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
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.