The Pinan kata series (Pinan means ‘peaceful mind’ or ‘peaceful spirit’) are widely taught to students in a variety of shurite karate styles, generally as beginner’s katas. They are attributed to Itosu Yasutsune (1830-1915) who is said to have adapted them from older kata. However from which kata is less than certain.
Itosu introduced karate into Okinawan schools, systematised it and simplified older kata to make them easier for children to learn. Some sources suggest that Itosu developed the pinan katas from the katas kusanku dai and Gojushiho. Other sources suggest that Itosu learnt a kata called Channan (Chiang Nan) from a Chinese man living in Okinawa and developed the pinan katas from this.
The Channan kata no longer exists although I did manage to find this YouTube video of a kata called Channan which is a combination of pinan nidan and pinan shodan:
Since the kata in this clip does not contain all the pinan katas it is hard to say whether it preceeds the pinan katas or has been invented as a way of linking two pinan kata together.
The Kusanku dai kata seems a more likely precursor to the pinan series. If you watch this video you can pick out several combinations found in the pinan katas:
Itosu simplified the katas by changing many of the more lethal strikes into straight forward punches. He felt it too dangerous to teach the applications of the kata to school children and so taught karate as a form of physical exercise and means of self-discipline. He also re-labelled many movements to disguise their true meaning and dissociate them from their applications. So the use of the word ‘block’ was used to disguise the more lethal strikes, grabs and locks that these movements in the kata really represent.
Without Itosu’s modifications to the katas, and later, Funakoshi’s continuation of the process in Japan, such that karate gained wide acceptance in the Okinawan and Japanese schools programme, karate may not have found its way to the rest of the world. Indeed it may even have died out altogether. However the downside of this watering down of the kata is that the understanding and appreciation of what kata are really about has been lost amongst many karate clubs and systems.
Many of the pinan kata’s movements are often misinterpreted in the study of bunkai with many applications wrongly interpreted as ‘block and punch’ combinations. A skilled bunkai practitioner will see that the pinan katas are in fact a rich source of strikes, locks, grabs, sweeps, throws and ground techniques.
When Funakoshi took karate to Japan in the early 20th century he renamed the pinan katas to Heian katas. They are still known by this name in Shotokan karate. Funakoshi also inverted the names of two of the katas so pinan nidan became heian shodan and pinan shodan became heian nidan.
In Shukokai karate we teach pinan nidan first as it is considered easier for beginners to learn. Here are the five katas:
My favourite pinan kata is pinan shodan, followed by pinan yondan. Do you have a favourite pinan?
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