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Seisan Kata Meaning

Seisan can be traced as possibly the oldest and most widely practiced of Okinawan Karate kata, with the possible exception of Sanchin. Seisan Kata appears in Shorin-Ryu, Isshinryu, , Goju-Ryu, Uechi-Ryu, Shito-Ryu, and Shotokan. Although it has its roots in China, its originator is unknown. (1) It is unsure who brought this kata to Okinawa, but we do know that in 1867, Seisho Aragaki (1840-1920), a master of the Chinese-based fighting traditions (Toudi) demonstrated this kata (among others) in front of the last Sappushi (Chinese Imperial envoys), Xin Zhao (Tomoyori, 1992; McCarthy, 1995, 1999). (2) Takahara Peichin, who passed it to “Tode” Sakugawa, who in turn taught it to “Bushi” Matsumura, first taught the kata. Matsumura is credited with formulating all of the old kata into their modern forms. Matsumura taught Seisan Kata to Tatsuo Shimabuku's teacher, Chotoku Kyan. Kyan reportedly mastered this kata while jumping backwards off of a barge onto a bridge. He taught the Shobayashi Shorin-Ryu version to Tatsuo Shimabuku. In addition, some historians claim main lineages passed down from Kosaku Matsumora /Kodatsu Iha /Chojo Oshiro, Chotoku Kyan, Seisho Aragaki, Kanryo Higaonna, Kanbun Uechi, and Norisato Nakaima, among others. Both the Kyan and the Shimabuku versions of this kata strongly resemble the "Matsumura no Seisan" used in some sects of Shito-ryu (see Sakagami, 1978).

Noted senior Okinawan karate authority Hiroshi Kinjo (b. 1919) states that there is no evidence of a Seisan kata being passed down in the "Shuri" lineages of Sokon Matsumura and Anko Itosu, and that the familiar "Shuri" lineage Seisan versions such as the Hangetsu of Shotokan and the Seisan of Kyan lineage systems, should be referred to as Tomari Seisan. His reasoning is that the so-called Oshiro Seisan as presented in the 1930 "Kenpo Gaisetsu" by Nisaburo Miki and Mizuho Takada was actually passed down from Kosaku Matsumora to Kodatsu Iha to Kinjo's own teacher Chojo Oshiro of Yamaneryu Bojutsu fame.

Kinjo believes that Funakoshi, being a school teacher in Tomari (the small port town near Shuri, Okinawa's capital city), may have learned same from Iha, and that as much of Kyan's tutelage seems to have come from Tomari-based masters like Kosaku Matsumora and Kokan Oyadomari, the Kyan version could also likely be traced to Tomari (Kinjo, 2001). This is in direct contrast to many writings on the lineage of Kyan's Seisan (see, for example, Bishop, 1999).

The "Master Seisan Theory," which claims that the kata was brought from China to Okinawa by a Chinese martial artist named Seishan (or Seisan). This is an uncorroborated myth at best, probably propagated by well-meaning, but not-so-well-researched instructors. This legend cannot be found in any of the literature coming out of Okinawa or Japan.

This very old kata may be translated as 13 or 30. (3) It is possible that this kata was named after a Chinese martial artist sometime during the 17th century. Its use can be traced back to the well-known mapmaker, astronomer, mathematician, and martial artist, Takahara Peichin (Lord Takahara). There are two major versions, with many variants: the Shuri version and the Naha version. They are very different in form. It is believed that the wife of Bushi Matsumura (Yonamine Chiru, married 1818) had a great deal of influence on the development of this variant. It is said that the Matsumura Orthodox variant was developed to teach women how to fight with a baby on their backs. Some of the other variants are: Tomari no Seisan, Oshiro no Seisan, Arakaki no Seisan, Inami (or Iha) no Seisan, Kyabu no Seisan, and Motobu no Seisan.

