techniques. The techniques in kata are often highly stylized, and bear little resemblance to the real techniques (although this is not always the case.) Also, some of the techniques in kata stem from an earlier period of civilization and are quite deadly. Nevertheless, kata is a useful tool when teaching self defence, as it emphasises balance and breathing, and helps the student remember the general shape of techniques until they are fully learned. Kata, when performed correctly by a competent practitioner, can be extremely beautiful, and are often used in competition and performances.

The kata of Nanbudo can be divided into several categories: Basic, Advanced and Superior. The Basic katas, or Shihotai, consist of one technique performed in four directions. There are seven Shihotai: tsuki, ten, chi, hassu, ki, mizu and ku, one for each day of the week. Shihotai serve as an introduction to kata. The advanced katas, or Nanbu-katas, are longer systems, consisting of 30 or 40 techniques. Each emphasises a different type of technique, and each includes a variety of techniques. There are five Nanbu-katas (Shodan, Nidan, Sandan, Yondan and Godan), one for each season of the year, and one for the whole year. The third type of kata is the superior kata type. These kata are traditional kata shared by many karate-systems. But although many systems share a kata, its actual shape can vary a lot (for instance, Nanbudo Seipai is very different from the form used by the Sakugawa Koshiki Shorinji-ryu system) There are a number of Superior kata, and not all are practised by all clubs or practitioners.

The most common are Seipai, Seienchin, Hyaku Hachi and Ikkyoku. There is also Sanposho and Sanpodai. The superior katas are black-belt curriculum, and only one is required to attain the first Dan. In addition to these katas, there are a few katas for weapons. Amongst others, there exist versions of the Shihotai for bo, as well as the kata Tenryū. There are also kata for bokken. The last type of katas are the ki katas. See the ki-section for more on these.

Randori: Randori is a concept that, while not unique to Nanbudo, is used in very few other martial arts, and rarely in exactly the same way. Basically, a randori is a seven-step fight between two people. It is highly formalised, and each randori uses unique techniques. The randori has two participants: the tori, or attacker, and the uke, or defender. Both have a fixed set of moves to perform. For the tori, it usually consists of one left punch, one right punch, one left front kick, one right, one left roundhouse kick, one right, and one right punch. This is the standard, and only a very few randori use anything different.

For uke, it is a little more complicated. Each randori has its own separate set of defences. These include throws, punches, kicks, locks and basically all techniques in the system. There are currently some 20-30 randoris, with more being created by Mr Nanbu. There is a very strict set of rules regarding the performing of the randori. Each randori is preceded by the opponents taking their places facing each other. They say the name of the randori together, then they state their part, tori first. If two practitioners of different belts (grades) are performing a randori, the highest belt is given the privilege of being uke first. This has the advantage of allowing the lower belt to see how the higher belt performs the technique. This works because a randori is nearly always performed twice in succession (except for shows) so that both get to be tori and uke.

After the names have been called out, the practitioners then perform the yoi: a sharp inhalation and exhalation, while also assuming a formal ready position. They then assume the kamae-te, or ready combat position. At the call hajime (from sensei), the randori begins. After each technique the practitioners change places, except at the last technique, when they return to starting point. They then perform yoi again, bow, and are finished.

In addition to the randori, in which two fight, there exists a multi-opponent system. The most common is niningake, with two toris. In niningake the one difference is that uke must always keep the attacking tori between himself and the other tori, to avoid a simultaneous attack. There are also other forms like sanningake (three toris), yonningake (four toris), etc., but these are very rarely practised, and only by a very few clubs.

The fact that the randoris place the emphasis on the defender illustrates that Nanbudo is a defensive art, not an aggressive one. As with katas, there are techniques with both bo and bokken.

Ju: Ju is not in itself a Nanbudo term. It is simply a prefix added to the other forms to show that they are competition. The most common is jurandori, but there exists also juniningake. Kata is also performed in competition, but as the system is different, the prefix ju is not added. Jurandori is the competition form of randori. In addition to this, jurandori serves the added function of preparing the nanbudokas (practitioners of the art) for a real combat situation.

