The Secret Meaning of Heian/Pinan Kata (Hint: It’s NOT What You Think)

Do you practice Heian/Pinan kata?

funakoshi_heianIf you train a popular style like Shotokan, Shito-ryu or Shorin-ryu – you probably do.

Some Korean martial arts also practice them!

In fact, the five Heian/Pinan kata are some of the most commonly taught kata in the world of Karate.

But, here’s the weird thing…

Even though these kata are so common, few people know the REAL meaning and purpose of them!

It’s like a hidden secret.

I’ll explain.

But first, you must meet the mastermind behind it all:

Itosu Anko – The Genius of Heian/Pinan

The Heian/Pinan kata were created by a man named Itosu Anko.

Itosu was born in Okinawa in 1831, as a weak and shy child.

Itosu Anko (1831-1915)

Because of this, he started practicing Karate to strengthen his mind and body.

Luckily, Itosu found one of the greatest masters in Okinawa to be his head sensei – Bushi Matsumura Sokon – a legend in the history of Karate.

(Related reading: Discovering The Lost Secret of Matsumura’s Mysterious Bo Staff)

Now, fast forward a few years.

In 1891, the Japanese army had expressed interest in making Okinawan Karate an official Japanese military martial art, since they were so impressed by the physical condition of several Okinawan conscripts during their medical examinations there.

However, the Japanese army quickly lost interest in Karate when they realized its outdated training methods, poor organization, lack of standardization and the great length of time it took to gain proficiency in it.

(Unsurprisingly, old-school Karate training could not serve the needs of the 6-8 week boot camp training which the Japanese military demanded.)

Itosu Anko heard these news…

…and decided somebody needed to modernize Karate!

The old ways of teaching simply didn’t appeal to modern society anymore.

Therefore, he developed a series of five kata, called “Pinan” 1-5.

Note: Although Itosu named these kata “Pinan”, they were later renamed “Heian” by Funakoshi Gichin (student of Itosu and founder of Shotokan Karate), during the introduction of Karate to mainland Japan, in order to suit the Japanese language.

(Related reading: The 9 Lost Throws of Funakoshi Gichin: Karate’s Forgotten Takedown Techniques)

The aim of these five Heian/Pinan kata was simple:

To reorganize the previously haphazard introduction of Karate for beginners, while simplifying the transition to advanced Okinawan Karate kata – like Naihanchin, Kusanku, Seisan, Wanshu, Gojushiho, Passai etc.

The idea was equal parts genius and bravery.

Because, with these new kata, Itosu could do something nobody had done before…

In 1901, he started teaching Karate at the Shuri Jinjo Elementary School.

Karate_ShuriCastle (640x363)
Students practicing Karate outside Shuri Castle in Okinawa (c. 1938) – a direct result of Itosu’s campaign to modernize of Karate.

The Okinawan people were shocked!

Karate was a secret and deadly martial art – not suited for kids in public school.

But, they didn’t know Itosu had a masterplan.

The Heian/Pinan kata system acted as a Trojan horse, allowing Itosu to bring Karate from its secretive darkness into the light of modernization.

Itosu’s plan worked so well, in 1905 he was allowed to teach at the First Junior Prefectural High School and later at the Okinawa’s Teachers College too.

(Related reading: 2 Forgotten (But Deadly) Techniques of Okinawan Karate)

The rest, as they say, is history.

Itosu’s campaign culminated in Karate becoming part of the official physical education of Okinawa’s school system, eventually making its way to mainland Japan – giving rise to school/university clubs, tournaments, mass teaching methods, ranks/belts, new styles, organizations etc – and later the rest of the world.


If it wasn’t for Itosu Anko, perhaps none of us would practice Karate today!

Now, let’s look more closely at the actual meaning of Heian/Pinan kata.

(Hint: It’s NOT what you think.)

The Secret Meaning of Heian/Pinan

I love mysteries.

Heian / Pinan

And the Heian/Pinan kata are a big mystery for many.

In this case, I’m not strictly talking about the bunkai (defensive application of kata movements), although those are tricky too.

I’m actually talking about the name!

Most people think the name “Heian/Pinan” translates to “Peace and Tranquility”, “Tranquil Mind” or something spiritual, very beautiful, Asian and zen-like.

That’s cool. 

(I used to think so too.)

Until one day, when I discovered that the name Heian/Pinan could be interpreted another way…

You see, when I lived in Okinawa, I heard that Chinese culture is very admired there.


If something comes from China, it’s considered highly sophisticated in Okinawan society – especially the martial arts.

(Related reading: 10 Differences Between Okinawan Karate & Japanese Karate)

Since Itosu Anko was a true Okinawan scholar, he must have admired Chinese culture highly too, right?


