View Full Version : Why Pinan/Heian

Victor Smith
2nd March 2003, 18:48
With the wide ranging discussion on the history of the Pinan/Heian kata, and some of the application potential of same, I'd like to ask a more fundamental question.

Why worry about the Pinan/Heian kata?

Now I'm not picking on anybody for what they study. I've studied them myself, though I don't teach them, but primarily as an Isshinryu stylist, they aren't formally a part of the Isshinryu system. Isshinryu's founder began with Seisan Kata, as it was likely he began his own studies.

I have no quibble about use of begining forms for new students or for drilling, I use Nagamine's Fugyata Sho for the same reason, but are they really the place our studies should be focusing?

After all if you group builds into versions of Chinto, Kusanky, Gojushiho, or the advanced Goju Kata, ought not one's study concentrate on those forms? As you advance in your study ought not the principles of application the 'advanced' kata offer be the primary focus?

After all if you really want to consider grappling, how about the incredible cross link between Chinto technique and Aikido techinque. Not one because of similar origins, but because of shared movement.

On a different model, a friend very deep into the Chinese arts has explained to me, the normal pattern once one learns a basic form is to move past it and not continue to practice it in those traditions.

Part of the reason is all of the basics in those earlier forms are found in the more advanced forms and if you're executing those movements correctly, why study they twice. Part of the reason is many of the Chinese systems (but by no means all of them) are very large, and except for instructors, the others have too much to study and practice to work on basic forms.

In such light the Okinawan models are quite different from many Chinese systems. Not better or worse, just different.

But as one's skills advance and one's abilites progress, doesn't it make more sense to focus on the more advanced forms?

Just asking a question.

2nd March 2003, 22:14
Pesonally, I like the pinan kata. I do agree though that you should grow out of them. However there are some good reasons to practice them if you are a shorin based style.

It appears that the pinan kata were designed as a "spring-board" set invented by Itosu to achieve several aims:

1. They are simplified and more suitable for large group practice.
2. They help students grasp fundamental principles of balance, body symetry, and power dynamics.
3. They get students (who want to persue their studies) ready for the traditional sets that were taught to small groups or individually.

It's pretty obvious that techniques and concepts of kusanku, Chinto, and Passai can be seen in Pinan shodan, sandan, yondan, and godan. Pinan Nidan looks like the milk mans kid.

If I was Goju, I wouldn't waste my time -- different advanced kata. But all Shorin-ryu based styles (I think) could benefit from the pinan kata. I think any Shorin line with any depth would say that Kusanku, chinto and passai done well are very sophisticated forms. There comes a point were you should just focus on these forms and forget the pinans. But if you practice the pinan kata first, you have a base to work with.

I think Kentsu Yabu among others suggested skipping the pinan and going straight to Kusanku. But Yabu isn't known as a great teacher. Funakoshi ran with the simplified concept (even simplifying the advanced kata themselves) and karate grew under his leadership. Anyone wanting to switch from the simplifed to the more complex would have a much easier time learning because they already have fundamental concepts, strong knees, posture, etc...

Paul Adamson

2nd March 2003, 23:02
The Pinans are easy and cheesy. That is the main reason emphasis should be placed on these forms at the beginners level-- and beyond. Victor, you know that real fighting is dictated by simple, gross motor movements. Reflex doesn't respond well to complexity, even at the "advanced" levels. One should continually practice the beginning forms, regardless of rank. Now Takiyoku or Fugyugata are different. Even the Kihon Kata of Kobayashi are not the same as the Pinan. These mid-20th century inventions, by folks like Nagamine and Funakoshi, were meant to teach the basic movements of ShuriTe based systems. They are not the same as the Pinans in depth. "Itosu's" Pinans were simplified versions of one long, "older" form. The essence of the original form (whether Channan or Kusanku) is very apparent. Many lessons can be gleaned.

Matsumura Seisan, is a more complex kata than Hangetsu or the other Seisans. Does this mean that the simplified/modified versions should not be taught? Absolutely not. Many lessons transferred from the older version(s) are still apparent. Even if techs or movements have changed the results can still be similar. Teaching Seisan as the first kata, and not a Shodan level kata, is not the way Matsumura Seito does it. There are many advanced principles inherent in this form and a beginner could NEVER grasp all its intricacies. Unless of course it was continually practiced throughout ones MAs training through the Yudansha level, when these things will make more sense. The same goes for Pinan. Not discarding these "basic" forms is essential, especially for understanding tuite, Yondan and Godan.

Just my opinion sir. I practice all my kata repetitively and religiously. Have a great week!

