The origins of the kata Empi (Flight of the Swallow) are unclear though there are three main theories on how it came into being;
  1. Empi was, according to some sources, originally brought to Okinawa from China in 1683 by an envoy named Wang Ji, an expert in Shaolin Fujian White Crane.
  2. Others suggest it was brought to the island with the arrival of a group of Chinese immigrants known as the Thirty-Six Families. Their appearance in the late 14th century changed the history of fighting on Okinawa as they brought with them new martial arts systems.
  3. Other sources still suggest a more recent origin of the kata as it was previously known as Wanshu, a name it may have been given as a result of being created by, or dedicated to an Okinawan master by the name of Suppashi Wanshu.
Whoever the creator was, it is possible though certainly not universally accepted that Empi is based in part on the sword techniques of Sasaki Kojiro, a samurai warrior who had a particular move that was said to resemble the flight of a swallow, much like the rising punch of the modern Shotokan kata. Kojiro was considered the best swordsman of his day until he was famously defeated and killed in a duel by the legendary samurai Miyamoto Musashi in 1612.

By the 19th century, the kata was being taught by Kosaku Matsumura from the Tomari village in Okinawa where the old style of Tomari-te was established. He passed it down to Sokon Matsumura and Anko Itosu, who both practiced different versions of the kata (though exactly who made what changes is unclear). Itosu taught the kata to Gichin Funakoshi (seen above performing it in 1924), who took it with him to Japan when he introduced his karate there, changing the name from Wanshu to Empi (sometimes spelled Enpi) in the process.

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