Heian Godan Kata, One Kiai or Two?

One of the biggest issues with traditional martial arts today is consistency from school to school or instructor to instructor. When teaching or taking karate, you will start to encounter problem areas in kata and other basics/drills. What do I mean by “problem areas”? Lets take a basic example. For 20+ years, you may train with an instructor whom will tell you to punch one way. But then down the road, you train with someone else, perhaps even someone who trained under your instructor at one point, and then they tell you to do the punch different from how you’ve been doing it for 20 years. Who is right, and furthermore, what is the right way to do the punch?

The finest example of this “consistency” problem is Heian Godan. When watching/training with outsiders from our karate school, we often run into one trouble area of the kata. Most people in the world today do Heian Godan with two kiai in the kata. One on the punch and the second on the jump. But in our dojo pretty much since the beginning of time, we have only done a single kiai.

How We Do It Now

In our school, our head instructor Master William Viola recently told us that we are only to do one single kiai in Heian Godan. Despite what any one else says, what any videos show us, or anything else, we are to do one and only one kiai in Heian Godan. Now for me, I  follow what my head instructor teaches. If he said do one kiai, I am only going to do and teach one kiai in the kata. In his own words, “Western Pennsylvania is right and the rest of the world is wrong!”

But wait, is this correct? Is the rest of the really world wrong? Well, those words should be taken in a light-hearted way and it’s not meant to be taken negatively towards other schools or instructors. The truth is, our Sensei passes down what he originally learned when he came up through the ranks. Since then, the “people in charge” of Shotokan, such as organizations like the USAKF and JKA have amd always will change their minds about things. Whether you belong to organizations or not, different groups of different instructors disagree and before you know it there are fifteen different right ways to do a kata.

Why We Only Do One Kiai

Our instructor trained with Master Kanazawa and several other head honchos of Shotokan karate back in the mid 1960’s. Our instructor told us it was like this. Back then, a group of Shotokan instructors got together at a huge table. He described it exactly as a poker table. This “table” included several huge names in Shotokan history (including Kanawawa and I think Nishiyama), most of which I regrettably cannot remember. But anyway, they would exchange moves/ideas for karate. Things to change or keep in kata, where to do kiai, and so forth.

The truth is, in the 1960’s it was agreed upon by this table of black belts that there was to be ONE kiai in the kata Heian Godan. There is evidence of this in a a book from the 1960’s with Kanazawa. It was the “OFFICIAL” Shotokan series of handbooks where Heian Godan only had ONE kiai in the kata. I do not know the exact name/release of the book but it was an official book  by Kanazawa, part of a series of books released in chronological order on Shotokan kata.


Back then, it was settled. One kiai in Heian Godan. And from then on till today, my instructor has only done a single kiai in the kata and that’s that. But fast forward to 2013. Look in recent books not only from Kanazawa but from other kata masters, and there is now two. So what happened? Why did it change?

The answer is politics. As I stated earlier, it has to do with the organizations behind karate, not just Shotokan, but almost all Japanese styles of karate. Instructors disagree, ego’s come into play, and before you know it instructors change things in kata and the basics of karate. When Gichin Funakoshi died in the 1950’s, he took with him his leadership and control over Shotokan karate. None of his head students knew what to do. No one was deemed the head of Shotokan to carry the torch. This caused most of his head students to get in arguments about what was the right way to do thinks in karate.

How You Should Do it

Apart from all the politics and nonsense, I think the “right” way to do Heian Godan simply depends you and your karate school. If your Sensei tells you to do one kiai, you do one kiai. If you’re told to do two, you do two. But you’re training on your own, it doesn’t matter. You do what works for you. And if you train with someone else and do it different, I highly doubt they are going to roundhouse kick you in the face for it. The more important thing here is that you do the kata and you do the kata to the best of your ability, nothing more. A simple kiai isn’t going to change the fate of the the world. It isn’t going to make the karate gods angry and strike down upon you with their wrath. So do it the way you want to do it! For me, I have and always will do only one kiai in the kata. My instructor told me to do only one, I’ve only done one for my entire life in karate, and any videos, books, or groups of people I’ve never even met in the world aren’t going to change my mind about it that easily.