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Pinan Yondan - Part 4

With your left arm/hand, you execute a chudan shuto uke (middle knife hand block) or chudan shuto uchi (middle knife hand strike) to the left. (I am not addressing the right hand in this post). Because you are striking to the left, many people assume that you must also turn your body to the left. In other words, some people turn their shoulders so that they are square to the left. This means that you would turn 90 degrees to the left.

I believe that this is a misunderstanding, caused originally by the terminology that developed in modern Karate. Take a yoko geri, for example. When you hear this, what do you visualize? Most people think about a side kick -- a kick with the side of the foot. However, in early Okinawan Karate, a yoko geri simply meant a kick to the side, not a kick with the side of the foot.

The first kick in Pinan Shodan, for example, even though it is done with the tip of the toe (tsumasaki), is a yoko geri (side kick) because it is executed to the side. However, you will often see this kick executed with the side of the foot, because early books described it as a yoko geri. In my style of Shorin-Ryu, there are hardly any kicks in kata with the side of the foot (the only one I can think of is in Passai). Most kicks are done with the tips of the toes.

In the same way, when people think that the first movements of the Pinan kata are done to the left side, they might also think that you must turn to the left.

Let me ask you this... if someone suddenly and unexpectedly punched you from the left side, would you turn into the attack and execute a block or strike? Or would you simply block or strike without turning?

One of the first things you learn about body dynamics is that blocking or striking to the side is fast, while turning to the side is slow by comparison.

In addition, if you turn your shoulders to the left, you present a cross section of your body which is easier to attack. And you are also presenting your vertical centerline (sechusen), which is very vulnerable to attack.

All this is my way of explaining why I strike to the left, but do not turn to the left. When I am in the ready position at the beginning of the Pinan kata, my bellybutton (tanden area) is facing the front. When I execute the first movement, my belly button and shoulders might be only slightly turned to the left, perhaps only 20 degrees or less. If a full turn to the left is 90 degrees, I am only turning about 1/5th of that (or less).

One result of this is that I can block very quickly. I do not have to spend time turning my body 90 degrees. In addition, when I execute the second movement to the right, I only have to turn a little. If I had turned 90 degrees to the left, I would then have to turn 180 degrees to get to the right. That would take a long time.

So the idea is to block to the side without turning to the side... like the Naihanchi kata.

This brings up something I often tell my students -- the Pinan kata should look like the Naihanchi kata, not vice versa. In fact, all the kata should look like the Naihanchi kata.

For people who relegate the Naihanchi kata to simple drills or "basic" kata, this might not make sense. But we (in my dojo and style) view Naihanchi as the foundation for all movement.

Some people might think that a block without body turning would be weaker than a block with body turning. Without going into detail, we use koshi (full body torque) to generate power, which is not based on rotational body turning. In addition, we work on very short power generation like the proverbial "one inch" punch. With such mechanics, tremendous power and speed can be generated with very little external movement.

To summarize, the first movement of Pinan Yondan (and the other Pinan kata as well) is executed to the left without turning to the left.


Charles C. Goodin