What if Heian/Pinan is not Japanese… but Chinese?

I decided to start a Karate Nerd™ investigation!

To find out, I sent an e-mail to a Chinese friend of mine, where I simply wrote the kanji (Japanese ideograms) for Heian/Pinan, and said nothing about its meaning in modern Karate (the commonly accepted “Peace and Tranquility” or “Tranquil Mind”).

The next day, his e-mail came back…

Check it out:

“Hi Jesse. Oh, that’s nothing special. We pronounce it “Pingan”, and it’s a pretty common word in China. It’s hard to translate exactly, but it means something like “stay safe” or “be protected from danger”. For example, when I flew back to China last summer, my family said it to me at the airport. It’s like a “stay safe” wish.“


My Karate Nerd™ sense didn’t fail me.

Heian/Pinan has NOTHING to do with esoteric “peaceful/tranquil mind” flower-power zen hipster mumbo-jumbo gibberish spiritualism.

Oh no.

Heian/Pinan is a personal “stay safe” message from master Itosu Anko, written in Chinese to honor the ancestral roots of Okinawan Karate, wishing you a safe journey in your quest for Karate mastery.


(I got goose bumps from writing that. So cool!)

This, ladies and gentlemen, is the secret message of Heian/Pinan kata – hidden in plain sight – and only revealed to those willing to search for Karate’s forgotten roots.

If you want to follow Itosu’s footsteps, share this wisdom with the world!

Because there’s nothing “tranquil” about the Heian/Pinan kata.

It’s about using them to stay safe, in your journey through Karate – and life.

When used correctly, they will protect you.

But only if you study them deeply.

Those who seek shall find…

That’s the secret of Heian/Pinan.


