Kata Bunkai for Shorin Ryu Pinan Shodan (Heian Nidan)

This is something that has been discussed on my Facebook page before, but I wanted to go into more depth with it.  Most traditional martial arts have been dumbed down.  Karate applications (Kata bunkai) were dumbed down when the Okinawans decided to introduce it into their school system in the late nineteenth century.  This dumbed down version was taught to the Japanese and from there to the Koreans.

Kung Fu too has suffered.  The Chinese were at first very reluctant to teach martial arts to anybody who was not full blooded Chinese.  Later it was realised that it could be quite financially lucrative to do so!  However, in the main they still held back a lot from Westerners.  It is known that when the legendary Master Ip Man was teaching Wing Chun to Bruce Lee, he held back some of the more advanced secrets because Bruce Lee was not full blooded Chinese.  If Bruce Lee was not taught the full system, what makes any Westerners think that they have been?

So moving on to the point of this post, I want to look at the end sequence of Shorin Ryu’s Kata (form/pattern), Pinan Shodan, as evidence of how Kata has been changed by people who most likely did not understand the meaning of the moves.  In particular I draw your attention to the end sequence which finishes with a Downward Block (Gedan Baria) followed by an Upper Raising Block (Age Uke).

You will notice that the performer goes into a fairly a low stance for the Lower Block, but very deliberately rises up when he performs the Raising Block.  Now if he was in fact actually “blocking” a punch, then it would make sense to move his head away from the punch.

It makes no sense at all to “block” a punch by pushing it upwards, as you move your head upwards at the same time.  If you don’t completely clear the attacking punch, then you are moving your head right into the firing the line.  In fact you probably end up with your throat in the position where the original attacking punch was aimed, which is even more dangerous.

If this so called Rising “Block” was actually an upward strike using the forearm to smash up under the chin and into the neck (which many martial artists now accept it as being), then it makes much more sense for the whole body to rise up.  One of the principles of linear Karate (such as Shorin Ryu) is that the techniques are powered by the momentum of the body movement.  In this case, the body momentum is clearly moving upwards and would be a great way to power an upward strike.  If you look at the above video closely again, you’ll note that as the performer executes the Raising Block, he actually steps through in a relatively low stance and only rises up at the end of step as he actually executes the technique.

The other consideration (which has been discussed many times before in very many places) is why would a Kata finish with a “Block”?  It means that your attacker is still able to continue attacking you.  Viewing this technique as a “strike” makes more sense as you can incapacitate your attacker and the fight/assault is over.

Now fast forward Shorin Ryu as it develops into Shotokan Karate.  The Downward Block and Raising Block sequence are performed at the same level without the performer raising up as he performs the Rising Block.

So why did this change?

It changed because the Japanese did not know that this technique was actually supposed to be a “strike” and it is not in their culture to question the master.  If you view this technique as a “block”, then there is no advantage in rising up as you execute the technique (in fact it would be a distinct disadvantage as mentioned above).  So as with many other movements within Kata, there was a lot of standardisation.  The heights of the stances were standardised so that the stances all stayed the same height throughout.

Of course many styles have been derived from Shotokan, so this is very much the norm in the majority of the Karate world today.  This is why I always encourage martial artists of any style to look at their Kata/patterns/forms with a questioning mind.  Also, don’t get hooked into looking for why your style is superior to others; instead look at other styles (especially your styles predecessors) to find out what has been changed and why.

The Japanese changed a lot of the Okinawan Katas because they did not understand the true meanings.  The Koreans changed a lot of their patterns to make them “more Korean” (hide the Japanese influences).  I don’t know so much about history of Kung Fu forms, but I do know some associations that train a very large number of forms yet barely scratch the surface of the applications.

Always question and always think for yourself!

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13 Responses to Kata Bunkai for Shorin Ryu Pinan Shodan (Heian Nidan)

  1. admin says:

    Good move. I tend to think for of stabbing to the throat, but we all have our own different perspectives, which is good.

