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shoshinkanuk's picture

Hi Iain,

Thank you once again for a very well put together responce, im afraid I havent had the time to do likewise, but heres where im at (also keep in mind this method of communication can be limited, ie my writing style and attention to detail).

Iain Abernethy wrote:
it's pretty certain Itosu created and formed the Pinan series for school children/young people and probably not for combat application” (my highlight). How can you be so certain? On what evidence do you base that certainty?

My wording was a little clumsy - my point was that it's evident (to me) that Itosu changed classical kata, simplified them for the school system - im not convinced there is evidence against this but I take your point that he may not have done this and just used them in the schools.

Iain Abernethy wrote:
I don’t say that to be argumentative, but to point out that much of what is “common wisdom” has little evidence to support it. There is a burden of proof on anyone making a claim; even a widely held claim.

My proof is, there is precious little in terms of 'practical bunkai' from the era of students who trained with him 'back in the day'. (hence why developments in the last 20 years or so, by several talented people is SO useful).

Iain Abernethy wrote:
To me, Funakoshi’s statement that the Pinans give us “the skills to defend ourselves in most situations”; the name “Pinan”

Yes, a fair point and one I would agree with - but this IMO was not why or how they were taught to a whole generation, it would seem. (there are exceptions of course, but maybe they didn't get it via the school training).

Iain Abernethy wrote:
the fact the kata were known to have been around before teaching karate to kids in schools was even on the agenda; the fact that Itosu’s 10 precepts suggest a progression from children’s karate to a combative system; the fact Itosu also taught the kata to his adult students before and after he began teaching them in schools (which would make no sense if they were created just for children); the fact that the actual motions of the Pinans are drawn from other kata (Passai, Kushanku, Chinto, etc) and those kata are accepted as being combative; even the very nature of the kata themselves (see my linked post above), all strongly suggest the Pinans were created to be combative and were only later adopted to use in children’s education.

Yes, you raise many fair points, but the fact is - we don't know.............................LOL (this is where we disagree, lets move on).

Iain Abernethy wrote:
If the kata were created for kids, where is the evidence for that? Was Funakoshi wrong? How can the exact same movement be combative in Kushanku (for example) but not combative in the Pinans? Why are the Pinans so badly constructed as a exercise system if that’s what they are? And so on.

The evidence the Pinan, and later the Heian kata set were created for teaching to groups, particulary school children is based on the fact they were, in effect simplified classical forms taught in a manner that suited teaching school children - this happened, and being rather bold led the development of Shotokan as a Ryu (and a wonderful one at that). Please note that I never said they couldn't be used effectivly, just that they were not. (based on the Bunkai presented and passed on by pretty much ALL of the major players).

Iain Abernethy wrote:
I hope you see what I’m driving at? It was the making of a “pretty certain” claim that prompted me to explain why I don’t hold that view to be anything approaching certain. I also hoped it would open up the discussion with people explaining why they hold the positions they do; and I think we’ve been successful there.

Yes the pretty certain terminology was clumsy, and im pleased you pulled me up on it - it has opened up a good discussion.

Iain Abernethy wrote:
As with many historical issues, there is no total certainty. All we can do is look at the evidence, the hypotheses put forwards on the basis of that evidence, and see what we personally feel is most logical.

Agreed, and it would seem that our views on the kata's original purpose differs - not alot else!

Iain Abernethy wrote:
I feel the most logical position is that the Pinans were not created to be “kids’ kata”, but were utilised for that purpose. I also accept that you feel the most logical position is that the Pinans are “kids’ kata”. I hope that our conversation has given people something to think about when taking their own position. Thanks once again.

I do not think they are kid's kata, I think they were simplified kata designed for teaching groups in the school system - primarily.

I think very much the same for the Gekisai Ichi & Gekisai Ni kata, but again these can most certainly be used for effective Bunkai etc etc, they just wern't made for that - IMO.

I think were done on this one, I appriciate your effort and openness around this subject, hopefully others will add further opinion - im taking a time out!

ky0han's picture

Hi gents,

I would agree to the following points.