Bryan Cyr

3rd March 2003, 01:35
Another thread contains alot of the same info as my above post. I didn't read it until after I posted:p

Anyway, I would argue that complexity is indeed more effective as long as it's efficient. Alot can happen inside your body in a single technique. Rotation/compression/extension of joints, compression/release of lower abdomen, gamaku/koshi control, embusen, etc... All those small details executed simlultaneously make for a great big detail. Those details are not normally taught in the Pinan series but can be introduced in those kata after the overall correctness of movement is achieved.

So I would agree that doing the pinan kata are best for most people but not necessarily... necessary. You could go straight to kusanku but it would still take you forever to get it functional. I couldn't imagine teaching kusanku to a group of beginners. They'd probably all break their knees.:eek:

Paul Adamson

3rd March 2003, 01:58
Some good points here, and Victor asks a good question, one asked by many others before, and to which many answers have been tried.

Some systems of Shorinryu have aovided the Pinans, but most use them, and even ones that used not to do them, now have them as optional katas.

Question is, Why?

Some good answers have been given above.

I've asked the question myself, and tried it with them and without them, and find its better, for me, with them.

There is something about the Pinans that has made Okinawan teachers of Shorin based styles that once never used them, adapt the Pinans mostly in their entirety.

The other kata Itosu invented, such as the jitte, jiin, jion, and some like that, aren't universally practiced though they are fine and logical forms that could be used to teach beginners.

Nagamine who has Fukyu Gata, the second invented by Miyagi, still uses Pinans. Why?

Kenpo that has Naihanchi One three, seisan, sometimes wanshu anmd ananku, then does pinans. Why?These kata are sometimes in styles like this, done as brown or black belt forms.

I mean, one could learn naihanchi one-three, seisan, and go to passai, kusanku, etc.Yet the pinans are taught in between.Obviously, their value is seen to be such that in many systems, they are not to be ignored.

Yes, I too noticed the aiki waza of chinto, the counter or kaeshi waza of passai, the multiple attacker defenses of kusanku( such as locking one attacker,simultaneously kicking out a leg and backfisting a nerve, then turning and throwing the attacker into another one, and so forth.

But why are the Pinans so persistent?

And , if the channans ever existed,why have they or it disappeared so thoroughly that no teacher on Okinawa knows them today?Funakoshi would have, and he never even mentions their name.

I believe, that the answer, if one answer is possible here, and it may not be,could have something to do with the proven effectiveness of Pinan/Heian training from at least beginner to shodan, and the variety of good technique taught in them.

But maybe its more than that.Maybe its that Pinan/Heian show different variations of similar defense techniques , so that levels of applications become apparent from the study of all five , similar to the study of all three Naihanchi kata.

Pinan may be the Okinawan answer to Hsing-I, with its Five Elements of change shown in the five variations of defense in the Pinan Kata.

As for advanced kata, the Naihanchi are far more advanced than the Pinan, and so is any version of seisan, even Hangetsu.Yet in some Okinawan systems those are taught first, notable exception being Matsubayashi ryu, whose logical ordering of kata from mostly less to more complex, is perhaps like a Chinese system in that.

One thing is sure:among the Okinawan teachers of Shorin based systems, with one or two notable exceptions, Pinan appear to have passed the test of time.Why, I am not sure.

3rd March 2003, 07:27
Originally posted by PingAnTu
Another thread contains alot of the same info as my above post. I didn't read it until after I posted:p

Anyway, I would argue that complexity is indeed more effective as long as it's efficient. Alot can happen inside your body in a single technique. Rotation/compression/extension of joints, compression/release of lower abdomen, gamaku/koshi control, embusen, etc... All those small details executed simlultaneously make for a great big detail. Those details are not normally taught in the Pinan series but can be introduced in those kata after the overall correctness of movement is achieved.
Paul Adamson

The physiological things you speak of are right up my alley. I hope that all the "joint compression" and movement or action of the muscles isn't what we think about when we train. Proper biomechanics and a sound understanding of physics facilitate the "internal" workings of the body. That takes zero conscious thought. I think.

Hmmm, those things you speak of are not initially taught. Just getting the basic pattern down without all the subtleties is the aim. Of course with time many of the attributes you spoke of, which make movements complex in their simplicity, will be learned by SOME. Most don't have any idea that they should or are training like that. They just move and use good posture. Then one day "mushin" or something like that. Or so they say.

Complexity denotes intricacy. Intricacy has no place in training a beginner. Later, complexity is often a result of reflexive response vs. conscious action. Proper instruction and diligence aid in this task. I think you said that these complex things could be taught using the Pinans once a student has reached a certain level. You're right but so is Victor. Why train in the Pinans for that? I did say there were things to be gleaned from Pinans 4&5 like their intent and the defensive/offensive options as well as tutite concepts, but after Pinan Nidan (or Sandan at the most), there is nothing there that can't be learned from the advanced forms.

