Kata Study: Heian 3, 4 and 5

The third, fourth and fifth Heian Katas are thought to have been devised in around 1905 by Yasutsune Itosu.

Heian Sandan is a very unique kata and has a feel of being out of place with the rest of the Heian forms.

Where Heian Shodan and Nidan are the originals, and Heian Yondan is reminiscent of Kanku Dai and Heian Godan is reminiscent of Bassai Dai, Heian Sandan feels unique. It does however resemble Tekki Sandan but since this form is also a late addition to the canon, the question remains, which influenced which.

As I discussed in my previous study of Heian 1 & 2, the original name for the Heian/Pinan forms was Channan and this seems to suggest they originated in Chang Chuan (long fist boxing) but Heian Sandan which eschews typical Shotokan/long fist techniques like Zenkutsu Dachi seems to come from a different source all together.

The style Sandan most closely resembles is Pakua Zhang.

Pakua (Bagua) is the most circular of Chinese martial arts and look at Heian Sandan. Double blocks – circular, turn after Nukite – circular, turn after Oi Tzuki – circular. Fumikomi and Uraken – both circular. Heian Sandan includes more spins, twists and turns than any other kata.

I have theorised that the art Sokon Matsumura utilised to create Bassai Dai was Bazi Quan a style which includes forms Bazi Da and Bazi Xiao (Bassai Dai and Bassai Sho?)

Bazi Quan was the art from which Dong Hai Chuan created Pakua and it is possible that Matsumura and Dong Hai Chuan knew each other.

This may seem like a longshot, but considering Matsumura and Dong were about the same age and that at the time Matsumura was chief bodyguard to the Okinawan royal family while Dong was chief bodyguard to the Chinese royal family it is no less likely than today the British defence secretary meeting the US chief of defence. Mastumura went to Beijing on diplomatic trips. It is actually probable he met Dong. Would they have compared notes on martial arts? Perhaps. If the Bagua founder and the Bassai founder trained together maybe the twisting turning movements found in Heian Sandan were transmitted down that line. Matsumura probably never taught “Heian Sandan” but his student Itosu never invented the third form from thin air.


In Bushinkai we practice Heian Sandan with Nunchaku. Because of its lack of longfist techniques it doesn’t work as well as Shodan or Nidan with weapons like Sai and Bo. But because of its circles, figure 8s, two handed blocks and snapping strikes it works well with a Nunchaku.

Heian Yondan, carrying similarities with Kushanku (Kanku Dai) can also be performed with a wide variety of weapons including twin swords, tanto and tonfa.

Heian Godan which includes some of the same moves as Bassai Dai and therefore may also share its origin, can also be performed with a Bo.

Since it is believed Itosu extrapolated the five Heian/Pinan forms from perhaps two Channan forms it is possible that the first Channan, let’s call it Channan Dai consisted of what we now call Heian Nidan and Shodan and that Channan Sho consisted largely of what we now call Heian Yondan. That way both Channan forms would begin with a double handed block and end with a Shuto.

This then would leave Heian Sandan and Heian Godan as later additions that may have come from the Bassai (Bazi Quan) lineage rather than the Kushanku/Channan lineage.


Sokon Matsumura
Lived: 1798–1890
Occupation: Chief martial arts instructor and bodyguard for the Okinawan King
Created: Bassai Dai, a form likely derived from Bazi Quan.

Dong Hai Chuan
Lived: 1797-1882
Occupation: Bodyguard and tax collector for Prince Su of Chinese Imperial Court
Created: Bagua Zhang, a form likely derived from Bazi Quan.


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