Itosu had created the Pinan Gata way before Karate was introduced to the okinawan school system. He also teached the Pinan to adults, e.g. Motobu Choki. There is the story that Motobu was visiting Itosu someday and was surprised, as he was wittnessing young students showing a Kata, which they refered to as Pinan no Kata. The kata was slightly altered and Motobu was surprised by the name Pinan. He knew the Kata as Channan. 

Itosu changed a lot of kata during his time. So maybe he altered the Pinan too, so that they were better suited for teaching children. 

I think Iain is right, when he points out that only because the application was'nt tought, that this is no indication for a fact that there never were none. It is the same with gun clubs. Firearms were developed for a special purpose. But today they were used as sports equipment. I think it is the same with kata. They can be used as a mere form of anaerobic gymnastics or as a tool to learn the real thing.

Some also blame Funakoshi for not teaching kata properly. Harada Mitsusuke for example stated the following in an interview:

"Funakoshi O’Sensei’s idea of Karate was mainly gymnastics not fighting. His philosophy was - by training in Karate, it would enhance or develop one’s character. His main emphasis being on kata with occasionally some self-defence or kumite, but mostly his idea was just kata."

"Kata is important, as it is good for developing strong muscle training and flexible movement. It is important to practise kata slowly, then gradually build up speed. This is based on personal experience, as, when I was younger we had no interest in kata, only kumite. But, I criticise O’Sensei for this, as his idea of Karate was like gymnastics not a martial art. So, when we asked questions he would answer on the spot, just coming up with his own ideas; so students started making mistakes and kata was unreliable for real kumite. As a result, we lost interest in the value of kata."

"If we had practised kata correctly as I have previously described, then, if a real situation occurs one can immediately use it!"

I think there are two main reasons, because the Pinan/Heian are seen as children kata. The first is, that the Pinan were tought to children as a form of physical exercise in the okinawan school system (but so were others too). The second is, that they were tougth as a mere physical exercise, without any combative relevance. Not only in the okinawan school system but also later on after the indroduction of karate on the japanese mainland.

Just my 2 cents.

Regards Holger

shoshinkanuk's picture

ky0han wrote:

Itosu changed a lot of kata during his time. So maybe he altered the Pinan too, so that they were better suited for teaching children. 

As all good things come out in time, this statement is actually very close to my view!

ky0han's picture

The thing is.

Did Itosu tought the same version of Pinan to adults that he tought to children or were adults tought an unaltered version? If not, why not? Maybe he changed the kata due to his knowledge and experience? Who knows?

In this point I think we can't take it for granted, that his changes had something to do with the tuition of children. Claiming such is one thing, proofing this is another matter.

Regards Holger

Gavin J Poffley
Gavin J Poffley's picture

I can see two camps here, those that see the pinan series as being  designed exclusively for use in the school system and incidentally having combative applications due to being derived from older forms that did and those who see them as being created primarily as combative kata and then used in the school system as exercise due to their systematic srtucture and relatively short length.

The convincing evidence to me is that as Iain says, they really are not well designed as physical exercise at all. At the time we are talking about here (Late 1880s to mid 1920s) there was a big expansion of sports science and training theory in Japan with major government support and even given the dispensation for being "classical culture" kata like the pinans would not pass muster as a purely physical method. I personally believe that their value in the school context was more as cultural tools to instill a familiarity with martial ideas and a pride in the national spirit while simultaneously providing some exercise. If you want a kata that fulfils the function of exercise in a more logical and balanced scientific way it will look very different. In fact it will probably look a lot like Kano Jigoro's "kokumin taiiku" (physical education for the people) Judo kata.

Ultimately the inclusion of karate in the school curriculum was short lived and this may even be an indication that karate was ineffective as school physical education (judo and kendo were reinstated in the national middle school physical curricula after the war but karate never was).

