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Heian Shodan

White to Yellow Belt

Originally the second of the five Heian kata, this is now practiced as the first by most novice students in modern Shotokan Karate clubs. Heian Shodan is distinguished by its use of the down block, the upper block, the middle level stepping punch, the sword hand block, and the fact that every technique takes one step to complete.

.The purpose of this kata is to teach the student basic stepping in a front stance and back stance, to teach the application of stepping punches following blocks which remove any obstructing limbs, and the use of blocking as attacking.

Heian Shodan is generally best introduced to students after they have completed a 2 month long sequence of training in the basic techniques. They should be familiar with the concepts of the individual hand and foot motions, the three basic stances, the basic kicking techniques, and the processes involved in advancing, retreating, and turning the body about in a stable fashion.


1. Natural Position - Begin the kata with your hands relaxed at your sides in fists. Your feet should be about as far apart as your hips are wide as measured from the inside of your feet.

2. Down Block - Look left before you do anything. As a general rule in every kata, look before you start to move in any new direction with a snappy head turn, and ensure the face is fully pointing in the direction you are about to move. Step out to the left with the left foot into a front stance. The stance should be about 12 to 14 inches wide when measured from the most inside portion of one foot to the other. The hips are already to the side because of the angle of your motion, so you don't really have to turn them. Some people make an extra motion of trying to turn their hips forward so that they can snap them to the side again, but this is unnecessary. This technique really doesn't harness the hips very much. When you fold the arms for the block, you should bend your knees just a little - not too much - before stepping out with the left foot. Whatever you do, do not lean forward or bend over forward and then expand back out to good posture as you step out. Keep your posture vertical.

3. Stepping Punch - Step forward with the right foot into a front stance. Punch middle level. The punch should focus when the foot touches the floor and should be relaxed by the time the stance settles. There will be vibration in the stance after the foot hits the floor that will take a brief moment to dissipate. You focus during this time. Keep the hips squarely to the front throughout the step. Do not try to cock the hip back and then wiggle the pelvis on impact in an attempt to create any vibration. Vibrations happen on their own. Simply drive forward and keep the hips as square to the front as you can, and you'll end up doing the motion most efficiently.

4. Down Block - Turn 180° to the rear looking over the right shoulder. Step the right foot back to the left without leaning forward, fold the arms for the down block as you pivot clockwise, and then unfold them in a burst to perform the block as you continue to pivot to the right performing the down block. You should finish in a front stance with the right foot forward.

Not recommend turning the way Kanazawa demonstrates in his Karate Kata books. He reaches back with his foot, as if testing the temperature of the water and then pivots on both feet. By doing this, he leans forward and away from the turn, and he ends up fouling not only the beauty of the kata but also the speed and efficiency of the turning action. Instead, on any turn, bring the feet together as you pivot on one foot, never lean, and then step out in the direction of the next technique.This should all be performed in one fluid motion without a pause when the feet are brought together.

5. Vertical Bottom Fist Strike - This is the only technique that keeps this kata from being completely symmetrical. From the down block position, raise the right fist overhead by passing it past the left ear and then over the crown of the head in a vertical fashion. As you pull back the fist, you should retract your front front foot half-way back to the left foot. Shuffle the foot back into place again while you strike downward to your own mouth height. You should finish with your elbow at a 90° angle.

There are several points of contention here for many people. Some schools prefer to do this technique the older way: They pull the foot back as they strike and not shift back forward again. Shotokan schools avoid this style of motion for one reason: it prevents the kata from returning to the same spot. Others prefer not to have the elbow bent on contact, and instead extend the arm straight out at the completion of the strike. While studying kata, keep in mind that such details are petty concerns which ultimately will not affect what you learn from them, will not impact whether or not you pass tests for new ranks, nor will they affect your success in competitions. It is the overall performance that wins, loses, passes, fails, and teaches. An elbow being bent this way or that on a single technique that no one agrees on is truly left up to the performer to manage. Should the hips be to the side or to the front during this technique? The hips should be to the side. Strikes performed with one hand on the lead leg side that are not punches are generally performed in the half-front facing position.