  2. Gerry says:

    For my Shotokan applied bunkai for the last two moves in Heian Nidan I picture stabbing with an open hand toward the eyes, then stepping in with a forearm strike to the neck/chin.

  3. admin says:

    That’s the beauty of bunkai, it’s different things to different people. As for his conundrum, please let us know if you work it out (or if he tells you at some stage)!
    Thank you.

  4. Dod says:

    I had the pleasure of attending a seminar recently with one of the very early exponents of realistic bunkai. From his moves he very much advocated arm locks etc rather than strikes. At the end he left us with a conundrum saying that an application of rising block was the most effective move there is (of course really there is no one “best” move because each situation is different) but he left us to work it out for ourselves. (which I haven’t)

  5. admin says:

    Good to see we agree on so much. Karate (especially bunkai) was dumbed down when the Okinawan’s introduced it into the school system (which was fair enough). But it was the same dumbed down version that they taught to the Japanese and hence the rest of the world.
    I like the choke application, I’m going to have to try that on somebody :)
    Thank you for the support and encouragement, it is appreciated!

  6. admin says:

    Hi Gautam
    Sorry, I was being a bit slow there. And I agree, always nice to see some participation :)

  7. Gautam Pant says:

    Oh no CharlieSan,my comment was largely in jest,about the readers observing some sort of Code of Silence n not commenting on a good article!But I see that has changed!Nice to see more participation! :)

  8. Mr. Smith says:

    Agreed. I don’t really think that blocking a straight stepping punch should even be called an application. That attack has never been used in the history of public violence. Unfortunately, I can’t cite sources for that one… I guess it’s just a hunch. ;)

    I think the reason it’s so widely promoted is because of the lack of “outside the box” thinking currently in the art. People just take what they’re told and assume it’s the only answer.

    I think the forearm strike is a wonder application and one that I teach on a regular basis; I’m glad you used that one. What I was getting at is applications such as using it as a forearm choke from the “knee on belly” position on the ground (with the “draw hand” pulling the shoulder or lapel), or using the first half of the “blocking” arm’s motion to teach the correct path of the uppercut. If we find one application and immediately close our mind, we run the risk of missing out on other possibilities, whether they were intended or not.

    I enjoyed your post, and appreciate your response to my comment. I’ll have to do a bit more reading on your website as I was linked to this article by someone else who enjoyed it.

    Keep the open mind and keep spreading the good word!

  9. admin says:

    Hi Mr Smith.
    I agree with you completely that there are multiple applications (bunkai) and that it will vary a lot even withing the same style. In Shotokan (and the many styles derived from or influenced by Shotokan) this movement is mainly used a “block” to a classical straight stepping punch. Most street attackers do not do classical straight stepping punches, so this is probably one of the least practical applications, despite being one of the most widely promoted. The main point that I was trying to get across though is that if we look back at where this technique came from (Shorin Ryu) the fact that they rise up at the end indicates that the widely promoted idea of this technique being a “block” is highly unlikely. I was not trying to suggest that a forearm strike was the only application, so I do agree with your comments.
    Regards
    Charlie

  10. Mr. Smith says:

    Interesting post. I think bunkai is very relative to your intentions, body shape, striking style, etc… Even within a particular martial art. While I agree that katas have been changed throughout the years, I think each person will perform the technique differently based upon their particular application.

    The rising block has more applications than just a forearm strike to the jaw and is performed as such in different arts (hence the different connotations of “bunkai”). When preaching against close mindedness, it is important for us to not close our minds as well and delve into all possibilities.

  11. admin says:

    Hi Gautam. Thanks for your comment. To be honest, I’m not familiar with “Omerta”. As for prohibiting from commenting, I don’t really know about that. I would say that it’s not an issue in the West and I’d be surprised if it is still very much of an issue in the East (although I know it would have been at one time).
    Can anybody else shed any light on this?

  12. Gautam Pant says:

    Great Article as usual..Always nice to browse n read CharlieSan!..But are the readers bound by “Omerta”or some such n prohibited from commenting? :) But anyway,Do keep it up!..Oss..

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