The fact that the pinan series were simplified (i.e shortened as the individual moves are performed in exactly the same way as their source kata) from the older forms is in my opinion not to make them easier to remember for children but to make them a more structured learning method in line with the modern educational theories mentioned above. Crucially this was done before their introduction into the Okinawan prefectural curriculum. 

karim_benakli's picture

Gavin J Poffley wrote:

The convincing evidence to me is that as Iain says, they really are not well designed as physical exercise at all. At the time we are talking about here (Late 1880s to mid 1920s) there was a big expansion of sports science and training theory in Japan with major government support and even given the dispensation for being "classical culture" kata like the pinans would not pass muster as a purely physical method.

This is also exactly what I was thinking when reading the latest posts. For me, if we look for something well designed for physical exercise, then Kihon including back and forth motions with lot's and all types of high kicks is a good candidate, but not the Kata ! They include too much movements that do not make sense from that pure "physical exercise" point of view.

To take a modern example, have a look to tai-bo, this is a physical exercise purely based on combative movements (done in rythm on music)... you can merely retrieve 10% of the pinan kata movements there-in !

So at worse Itosu may have simplified the pinan kata... somehow this is something we all agree on in the sense that he may have arranged them in the more progressive way we all know, but beside this I don't see how he could have simplified them further, since we retrieve lot's of techniques from other -advanced- katas in there... so if there has been a simplification it was not by removing techniques (or a very small amount then)... so what was it ?

Lee Richardson
Lee Richardson's picture

karim_benakli wrote:

BUT what about the 1st moves of the Pinan Shodan ? These moves should be the first basis of the basis since they are the 1st one learned to the practitioners, they should represent a straight forward, simple and direct technique. However, all explanations I’ve seen about these, being either an arm lock or an arm control technique followed by (not-so-natural) strikes, are from my point of view quite complex and not achievable for a “beginner”. Controlling the arm of an opponent, in one or the other way, is in itself already a very advanced technique !

Hence my problem: I do not find another simple consistent explanation for that first sequence, and the arm-lock/control view on it -which is logic from a stance and arm movements position- is contradictory to the progressive evolution that we should find in the pinan series.

Can you help me to get out of this dilemma ???

Thanks a lot.

If I understand the OP correctly the question is 'Since Pinan Shodan (Heian Nidan) is the first of a progressive series of kata why are the first few techniques relatively advanced ones'?

If that's the case then I agree with it. Limb control is relatively advanced. Why wouldn't it open with more of a 'cover/crash' technique such as is found in Naihanchi (Tekki Shodan) and Kushanku (Kanku Dai), and then move onto limb control?

Jon Sloan
Jon Sloan's picture

Hey Lee

You can look at those opening moves as inidicative of a flinch response. In that, when we are surprised by a loud noise or sudden movement, especially toward the face, we all flinch in a pretty specific way. That is turtling the head and throwing the arms up across the face/around the head to protect it.

The haiwan uke/ude soete movement at the start of the kata can be seen as just a stylised version of that natural movement. Which then, in the kata, trains you to instantly respond with one or two strikes.

Now, I would certainly be teaching students to be aware, to avoid conflict, to verbally disarm it or to pre-emptively strike (when legal to do so) HOWEVER those are all skills that take time to hone and become natural.

By viewing the opening moves of heian nidan/pinan shodan as a flinch response with an immediate strike(s) back (to help them regain dominance in the situation) you give them something they can take away from the very first lesson and make effective if needed.

So, perhaps that's why that kata and those movements were the first to be taught to students as they utilised a natural response/movement that we all have instinctively and made it combative straight away.

Lee Richardson
Lee Richardson's picture

Mmm, perhaps, but I'm still not convinced. Why the turn then? If we take it that we are positioning ourselves in relation to our attacker then turning 90 degrees in a flinch response doesn't ring true. It's too much of a trained response. Simply covering the head without turning is much more natural (again Naihanchi/Kushanku).

Jon Sloan
Jon Sloan's picture

I know that Iain's theories expound that the angles are in relation to your opponentand not them in relation to you, which I agree with. I don't know how fixed he is in that regard though?