  • Markus
    Reminds me of Iain's reasoning, which led to the same conclusion:
    • First time I wrote about this discovery was 6 years ago (while living in Okinawa) - I guess "great minds think alike" :-)
      • Tas
        You pipped Iain at the post by a year:-)! After reading Iain's article back then I did a quick bit of anecdotal evidence collecting of all the Chinese and Japanese international students at the school I was working at and surprise surprise all the Chinese students translated the kanji as safety and all the Japanese students and teachers translated the kanji as peaceful. Once again a thought provoking article that shows just how much more research is required to discover what was truly going on in those early formative years of what we now classify as modern karate. Thank you Jesse
        • Thank you Tas-san! What a great "Karate Nerd" experiment man! keep it up. :-)
      • Gabriel Fernadez
        Hi Jesse.I train Tang Soo Do , this is a Korean style of karate that originated at the end of the Second World War in Korea when the Japanese occupation ended in Korea. We train all traditional kata, also the Heian (Pyung Ahn, in Korean). The founder of Moo Duk Kwan, Grandmaster Hwang Kee, teacher was a student of Chinese kanji, he described the meaning of Pyung, the first character as "peaceful" and the second Ahn as "security" as the symbol is a drawing woman cradling her son in a house. Defining the concept as "peaceful security" or "confidence in balance."
      • Christo
        Hi Jesse-san, I have read your article and I found it very interesting. THis is my 31st year of my Karate Career and I have also read and been taught "Heian" means Peacefull Mind. It may be not the correct meaning of the Heian Kata, but if we look at it in another point of view. I do agree 100% that Heian actually means (Stay Safe) or have a safe Journey, but then also the "Peaceful mind" they refere to may just as well be seen as "Have a Peaceful Journey without trouble". "Which also means have a safe journey". Peacefull does not nessecarily means "Peacefull mind" but "Peacefull yourney" Not to be disturbed by violence/war through the journey. I love your articles, and this was nothing against your article, I was just pointing out that we can see the Peacefull also as "Safe Wishes" if I may call it that way. Still excellent and interesting. Thank you
        • Matt
          In Funakoshi Gichin Sensei's book, Karate-Do Kyohan, he gives the meaning of Pinan(Heian) as "peaceful mind". But in this description, he states that the meaning of this is that in mastering these five kata, one can be confident that he can defend himself in most situations. To me, this very much implies the "stay safe" meaning that Jesse-san mentions in this article. Personally, I think that "peaceful mind" is a very correct translation when looked at from this perspective, and I also believe that it is the meaning the Funakoshi Sensei referring to in his book. Although it doesn't come across that way if you aren't aware of the "stay safe" meaning of Pinan. Just a thought.
    • Pierre
      My friends in a shotokai group in Bristol England practice with Ian he is a fantastic teacher and I look foreword to many more lessons from him in the future hopefully I will get to practice with him one day
  • Kim
    Yes, Abernethy come to my mind also. Jesse, I find your articles interesting, but I hate your writing style (bold, italic, larger, smaller, (), subheader... too much is too much).
    • Haters gon' hate. ;-)
      • Brian Green
        I think it keeps an article interesting and easy to bounce from section to section. I love it!
      • Ward Wagar
        Ah, criticism. Always tauted as 'self-expression' it really has nothing to do with the self, except to illustrate your feelings about others. Sometimes it is easy to find the things about others that bother you, rather than deal with things you don't admit are wrong with you. Best wishes.
    • SamirB
      He he! I love his writing style. Jesse only writes like Jesse.
    • deana
      I think that most of us who are reading Jesse`s blog just like his style of writing because it`s easier to follow the main ideas of articles. This style, as well as sharing his huge knowledge of karate with readers, is what makes the blog a great source of information.
    • Did your mother not teach you that if you can't say something nice then say nothing at all.
        • Arjun
          Well Said Steven. Kim deserves it
    • Really?? You criticize the typing style of his sharing knowledge .. I think immaturity On your part
  • Austin
    I like the idea of including links to previous related articles. It's always nice when I'm new to a site, I find out I like the site, and then I'm sucked into a bottomless pit of learning. It's pretty great. I don't think you've put links mid-article like that before, so I just wanted to let you know it seems right.
    • Thanks Austin-san! I've only done it a few times before. Glad to hear it's appreciated! :-)
  • Michael
    Great Story Jeese ! always ;-) Ich will keep that in my mind as i have to show the Heian Yondan for my DKV-Grading to 5.Kyu tomorrow.. With good wishes from Itosu Anko, what can go wrong..? Greetings from Germany :-) Oh, and you have a great writing style with all that bold, italic, larger, smaller, (), subheaders..
    • Thanks Michael-san - makes me glad to hear! Good luck with your grading, I'm keeping my fingers crossed. ;-)
  • SamirB
    Awesome as usual. But it actually *was* what I was thinking before reading it. ;) :P By the way, I'm among those who think Pinan are a work of genious. For some time I used to teach my students Naihanchi as their first kata. Then I found out Pinan had really a much more didactic approach without losing martial content (as long as you understand it ;) ). Now some people claim Pinan has no actual fighting content. I find this very peculiar because what you need to understand Pinan bunkai is pretty much the same for other Shurite kata in general. So what kata would have actual fighting content for those people? I answer: they don't really get any of them.