Seisan can be translated as "thirteen" because of the thirteen opponents the karateka faces when performing it. This translation comes from Master Shimabuku's son-in-law, Angi Uezu, who states that sei translates as ten, and san translates as three, making thirteen. According to Harry Smith, Master Shimabuku stated that this kata should be performed with only 13 breaths in order to teach proper breath control in kata performance. Another translation is “ghostliness or gruesomeness”. Meaning 13, some people refer to this kata as 13 hands, 13 fists, or 13 steps. Customarily taught in both Tomari and Naha (towns on Okinawa), this kata, following the tradition of Chotoku Kyan, is the first kata the Isshinryu karate student learns. It is unclear exactly what the number 13 represents. Some think it was the number of techniques in the original kata; some think it represents 13 different types of "power" or "energy" found in the kata; some think it represents the number of different application principles; some think it represents defending against 13 specific attacks; and some think that it is the number if imaginary opponents one faces while performing the kata. Out of all these theories, this author must disagree with the last, as it is highly unrealistic that kata teaches one to handle such situations. On the contrary, kata was designed to teach the principles needed to survive more common self-defense situations, rather than a long, drawn out battle against several opponents (Iwai, 1992). Akio Kinjo, the noted Okinawan karate researcher and teacher who has traveled to China, Hong Kong and Taiwan well over 100 times to train and research the roots of Okinawan martial arts, maintains that this kata originally had 13 techniques, but due to a long process of evolution, more techniques were added to it (Kinjo, 1999). He also maintains that the Okinawan Seisan kata derives from Yong Chun White Crane boxing from Fujian Province in Southern China.

Seisan is referred to as Hangetsu, or "Half-Moon," in Shotokan Karate. Gichin Funakoshi, the founder of Shotokan, chose this name due to the sweeping crescent moon steps in the kata, "C" steps, which are crucial to its proper performance. None of Isshinryu's stances (dachi) have locked knees. Seisan stance raises the center of gravity higher than Zenkutsu, which is the common front stance of other styles. Seisan also provides mobility. The feet are parallel with the rear toes aligned with the front foot's heels and a 50-50-weight distribution. The inner muscles of the thighs engage for subtle shifting without telegraphing and channeling chinkuchi energy up from the earth. Seisan is the most advanced beginner's kata in all of Karate, requiring approximately 60 seconds completing 130 movements. Master Shimabuku dismissed the traditional beginner's kata such as Taikyoku, Kihon, and Heian. Upon satisfactory work with the basics, Seisan is immediately taught. Seisan is a black belt level kata in most other systems of Karate in which it appears. It is complex and lengthy for beginners but utilizes numerous vital techniques, which the student has already, mastered. This natural progression from basics to kata builds on the new karateka's abilities and provides them chances to actually incorporate the basic techniques they have learned into simulated fighting situations.

In addition, the kata introduces several new techniques with which the beginning student is unfamiliar. Seisan brings in the "punch, punch, kick, punch" combination which is executed rapidly, giving students a viable resource to employ in fighting. Each of the kata's series is executed three times; each demands proficiency on all sides and all angles of attack. Seisan utilizes open-hand shuto blocks, front snap kicks, as well as an introductory lesson in focused breathing, ibuki, which the concept of which will be addressed in depth in Sanchin Kata. The predominant stances in Seisan are Seisan, Seiuchin, Nekoashi, and Crane. Seisan also requires proper stance transition to avoid announcing movements during weight shifts.

Seisan lays the foundation with structural principles which will be built on in more advanced kata. It contains clear self-defense techniques and gives the perfect introduction to the "no nonsense" fighting style because it emphasizes fast and effective fighting techniques. Through repeated work with Seisan, students develop a feel for timing and understanding of a stable, resilient base.


1) http://www.geocities.com/Pipeline/9432/seisaninf.html
2) http://www.fightingarts.com/reading/article.php?id=222
3) http://www.angelfire.com/ok5/seidokan16/