Personally I see them as indicating the "ideal" position but that we have to recognise that reality is not perfect and that the ideal may not be possible.

Also, whilst we can all be taken be surprise when we're standing still, i.e. feet shoulder width apart and neither of them advanced ahead of the other (most kata start positions), it's likely that it'll happen when we're in motion, i.e. one foot in front of the other. Or like the posture we adopt when doing this move.

Look at older versions of any of these katas (kankudai included) and you'll see that the postures we adopt in shotokan and wado-ryu are far more stylized and less 'natural' than the older versions.

Gavin J Poffley
Gavin J Poffley's picture


If you look at some of the older forms of the pinan kata they do actually start with the "salute" like movement that is seen more widely at the start of naihanchi (e.g. raise hands in a triangle in front of face and then fold them down to waist height in a downward facing triangle). Seeing as how the most common and likely interpretation for this is just the sort of flinch based "crash and cover" type of movement you point to the progression fits very well with what you are talking about if that is left in.

It is true that this opening appears to have been taken out of most of the more modern versions of the kata though.

Andrew Carr-Locke
Andrew Carr-Locke's picture

I think a part of the consideration of the Kata should be that, at the time of implimentation Karate was not a unified whole in Okinawa. Different styles and teachers all doing something that looked different from each other, all doing karate. 

Wasn't the creation of the Pinans, and their subsequent implimentation into the school system, more of trying to bring a benchmark for evaluation to the system. A baseline so that it would be easy to measure progress against it. I think to market karate as a whole, it was too chaotic and difficult to have non-practitioners understand what they were looking at. While after a more formalised progression is mapped out, it becomes easier to subscribe to the system. Funakoshi took this much farther in being able to market it more widely, but I think he was continuing the movement that started at home. 

Something to consider in the mix of everything. 

Zach Zinn
Zach Zinn's picture

I know this may be a gross oversimplification, but I often feel in arguments like this that the error in thinking is something like:

Simple = less effective

When reality is the opposite. As far as I am concerned (granted I am a Goju guy anyway..) if the Pinan are a simplified distillation of other kata, that by no means would make them less effective, and one might convincingly argue the opposite.

As far as whether or not bunkai for Pinan were extant in the major ryu..well the truth is that for many 'major ryu' across the board the understanding of application isn't there. So, it seems really iffy to me to pin that solely on Itosu, when it seems to be a trend we see all over the place, not only in Karate, but virtually any martial art that uses solo forms.

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

Lee Richardson wrote:
If that's the case then I agree with it. Limb control is relatively advanced. Why wouldn't it open with more of a 'cover/crash' technique such as is found in Naihanchi (Tekki Shodan) and Kushanku (Kanku Dai), and then move onto limb control?

As you’ve pointed out, some kata do begin that way and there is a logic in doing so. That does not mean it is the only valid way to approach things though.

Personally, I think the level of limb control shown in Pinan Shodan is very basic i.e. move the arm out the way and hit them. Limb control as whole can get vary advanced, as can anything else, but I don’t think we see anything advanced here.

What we see in the first half of Shodan is striking the jaw and neck; which are some of the best ways to quickly take the guy out. That is what we are starting with. Don’t fixate on the limb control element to the point where we miss the striking the limb control is there to support. It’s better to think of the kata starting with “how to KO a guy” as opposed to “how to control limbs”.

However, the nature of conflict means it is incomplete to teach the strikes alone without also showing how to deliver those strike. Limbs need to be out of the way and a path needs to be cleared because no mater how strong the strike is it will do nothing if it does not hit.

So I see that as being the approach taken in Pinan Shodan:

Q: If I can’t escape, what is the best way to end the fight?

A: Hit them in the jaw or neck to induce unconsciousness.

Q: What is the main problem I’ll face?

A: Limbs getting in the way; so let me show you some drills that will teach you to hit around the limbs.

Q: Why don’t we begin with a defensive crash like in other kata?

