Heian Shodan

When beginning to learn kata at our dojo we start with Heian Shodan.

This kata contains 21 movements with 2 kia points. Heian Shodan takes approximately 40 seconds to complete.

In Japanese, heian (平安) means “peaceful mind” and shodan means “first level“. Heian shodan was adapted from older kata by Anko Itosu to make them more suitable for young karate students.

One very significant part of the kata is the timing of the three age-uke and the three oi-tsuki. To the beginning student, this may feel difficult, but this kata lays the essential foundations for all Shotokan Kata. Only once you have perfected this kata can you truly develop further.

In this kata you will learn:

  1. the first punch,
  2. 2 stances,
  3. 3 blocks, and
  4. 1 strike

As you progress on your karate journey you will learn much more from this kata, partly in combination with the other heian kata as well as higher level kata. Depending on your belt ranking, you will have a different focus when studying and practicing heian shodan. These are cumulative and not mutually exclusive.

White Belt Level

Your focus at this level is to learn the movements of this kata, attempting to perform each stance to the best of your ability.

For the Yellow Belt and Orange Belt

Now you know the movements of heian shodan without much difficulty. Next, you want to start working on minor refinement of your technique.  Here are a couple things to work on:

  • fist placement: the retracted fist should be palm up with the thumb over the first two knuckles and the whole fist above your belt. On a rising block, the fist should be one fist-length from your forehead and high enough that it doesn’t block your line of sight. Test this by doing the block and then taking your retracted fist and putting it between your other fist and your forehead.
  • deeper stances: make sure your knee forms a plumb-line next your big toe and that the weight distribution is correct (60-40 for front stance, 30-70 for back stance)
  • speed: faster set-up on blocks and quick execution of the technique. This does not mean that you move between techniques faster. It should still take about 40 seconds to complete the kata.

For The Green Belt Level

At the green belt level you start learning one-step sparring. This is going to teach you about quick reflexes and counter-attacks. In relation to heian shodan, you’ll begin learning to wait a little longer in the timeline of a single movement before executing a block or punch

You’ll also start to focus on how your body moves between each position of the kata, keeping your hips at a constant height, not adding extra foot movements, all the while maintaining correct form.

For the Purple Belt Level

You start  learning about the applications of heian shodan, or heian shodan bunkai.

Many of the techniques in heian shodan are in fact strikes. In addition to the hammer fist strike as the 4th movement of the kata, the 3rd age-uke (rising block) and the 2nd and 4th shuto-uke (knife hand block) are also implemented as strikes, not blocks.

The first two blocks are still blocks, but in kata bunkai, after the second block here, you grab the wrist of the arm you’ve blocked, and strike the armpit with the right arm age-uke while pulling down on the opponents arm.

As with many kata bunkai, there are other equally as valid modifications of this strike, for example:

  • instead of striking to the arm pit, use the age-uke to strike closer to the elbow and pull down on the opponent’s arm with your left arm. This will provide a lever action which can break the arm at the elbow.
  • instead of an age-uke, make a rising elbow strike to the lower jaw. The intent here is to stun the attacker by causing damage to either the lower jaw or to the nose. This is especially effective in combination with a follow-up such as the next bunkai, but is quite effective on its own for disabling an opponent.

An often forgotten application is of the move immediately following the 3rd age-uke. The common application of this is simply a spinning block, however I have found it useful to consider this in light of the last move before it. Because the last preceding move is a “blocking strike” think about this: what do you do with the guy you are holding that you just elbowed in the face/armpit? Let him go?

You are about to generate a wonderful amount of torque, so why waste it. Throw him at the person who is attacking you from the right and use his body to block the attack. It really does not require much modification to convert the turn into a basic hip toss, given that you already have most of the required elements in place.

  1. execute the age-uke / age-empi as usual, either one will work
  2. don’t release the arm with your left hand while you turn
  3. extend your right arm so that it is “across” the opponent’s chest, alternatively you can just grab the right side of their head
  4. turn.

For the Brown Belt

HIPS! You’ll want to practice heian shodan along with bassai dai. This is the point in Shotokan karate where you really start to learn about hip movement. You’ve been taught this earlier, but real emphasis is going to come now.

You will need to learn to abruptly stop all body motion after a technique. For example, with the 3 gedan ukes after the cresent kick, you should tense your body enough to bring all of my body parts to a perfect stop after each block. To execute this block correctly, you must tense EVERY muscle completely (at first). After you master this, you can find within your own self which muscles to contract in order to stop all motion, without unnecessarily tensing muscles that don’t assist in sharp blocking technique.

You are expected to improve the fluidity and rapidity of your 270 degree turns in heian shodan as well as exhibiting clear understanding of hip rotation and vibration when executing shuto-uke with reverse hip rotation. This practice will go a long way to improving your bassai dai.

For the Black Belt

You must be able to perform this kata so well at the shodan and above level that its considered to be “too easy” for a tournament/competition. It’s the only Shotokan kata that is not eligible for competitions. If all rotation, sharpness, mental preparation, and physical athleticism is not present for this kata, don’t be in too much of a rush to move on to other advanced kata.