Article on Pinan Nidan (also called Heian Shodan)

Itosu Ankoh karate

A little of the kata history & origins:

Pinan Nidan is called Heian Shodan in Shotokan (Pinan is the Okinawan pronunciation and the same word can be pronounced as Heian in Japanese). The kata is one of a family of five Pinan kata created by Itosu Ankoh. Itosu Ankoh was born in 1831 and died in 1915 in Okinawa and was instrumental in the development of karate and he taught the two major propagators of the Pinan kata Mabuni kenwa (Shito-ryu founder) and Funakoshi (Shotokan founder). According to the history records, Funakoshi learned the pinan kata from Mabuni in Japan, not from Itosu in Okinawa (FAJKO 1979 & McCarthy, 1994). Itosu's direct style of karate is Shorin-ryu (continued by his student Chibana Chosin (see WIKI lineage chart). 

Fig 1:
A photo of the famous sensei Itosu Ankoh

Itosu was instrumental in getting karate introduced into Okinawa's schools, an activity which many argue forged the development of the Pinan kata. It is debated by some, but many argue he created the five Pinan kata as learning steps for students, because he felt the older forms were too difficult for school children to learn. It is most often speculated that the five Pinan kata were derived from two older and more complex katakusanku and/or chiang nan. See also the Itosu article... Its translation is most often accepted as "Peace & tranquility" which is exactly what the kanji mean in Japanese. Its meaning has also ben related to "journey safely" as a Chinese interpretation of the characters that represent the kata.

pinan nidan mabuni kata
Fig 2: Mabuni Kenwa (Shiro-ryu founder) performing the opening move of Pinan Nidan (otoshi tetsui - falling hammer fist). Mabuni is also attributed with teaching the Pinan (Heian) kata to Funakoshi sensei who then modified them somewhat and the derivatives remain today to form part of the the backbone the Shotokan kata (for more details on this topic see: Karate technique selection & Street Fighting Statistics & Medical Outcomes by Armstrong et al., 2011).

Coming back to the older kata of Kusanku as source of origin for the Pinan kata. An article by karate historian Charles Goodin in 2000, stated Kusanku is one of the most advanced of all kata in a number of styles and breaking it into 5 parts (and supplementing it with other kata) certainly did not make basic kata at all, and he goes on to argue they are too advanced for beginners (hence the probable selection by other major styles to not teach the Pinan kata at kyu rank levels. This is supported in Japan by numerous dojo who do not use the Pinan/Heian kata for kyu rank testing in the first first 3-5 years of dojo training. Often those styles (e.g. many Tani/Shukokai derived schools) use them as Dan rank testing kata (i.e. Pinan Shodan for a Shodan test through to Godan being demonstrated in a 5th Dan belt test i.e. the Dan rank test match the names of the kata).  This is in line with the famous karate kata saying "san nen no kata", or 3 years one kata, which keeps students focused on more basic kata in the first few years of training in order to excel in core technique through focus (e.g. taikyoku variants in shito-ryu & gekisai in goju as 2 examples). 

Video 1: Watching Kusanku kata by Tatsuo Shimabuku in the early 1960's one can see many moves from the various 5 Pinan/Heian kataTatsuo Shimabuku was the founder of Isshin-ryū and while he was not trained by Itosu Ankoh the Kusanku kata is shared across both lineages.

funakoshi heian nidan
To elaborate on Shotokan's Pinan Nidan, which is typically taught at kyu level in that style, the Japanese FAJKO directory in 1919 states that, at the age of 51, Funakoshi sensei learned the Pinan Kata from Mabuni Kenwa and renamed and formatted them to be the Heian kata (for more details on this topic see: 
Karate technique selection & Street Fighting Statistics & Medical Outcomes by Armstrong et al., 2011). It was after this date, and some further modifications peculated to be by his son, that they became key core belt test kata for Shotokan. 

Fig 3: Mabuni pictured in the centre has Funakoshi standing on his left hand (photo taken during the era in which it is reported that Mabuni passed the Pinan kata to Funakoshi).