  • Carlos
    Que me Recomendarías para una estancia de 60 días en Okinawa aprendiendo karate y libido en año proximo. Hace muchos años practicó shito ryu
  • Brian
    Sensei Jesse, As a beginning Shotokan Karate Ka, this article was very interesting to me and I thank you for it. The perspective that these kata names may have a more practical meaning as opposed to the mystical "Peaceful Mind" is astounding. It makes sense that Karate Do had to be more appealing and applying a mysticsl meaning might make it more attractive to the common person. Some might feel that it cheapens their training as not being "True Karate" and is instead a modern, more McDojo style devised in the early twentieth. Now the old McDojo is the modern regular dojo. However, people must always remember that karate, regardless of its form, is truly born from within and McDojo or not - true Karate Ka seek the truth, accept it and learn from it.
    • Amen to that, Brian-san!
  • hi Jesse, another great post, thank you. Yes as far as I know Iain and yourself are you first researchers to openly make this logical conclusion. And I totally agree. It really needs to be spread and accepted. Regards GP
    • Thanks Graham-san! You should read my discovery on Naihanchin / Tekki kata... Maybe one day I'll write it down. ;-)
  • carlos
    Hello Jesse. Just one Error. Funakoshi did not create or found shotokan, He said he wanted to unite Karate, not separate into styles. I quote "I've heard myself referred to as the "shotokan style" but i strongly object to this classification. I believe all "styles" should be combines into one, so that karate may progress into the future""
    • Funakoshi definitely created Shotokan, Carlos-san. He just didn't call it that. ;-)
      • carlos
        He meant he did not want to create his own separate style, but wanted to combine all of the karate styles.
    • Russell O
      Takamizawa Sensei from Wado Ryu would always say "there are only 2 types of karate.... good and bad!" The style does not define its practitioners, nor vice versa. I personally love the different styles as we as people are all different and so having a few core styles to choose from allows us to best find one that compliments our personality and even body types. (not everyone can achieve the Bruce Lee look) Over time many different types of karate from Okinawa families have been lost, I feel we would lose so much to 'standardise' karate.
  • Nice article. Do you have sources you could share on the history of Itosu, the introduction of karate into the Japanese army and Okinawan schools, and the development of the Pinan/Heian kata? I actually study taekwon-do and I love learning about the history of karate to figure out how TKD developed the way it did. So I'd love to learn more about this.
    • Evan Yeung
      Hey Kevin. You might want to check out the book "A Killing Art" by Alex Gillis, which tracks the history of modern TKD from its Shotokan roots to the present (with accompanying nasty political infighting.). Thought it was a fascinating read.
      • That's a great book. I've had it on my bookshelf for a while now.
  • Ossu! I've just begun learning Pinan Godan, and I've been wondering what the heck is up with that "peaceful" stuff. I mean I ring a guy's bells, he grabs my wrist reflexively, I pull away sharply then finish him off brutally. Or I grab someone's head and smash her face into my knee... What's so peaceful about all that??? Shoot, my imaginary scenario for Sandan is a bar fight featuring a cast of characters consisting of some very unsavory thugs, gangsters, and bikers! I've noticed progressions in the series too - like in Nidan, ringing the guy's bells drops him and I go on to the next guy, but in Sandan, the guy doesn't go down so easy and I have to pull away and finish him off. There are loads of other instances of putting movements into new contexts. Now I have confirmation my suspicions are correct - these progressions are built in as teaching tools. Thanks for shedding light on this series of kata - I've been enjoying learning and exploring them, now I have new things to ponder :-)
  • Arjun
    Very useful information Jesse. Since the day i started reading your articles my knowledge in karate improved a lot which i cannot describe. Keep up this good work. God bless you
  • David Light
    the Peaceful Mind translation has meant for me if you learn the techniques of these kata, no matter then situation, you can remain calm (peaceful mind)and not fight out of fear but be able to de-escalate a potentially violent confrontation. That way everyone stays safe.
  • Alexander
    Thanks so much for this article Jesse-San! I'm a few hours late and people have already brought up Iain Bernathy immediately. XD Though there are many similarities, and you both have the overall same meaning, I have to give you credit for A. The Chinese connection that I should have obviously known about!! Really it helps drive the main point of "peaceful and calm" but more direct and with "Chinese prestige" B. Not ONLY is there history/cultural points I didn't know before, but also LOOK AT ALL THESE AWESOME PICTURES! (How can I forget that the great old masters all rocked mustaches?!) and C. AWESOME BONUS LINKS TO AWESOME RELATED READING...THAT ARE ALSO AWESOME!!!
  • Jesse, you're a real researcher at heart, I can tell!
  • Alexia
    Thought provoking as always Jesse, i really appreciate de work you do for us, the karatekas. Keep up the good work and please share your knowledge with us. Thank you
  • Mushin
