Heian Shodan and Nidan (alternatively Pinan Nidan and Shodan) are at least 100 years old but before that their origins start to become cloudy.
Yasutsune ‘Anko’ Azato was well renowned for teaching these forms and it is likely he formulated the 3rd, 4th and 5th kata in the series.
But did Itosu create Heian 1-2 and why and from what source?
The most likely anecdote comes from Choki Motobu who saw Itosu performing these kata and saw that they were familiar to him yet different. Motobu knew them as the Channan forms. Itosu simply replied that they were now called Pinan, and this was on the advice of his younger students.
Perhaps the word Channan had lost meaning in Okinawa and so the students felt the relatively similar sounding Pinan (peaceful mind) would be more apt.
Channan could be an Okinawan attempt at pronouncing the Mandarin words “chang chuan” which is a common term used to denote “long fist boxing”, styles of Kung Fu which use stances very similar to those seen in these kata.
Another theory is that Itosu extracted the Pinan forms from the older kata, the most commonly cited being Kushanku (Kanku Dai).
Itosu had at least three teachers, but it seems likely that Pinan 1 and 2 were taught to him by Sokon Matsumura. They are present in styles not directly derived from Itosu’s teachings that were derived from Matsumura’s including Matsumura Seiot Shorin Ryu and Matsubayashi Ryu.
It is possible that the forms were brought to Okinawa in the 1750s when Matsumura’s teachers Sakugawa and Yara trained with Wang Zong Yue and/or Kushanku.
The form now known as Heian Nidan in Shotokan and known as Pinan Shodan elsewhere, was originally the first form of the two, so we can conjecture that its start was also the start of ‘Channan’.
The first movement “the double block” is also taught as an armlock such as ude garami. Whether used as a block and strike or as a lock, it works well against a hook punch or straight punch alike. As a two handed “flinch” response it is an excellent technique to drill since double handed parries and covers are more effective and practical as well as being more intuitive.
This movement is also seen in very similar forms in various Koryu Jujutsu paired sets.
The forms include generous use of the Shuto technique. In these two short forms there are 11 shuto strikes. In the Shotokan versions these are delivered at “carotid artery height” – again an excellent, practical and intuitive place to strike. Of course they work as blocks against both hooking and straight punches especially when paired with the hikite movement. Personally I much prefer Shotokan’s Kokutsu Dachi to the older use of Nekoashi Dachi.
There are lots of basics in these forms, including Gedan Barai, Jodan Age Uke, Uchi Ude Uke, Oi Tzuki, Gyaku Tzuki and Mae Geri and drilling these forms gives a good way of blending combinations. They also use Nukite, perhaps derived from the Chinese technique ‘snake spits tongue’ which is also seen in Kushanku, and Morote Uke which seemingly originated in the Okinawan guard position of ‘husband and wife hand.’
There is a somewhat counter-intuitive way of stepping in these forms. A front leg turn is used throughout Heian Shodan which seems to be the most clumsy way of turning 180 degrees. Similarly Heian Nidan uses a large turning circle following the Nukite.
If we view the forms in a ‘kickboxing’ context, these turning methods make little sense. But if we think of the foot movements as, what is known in Aikido as ‘Tenkan’, they start to make sense.
These foot movements teach evasive tactics and are also useful for generating hip power in takedowns. They also work well for weapons such as the katana and bo, perhaps a throwback to Matsumura’s training in the Jigen Ryu.