You will first begin to learn the Pinan (sometimes spelled Pinon) series of Kata. There are five different but related Kata in the Pinan series. You will learn and refine the first three Pinan Kata in the curriculum to achieve the Orange Belt ranking. Students must be able to demonstrate proficiency in these Kata to pass the Orange Belt ranking examination. The remaining two Pinan Kata are introduced in the curriculum to achieve the Purple Belt ranking.
Pinan Kata Structure
The Pinan Kata are commonly referred to as “I-Beam” Kata in that the pattern you follow on the floor is in the general shape of the capital letter “I”. The movements do not precisely follow the I-Beam model, but they are sufficiently close to allow you to reasonably predict the likely direction of your next sequence of movements.
The name Pinan means “Peaceful Mind” which suggests an innate level of confidence and familiarity with the movements and concepts offered via the Kata. In some other martial arts styles, these Kata are referred to as the Heian Kata and have the same essential form, but are generally done with a different mindset.
The Pinan Kata use Keri for the first time in a Tensoku Ryu Kata. The Pinan Kata also make use of combination blocking, and a much larger variety of stances and stance transitions than you previously encountered in Kata. You will discover (when you first learn the Kata and as you begin to develop a much deeper understanding of them) a vast array of stances, transitions, strikes, blocks, and postures that will offer profound insights into martial arts concepts. Many of the movements will seem odd to you at first, but as you practice the Kata you will naturally develop an improving perception of the effectiveness and practicality of these movements.
Pinan Kata Origins
Nearly all Karate styles have the Pinan (or Heian) Kata as part of their curriculum. Each style performs these Kata somewhat differently, but you will notice a certain similarity to the Kata from each style. But you will see significant differences too. For example, where we do a Kokutsu Dachi in some Kata, some other styles may do a Neko Ashi Dachi. Where we have a kick and then a step forward, other styles may simply have a step forward. You are encouraged to discover how other styles perform these Kata as any insight and knowledge is useful.
You are likely to ask, “Which style does the correct version?” Naturally, each style will claim that they do. And, they are correct. Each Ryu has developed a set of Bunkai that explain why they undertake a specific sequence of movements. There is usually nothing wrong with their Bunkai. So their Kata represents a perfectly valid way of explaining essential movements and how you might handle a specific circumstance. There is absolutely nothing wrong with a little variety in life.
There is one more significant variable you will encounter when exploring the Pinan Kata. The Pinan Kata were originally developed (or assimilated) in Okinawa by a man named Anko Itosu. Later the Kata (and Karate in general) were introduced to Japan by Gichin Funakoshi. Funakoshi felt the first Pinan Kata was a bit hard for new students to learn, so he switched the order of the first and second Kata. Unfortunately, some styles teach the original order, and some styles teach the Kata with the first two versions inverted. So what we think of as Pinan Shodan other styles will view as Pinan Nidan (and vice versa). To make it even more confusing, some styles kept the original names, but teach the Kata out of order (i.e. they teach Pinan Nidan first, then teach Pinan Shodan). Confusing! We teach the Kata in the original order as it was before Funakoshi changed it. Just realize when you look at these Kata on the Internet that if you are viewing “Pinan Shodan” it might be our Pinan Nidan. It all works out in the end and it is just a matter of semantics. Within Tensoku Ryu there won’t be any confusion as everyone learns these Kata in the same order.
You should study and perfect our standardized versions of the Pinan Kata so that you are doing a version that everyone around you will recognize. You should perform these standardized versions in your classes and for your ranking examinations. However, once you feel comfortable with doing our standardized versions it can be quite enlightening to look at how other systems perform these same Kata. Look at not only how they are different, but how they are the same. You can learn much from studying their Bunkai as well as our own.
When performing Pinan Kata you will want to occasionally go through the form at an extremely slow rate of speed. Perhaps only going at one-tenth normal speed. This helps ensure you can pay attention to how every part of your anatomy is moving or structured. If you always perform the Kata at normal speeds you will never notice some areas that may warrant improvement.
Most martial arts styles perform the Pinan Kata by utilizing a set position for any hand that is not currently engaged in some other activity. This is pretty common in most martial arts Kata and you will notice this hand positioning anytime you view a traditional Kata on the Internet.
But in Tensoku Ryu we look at things differently. We do not like our idle hands being located down near our waist. We prefer to maintain an effective guard position whenever possible. We prefer that our hands are raised when performing any Kata form.
Many practitioners will argue that the hands are held at the waist to assist with the derivation of power or to provide better centering or improved centers of gravity. We do not doubt that this is indeed the case. You can find logical reasons for keeping the hands set. But we think these benefits are outweighed by the risks associated with keeping the hands down.
But we are not dogmatic about our hand positioning. We believe the hands should be in a guard position in most situations. But we understand and appreciate that practitioners may wish to use the set position. Perhaps this is done to prepare for an outside tournament (where judges may frown if the hands are not held crisply in set position). If a practitioner has experience with another martial arts style they may find it difficult to break the habit of setting the hands. The practitioner may also simply be experimenting to see the benefits or detriments of these two methods of hand positioning. We think these are all reasonable justifications to use the set position when performing these Kata.
So, we allow practitioners to use whichever hand position they like or prefer. We will ask that practitioners be able to perform the Kata with hands held in guard position during some portions of their training. We do not require practitioners to perform the Kata with hands in set position as this is not our preference. When undergoing a ranking examination a student may use whichever hand position method they prefer, but we require that they do not mix the two-hand positioning methods during the execution of any single Kata.
To be clear, practitioners may use the set position or the guard position when performing traditional forms such as Pinan, Naihanchi, Empi, Passai, etc. Practitioners may not use the set position, except where it is explicitly called for in the form, with any Kata developed specifically for Tensoku Ryu. Within Tensoku Ryu Kata the hands should be maintained in an effective guard position unless otherwise indicated.