The Bassai (To Penetrate a Fortress) kata are believed to have been designed to complement each other as the first, Bassai Dai, (Dai means major/large) represents getting into a fortress and the second, Bassai Sho, (Sho means minor/small) represents getting out again.There are many versions of these kata practiced in various styles and while the origins within martial arts history are obscure, there is a 400 year old silk drawing which supposedly depicts an early version of Bassai Dai. 

Some historians believe the roots of the kata can be traced back to Leopard and Lion kung fu forms while others say it may derive from Wuxing Quan (Five Element Fist), another deadly form of Chinese martial arts. In the nineteenth century, an early version of Bassai Dai was called Passai, a name still used in many styles today which was probably a tribute to a prominent family in Okinawan history.



We know that it was passed down by Okinawan master Sokon Matsumura and it may have been taught to him by a man named Oyadomari Peichin. In turn, Matsumura taught it to his student, Anko Itosu, who is often credited with creating Bassai Sho sometime in the late nineteenth century. It is thought he created it from a version of Passai that was popular at the time, though Bassai Sho itself could be just another version of the original.
 
It was also Sensei Anko Itosu’s teachings that made the kata popular when he introduced them to the Okinawan school curriculum. One of his students, Gichin Funakoshi, would later take them to Japan and make some adaptations, including changing the name from Passai to Bassai. 

More Shotokan kata