This is a great question about the relationship between hard and soft styles:
“Recently I started training in Old Yang Style T’ai Chi Ch’uan in order to add to my Okinawan Kenpo Karate background. I was wondering if there is any particular relation between hard and soft styles. Do they compliment/take away from each other, is there any historical relationship between the two, etc?”
Here’s my take on it:
Diversifying training is a very natural and organic part of martial arts growth. Being exposed to a wider variety of methods and mindset can not only fill in skillset gaps but can actually provide fresh perspective on the core art of a practitioner. It’s like seeing a sculpture from one angle for years, and then being allowed to view it from the reverse angle. Certainly you’ll gain new appreciation for the artwork.
Of course, cross training comes with inherent risks. When done sloppily, lazily, or hastily it can prohibit the practitioner from learning the new art well and negatively effect the core art.
With that in mind, let’s look at the particular situation presented by this question – mixing Yang Style Taijiquan with Okinawa Kenpo Karate.
It’s generally accepted that karate is a hard art. Hard arts are characterized by a propensity for striking, solid stancework, impact blocking, hard body development, externally focused breathing, and muscular tension for power generation. Conversely, soft arts like taijiquan feature flowing movement, soft hands, internal based breathing, and energetic striking.
The key to understanding if a “hard art” like Okinawa Kenpo and “soft art” like taijiquan has historical connection and can possibly co-mingle rests on the question: which versions are you talking about?
Dual Tracks for Taijiquan and Okinawa Kenpo
When thinking of taijiquan, most people picture the modern fitness studio version that focuses almost entirely on the meditative aspects of the practice. The movements are very slow and deliberate with a body that is as relaxed as possible throughout. This version of taijiquan is certainly healthful and can teach a person about body awareness, but it is not the complete art of taijiquan as established by it’s creators. Back in “the day”, taiji was an explosive and complex method of body development, energy transmission, and fighting technique as well as meditative practice.
For a look at more complete taijiquan, please watch this video of Dr. Yang Jwing-Ming. He provides a quick encapsulation of what taiji and external kung fu are, and at the 2:20 mark demonstrates an energetic and impactful taiji form:
As you can see, what Dr. Yang is able to do is quite a bit different than typical meditative taiji forms. His older, more complete understanding of the art begins to mix fighting technique with internal concepts.
Let’s switch gears now for a moment and look at Okinawa Kenpo, a form of karate with direct lineage from Okinawa. The founder of the style, Nakamura Shigeru, followed an interesting path throughout his karate career. He began his training while in middle school. At that time innovators like Itosu Anko and Higashionna Kanryo were just starting to bring karate out of obscurity and into mainstream Okinawan and Japanese culture. One of their objectives, inspired and supported by the Japanese government, was to integrate karate training into the Okinawan school systems. The goal was to create fitter youth with a better sense of duty, military preparedness, and Japanese organization.
Karate, as it had been done in prior generations, was not well suited for young children in large groups with limited training time. So Itosu and a handful of others set out to simplify, organize, and Japanize the process. What happened as a result was a stronger focus on linear striking, group forms, hard blocks, etc (the things we now recognize as modern karate).
After coming up through that system and gaining reputation as a skilled karateka, Nakamura decided to seek out more of his roots and learn about the classical karate that existed outside of the school system. One of his primary influences for this older style learning was a gentleman named Kuniyoshi Shinkichi, an Okinawan who had spent a significant amount of time in China learning about chuanfa and the Chinese ways. As a result, Nakamura’s karate became an interesting mix of school-era and pre-school-era karate. This dichotomy still exists in the style and is visible today when analyzing Okinawa Kenpo practitioners.
The Key to Historical Connection
When observing modern styles of karate and taijiquan it’s easy to see that the two have more differences than similarities. However, when digging deeply into the past of both styles you’ll find they come closer and closer together both in terms of execution and historical interaction. Karate’s history is speckled with Chinese influence, getting more Chinese the further back you go. While karate has always been less internal focused than taijiquan and execution of the two arts has never been identical, they do have more shared focus and technical execution than most people realize.
The Key to Technical Connection
This all begs the question: is it impossible to cross-train modern styles of karate with modern styles of taijiquan?
No. In fact, I know a number of individuals who have really benefited from experiencing the drastic difference between the two. Going from extremely hard to extremely soft (or vice-versa) can generate serious aha! moments that improve the practitioner greatly. However, large hard-soft gaps can also create confusion in both body and mind and can potentially degrade a person’s overall ability to perform when it counts. It’s a similar problem to having 100 decent self defense techniques vs 10 great ones. The body/mind/spirit never get a chance to transcend in any one particular way.
Is it possible to cross-train modern hard and soft? Yes. Is it time intensive with potential problems? Yes.
By focusing on the older methods of taijiquan and karate, a practitioner can put themselves ahead of the game by working off of connections built by generations of practitioners who shared the same goals – to create a functional system that is capable of learning from new resources while not degrading the core foundation of the art. In fact, some arts considered this pursuit of Hard+Soft central to their methodology (think Goju Ryu).
Odo Seikichi, inheritor of Okinawa Kenpo from Nakamura Shigeru, was a brilliant proponent of this method of martial development.