The aim is not to make things more complex as time passes, but to make the transition from "doing" the basics, to "becoming" the basic movements and refining them with training . Complex is a very subjective term. To the uninitiated all MAs stuff looks hard to do. The beginner finds this out when they begin to train. Well, most beginners do. At the mid-level things begin to be more natural, but a lot of goho is still present. At the Shodan level, the first level of true understandin- the complex- is becoming the easy. Smoothness and relaxed "softness" develops. Complexity is not recognized. Perspective.

So to finish off, complex would be good for about 10% of your students. They may be awesome doing only "advanced" forms. The question is who the heck builds a house without making a solid foundation first? I can see those who refuse to learn in steps as none-too-swift and impatient. Not good attributes for martialists.

And easy combos and efficient techs are the most effective. Forget the semantics and the use of the word complex. Real karate is never complex. Thanks for your insight. I think we agree on most everything else. Peace...

Bryan Cyr

3rd March 2003, 11:28
I think we need to see the application of these movements in kata rather than the practiced movements.

Once you can apply every thing in the kata to a strike, or manipulation, all kata's make sense.

Remember, there are no blocks in kata, only strikes and manipulations, with this thesis everything should become clear with experimentation, and application towards pressure points being activated within the movements.

Application will make it clear.

Victor Smith
3rd March 2003, 15:02
I suspect it is more tradition why one kata set is studied over another kata set than any other reason. If there was a clear case that can be made that one approach is truly stronger than the other, wouldn't that have taken hold?

But the variety of systems even springing from Okinawa leave a great deal of different approaches that all seem to work out in the long run.

Now regarding Shorin approaches to kata study, Kyan a contemporary of Itosu (altough younger) never adopted the Pinan kata, and systems springing from his teachings on the most part kept the same course (Nagamine being the exception but he didn't begin with Kyan either).

I once met Shimabukuro Zempo and he told me about on Okinawa there were maybe 30 Goju Dojo and 90 Shorin Dojo and about 3 Isshin Dojo. I'm sure he was trying to make a point about the strength of Isshinryu on Okinawa (which I find no problem with that analysis). But years later remarking on that point with George Donahue, he mentioned that of the 90 Shorin Dojo, each was likely different from each other too.

I find even greater diversity around the USA when I look and suspect that those words were accruate.

With the exception of begining with Fuyukyu Sho (spelling sorry) ,which is both a beginning point and a principles staging kata for my advanced students (working different breathing patterns, timing, movement flow studies, etc), my students jump into Annaku (Ezio Shimabuku lineage), then Isshinryu Seisan, Goju Saifa, Isshinryu Seiunchin, and so forth. [cross reference of www.funkydragon.com/bushi].

Taking the traditional Isshinryu Seisan, which isn't an easy kata, the student actually goes through different levels of performance from the begining, to modifications at year one or so to other modifications in performance that come many years later.

I've never found students incapable of learning Seisan or the other kata I teach.

My question really is more a long range focus. The Pinan (or any other kata) have a great deal to offer. I more likely see them as a transitory tool than an end study, but thats only my opinion.

But I find most interesting the greater lessons contained in the older kata.

There is a lot of study today, that is really a product of modern times. For example the depth of application of kata. Much of today's studies may not really be 'historical', and should be examined in their own light.

A most popular topic is what is the application potential of any Okinawan kata. One of my instructors who recently deceased, spent the last 40 or so years pursuing that goal, and in my minor study with him he taught me more than 800 applications of the traditional 8 Isshinryu kata (and I only have a piece of his study but more than enough to keep me busy).

Now his study may not be 'real karate' but when he used the techniques they sure hurt a lot and seemed real to me.

And that is only one answer to what a system means. You don't need such indepth study to survive with your training. But it seems to me to show the depths that can be explored.

Just some thoughts to consider.

Gene Williams
3rd March 2003, 20:16
Victor, Thanks for an interesting post. I view the Pinan as sort of the Shuri canon, if you will, sort of like the Apostle's Creed of Itosu based karate. You cannot exhaust their benefits or their ability to continually enrich one's practice. I have been doing them for 33 years, and if I had to give up all of my kata but five, those are the five I would keep. I have asked that question to a number of high dan, including Shogo Kuniba, and all but one said they would keep the Pinan over all others. This line of thinking does not appeal to junior dan because they are in a hurry to get on to Kosokun Dai, Bassai Dai, Gojushiho, etc. But after you have been practicing those higher kata for years, you appreciate the Pinan more and more. There is beauty in simplicity. My Sensei once held a tournament for our organization and, for kata competition, he had every dan in the place do a Pinan of his choosing on the spot. No one knew which kata they would be asked to do. It was great. Thanks, Gene