    I have always interpreted Pinan / Heian and the peace and tranquility part not to mean that the forms are peaceful in nature but rather that by perfecting these forms you can have peace and tranquility in the sense that you can begin to truly defend yourself. This interpretation was instilled in me by Funakosi's text Karate-Do Kyohan. While there is nothing at all wrong with the interpretation that Pinan / Heian is wishing us as safe journey there really is not that much mystery in the name(s) of these kata. Funakoshi clearly states in Karato-Do Kyohan “Having mastered these five forms, one can be confident that he is able to defend himself competently in most situations. The meaning of the name is to be taken in this context”. With Funakoshi being a direct student of Itosu that is about as close to hearing the reasoning behind the names from Itosu as we can get... Unless there is a text by Itosu himself that I am not aware of. Since I believe there is not much room to doubt what is meant by Heian and Pinan nameing convention what does concern me is that if the statement "Most people think the name “Heian/Pinan” translates to “Peace and Tranquility”, “Tranquil Mind” or something spiritual, very beautiful, Asian and zen-like" is true and if indeed most Karte-ka are being taught translation as a strict translation then there are many Sensei that are misinformed... unless they are simply trying to use this informal translation as a way to convey the concept that self confidence and mastery of technique can lead to "Peace and Tranquility" or a zen-like experience but realize that such concepts are probably too advanced for a new Karate-Ka to comprehend when they are still trying to master control of their own bodies so that they may properly execute the forms. We can however be certain of one thing... The duality of meanings of Heian / Pinan is interesting and a perfect example of the power of Karate where on the surface things appear to have one meaning and interpretation but as our depth of knowledge grows we find that a there is much more to be learned than we ever imagined.
  • I was always told that the Heian Period of Japanese history was noted for the height of Buddhism, Taoism, and other Chinese religions. The Imperial court was noted for art, poetry, and literature. The word "Heian" translated as 'peace', or 'tranquility'. It was said that he who mastered the basic self-defense skills in the five Heian katas could protect himself in almost any empty-handed attack, thus having 'peace of mind' in his safety.
  • Ramon
    Hi Jesse-san awesome article as always. Really enjoy your works of karate knowledge. I am a Sensei in Inoue-Ha Shito Ryu and have never really asked my Senseis but have always thought that the Pinans/Heians were somehow relayed to the Kosokun/Kushanku/Kanku series, what I mean is when you first learn Kosokun it's like they jammed all different parts of Heians in there. Hopefully I made sense in my explanation and awaiting your reply, I always thought you were older than you are, you are wise beyond your years Jesse-san. Ossu from Florida
  • Ice cream Wang
    I agree with you Jeese. Pingan/pinan in Chinese is exactly what you found out! I have translated this arttle into Chinese so many Chinese karatekas and martial artists can read!
  • Jakob
    reminds me a little bit on the story of the name of "Kara-te", where the meaning is in chinese "chinese hand" and in japan "emtpy hand". as far as I know they had to change the sybmol for it, but the pronunciation is the same. also this awareness is interesting for the history of karate and where it comes from...
  • Jesse, great article and insight. I love studying the kanji to gain a deeper meaning. In time, learning them can help you translate old texts on the martial arts. I am also a student of Tang Soo Do (basically the exact same characters as Tou-di, with Do added). Other words for Korean Karate are Kong Soo Do (literally open hand way, just like the characters used today for Karate). Another point to keep in mind is that Heian was the old name for Kyoto. It's significant also because the Dai Nippon Butokukai was formalized in 1895 in Kyoto. There was an older Butokukai before then, founded around the time that the capital of Japan moved to Keian (Kyoto). I am quite certain with the history being what it was in mainland Japan, Funakoshi was simply changing the reading of the Kanji from the Okinawan dialect which is more Chinese ("Pingan") to a more mainlander style "Heian" that most people would connect with their "proud national heritage" in the 1920s. Smart move on his part! But basically the kanji never changed! Also, in Korean, the same Kanji for "peace" is pronounced "ahn". "Pyung-ahn" is "Heian". This is used in the most basic greeting in Korean: "Ahnyong" - "hello" which actually translates to "peace!" Cue some Japanese or Korean selfies full of peace signs here!!! As we do in our style, "Tang Soo!" (A "Karate" cheer!) with a bow, and a raised fist. Rees
  • Nijil Jacob
    The last few things you said got me playing background music in my head!!! I love your articles man and the dedication you put into discovering more about karate and putting it out to everyone else so they can see. This is exactly what Sensei Anko Itosu wanted or aimed at! so basically you are fulfilling his mission or continuing it, reaching information from all around the world into the best blog and ofcourse there is the books.
  • I'm curious on karate's original name on why it was called "Tang Hand." Was the reason because the Ryukyuans thought to name their martial art after China made it more sophisticated? I guess this is a journey that I'll search.
    • Ice cream Wang
      Tang repesents China. Todi/karate originally means the "the Chinese hand", I guess it is the way the old karatekas showed how they respect the root of karate.
      • I know Tang was one of the names for China. However, was "Chinese hand" a sophistication to show Chinese culture admiration?
        • Ice cream wang
          Well, I am from China, and there are a number of karatekas from.Okinawa come to “Visit the ancesters of the karate” every year, include Higoona Soke. I believe that okinawans still repesct to China culturely today.
