How long should Heian Shodan take?

How slow can you go?

I was asked at class one night how long it should take to do the kata, Heian Shodan.

To which I replied, "it all depends on your intent".

Let me explain.

If you consider yourself a traditional Shotokan karateka, then even if your dojo was never affiliated with the Japan Karate Association, your karate is in all lilklihood still grounded in the JKA style, as crafted by Shihan Masatoshi Nakayama. As such you may have in your personal library one, if not more of Shihan Nakayama's books from the series titled, Best Karate.

The first book in this series, Comprehensive, was published in 1977 and it focused primarily on basic fundamentals. The first book in the series, however, to deal solely with kata, was book number 5, published in 1979 and titled, Heian -Tekki. Featured were the five Heian katas and all three Tekki katas. At the end of each of these katas was a summary of the important points, as well as the approximate time in which each kata should be performed.

For Heian Shodan, the time frame says, "approximately 40 seconds".

By comparison today, watch a video of Heian Shodan being performed. I selected four very well known senseis, and in each case none of them need 40 seconds in which to do this kata. While it varied, the time it took each of them, from the first move, to the completion of the last move was as follows, 31.43 seconds, 23.16 seconds, 23.96 seconds, and 33.72 seconds.

Now this is where the answer I gave to my student, "it all depends on your intent" finds its explanation.

One of the other articles on my web site is titled, Form or Function. In it I talk about why a kata done for "form" should take more time to complete than a kata done for, "function". Since Shihan Nakayama's books suggests a time of "approximately 40 seconds" for the performance of Heian Shodan, I feel this an example of the kata being used purely as an instructional tool. As such "form" is being emphasised here, you are just practicing each intend movement and technique with the simple goal of improving their quality, not practicality, and as such speed is not a factor.

On the other hand, "function" is clearly being demonstrated in the performance of Heian Shodan by those four very well known senseis. Their respective videos clearly show a skilled practitioner displaying a fighting attitude, with sharp, quick techniques, while going through Heian Shodan unhindered by any kind of time constraint.

May I suggest that you have never had yourself timed doing Heian Shodan you may want to give it a try. Once for form, where the time it takes is not the primary concern, and once for functionality where you imagine your attackers. The results may surprise you.

Remember: "How you do something is just as important as why you do it"