The Passai Kata (also commonly called Bassai Kata) can be generally characterized as using movements that are fast, powerful, brutal, focused, and crisp. Once you have reached some level of familiarity with these Kata you should begin practicing them with all of the aforementioned attributes. But you should also consider how the various movements in the Kata might also be utilized as manipulations, strategic opponent repositioning, Nage, and escaping actions.
These Kata are widely practiced by a large number of Japanese, Okinawa, and Korean martial arts styles. Different styles and arts from various regions of the world have developed numerous versions of these Kata. Many are remarkably similar, but some Passai Kata are quite different from other versions of these forms. We introduce two commonly-practiced versions of these forms and a third that is more obscure, but there are many other variants available for exploration should you be interested.
Like most widely practiced Kata the origins of these forms are quite uncertain. Many believe they originated in China and that they contain many movements similar to those found in the Leopard and Lion styles. The phrase “leopard-lion” would be pronounced Pa-sai (or Ba-sai) in Chinese, leading some to believe this confirms their Chinese origin.
Gichin Funakoshi defined Bassai to mean to extract from a place of strategic importance. He used the term Bassai (he originally used Passai, but later changed the name) as the name for these forms. As a result most Japanese styles will use the name Bassai when referring to these Kata. Bassai is largely interpreted to mean capturing a fort or other military installation. You will see Bassai defined as “capturing the fort”, “penetrating the fortress”, “storming the fortress”, “entering the enemy’s fortress”, “extract from the fortress” etc. While the last definition is perhaps the most accurate, it is also the least often used.
Some believe the versions of the Kata that emanated from Okinawa were derived from the family name Passai. So naturally many believe this is where and how the Kata and the associated name originated. Most Okinawa styles refer to these Kata by the name Passai. Others believe the name was derived simply because common movements became widely practiced and needed a name by which they could be associated. This all seems to be largely conjecture, but it is hard to disprove as well.
Korean martial arts often teach these Kata and may refer to them variously as Passai, Bassai, Bal-Sae, Pal-Sek, or a variety of other similar names. The Korean versions of the Kata are often directly descendant from Japanese versions.
Though many believe the Kata have Chinese origins, these forms are not practiced in any modern Chinese style. As far as I know there are no written records or verbal histories that describe the study or practice of these Kata in any organized curriculum in China.
We do not maintain an official position as to the origin of these Kata. Like all Kata, the Passai Kata have been influenced by countless individuals and styles over the centuries so it is impossible to say either what the original version was like or who initially created it. It’s much like saying,” who invented the modern automobile?” Automatic transmissions, automatic windshield wipers, cruise control, entertainment systems, navigation systems, anti-lock brakes, WIFI, self-parking, air conditioning, and a myriad of other features were not present in the original automobile models. No single individual is responsible for the ever evolving definition of the modern automobile. Kata are often not much different, and the various versions of the Passai Kata are a testament to this process.
If you would like to explore in detail the various versions and potential origins of these Kata do an Internet search for the article “Making Sense of Passai (An Exploration of Origin and Style)”. This is a thorough exploration of these Kata that may keep you occupied for weeks. The information in this article will also provide you with plenty of additional topics to research.
Most systems that teach the Passai Kata teach two versions (though this is not universal): Passai Sho and Passai Dai. The terms “Sho” and “Dai” refer to minor (short) and major (long), respectively. Passai Sho is the shorter version of these Kata, while Passai Dai is the longer version. It is easy for an English-speaking individual to think of “Sho” as being an abbreviated version of the word “short”. I cannot think of a similar abbreviation for “Dai”, but if you know one then the other is self-evident. The Passai Gwa or (Koryu Passai) is a former Passai Sho version (as we will discuss later) that we include in our studies.
Though Passai Sho is the shorter version of the Kata many consider it to be more advanced than Passai Dai. We will learn the Passai Dai version of the kata first. Next will come Passai Sho and finally the more obscure Passai Gwa.
Since the numerous versions of these Kata practiced across so many different martial arts styles are so diverse you might well find benefit from the study of additional versions of these forms. Each version has its own unique benefits and intricacies. Some have movements and features that we do not include in our versions, and conversely we have some movements that other forms do not. We do not claim that our versions of these Kata are the most beneficial, effective, or insightful. You would gain the most benefit from the study of these Kata by understanding other versions and seeing where movements and concepts utilized in those versions might be applied to similar sequences in our version. Do not become so enamored with our version that you think it is the only way these Kata can or should be performed.
When performing these Kata it is traditional for the non-active arm to return to a set position. We will not fault you for this traditional behavior, though we think you should, whenever practical, move your hand to an effective guard position instead. If you are performing a form for a tournament or demonstration then it may be beneficial to utilize the set position. If you are performing a form for martial utilization then you would be well-served to consider using an effective guard position. You may use either hand position for ranking examinations, though utilizing a guard position suggests a higher level of conscious thought on the part of a practitioner. But you will not suffer any consequences for using the traditional set position.
After you have become proficient at performing each version of these forms take some time to see how other systems and styles perform the same form. You will notice many similarities and some differences. You may also uncover some Bunkai you had not considered previously. Consider both why there are similarities and how the differences might be beneficial in some circumstances. Nobody is right or wrong here. People simply have a different mindset or purpose in mind when they perform a form differently. It is helpful to understand why and how they think differently. It also is extremely beneficial to understand those situations where nearly everyone seems to be thinking in the same way. You should spend some time to ponder why this is occurring. All of this will make you a better martial artist, not simply a better Tensoku Ryu practitioner.