    • Karate originated from China. Or at least many of the forms/kata did, and you can still trace sequences in the katas back to Chinese Kung-Fu forms. So I think "China hand" or "Tang hand" was just a descriptive term for what it was. Unarmed combat techniques that came to a large degree from China.
  • Vicky
    I think people sometimes forget that there are a heck of a lot of dangerous moves in the Heian katas and if you practice them in detail you will find a lot of useful "tools" to defend yourself too. It's very fascinating to find out that "stay safe" is quite possibly the true meaning behind the name. Thanks for the read Jesse :-)
  • From General Choi's first Taekwon-Do book, published in 1965: Hei-An: Means safety and peacefulness. This name is obtained by the fact that anyone who has mastered this type is able to protect himself or herself easily in any unforeseen situation.
  • Rille
    This I think was but sadly is not anymore common knowledge atleast amongst older karatekas that are somewhat informed of their history. I wonder if the standard way of training in todays society is making us lose too much of such knowledge as you see more and more often that people have no idea of such things.
  • I've always had the understanding that even though Pinan means "peaceful" or "peaceful mind" in Japanese, it wasn't because of the way the katas are performed, but because of the end result. I was taught that the katas were meant to contain all of the self defense techniques that one needed to know, and after "mastering" the kata, they would be able to defend themselves in any situation and thus have a "peaceful mind".
  • If you're interested in the real meaning of the Pinan name, you may also be interested in the original name for the katas. Channan. Supposedly a lost kata... Or simply the working title until the better name was chosen. But why Channan? Well... The original kanji characters used for karate before it was taken to Japan were : ?? where ? means Tang and ? means hand. The ? refers to the Tang dynasty and is generally taken to just mean China. However, as you've noticed, it looks like Itosu was a bit of a China geek as well as a karate geek. The capital city of the Tang Dynasty was a place now called Xi'an, but previously called "Chang'an" during the Tang times. Sounds familiar... Chang'an (??) means "perpetual peace" or "eternal peace". So Itosu's original name for the Pinan katas - ?? - Channan - or Chang'an, named after the capital city of the Tang Dynasty: "Eternal peace" What's the more likely? Chang'an (??) the city ... Or ... some hoary old tale about learning the Channan kata from some old shipwrecked chinese named Channan? (which seems to have been said about all katas)
    • Great. All the kanji got wiped out. Find more info on wikipedia:'an
    • Ice cream wang
      From what heard, channan is the name of a chinese kungfu monk.(aka anan,ananko...)he fought with Matsumura and Mastumura could not defeat him.Many katas like jion,rohai,jiin. Were taught by him after.that
      • " heard, channan is the name of a chinese kungfu monk" I have a sneaking suspicion that this is what is said about any kata which they don't really know the history for and really means "I don't know". I think the Tang capital city being called Chang'an is far too close to be coincidental. It has an additional implication as well because it backs up the renaming of the katas to Ping'an or Pinan and the meaning thereof. And it also implies that Itosu put his most useful techniques into the Pinan katas, not simply children's techniques.
        • Ice cream Wang
          It is really interesting to see those who strongly suspect something but without a single clear evidence. The history of Chinese monk Channan/Anan is widely known in Okinawa karate world. the"Chan" in Channan is the Chinese character for Zan"?"?which proves Channan's buddlism background. As told by Shorinryu kenshikai's artcle"The History of Master Channan", Channan went to Okinawa around 1864BC as a private(He was arresting by Chinese goverment ). He was invited to teach local people kungfu after fighting with Matsumura. And left to Taiwan later. The last person who had contacted with him from Okinawa was Kyan Chotoku, he claimed that he learn a kata from Channan, and he named it Annanko.(Mr. Channan/Anan). It still been praticed in Shitoryu and Matsubayashi ryu. Those stories are also told by Shoshin Nagamine's book. The katas those passed down from Channan includes Jiin, Jion, Jite and Chitto.(Anan maybe?) I saw the kata list with Channan on as the the founder of those katas in Shorinryu Kenshikai Honbu dojo. Feel free to ask me for the picture but they are in Kanji. BTW,I am sorry but Changan had changed its name since Yuan dynasty, and sadlly, Channnan and Changan's kanji?Channan?? Changan??? are no where close. Also Chang(?)means "Long" instead of eternal. Futhermore, Changan dzent sound like Channan at all, neither in Chinese or Japanese/Okinawan.
          • Ice cream Wang
            sorry but it seem kanji cannot be shown here....BTW Channan came to Okinawa around 1864 AD...SORRY
          • "The history of Chinese monk Channan/Anan is widely known in Okinawa karate world" So there will be no problem with plenty of references. As I've said I've heard these stories about virtually every kata, but there's never any evidence beyond hearsay to back them up. Like much of what's taught in karate, it's most likely just mythology with characters, places and people all mixed up. "Channan went to Okinawa around 1864BC" This would give less than ~30 years to teach the katas, for them to spread throughout the island, for Itosu to develop the Pinans and for shuri-te karate to develop. I'm *very* skeptical it's really just one more part of the mythology which doesn't add up. As I see it the real honest answer is "I don't know" leaving the likelyhood of Itosu having originally created Channan as a working title for the Pinans and having named his katas originally after the historic Tang capital as equally likely. Latin based languages are basically phonetic. Channan and Chang'an sound similar. They must sound similar enough in the asian language/dialect used to translate to english that they are written in a similar way. I've never seen any kanji specific to the "lost" kata Channan. Given that large parts of the Pinans were lifted almost wholesale out of Kusanku, Passai, Chinto and other katas. Occam's Razor says there isn't much reason to believe they are anything other than Itosu's collection of the best/most appropriate techniques from the other katas, and Channan was just a working title till he came up with a better one.
