Mystery of the first two moves of Heian Yondan 平安四段最初の二挙動の謎
Here are a few nice photos of Sensei Teruyuki Okazaki (ISKF ex-chairman) showing kokutsu dachi jodan shuto kamae. They are from Heian yondan.
As you know the first two steps of Heian yondan are done slowly. On the other hand, the similar moves in Kanku dai are done very quickly.
The big question here is “Why are they done very slowly in Heian Yondan?” In fact, you will see many techniques in kata are purposely done slowly. They are done slowly for many different reasons. Have you ever thought about the reason why the first two moves of Heian Yondan are done slowly?
I consider this is a very unique and interesting case. The explanation I present here is my own idea so I could be wrong. However, I am pretty confident that I am not.
First you need to look at the source. This kata came from Shurite (Shorin ryu) Pinan. Earlier today (January 2017) I shared a video of Pinan Yondan performed by the Shorin ryu (Shidokan) practitioners in Okinawa. I shared it to show that those first two steps in the original kata are supposed to be performed in a quick motion.
For your information here is the link to Shidokan Pinan Yondan:
Here is how this kata is performed by Shito ryu.
As you can see they also perform the first two movements in a quick motion. Doesn’t this make you wonder? We need to think why Shotokan is the only ryuha (style) that does these two steps slowly.
You also notice that the stance by Shorin ryu and Shito ryu for those two steps is in neko ashi dachi. It is a historical fact that Master Funakoshi invented kokutsu dachi and he replaced neko ashi dachi in many kata including all of Heian kata. He also made other changes such as changing mae geri to yoko geri in Heian kata (nidan and yondan) but we will not go into that subject. I wrote about that in depth in one of my books, Shotokan Mysteries. If you are interested in this, please read Chapter One (New Techniques by Funakoshi) of this book. However, this change from neko ashi dachi to kokutsu dachi caused a great impact to some kata, namely Kanku dai.
As many of the readers know that Kanku dai (Kusanku) was Funakoshi’s favorite kata. When he taught this kata to his students, the brown belts and probably shodan practitioners, he noticed that it was difficult for them to do the fast moves of the 3rd and 4th steps, left and right jodan shuto uke in kokutsu dachi.
If the stance is neko ashi dachi, it is much easier to coordinate the stance with shuto movement including turning quickly. However, a longer stance of kokutsu dachi makes it much more challenging to get in the good stance and to execute the upper body motion (jodan shuto uke) simultaneously. Especially, if you wish to execute two sides with a 180 degrees turn in a hurry.
So, that was Funakoshi’s concern with his students. I believe he found a solution in Heian yondan. He made the first two moves slow so that the practitioners will learn how to coordinate the lower body motion (kokutsu dachi, photo below left) and the upper body motion (jodan shuto uke, photo below right, sensei Kase) in a simultaneous motion.
It is easy to say to do these moves in synchronicity but in fact what happens with many of the intermediate practitioners (6th kyu all the way up to shodan level), they will first make a kokutsu dachi and the upper body technique, jodan shuto uke, will follow. In other words, those two areas (lower body and upper body) motions are not coordinated or synchronized. Is this the way you do Heian yondan? If you do, then what is wrong with that? It is easy to explain. As the foundation, the stance is already formed, the upper body motion will be done separately thus it will lack the speed and power. This is the same principle as gyaku zuki executed in a still stance (no matter how much of hip rotation you may add) you cannot generate as much speed and power in its punch as the moving techniques of oizuki.
As Funakoshi sensei found that it was difficult for his students to execute these moves quickly, he intentionally slowed the speed of those two steps. In this way, the students could practice the coordination much easier. Unfortunately, as the incorrect moves (upper and lower bodies moving separately) have become so popular and common, it seems to have been accepted lately. Sadly, it also has become the “correct” way by many dojo and organizations. I hope that is not the case in your dojo. This may seem like a minor error or deviation but you will pay for it when you begin to practice Kanku dai.
The image below is a sequence shots of correct way of doing the very first step of Heian Yondan demonstrated by Yoshiharu Osaka. When he completes his kokutsu dachi that is exactly when he completes his arms’ movement.
For the second move, initially your hands drop down in a semi-circular way, before your feet and body begins to turn. In other words, you will remain in left kokutsu keeping your weight on your right leg when the arms make the first half of the semi-circular motion. Only when the hands pass the center of gravity line and begin to rise again, your weight will start to shift to your left leg. Remember that your weight will transfer gradually as the hands rise slowly to jodan shuto position. By doing it this way, the upper and lower body move simultaneously and are completed at the same moment.
Why not try this way and see how challenging it is to do it correctly. Once you master this with Heian yondan, I guarantee that you will be able to do the first two quick moves in Kanku dai much faster, and most importantly, you can do them with much better balance and a more stable kokutsu dachi.