In jurandori, the roles of tori and uke are not fixed. The one who feels like attacking first, does so. Although the same pattern of attacks is observed, the tori-uke roles switch between techniques, so that both members alternate tori-uke, and no one attacks twice in a row. Also, whether the attack is from left or right is for the practitioner to decide. In jurandori, any defence from a randori is allowed, and one is not required to keep to one randori.

However, there are some techniques, mostly kicks directly to the body, that are forbidden for safety reasons. Because of the difficulty, jurandori and juninigake are relatively high in the Nanbudo curriculum. More on the competition aspect of jurandori and other forms is to be found under the competition section.

Ki: An important part of Nanbudo is the Ki aspect. As a system focusing on holistic development of the body and physique, as well as mental development, Nanbudo has a large range of techniques focusing on the development of the ki-flows in the body, as well as the control of these. The theory is that this control enables one to take control over a hostile situation with ease. The Ki techniques in nanbudo can be divided into kata and randori. The kata are the taichuko, shihotai for the ki techniques, as well as the genki katas, or healing katas. There are seven of these too, although only four or five are often used. There is also Ki Nanbu Taiso, the warm-up kata. It is perhaps the kata performed the most often, and is certainly the longest, consisting of ten parts. The ki randori are based on the concept of using control of the opponents ki energy to defeat him. The techniques are smooth and continuous, with circular movements and little or no break in contact. The ki aspect of Nanbudo is a more recent one, and is the aspect under the most change.

The Grading: Like most Japanese martial arts, Nanbudo employs a set of belts to denote how long a nanbudoka has been practising, as well as his or her level of skill. In the original Japanese systems, as well as some modern-day styles (aikido, amongst others), there were only two belts: white, or beginner, and black, or expert. The black belt was subdivided, but the white was not.

Around the time of the introduction of the Japanese arts to the west, the idea of coloured belts came into practice. It is today closely linked to the common idea of martial arts, and people will always ask a budoka: “What belt do you have?”

The colours used to denote rank vary from style to style. Some have purples, some browns, some have reds, greens, blues, yellows, oranges. In Nanbudo, the system consists of two parts: The Kyus, or white belts, and the Dans, or black belts.

There are seven kyus, going from number seven at the bottom to number 1 at the top. Their colours are, respectively:

  • white (8th Kyu)
  • white (7th Kyu)
  • white with yellow stripe, (6th Kyu)
  • yellow, (Deshiiri, 5th Kyu)
  • orange, (Deshiiri, 4th Kyu)
  • green, (Deshi, 3rd Kyu)
  • blue and (Deshi, 2nd Kyu)
  • brown. (Uchideshi, 1st Kyu)

Many clubs have a system in which children under a certain age have to go through stripes for each belt (orange-white, brown-white, etc.), including black. The time that must pass between each belt is usually six months, although very gifted students may graduate more often. For the brown and black belts, the period is one year or more.

After the brown belt, a nanbudoka can achieve the black belt. There are 8 levels of black belt, or dans, going from 1 at the bottom to 8 at the top (note: there is a tenth level, held by Master Nanbu. This however, is only for the founder, or Doshu, and cannot be achieved by anyone else).

Each Dan has a name. These are:

  • Fukoshidoin (1st)
  • Shidoin (2nd)
  • Kyoshi (3rd)
  • Sensei Kyoshi (4th)
  • Shihandai (5th)
  • Shihan (6th & 7th)
  • Hanshi (8th & 9th)
  • Doshu (10th, only for the founder)

For every ascension in belt up to and including 2nd Dan, a nanbudoka must graduate; i.e. pass a physical test to see whether he/she has mastered the required techniques sufficiently. From the 3rd Dan and up, the system is different. As it is now, Doshu Nanbu decides when, if at all, the person is ready. When he passes away, the person he has chosen as a successor will most likely take over this role.

As it is now, no person has achieved any higher Dan than the 6th (Shihan). The Dans from 6th and up are red-white striped vertically.

One noteworthy difference between the white and the black belts is that the black belt nanbudokas have their rank and name written on their belts in golden stitching, while the white belts do not.

A belt is often more an indication of time of practice than actual skill. A 4th kyu may well be as good as a 1st Dan, but have practised for a shorter time. However, as a rule, higher belt means more skill. Also, the higher Dans are always more skilled and have more knowledge of Nanbudo than the lower belts, as they are handpicked by Doshu Nanbu.

