Sunday, October 21, 2012


This article was a long time in the making. It started with a bit of research, which led to more and more reading, but I now have a much better understanding of a few things, which will undoubtedly come in handy. If you are interested in the results of my "more and more reading", you can view the on-going work  here.

I was recently told that Seisan is called Seisan because of Seisan Dachi. I'm pretty sure that this is not the case. I'm wondering if the person who said this was just a bit mixed up when they said it. If your sensei says this, just smile and nod.

Seisan is one of my favourite katas of all time!  When I studied Chito-ryu a few years ago (*cough*20*cough*), Seisan was taught at 2nd kyu. Now, Seisan is taught at 4th kyu. It was moved to a lower kyu belt as it puts emphasis on the basic forward stance that is so prevalent throughout Chito-ryu. It is also a great introduction to some more complex techniques, such as sabaki, proper transition from one stance to another, and more emphasis on the concept of ichi gan, ni suku, san tan, shi riki. As students progress through the ranks, they are expected to demonstrate a better understanding of Seisan. I know Shodans who still struggle with this kata because they are too focused on delivering the technique, and not paying enough attention to everything else that needs to occur before the technique. That's why I love this kata. It is easy to learn yet hard to master.

There is some discrepancy as to which kata O Sensei learned first. Some say Seisen, while others say Sanchin. I could quote Wikipedia, but the wiki article references O Sensei's book anyways, so let's just reference that, shall we? O Sensei learned Sanchin as his first kata, from Arikake Seisho sensei, who taught him Seisan as well, but that was after studying Sanchin for seven years.

What's that? You don't own a copy of O Sensei's book? Well here you go. Tell them Terry sent you. No, that won't get you a discount on the book. Just a blank stare or silence on the other end of the phone.

Seisan has two root versions in modern Karatedo: Naha-te and Shuri-te. The two versions are obviously derived from the same kata, as they have a large amount of similar patterns.

Naha (Practiced in Goju-ryu & Shito-ryu)

Shuri (Practiced in Issin-ryu, Chito-ryu and Shurin-ryu based styles, and is the inspiration for Shotokan Hangetsu)

SO, why the similarities and differences?  The two versions have very different paths through the Karate history, but the similarities hint at a common ancestor.  Let's work our way back.

Arikake Seisho was the teacher of Chitose Tsuyoshi, Funokoshi Gichin and Higaonna Kanryo (among others).

You can see the obvious similarities to the Shuri line of Seisan, but that signature ending is the same as the Naha version.

What about the Matsumura version?

That has a LOT of similarities to the version we practice in Chito-ryu, so we can see where O Sensei adapted his version of Seisan from.  There are similarities to the Arikake Seisan, but Arikake and Matsumura do not share any similar teachers, although both were considered Tote Masters (The 2nd and the 5th to be exact).

So where do the two versions originate from? I think it's safe to say that the ancestor of Okinawan Seisan is in White Crane Gung-fu somewhere. It is even theorized that Seisan originated from a style of White Crane called Yong Chun Bai He Quan (Yong Chun White Crane Boxing). I see no form from this style that looks obviously similar (not to say that I did an exhaustive search), but I did find a form called Shr San (Thirteen Treasures or Thirteen Defences).

The basic flow is there; three steps up, three steps back, some stuff happens and then it's over. But look at the "stuff happens" part at around 0:22, with the swooping blocks as the performer is moving backwards. Look familiar?  Look at the very end of the kata at 0:43. Is that a two-handed grasping block and a pull? Interesting. If you take this form and add a few turns, you have the basics of Seisan.

So if this form is where Okinawan Seisan originated from, how did it get to Matsumura? We know that Arikake Seisho learned Bai He Quan from Ryu Ryu Ko, and I found reference to the fact that Matsumura Sokon had learned Bai He Quan, but I'm not exactly sure where or when. Was it when he studied under Ason and / or Iwah in Fuzhou? Or maybe it was when he learned Chinto?

I have been completely immersed in searching for the roots of this kata for quite some time, and I have absolutely enjoyed the path this has taken me down. I can't wait to discover even more about this kata but in the mean time, I'll be learning the versions that I have outlined above, and looking deeper into the meaning and purposes of the steps. The one thing I can say for sure is that the research I have done for this article has helped bring me even further towards becoming a true Karate Nerd (TM).

Some resources:

1 comment:

  1. great article - very interesting! Thank you Sensei Terry :)