Thursday, 17 February 2022

平安: A foundational system of complete self-defense

Osaka Yoshiharu Sensei, Heian Yondan.

Formerly known as Channan the five 平安 (Pinan/Heian) kata, according to Funakoshi Gichin Sensei and my seniors here in Japan, establishes a complete system of foundational goshin-jutsu; that is, an entire self-defense system: for the average person.

The name infers ‘safety’ in Chinese and Okinawan dialect: in direct reference to 'personal protection in an unarmed confrontation'. 


From here, I will outline the traditional points of the first three Heian and then the fourth and fifth. It is important to note that post WW2 Shotokan deviated from these focus points; nonetheless, contemporary Shotokan-Ryu still encapsulates each of them.

平安ニ段 (Heian Nidan)       
This kata focuses on the initial phase of a street fight/self defense. Basically when one begins their assault when fists start flying. The lessons include reaction and getting around limbs to effectively stop them.

平安初段 (Heian Shodan)
This kata was reversed in order by Funakoshi Sensei. In technicality, it is easier than Nidan; however, from the perspective of application, it is more advanced as " deals with clinching". That is, either you, and/or your opponent have begun grappling. In case you are wondering, the order I’ve used here—in regards to oyo—is the original (correct one). Regardless of this, I still follow Funaksohi Sensei's order, as it is superior in early stages of training.

平安三段 (Heian Sandan)

Sandan is focused on nagewaza (throwing techniques) and concludes basic karate training.


平安四段  (Heian Yondan) and 平安五段  (Heian Godan)

Yondan and Godan summarize the first three foundational Heian; moreover, they provide higher level variations which resolve lesser likely scenarios in self-defense.


Asai Tetsuhiko Sensei taught these kata in the old way, which he himself did not originally learn. From this basis he constructed the five 順路 (Junro) and later five 常行 (Joukou) kata. In sum, brought karate back to pre-WW2 Shotokan, whilst maintaining the improvements made in the post war period. Consequently, his karate was and remains revolutionary: this is IKS KARATE.


Just to clarify, unlike Heian,  the Junro and Joukou kata are “…engines of kihon with direct/obvious actions”. While they are not necessary, they are (what I can only describe in English as) ‘booster kata’; that is, they function to accelerate fundamental excellence for effective karate application.

Movement 16 of Heian Nidan. Hidari chudan uchi-uke, gyaku-hanmi (Shokutsu-dachi)

In sum, the Heian Kata summarize the classical kata in smaller robust units. They are often labelled as kata for elementary school students, and practiced in the contemporary way, they literally are. However, when practiced in the post WW2 manner, they are immediately proven to be a self-defense system independently from the classical kata, which preceded them. The main point here is not only to practice their movements, but also practice the original intentions. While this is 'basic karate' this is something I have been teaching around the world, and are re-teaching here in Japan.

For this reason Heian is very important in Shotokan. But movement alone does not suffice.

 © André Bertel. Oita City, Japan (2022).

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