You wouldn’t confuse Odo Sensei’s performance for taijiquan, but you wouldn’t mistake it for a tournament karate kata either. There is a patient, energetic cadence to his movements.
Sometimes my ideas on this subject can seem counter-intuitive. I believe cross-training is extremely valuable and necessary for martial growth, while at the same time I don’t believe the foundation of a classical art should be compromised. It sounds impossible or impractical on the surface, but once a practitioner studies a core art for long enough they understand what makes it tick and can use outside arts to unlock new perspectives on the same foundational material. That’s why beginning cross-training too soon can be dangerous, while never exploring new ideas can be equally dangerous.
It’s a delicate balance that requires the utmost thought and respect. The trick is to continuously keep ego out of the equation. Resist the urge to believe that studying two or three arts has let you transcend your original art, because that mindset often means you didn’t understand your core art to begin with.
This is a continuation of the interview with Kimo Wall, Kyoshi. Wall Sensei is a senior Goju Ryu and Kingai Ryu practitioner, studying directly under some of the great masters of Okinawa while stationed on Okinawa as a marine. In part 1 Wall Sensei discussed his early training and experiences with Higa Seiko Sensei. In part 2 presented here Wall Sensei will discuss Matayoshi Sensei, bringing karate to Western cultures, and more.
MA: Could you discuss your relationship with Matayoshi Shinpo Sensei, the great White Crane and Kobudo luminary?
KW: Master Matayoshi was quite a unique Master. He was very sharp and disciplined, but he had a most pleasant and comical personality. When I was in the Marine Corps my duties usually required me to be on post at night, so I spent my days with him. Master Matayoshi taught me all the Kobudo that I know except Chizi-kun-bo (aka tekkos) and two training Bo kata that I developed. Plus, he taught me his Kingai Ryu kata that he learned from Gokenki.
Wall Sensei performing Chizi-kun-bo:
I spent many wonderful years with the Matayoshi family. For 10 years the family lived at Higa Sensei’s dojo in Yogi Machi. Then Matayoshi bought land on Sobe hill in Naha and built his beautiful dojo and home. When he moved, it was only a few miles from Yogi Machi, I went to both dojos to continue my training in Kobudo, usually training in the daytime. Like in the Marine Corps, most work I got in Okinawa was night work. When I became a civilian, Sensei helped me get jobs when I was on the island, like teaching English, unloading ships, working at Naha city market, etc.
Master Matayoshi and family visited me and my wife in California. Sensei came to the States several times and my students and I hosted him. Sensei and I took a round trip tour of all America and Puerto Rico from LAX back to LAX in my Plymouth Voyager van, except flying to PR.
Wall Sensei performing Matayoshi kata Hakutsuru no Mai:
In 1992 Sensei and I were invited to participate at the Butokukai in Kyoto, Japan, with demos from all of Japan’s top martial arts.
MA: What was the butokukai demonstration like in 1992? Did you demonstrate anything yourself?
KW: The Butokukai, in Kyoto, Japan, happens once a year. The top Martial Arts Masters of Japan and students get a chance to demonstrate in the Great Hall of the Butokukai. That year I was given the honor of demonstrating with Master Matayoshi. He did White Crane kata from Gokenki and I did Pichurin and Kama.
|Butokukai with Master Matayoshi, 1992||Wall & Matayoshi at Butokukai|
I’m sure you are familiar with Master Wally Jay, from Hawaii. He did his Small Circle jiujitsu and Sensei Patrick McCarthy, did Tonfa and Sai. I think we were the only foreigners there. It was a great honor for me. I will never forget how amazing Master Matayoshi’s Kingai Ryu kata was and how much he was respected by the whole group of demonstrators and the government officials.
MA: Where did Matayoshi Sensei collect his extensive kobudo and white crane repertoire?
KW: Master Matayoshi’s extensive repertoire of Okinawan Martial arts was taught to him by his father, Shinko. He learned Shorin Ryu Karate from his father. The Kingai Ryu was taught to him by Gokenki, a Chinese immigrant from Fuchou, Fukien, China. He learned Goju Ryu from Master Higa Seiko and Grand Master Miyagi Chojun.
MA: The Matayoshi Kingai Ryu has very well preserved elements of white crane. Was Matayoshi Shinko (father to Shinpo) the senior student of Gokenki? Also, did the Matayoshi White Crane System involve Kyusho vital point striking as well as seizing and gripping techniques?
KW: Yes, Matayoshi Kin Gai Ryu is a very powerful and complete system. Gokenki taught several people his system, especially Matayoshi Shinko. I know Shinko Sensei was a top student of Gokenki. Gokenki was a tea merchant from Fuchou and Shinko Sensei was a customer of his. In the beginning, Gokenki was a guest at the Matayoshi home. Eventually, Gokenki stayed in Okinawa, married and had a family. He has many family members there today.
Matayoshi Shinpo performing Kingai Ryu kata Hakkucho:
The vital point, Kyusho, was taught only after you reached a high level of proficiency. Not many people reached that point. But, it is very similar to what we are taught in Goju Ryu. Like Goju Ryu, it came from Fuchou and some things are the same.