There should be no reaching with the left hand in order to make a draw hand. Just leave the left hand where it is on the side of the hip as you perform this action.

6. Stepping Punch - Step forward with the left foot and punch middle level. There is often disagreement about what constitutes middle level punching. Some people prefer to punch directly in front of their own solar plexus (the place where the tip of

the sternum ends). Others prefer to punch more toward the middle of the sternum so that the arm is parallel to the floor. And yet others punch in front of the shoulder. Each instructor seems to have his preference. Over the long term, as you advance, remember that these air techniques have only imaginary targets, and punching consistently in any position during a kata will not affect your ability to punch a real target located somewhere else. It is up to the performer to choose.

7. Turn and Down Block - Look left 90° and bring the left foot in to the right as you fold for a down block. Step out to the left into a front stance with the left foot and down block strongly.

8. Upper Level Rising Blocks - Raise the left hand open in front of the forehead in the same shape as an upper level rising block. Keep the elbow at 90°. Step forward, and trade the hands, upper level rising blocking with the right hand in a fist synchronized with the turning of the hips to the side. Open the right hand, and then step forward and block again with the left. Repeat again with another step on the right side and let out a kiai. The hips are turned to the side on each block. Try to step forward, bring the hips to square as the feet pass, and then leave the hips there until you move the arm. Try not to gradually unfold the hips as you step forward, but rather burst them to the side at the end of the step.

9. Down Block - Turn 270° counter-clockwise with the feet close together as above, and then step out with the left foot into a down block. 

10. Stepping Punch - Step forward with the right foot and punch middle level with the hips square.

11. Down Block - Turn 180° to the right as before, and down block.

12. Stepping Punch - Step forward with the left foot into a front stance and punch middle level.

13. Down Block - Turn 90° to the left, as before, and down block.

14. Stepping punches - Step forward and punch middle level. Again. And again for a total of three. The timing of these three techniques, and the three upper level rising blocks, can be either 1--2--3 or 1---2-3. It's your choice. Tournament competitors usually use the second timing. People who prefer their kata more old fashioned tend to use the first. Keep the hips square during all three of these techniques. Don't wiggle them or otherwise try to artificially induce hip motion. The power behind the punch is the stepping action driving the hips forward.

15. Turn and Sword Hand Block - Turn 270° as before with the feet close together. Step out into a left back stance and sword hand block middle level with the left hand. This will work well for you if you avoid the biggest pitfall in performing this technique – allowing the back to curve to the side so that the hips are not directly under the torso, but instead are tilted with the front leg side higher than the rear leg side. Correcting this will create a truly beautiful back stance that you will be proud to display.

16. Sword Hand Block - Step forward and to the right 45° angle with the right foot. Pass the foot close to the left foot as you step. Block with the right hand. Try to wait to turn the hips to the side until the very end of the technique. Remember that sword hand blocks, as almost all basic blocks, contain a strict folding, chambering, or stacking action before the block itself is thrown. These actions have particular meanings, and should not be skipped or looked at lightly. To improve the speed of your blocking, snap the folding action rather than performing your blocks in a slower, two motion sort of way. Be careful that you do not short the motion in an attempt to go faster. Always throw your techniques as fast as you can using the strictest and longest motion.

The trick is to step quickly. During basic technique training, allow the hands and the feet to race one another. The hands will always win, but the faster you move your hands, the faster your feet will move. And the reverse is true, so try to step very quickly, and make your sword hand techniques a single, snapping motion instead of reaching, stepping, and then blocking in a plodding, slow kind of way.

17. Sword Hand Block - Turn 135 degrees to the right and sword hand block with the right hand again. Because of the way you will perform this, turning your hips out to the side explosively will be impossible. Don't try to force it. Instead, harness the turning of the shoulders in the direction of the block. This is a different sort of leveraging of the body from the last block.

18. Sword Hand Block - Step with the left foot to the 45° angle to the left into another sword hand block. Perform as in 2 moves prior. 

19. Finish - Stand back up into the natural stance by withdrawing the front leg back to the support foot. Do not push off with the front foot. Lift it and withdraw it back in. Do not lean to withdraw it. This requires some skill to do. 

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