A little of the kata bunkai and pattern variants:

Given moves in kata have more than one bunkai (stated by a number of masters of karate in the early 1900s; reviewed  in "Seienchin"  ISBN 978-1-4092-3733-4, pages 11-13), a variety of Network instructors have been fine tuning kata bunkai selection by pulling from the traditional pool of karate techniques and overlapping that with at least the following:
  • street fighting data 
  • emergency department data from street fights
  • a technical audit of 50 UFC fights
  • interviews with BJJ/Judo experts
An evidenced based analysis (driven by data) allows one to create at least the following  4 categories of violence which may be relevant to karate-ka. Depending on the need of the practitioner, or emphasis of a given dojo, one may select a bunkai set for Bassai dai, or any kata, that matches the below (rather than simply following classical martial arts or street hearsay):

1. Male-on-male violence
2. Law enforcement (bouncer/police) - which has different psychological considerations and physical relaities
3. Female domestic violence
4. Female violence derived related to a stranger attack

The aim is not to get away from classical karate, but given data is available now, to find the  overlap of techniques of one of the above 4 categories with the broader bunkai set of classical martial arts – as depicted in the below figure and reviewed in the book 
Street Fighting Statistics & Medical Outcomes linked to Karate & Bunkai Selection”. That review process most importantly not only states what is the top 7-8 likely street events that lead to a medically relevant injury, but also which techniques do not (and this, surprisingly to many, includes a broad range of commonly used kansetsu waza often displayed by karate-ka in bunkai).

bunkai street fights data

Figure: A representation of the overlap zone of the pool of classical karate bunkai techniques with what street data and probabilities indicate actually occur. Taken from page 177 of “Street Fighting Statistics & Medical Outcomes linked to Karate & Bunkai Selection”.

As three examples of some high level data on violence, the differing violence categories have different violence ratios and therefore need for a particular technique class:

1. non-intimate (stranger) based female assaults have a 1:1.5 grappling to strike ratio
2. intimate attackers (husband, date etc.) for female violence, the ratio of strike versus grappling events is 1:1
3. male 9:1 strike to grapple need for injury based outcomes

Furthermore, bunkai sequences should flow with each technique being consistently  applicable to the defender's sex and violence category (outlined  in further detail in the book). For example, one should not create bunkai sequences that begin with a female attack entry (e.g. a single handed wrist grab) and finish with a male oriented technique (e.g. a throw requiring some power). Commonly people mix sex/scenarios in the display of a single bunkai sequence. 

With the above stated, the below bunkai list for Pinan Nidan (Heian Shodan) does not represent one of the four violence categories above (which we advocate for students in the dojo), but rather gives a bunkai set that is relevant to the top 8 techniques which produce medical outcomes in the street (see ISBN 9781471083969 for details) spanning all 4 of the the violence categories i.e. it gives an example of a generalist but street specific curriculum agenda. In summary, the below bunkai list represents:

Firstly, before the bunkai list, he overall embusen (kata pattern) for Shito-ryu:
  1. Rei
  2. Yoi
  3. Left nekoashi-dachi facing left
  4. Left otoshi-tetsui-uke
  5. Step forward to kihon-dachi forward stance (kihon dachi is shorter than zenkutsu-dachi) withright jodan punch
  6. Spin around to face the right in zenkutsu-dachi
  7. Right gedan-uke
  8. Pull back to nekoashi-dachi
  9. Right otoshi-tetsui-uke
  10. Step forward to kihon-dachi forward stance
  11. Left jodan oi-zuki
  12. Turn to the front in zenkutsu-dachi
  13. Left gedan-uke
  14. Step forward to kihon-dachi forward stance and block jodan-uke (x3 and kiai on last jodan uke)
  15. Spin around to a left 45 degree angle in zenkutsu-dachi
  16. Left gedan-uke
  17. Step forward to kihon-dachi forward stance
  18. Right chudan-zuki
  19. Turn to a right gedan uke in zenkutsu-dachi (mirror from previous position)
  20. Step forward to kihon-dachi forward stance
  21. Left chudan-zuki
  22. Turn to face rear in zenkutsu-dachi
  23. Left gedan-uke
  24. Step forward to kihon-dachi forward stance and chudan-oizuki (x3 and kiai on last)
  25. Spin around to face the front at 45 degrees in left foot forward shiko-dachi
  26. Gedan-shuto-uchi/uke x2
  27. At 45 degrees mirror previous 2 moves but to the right.
  28. Rei
Putting bunkai aside for a minute, a common question is why does this kata in styles like shukokai, Tani derived shito-ryu, renbukan etc. have the blocks in deep stance and the punches in short stances? This is the opposite of most kata in karate. Classically, as described in detail on page 171 of the textbook “Street Fighting Statistics & Medical Outcomes linked to Karate & Bunkai Selection”, this kata is used at shodan or nidan level for belt tests (i.e. relatively speaking, it is a beginners kata - in fact some styles like Shotokan teach it even earlier at kyu rank level - also a debate given the old school kata practice vein of "san nen no kata" as a curriculum approach - as described in the textbook). To partially unravel this lets look at some points on the kata:

