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Heian Nidan

by on June 7, 2013

Heian nidan is a shorin kata containing 26 movements (waza) with 2 kiai points. It is the second kata you learn when joining Shotokan karate when you are a yellow belt.  In Japanese, heian (平安) means “peaceful mind” and nidan means “second level“.

Being in the shorin category, this kata focuses on being flexible, soft and slow with quick, sharp movements. Being relatively new to martial arts, most people will not have developed a lot of power yet. Heian nidan takes advantage of this fact and helps you develop quick movements which will be the basis for strength and power later.

On top of heian shodan, this kata will introduce you to:

  1. a double raising block
  2. 2 blocks which double as strikes
  3. side snap kick (with simultaneous back-fist strike)
  4. spear-hand strike
  5. reverse hip rotation
  6. inside-outward block

Like heian shodan, heian nidan is directly descended from kanku dai. Even beginners can see where the two overlap: the simultaneous kick and back-fist strike, and the two sequences of knife-hand blocks and the spear-hand strike, as well as other less obvious ways.

Heian nidan seems lighter than heian shodan, has quicker, sharper movements with more direction changes and rapid sequences of techniques. If you’ve grinned and bared it during white belt and heian shodan, it starts to become worth it now. Heian nidan is a fun kata at first, and a great kata for bunkai which you’ll learn later in your karate development. So where do you start?

For the Yellow Belt

You’ve passed your first grading, you’ve got a new belt, you’re really coming up in the world, huh? Welcome to karate. Your kata curriculum begins with the characteristic Shotokan block/strike: shuto-uke kokutsu dachi, the knife-hand block in back stance.

How important is shuto-uke right now? We can just look at the numbers:

Total movements in Heian Nidan: 26
Number of shuto-ukes: 7
Percentage of Heian Nidan which is shuto-ukes: ~ 27%

If you focus on shuto-uke, you’ve already covered over a quarter of the kata. So what matters in shuto-uke? First, there must be outward pressure between you knees. There’s a tendency to let the back knee move in toward your center line when it needs to form a plumb-line above your big toe. Your feet should form an “L” shape, and NOT a “T” shape. Try finding a hardwood floor and stand in back-stance along the same direction that the hardwood flows. Your heels should both be on the same piece of the hardwood. Now the hands: the absolute key is to have your forearm, wrist, and hand in a single plane. Secondly, the hand which rests at your sternum should be perfectly parallel to the floor; this includes your thumb. Don’t allow the thumb to curl up toward your face and keep your hand flat.

That’s enough for now. There’s a lot more to learn, but we take it in steps and you’ll get around to other issues in due course.

For the Orange Belt

Reverse hip rotation is a gnarly demon that most karate beginners struggle with when joining. Your mind says “Sure, looks easy enough” and your body says “Uh uh, we don’t move like that!”. Its something that your foot, knee, hips, and shoulders are all going to have to get together over drinks about and hash it out. There’s going to have to be an agreement here before we go any further. Fortunately, there’s a support group!

The support group begins by helping you put your best foot forward.

In heian nidan, the reverse hip rotation is executed together with an uchi-uke. You’ll have to pull your front foot back about 3-4 inches in order to get the block, but DON’T focus on the block and DON’T focus on the foot (or the knee). If you focus on bringing the foot back, your knee will come back first and you end up dragging the foot with it. Let the hip bring the knee and foot back.

Begin by forgetting about the block. Lower your arms for the time being. With either foot forward (your best one, I presume?) put 100% of your mind on your hip on the same side as your front foot. With a strong jerking motion, wrench that hip backwards, all the while maintaining your center line and the position of your other hip as much as possible. Your retracting hip brings the knee back and your foot along with it. Your leg may still be straightening, but this is easier to correct than the alternative.

For the Green Belt

Begin working on timing now. Sequences 16-17-18 and 19-20-21 are both uchi-uke with reverse hip rotation, then front-snap kick followed by reverse-punch. The time here is   1—2-3 with the punch reaching full extension at the same time that the kicking foot returns to the floor.

For the Purple Belt

A point that I was going to write in earlier but felt that its a little two difficult until now relates to how you ensure the correct form for your knife-hand block: by focusing on the other hand! The purpose of this block is tension at the moment of impact to provide stability. If you begin to feel tension and mild pain in your forearms, wrists and hands, you’re on the road to doing it right.

When you’re blocking hand is leaving the side of your head, focus on the retracting hand and make sure that when it comes to a stop at your sternum its perfectly flat and parallel to the floor. The tension you’re forced to apply here will translate to your other hand and help that hand end in the right spot. Moreover, tensing the retracying hand at the moment you block increases your shoulder expansion and lends more stability to your lateral muscles.

For the Brown Belt

Now you don’t want to have too much tension on your hands, arms and shoulders when blocking since this slows down the technique. There’s a deeply entrenched myth going around that tension at the moment of impact provides power. In fact, it slows your technique. Muscle tension is meant to restrict body moment or expand the body. Tensing your arm muscles when punching only slows things down.

For the Black Belt

There won’t be much “new” material for you now, but general improvement on all techniques is what we’re after.

For the front-snap kick followed by reverse-punch techniques, you have your standing leg bent to support your body when snap-kicking, so now push off of that leg explosively when reverse punching. This extension of the back leg adds forward momentum and pressure into the floor resulting in a stronger punch.

In the green belt section, I said to complete the reverse punch at the same time as the kicking foot lands. You still want to do this for competition maybe, depending on the organization your with, but in practice, complete the punch an instant before your front foot lands. Whenever your front foot is contacting the floor, motion is being hindered and energy is going into the floor, and not into your target. The time between completion of the punch and your foot landing on the floor should be as short as possible, but definitely present.

So that’s where I am right now. I’m continually working on deepening my knowledge of heian nidan and I could write a little more here but there’s no need to overload.

What have you learned from heian 2?

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