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Pinan Yondan - Part 1

I mentioned that I recently spent most of a class teaching a student the first movement of Pinan Yondan (4). I wanted to share some of my thoughts about this kata and the opening movement.

First, Pinan Yondan is a very elegant kata. In some ways, it reminds me of our Passai, which is the Tomari version of the kata. To me, Passai is the most beautiful Shorin-Ryu kata.

According to my friend and senior, Sensei Pat Nakata, Itosu Sensei originally created Pinan Shodan when Karate was introduced to the Okinawan school system. It appears that the students would have already known one or more of the Naihanchi kata. The Pinan Shodan kata was developed as a relatively simple kata for the school children to learn during a school year. In private Karate schools or dojo, students might be taught Passai, Kusanku, and Chinto. These are pretty advanced, long, and difficult kata. The Pinan Shodan kata obviously borrows from the Kusanku kata, with an emphasis on a relatively short 8-direction pattern. Remember that the Japanese ran the Okinawan schools at the time. Itosu had to get their approval. An 8-direction kata would play to Japanese budo sentiments (unlike the side to side Naihanchi kata which looks very "Chinese").

After the first year, Itosu needed to create a second Pinan kata. This went on until there were a total of five Pinan kata, which we still have today. I sometimes say that Chotoku Kyan's Ananku (as we sometimes practice in Kishaba Juku) is like a sixth Pinan kata because it is also relatively simple.

To me, Pinan Shodan, Pinan Yondan, and Pinan Godan are pretty difficult, while Pinan Nidan and Pinan Sandan are pretty simple. Of course, this is relative. It can be argued that simpler kata are actually more difficult because there is no room to hide any errors. Robert "Snaggy" Inouye used to say this about Pinan Nidan, which is a pretty linear kata, and has elements that are similar to Fukyugata Ichi.

In any event, the fourth Pinan kata is pretty advanced, and has elements of the Tomari Passai kata (at least to me).

The first movement of Pinan Shodan is actually a series of movements:

From the the ready position (with the feet about shoulder's width apart and the hands down to the front in fists), the student will:

  1. Look to the left; and
  2. Step or shift and sink into a left nekko ashi dachi (cat stance) facing to the left; and
  3. Strike to the left (chudan shuto uke) with his left hand; and
  4. Block or strike to the front (jodan uke) with his right open hand.

This, in a nutshell, is the first movement of the kata. I do not believe that the exact hand position appears in any other kata in Kishaba Juku, but it does in transitional movements. For example, you can see it in the second movement sequence of Passai, right after the hands are raised overhead (like the opening movement of Kusanku).

"Movements" are more or less an arbitrary thing in Karate. Who is to say where one movement ends and another begins in a flowing sequence? "Movements" are a forced convention, probably required for the early Karate drawings and photographs. While they seem necessary, they are also inherently limiting, both in body dynamics and potential applications. They are far to literal for fluent Karate students.

As I have outlined it, the first movement of the kata is actually a series of movements. Or you could say that it is compound movement.

The first two elements of the movement are the same for all the Pinan kata. They all begin with a look to the left and a left nekko ashi dachi. Pinan Shodan and Yondan have compound movements (blocks or strikes with both hands), while Pinan Nidan, Sandan and Godan begin with a single left hand block or strike.

Let's begin to analyze each element.

1. Look to the left.

In all the kata (as I do them), you look first when you change directions. I like to say that this is like changing lanes when you drive -- you have to look first. It makes no sense to simply block to the left unless you know who and what you are blocking. What if it is a truck? If it is a truck, you have to jump out of the way.

In some styles of Karate, the students do not look first. Instead, they shift direction, block and shift at the same time. I think this is designed to make the movement look cleaner. But again, what if it is a truck? You will feel pretty silly blocking a truck. You have to look first.

Now I don't mean a dramatic "look." I mean that you quickly turn your head and look to the left, with your eyes set to see the periphery as much as possible (in other words, as much of a 180 degree view as possible).

You look at about eye level. You do not look up or down.

Many students tend to turn their heads only part of the way (looking side eyed). I remember seminars with Sensei Toshihiro Oshiro. He would say, "Point your nose." When your nose is pointing to the left, your head will be properly facing the left.

When a student fails to turn his head completely to the left, his peripheral vision to the left (to the back from where he originally started) will the incomplete and he will open to an attack from that direction.

So, the first movement is a look to the left. The remaining three movements will follow just a split second behind. By this I mean just a hair's breadth. The "look" will be almost imperceptible. But it will be there.

In the next increment, I will discuss the next element(s) of the first movement of Pinan Yondan.


Charles C. Goodin