  • Ice cream wang
    They must sound similar enough in the asian language/dialect.... Your comments are way more subjective. Channan and Changan sounds so where close in Mandrin, Fujianish\Taiwanese,Okinawan or Japanese. Its not just between kanjis,(no kanji for you think Okinawans write thier history in English or any"Latin language"),but the tones are very different. I bet you are not fluent or at least not a native speaker in any single language above.
  • Hello Jesse? I'm a Chinese who loves Karate, I have been to Naha, Okinawa and train at Higaonna sensei' dojo several times. I went to James' dojo bar and ordered your Jesse special cocktail btw. As I read your article, I would like to leave some comments about my feelings. I followed master Yasuaki kurata who is a famous action star in Hong Kong and Japan. His style is more or less shotogan although not exactly, and the first kata he taught us was Heian/Pinan. Since I didn't know much about japanese and karate's culture and history, my first reflection when I heard/saw the word ?? was "Safe" and never thought about "tranquil and peaceful" things. Being safe means not to hurt others but have the ability to defend oneself when in harm, and that's maybe why every Heian/Pinan kata begins with a defensive move. I Like reading your articles and this is a very good read and I'd like to share with my dojo friends. Btw, Jesse's cocktail tastes nice too.
  • Okami
    Konniciha Jess-san! Recently i used to read your website, and i have to say, i like that. I myself training Kyokushinkai, alongside with some Japanese Jujutsu, Judo etc., so i'm also interested in such a thing "karate nerd"-ness... I really loved this article. I have read the biography of Funakoshi Gichin, and some books about how the Karate have introduced in japan; and i'm honestly interested in the history of how some of the katas was born. Besides, i have a japanese major at my university - and yes, i am that "creepy" guy who carries a bokuto in his bag, knows all the kanji which related to martial arts (but nothing else), and gets his ass kicked instead of just watching some anime - so my main interest is budo-research of course. Because that, can i just ask your help a little bit? Could you just share with me, your main researching sources for this article (and the others which are about karate-history)? I have learned that you used to live in Okinawa, so sure, you must have a lot of "personal experience" of course, but besides that, could you maybe recommend some reliable books, articles etc. to me, from where i can start my research in the history of karate? (No offense, but it would be a little bit strange, if i just refer to a "karate-nerd guy" in some of my dissertations at the university). It can be english or even japanese - i can handle it i guess. By the way, sorry for my bad english, i did not practice that for a long time. Thank you very much, and best wishes, you are kakkoi! ^^
    • Okami-san, did you read my free 7-day Karate Nerd guide? I recommend tons of books and websites there.
      • Okami
        Not yet, i have just drifted here. But sure, i will do. Thank you - also for the quick reply - Jesse-san!
  • Why is Pinan Shodan and Nidan reversed in the Heians? I do Shotokan and have often wondered why Heian Nidan would come first and Heian Shodan would come second in other systems that use the Pinans. It always seemed to me like Heian Shodan is easier to learn and should come first, as indicated also in the name. So why are the corresponding Pinans the other way around? Pinan Shodan is Shotokan's Heian Nidan. I have a feeling you have already written an article about this and I haven't seen it. ?
  • Leo
    Thank you very much for sharing this wisdom Jesse-san, it makes more sense than "tranquil" meaning, most of us know about Pinan/Heian.
  • Eche
    About 20 years ago I worked with girl who was half Chinese and half Japanese who told me that I was pronouncing Heian wrong and that it meant "take it easy". I thought she was messing with me because I heard "penguin" but she must have said "Pingan".
  • Siddhesh Singh
    Oh! No! I didn't know about that Thaks for this update
  • Hi Jesse, Please allow me to add another thought to this thred. There is a histrical period in Japan called "Heian Period (794 to 1185 A.D.)" which began when the 50th Emperor Kanmu moved Japan's capital from the City of Nara to the City of Heian (current Kyoto). The Heian Period is also known for the emergence of the samurai into political power. Most notably, the Taira Family (also called "Heike") who raised to the power and ruled much of the country on behalf of the emperor. This was one of the most peaceful eras in Japan. Culture florished and poetry and calligraphy were the most important social skills. However, in 1185, the Minamoto Family (also called "Genji") defeated the Taira Family in the Battle of Dan-no-ura marking the end of the Heian Period. Many of the defeated Taira Family and its clan, thousands of them, fred to south by ship. Many of them ended up in the Ryukyu (current Okinawan) islands. Some were hired by the king of the Ryukyu Kingdam and allowed to live in the capital of Shuri surrounding the Shuri Castle. The Taira Family also taught the native Okinawan, who were Polynesian in origin, many of them came from Taiwan, how to read and write. The current Okinawan dialect/accent is similar to the ancient, Heian Period Japanese