A: Because I want to teach you a strong offence first – as opposed to a strong defence – as I believe that’s the better way to go. It’s a far better to be “attack minded” so let’s start with attacking techniques.

Some kata begin with a positive reactive response in order to regain control when it has been lost. Others, including the Pinans, begin with how to achieve dominance. Personally I prefer the latter approach, but either can be valid so long as both taking and maintaining control, as well as regaining it when it is lost, are covered at some point.

Different kata, which were made by different people, have different approaches. That’s one of the reasons why studying how kata compare and contest can be so interesting and valuable.

All the best,


mike23's picture

Conversations like this hold a wealth of knowlege! Thank you for sharing! Please, some questions for anyone reading.

Thank you in advance.

If you believe the Pinan kata were techniques of a longer kata, Channan,Passai for instance, then taken out and rearranged to form the Pinan kata could you give your ideas on these questions.

1) If the Pinan each reflect a specific fighting skill, distance or system, did they hold the same use when they were in the longer kata? And would your belief be that the longer kata held a complete system of fighting which included the Pinan techniques?

2) If the Pinan are 5 seperate fighting distances,skills, systems, then what about the other core kata? Did they also hold a specific fighting system,skill set? Wankan,Wanshu,ETC.

3) When, in relative terms, did kata stop being created as a complete fighting system, skill set? There are scores of kata particular to each style, do they ALL hold secret skill sets, concepts or complete fighting systems? If not, then some kata were created...for the enjoyment of creating a kata?


Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

Hi Mike,

mike23 wrote:
If you believe the Pinan kata were techniques of a longer kata, Channan,Passai for instance, then taken out and rearranged to form the Pinan kata could you give your ideas on these questions ….

My view is that each kata is a stand alone system. Here is a podcast from a couple of years ago called “How A Kata Records A Style” which explains how I see that working:


I see Itosu as taking various elements of the many kata / systems he had experience of and constituting a “new system”. It’s one of the reasons I really like the Pinan series. I see it as Itosu’s brining together of his favoured methodologies and structuring them in a logical progression.

So the Pinans are complete system where the “lesson plan” progresses through them from Shodan to Godan i.e. each kata builds on the information in the last and each technique (example of principle) builds on the ones before. That’s probably best explained in my “The Pinan / Heian Series: The Complete Fighting System DVDs”, but this article exaplins the general idea:


This progression is not unique and you can certainly see it in the other kata. I talk about how that relates to Kushanku in this podcast:


The other kata – like the Pinan Series – are also holistic systems in their own right. As I say, the “How A Kata Records A Style” podcast linked above explains the detail of how I see that working.

All the best,


shoshinkanuk's picture

Just as a little note one thing I didn't mention, just dawned on me in relation to my perspective on this thread.

I only practice Pinan 1 & 2, not 3,4,5.

This leaves alot of the progression and variation of techniques out of my whole 'Pinan' kata list and has certainly influenced my thinking over the last 10 plus years. (Previous to that I did work Pinan 1-5 but had presious little Bunkai taught).

Dod's picture

Forgive me for going back to the specific original question.  I am new to this modern bunkai analysis and find it fascinating.  I know there are no "right answers"  (sound like my old English teacher) and principles are more important,  BUT as these are the first moves in the first kata for many people,  could I risk of flogging a dead horse and ask for opinions on this:

1st:  Defense of haymaker - step forward inside and block/grab with your higher/ back arm.  Simultaneous uppercut with front hand.

3rd: pull/ twist with the receiving hand (hikite to waist) simultaneous side hammerfist to back of head

I like 1 and 3 but what is 2?  the Hidden Karate book says it is just winding up for 3,  but that does not seem right.  Iain quoted Funakoshi as saying 2 is to pull his arm. 

After the uppercut could the front arm simply hit down and pull on the outstreched arm's elbow,  whilst the grabbing arm pushes his fist back behind him? This would pull him closer but also lean him back off balance and onto the hammerfist?