For moment let’s again explore the gist of our ryu-ha’s approach to mastering a smaller subset of kata with great depth and gradually working our way through a larger set over a lifetime. I will use some example commentary around “pinan nidan”, of which the opening kata move is displayed in the below photos of Tani and Mabuni sensei. For our style, this kata is used at shodan or nidan level for belt tests. Our use of it at black belt follows the approach of "san nen no kata" as a curriculum approach i.e. if we follow this mantra, how could an individual be passed this kata atage and onto other more advanced kata at a shodan level if their first 1-2 years were sepnt on basic kihon kata and this kata occupied the next 2-3 years? Of course as the below states we choose another kata on becoming a brown belt and that adds a 2nd kata for controlled diversity, but the expectation is that pinan nidan for a black belt test will show 2-3 years of training depth. This again aligns with Mabuni Kenwa’s statements on how many kata one learns (see Chapter 3.1).

There are a number of rational for this kata being relevant to shodan rank beyond ones probable 3 to 5 years in the art. Here we will mention just one or two examples. Given low ranks (below black belts) are still focusing on just the basics and power development, the propensity of lower stance blocks in this kata correlates with the best grounding and chance of block success, assuming one has no time to execute tai sabaki (i.e. when someone is caught off guard, like a beginner [someone under 2nd dan]). Along the same theme, in styles such as ours, Shukokai and Renbukan, the lower body weight, longer stance positions of the blocks compared to the punching stances, also involves a closed hip on the blocks (Video 2: the hip and stance positions of shukokai are well articulated in the video below from a sports kata shukokai champion out of Europe).. This maximizes weight into the block and maximizes hip lock (different to the 45 degree hip semi-open gedan barai seen in other points of our karate). This again can be argued as working on core strength and front on confrontation rather than tai sabaki (body angling. So the argument of closed hip, deeper blocking stances as the emphasis may be in line with Sun Tzu's classic strategic text "The Art of War" where, "defense is one's first priority" and therefore the exaggerated static kihon uke context is designed for concreting core basics. This confrontational blocking type has also be classified as rakka within Mabuni sensei's “Five Principals of Defense” (uke no gogen ri - 受けの五原則). The term rakka can be translated as a hard blocking action which applies sudden & maximal power to stop an opponent's attack and destroy their confidence. The kanji of rakka (落花) are sometimes translated in an analogy of "striking at the base of a tree with such tremendous force as to knock the flowers off the branches". This style of block is a common identifier of Tani derived shito-ryu in such arts as ours, Renbukan and Shukokai, where the approach is arguably applied more so than in other styles.

Video 2: A shukokai sport version of the kata Pinan Nidan.

Bunkai for 1st directional move: Chudan uke in nekoashi dachi, oizuki Jodan
- this can have male and female applications depending on the bunkai alternate chosen)

Attacker: Cross arm wrist grab
Defender: Evade to side and apply a rolling over the top wrist release to break out then Jodan punch. This bunkai form maps better to bent arm otoshi tetsui (as shown in the 2 videos below [a Renbukan form variant provides one example of the bent arm form]. The more traditional straight arm form better relates to distance fighting engagement rather than standing grappling.

