Kata is one of the fundamental aspects of the study of Karate. Kata combines strikes, blocks and other moves into a set sequence.
When Karate was being developed in Okinawa, kata was the principal means of teaching. Yasutsune Itosu developed the Pinan katas around 1905. Itosu is said to have learned a kata from a Chinese man living in Okinawa. Itosu then formed five katas from this longer kata, as he thought would be easier to learn. These five kata were Pinan Shodan, Nidan, Sandan, Yondan, and Godan.
The word Pinan (Okinawan) or Heian (Japanese) means “peaceful mind”. (Pinan is the Okinawan pronunciation and the same word can be pronounced as Heian in Japanese). In certain styles, Pinan Shodan and Pinan Nidan are inverted as Pinan Nidan is generally more beginner-friendly. The order that these kata are learnt in Wado-Ryu is: Pinan Nidan; Pinan Shodan; Pinan Sandan, Pinan Yodan and Pinan Godan.
These kata, and especially Pinan Nidan (as the first kata learnt), are incredibly important. They not only teach the basic strikes, blocks and stances but they introduce students to the more intricate skills required in developing as a student of Karate. These kata were indeed first established when Itosu was introducing Karate to the Okinawan schools. However, these kata are not only used to instruct beginners, but to develop the ability of all students. The karate saying ‘san nen no kata’ (meaning three years one kata) indicates the importance of practicing kata. It means it is more beneficial to know and understand one kata thoroughly, than to know many kata but only on the surface. This is because you will understand the meaning behind the moves, why they work and how they can be applied effectively in different situations. It will add value your karate study and improve your overall ability. Mabuni Kenwa (one of the first karateka to teach karate on mainland Japan) stated in his book that “it is not important how many kata one knows, but how well you know any given kata. One will gain more from knowing one kata in depth than from ten kata superficially.”
Pinan Nidan will remain relevant to your training throughout your progression, as it may be performed in any grading. It is also relevant to ‘Bunkai’, which is the analysis of kata and is a part of all black belt gradings.