Author Elmar Schmeisser has, in this book, tried to uncover the kata at the root of the Heian/Pinan kata: Kata Channan. His research has led him to a Chinese Chuan-Fa system that entered the US via the Philipines; however, Dr. Schmeisser has made a convincing argument that, while the kata he presents may not be exactly like the one that Itosu used when constructing the Pinan kata, they at least have the same root. I don't have a problem with the probability that the two kata, Channan Dai and Sho, may not be the exact kata that Itosu derived the Pinan from, as a cursory observation of the same kata in different systems will also reveal small variations. Kata change over time; that's just the nature of the beast.
In the first chapter, Dr. Schmeisser gives some historical background on Heian/Pinan in a concise but informative summary, and then gives some background not only on the various stages of learning kata in general, but also in analyzing the kata for practical applications (bunkai). Though the author does a wonderful job for the space provided in this section, I would love to have seen it expanded and given more detail. The next two chapters demonstrate the kata Channan Dai and Channan Sho. In both chapters, each sequence in the kata is given a paragraph or so for explaination, and the bunkai is usually shown along side the kata sequence. Chapter Four takes examples from the Heian kata (Shotokan style) and demonstrates where the sequences from the Channan kata fit in, sort of offering a short comparitive analysis of the Channan and Heian kata. The book ends with a very short chapter on historic implications, and one last chapter showing photo sequences of the full Channan Dai and Channan Sho kata without the interuption of text or bunkai.
While I strongly believe that the original bukai in most kata are lost to history, most of Dr. Schmeisser's bunkai make sense, in a self-defense context. Included are strikes, throws, standing locks, chokes, off-balancing techniques, hand traps, and even some finishes for a kneeling or prone opponent. While I'm not a fan of every bunkai he shows (I think his punches that target the limbs could be better served being directed at the head or torso), they are far more encompasing and realistic than much of what is normally taught. Those familiar with Aikido and Judo will find techniques from those systems fitting right in alongside the punches and kicks of karate. The author also makes good use of end-notes, which inform the reader further of his research and don't interupt the flow of the text.
The one notable negative of this book is the lack of enbusen lines. It's difficult at times to understand the footwork of some sequences, and an enbusen diagram would have helped. This, as well as the lack of elaboration in the first chapter that I mentioned earlier, keeps the book from getting a full five stars.
Still, I find the book valuable as a historical work on the roots of the Pinan/Heian kata, as well as a source for realistic bunkai. Those interested in either should take a look.