Dojo Etiquette: In the Dojo, or place of training, it is important to maintain a degree of respect and discipline if the system is to progress and the students are to learn anything.

  • When entering or leaving the Dojo, one renders a formal bow to the Dojo and to the Sensei at the time.
  • During training sessions, talking is to be kept at a minimum, and it is to be done in a low, respectful voice, unless teaching or explaining a technique.
  • The Sensei and the Sempais are to be obeyed.
  • No eating in the Dojo, and no other drink than water.
  • The belt, or Obi is to be kept tied at all times.
  • At the start of the class, the students and teachers line up in formation (below), and they go through a formal greeting, during which they recite the three Principles of Nanbudo:

Nanbudo Mittsu no Chikara:

  • Chikara da (force),
  • Yuki da (courage),
  • Shinnen da (faith).

They may also recite the 7 forces of Nanbudo, or Nanbudo Nanatsu no Chikara:

  • Watashiwa gankenna tai ryoku-o motte imasu (physical strength)
  • Watashiwa kijona tan ryoku-o motte imasu (mental strength)
  • Watashiwa setsushita handan ryoku-o motte imasu (judgement)
  • Watashiwa kyoryokuna danko ryoku-o motte imasu (decisiveness)
  • Watashiwa sekkyokutekina sei ryoku-o motte imasu (vitality)
  • Watashiwa mujinzono no ryoku-o motte imasu (intellectual capacity)
  • Watashiwa mugenno seimei ryoku-o motte imasu (life force)
    • Watashiwa tairyoku, tanryoku, handanryoku, dankoryoku, seiryoku, noryoku, seimeiryoku o-mochimashita.

Although this (7 forces) is rare.

Greetings Lineup: Sensei sits at the front of the Dojo, facing the rest of the Dojo. To his left, facing the middle of the dojo, are the black belts, arranged from highest to lowest, with highest sitting closest to Sensei. If there are a large number of black belts, the rest sit on his right hand side, in the same formation. The Kyus sit facing Sensei below the black belts, arrayed across the dojo. They form as many lines as required to accommodate them comfortably. They sit with the highest kyus (1., 2., 3.) on Sensei’s left, and going down in grades as they cross the dojo. Not all clubs are very strict on all the rules, and a more informal attitude may be common.

Competition: Competitions in Nanbudo are arranged several times a year. They follow a certain system. There are 4 common categories of competition:

  • Jurandori
  • Team jurandori
  • Kata
  • Team kata

Jurandori is performed as described above. Juniningake is very rare. For a jurandori match, there are three referees, a main referee, a side referee and an assistant referee. The competitors are awarded points only for the defence (uke) but may be deducted points for a poor attack. The points are: 0 (torimasen), 1 (yoko), 2 (wazari), 3 (ippon), -1 (fujibon), -2 or -3 (hansuko shui). Each referee gives points, and the average of these is the final score. With seven defences per match, the maximum number of points per match is 21.

In team jurandori, a team of three or more compete. One competitor from each team starts, and perform the first four techniques (the punches), then the next member from each takes over, and so on.

In competitive kata, the object is to perform as beautifully and correctly as possible. Techniques for making the kata more impressive include varying the tempo and breathing very heavily. The kiai, or shout of the spirit, which is a part of many techniques, is here used excessively. In team kata, a team of three perform a kata together. The object is to do it as synchronised as possible, as well as the objects of the single kata.

The spread of Nanbudo: Nanbudo originated in France, at Cap d’Ail, where Doshu Nanbu developed it. It quickly spread, however, to most of the clubs then practising Sankukai.

Today, some 26 years later, the system is widespread in Europe. It is rare outside Europe, but exists in some Francophone West-African countries, notably Cameroun, Morocco and Senegal, in Canada (Mehdi NAGUIB) , but has gained little support in Japan or other Asian countries. Notable countries where Nanbudo exists today are (with notable nanbudokas from the nation): Italy, Switzerland (Michele Schirinzi, Danilo Bosi), Norway (Jan Moen, Ove Gusevik, Roy Andreassen), Spain(Victor, Francisco & Edu Villacampa), Cameroun, France, Croatia, the UK (very little), and Slovenia. In total there are some 10-20 countries with resident nanbudokas and clubs.