language because of this reason. And the modern-day Okinawans still call the Japanese people who live in the mainland, "Yamaton-chu" (people from Yamato, and the Yamato region refers to the ancient cities of Kyoto and Nara. So, obviously, Sensei Anko Itosu, who was born in Shuri and taught Shuri-te, was a decendant of the Taira Family. It was no accident that the series of kata that he designed carry the name "Heian." Also, although hardly any Japanese person even notices this but the kanji character "Hei" is the same one used for "Taira" for the Taira Family (Heike). The second character, "An" meaning "peace" and "comfort" is to put the Taira Family's soul to rest in peace. I might be the only Japanese person with this theory but I know that this really was the true history. So, Shuri-te (origin of Shotoka) came from the Heian Period fighting skills & arts developed and practiced by the Heike warriors on the horseback with spears, swords, and bow & arrows. On the other hand, the ocean-side villages of Naha and Tomari were Chinatowns where Chinese merchants and sailors lived, engazing in trades. Therefore, Naha-te and Tomari-te, which is almost identical to Naha-te, were Chinese in origin, and were empty-hand fighting skills required by the sailers to defend themselves from the pirates on their own ships. They are the origin of Goju-ryu karate. Hope you find my theory interesting. I can show you when and if there is an opportunity how Heian/Pinan Kata, as well as all other Shuri-te (Shotokan) katas, are actually the basic skills for spear (Yari & Naginata) handling on the horseback while manuvoring the horse with legs.
  • MUTANGUHA Fabrice Max
    Thank you Jesse, it's now clear and more broad. This can not be understood while starting the journey, it takes people who have been on it to understand what the Beginning was. Thanks again
  • Campbelle
    ...being of Chinese descent and studying karate...I always thought this was pretty obvious. I just took people who deferred to the Japanese meaning to simply want to...well...go along with the 'mystical eastern translation.' In fact, rather than thinking it means "Have a safe journey in Karate!" I often seen the context of the term "Ping'An" in Pinan to indirectly mean, "Self Defense." IE Ensuring your safety through self defense. That's why I always took the meaning of Pinan to actually be a roundabout, poetic way to saying "Self Defense." I thought they were being clever.
  • Ping-An
    "Heian/Pinan has NOTHING to do with esoteric “peaceful/tranquil mind” flower-power zen hipster mumbo-jumbo gibberish spiritualism." Hang on sensei. Spirituality is the basis of all languages and expressions. People thought spirituality is lighting incense, reciting prayers, or sleeping in a vertical position. "Pinan" is of Chinese origin but its meaning could differ based on geographical location and individual personal expression. "Ping-An" is not used solely for "goodbye, farewell, safe journey" alone -- to define it simplistically would be a westernized cultural appropriation. Not all Chinese or Japanese looked at martial arts as a fight-defence system as some martial artists have spiritual reason to practice Martial Arts apart from protecting the temple or community. A true fighter is very spiritual (mind power, energy burst, energy retention, destroying unhealthy thoughts, upholding equality, and understanding the value of humanity). There is nothing wrong with mumbo-jumbo gibberish spiritualism but what is wrong is one's insistence to hold the absolute truth and become reactive when differences or something alien to his/her limited experience appears. The problem with westerners is that they are trying to make everything logical, when the essence of oriental art is never a mere logical path. That is why karate-style became an issue because our education taught us an absolutist one-way of thinking but that is why MMA fighter won a lot of fights because they studied all styles equally. If we want karate to grow, we need to see karate founders as human with wisdom and intense spiritual realization -- not some cultural victim of inventors for cultural and political survival. I know this is 7 years ago, and I'm curious how the years shape your understanding. I hope your youtube video is genuinely about what the general overview of martial arts does not misrepresent or fall into the trap of generalizing them in western lenses for those who do not read/speak Chinese, Okinawan, Japanese. Humbly, oss!
  • Prekeme Frank Kentebe
    Very educative information......
  • Richard Leblanc
    I am a 65 year-old karate beginner currently working on my 5th kyu (blue belt at my dojo). Since the beginning of my short career as a karateka, my senseiband sempai made it clear that after having mastered the five Heian katas, one should attain a peaceful state if mind in the knowledge that, if needed, the karateka could defend him ir herself against one imir several attackers. This peaceful state of mind would liberate one from the pressing necessity of being able to defend oneself and to open their mind to the full richness if karate stressing mind body and spirit. One more thing… a few postings up, a person criticizes Jesse’s writing style. This is followed by several postings admonishing this person for their criticism. I do not find this constructive. Before retiring I remember being told by someone much wiser than I that, in intellectual discourse, once an idea is expressed, it no longer belongs to the person having expressed it but becomes the property of the group discussing it. With that mindset, people need not perceive criticism of an idea as criticism of the person having first expressed it. The group can rather concentrate in the discussion of the idea for the betterment of all. ‘Nuff said, eh.
  • Richard Leblanc
    Persuant to my last post: big thumbs, small keys, suspect eyesight and being in a freezing hockey arena lead to many typos. Sorry.

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