As per page 176 of the textbook, addressing the 3rd most common attack in male-on-male violence (Karate technique selection & Street Fighting Statistics & Medical Outcomes).

Video 3: 
Old style form from the early 1900s and bunkai for the opening move (Shihan Jason Armstrong, 6th Dan with Senpai Anthony Wetherspoon, filmed 2007). 

The more traditional straight arm form for the opening move arguably better equates to an impact fighting engagement rather than standing grappling (see below paragraph references). The bent arm form, as mentioned in the above female example, better aligns with standing grappling. 

The longer video at the bottom of this page (video 4) also shows a bunkai variant (stemming from the bent arm form) which is an impact to the attackers forearm (the upper brachioradialis muscle) to effect a release from a grab. While this can be effective, and is a commonly taught application, we do not recommend this application as a best choice for reasons that include, opening oneself to a head butt, and other concepts as discussed in Section A1 to A5 of the textbook Karate technique selection & Street Fighting Statistics & Medical Outcomes and on pages 186 and 176-178 of the same text.

The cat stance can represent one of the Mabuni principals from Uke No Gogen Ri  (Five Principals of Defense - 受けの五原則) called Kusshin - 屈伸 (which can be translated as a lowering of the center of gravity which may aid the power of the block and create compression to explode in to the follow on technique [driven by bending the knees with the correct tail bone tuck and associated hara/tanden attributes]). Although not seen in this kata, and many other which have a cat stance combined with a block, it is often assumed a front leg maegeri aimed at the knee/thigh/groin is the logical strike as a counter following the block.

Bunkai for 2nd directional move:  Gedan barai slide back otoshi tetsui uke, oizuki Jodan.
Attacker: Front kick, Jodan punch. See page 176 for the associated act of physical violence # (Karate technique selection & Street Fighting Statistics & Medical Outcomes).
Defender: Evade to the side gedan barai, same arm blocks punch then apply the jodan strike.

Bunkai for the 3rd directional move: Gedan barai, step in age uchi. See pg 176 for the 2 most associated acts of physical violence #s.
Attacker: Grab or push (can be a breakout from a cross arm grab for females)
Defender: Gedan then forearm strike to throat or chin

Bunkai for the 4th combination: Age uke, age uchi. See pg 176 for the 2 most associated acts of physical violence #s.
Attacker: Strong Right arm hook punch.
Defender: Block then forearm strike to throat or chin (block using a double cover)

Bunkai for the last combination: Shuto Gedan in shikodachi, repeat. See pg 176 for the 2 most associated acts of physical violence #s.
Attacker: Right Swinging punch to head
Defender: Step in block punch grab arm, strike to side of neck, connect the hips or knees (depending on whether a hip throw or a te waza driven tai otoshi) and after the take-down a follow up strike can be applied to show the second shuto.

Traditional Japanese Karate Network Video Overview of Pinan Nidan & Heian Shodan kata: history, form & bunkai

Video 4: Traditional Japanese Karate Network Video Overview of Pinan Nidan & Heian Shodan kata: history, form & bunkai

Article References:

The above article was authored by Jason Armstrong (6th dan) and pulling together personal knowledge and using the below texts:

Graham Noble with Ian McLaren and Prof. N. Karasawa. Masters of The Shorin-ryu. Fighting Arts International, Issue No. 50, Volume 9, No. 2, 1988.

Karate technique selection & Street Fighting Statistics & Medical Outcomes by Armstrong et al., 2011

Charles Goodin. The 1940 Karate-do special committee: The Fuklugata. IRKRS. Q1, 2000.

FAJKO Karate-Do Directory page 81, 1979.

Standing on the shoulders of giants, McCarthy 1994.


Sells. Unante. ISBN 0910704961. 1995

Seito Shito-ryu Santa Barbara dojo website by Kyoshi Bartholomay.

Sun Tzu’s “Art of War”. First published over 2000 years ago. Modern translation by Samuel B Griffith, ISBN 0195014766.

Funakoshi. Karate-Do Kyohan: The Master Text. ISBN-13: 978-1568364827. 1935.
Nakasone Genwa. The Japanese book "空手道大観" (A Broad View of Karatedo). 1938