Organization: Nanbudo is organised within the individual countries. There are quite a few national Nanbudo federations. These are in turn organised into an international organisation, Worldwide Nanbudo Federation (WNF). Doshu Nanbu is technical director of this Federation, while Jan Moen (6th Dan) of Norway is currently President. Some 13 countries are currently members of the WNF.

List of techniques: This is as complete a list as was available to the author at the time of writing. It is NOT a complete list.

  • Basic Techniques
    • Chokusen Combinations
      • Chokusen Ichiban (punch)
      • Chokusen Niban (front kick)
      • Chokusen Sanban (roundhouse kick)
      • Chokusen Yonban (block)
      • Chokusen Goban (block)
      • Chokusen Rokuban (block-punch)
    • Kaiten Combinations
      • Kaiten Ichiban (punch)
      • Kaiten Niban (kick)
      • Kaiten Sanban (kick-punch)
      • Kaiten Yonban (blocks)
    • Blocks
      • Tenshin Yodan Uke
      • Tenshin Gedan Barai
    • Ukemi
      • Mae
      • Yoko
      • Ushiro
    • Dachi
      • Heisoku dachi
      • Musubi dachi
      • Heiko dachi
      • Shizen dachi
      • Shizen heiko dachi
      • Shizen dachi dai
      • Zenkutsu dachi
      • Kokutsu dachi
      • Nio dachi
      • Sanpo dachi
      • Neko ashi dachi
    • Tsuki
      • Jodan (Nanbu) tsuki
      • Gedan tsuki
      • Furi age tsuki
      • Morote teiso
      • Seiryuto
    • Geri
      • Kin geri
      • Mae geri (+ jun, tobi)
      • Mawashi geri (+ jun, tobi)
      • Yoko geri
      • Hiza geri (mae, mawashi)
    • Sanbon renzoku waza
      • Tsuki
      • Mae geri
      • Mawashi geri
  • Kata
    • Shihotai
      • Shihotai tsuki
      • Shihotai ten
      • Shihotai chi
      • Shihotai hassu
      • Shihotai ki
      • Shihotai mizu
      • Shihotai ku
    • Advanced Kata
      • Nanbu Shodan
      • Nanbu Nidan
      • Nanbu Sandan
      • Nanbu Yondan
      • Nanbu Godan
    • Superior Kata
      • Seipai
      • Seienchin
      • Hyaku Hachi
      • Ikkyoku
      • Sanposho
      • Sanpodai
  • Randori
    • Randori Ichi No Kata
    • Randori Ni No Kata
    • Randori San No Kata
    • Randori Yon No Kata
    • Kaiten Randori Ichi No Kata
    • Kaiten Randori Ni No kata
    • Kaiten Randori San No Kata
    • Randori Irimi No Kata
    • Gyaku Randori Ichi No Kata
    • Gyaku Randori Irimi No Kata
    • Suwari Randori Ichi No Kata
    • Suwari Randori Ni No Kata
    • Suwari Kansetsu Randori No Kata
    • Randori Furi No Kata
    • Randori Furi Mawashi No Kata
  • Ki techniques
    • Ki Nanbu Taiso
    • Genki Katas
      • Nanbu Genki Ichiban
      • Nanbu Genki Niban
      • Nanbu Genki Sanban
      • Nanbu Genki Yonban
      • Nanbu Genki Goban
      • Nanbu Genki Rokuban
    • Taichuko
      • Taichuko Ichiban
      • Taichuko Niban
      • Taichuko Sanban
      • Taichuko Yonban
      • Taichuko Goban
      • Taichuko Rokuban
      • Taichuko Nanaban
    • Ki Nagare Chokusen Combinations
      • Ki Nagare Chokusen Ichiban (punch)
      • Ki Nagare Chokusen Niban (kick-punch)
      • Ki Nagare Chokusen Sanban (kick-punch)
    • Ki Randori
      • Ki Nagare Randori Ichi No Kata
      • Ki Nagare Chokusen Randori Ichi No Kata
  • Weapons techniques
    • Bo
      • Tenryu
      • Bo Randori No Kata
    • Bokken
      • Bokken Randori No Kata