MA: You mentioned eariler (in part 1) that Odo Seikichi Sensei was at the Sho Do Kan with Matayoshi Sensei on your first day there, and you got to know Odo Sensei more over time. Did you train directly with Odo Sensei at any point, and if so what was that training like?
KW: Yes, I met Odo Seikichi Sensei on my first trip to Sho Do Kan dojo. It was one week after I was on the Island. I was a Lance Corporal in the Marine Corps and was new on the Island. You had to stay on base in those days for one week taking indoctrination course about Okinawa.
I took a bus to Naha bus station. Almost nothing had been rebuilt. Homes, highways, big buildings, stores and banks were very quickly built after WWII. Kokusai Dori was mostly dirt road in those days. From the station I took a “sukoshi cab”. The driver knew exactly where the dojo was.
Right after my first meeting with Matayoshi and Odo Sensei I became a member of the dojo. Odo Sensei came once in a while to train the Sanchin and Tensho kata with the karate class. This was after 9 PM, when older men trained with Seiko Sensei. On the weekends Odo Sensei came to train Kobudo with Master Matayoshi and that is when we became friends. His dojo was on the way to my Marine base so I gave him a ride home many times.
I was a beginner in Kobudo at that time and Master Odo was a very high level student. He had even trained before the war with Master Matayoshi’s father, Shinko. I trained, usually in the day time, with Master Matayoshi, but on the weekends Odo Sensei came and he and I both studied together. His kata was higher than mine as he was a very advanced student. Often, he would get information from Master Matayoshi and train by himself. I always had the chance to watch his training. I was amazed at his skill and power. He could make the Bo quiver with power at the end of each technique. After a few years I was studying the Kama and he was studying it with me. He knew another Kama kata but this one was a new one for him, so we shared the time together. I could always remember, he was what I would aspire to be like.
Odo Sensei was a very confident martial artist. He had trained with Master Nakamura up in Nago for many years who was a very respected leader in Okinawa Kenpo. Until he passed away, every time I went to Okinawa, Mr. Nakasone from SHUREIDO would call Odo Sensei and he would come to Naha to meet me. Sometimes we went to Nakasone’s home or to eat soki soba at a restaurant. Mr Nakasone is another wonderful person who became very close to me. I will make this story a little quick.
Mr. Nakasone trained karate and at that time he had a sports store (this was around 1967). His store sold general sports equipment, baseball stuff mostly, but he had someone who could make gis. So I had one made through him. I suggested that he should concentrate on martial arts equipment. There was a growing amount of karate students, mostly GIs. Finally he did give up regular sports and did only martial arts equipment. A friend of mine, Toshio Tamano Sensei, made the first SHUREIDO emblem and I made the first ad, in English, for his store. If you have been to Naha, Okinawa, you must have gone to SHUREIDO. You will see what a great businessman he is.
MA: What were the early days like starting a program in the USA? Did people understand what you were trying to teach?
KW: In the States, at first, I only taught in the Marine Corps. I began teaching in Puerto Rico in 1965 while stationed at the Marine Barracks, San Juan, Puerto Rico. A lot of Marines and Sailors trained but I had a few civilians in the dojo and some are still training today. Then when I got out of the Marine Corps, 1970, I returned to the University of Puerto Rico to teach again. In 1965 I think true karate was very much unknown in PR, but from my dojo we developed a large group of very strong and talented followers.
MA: What was your primary objective in establishing Kodokan Goju Ryu?
KW: It was to help promote Okinawan Goju Ryu Karate and Kobudo outside of Okinawa. KODOKAN means “Home of the Ancient Ways”.
MA: What inspired you to investigate Thai style massage and physical therapy?
KW: In the Sho Do Kan dojo there was a teacher who taught acupuncture and herbology on Saturdays. I took advantage of this and studied until he passed away. Many teachers in the old days practiced some type of healing. It was the dojo responsibility to help anyone who might get injured in training. That inspired me to study more about ways to heal people in my dojo. I studied Thai Massage in Chiang Mai, Thailand and received a teaching diploma from The Traditional Medicine Hospital and The International Thai Massage Center. It is used in Thailand by Mauy Thai fighters at all boxing camps for healing and therapy. It is a proven and effective means of healing and conditioning. In Thailand it is known as THE FAMILY HEALTH SYSTEM.
MA: How has your training changed as you have gotten older? Are there any forms or training methods which you have come to prefer? Is there anything you did as a youth which you would warn others against?
KW: I am almost 70 so I don’t put as much time on rigorous training. Kata and meaning is important. Just grow old gracefully. Don’t smoke, don’t drink, have faith and believe in God.
Train hard train often. Always practice kata with Sanchin/Tensho. Replace fear and doubt with knowledge and understanding. Open mind, joyful training. Train everyday. Really LOVE what you are doing.
All our katas were developed by Grand Master Miyagi Chojun. Unfortunately, there was WWII that destroyed Okinawa and set it back several years. He passed away before he finished his development of Goju Ryu. Now, we who love Goju Ryu must find our way through the kata. I don’t think there is any ‘Superior Kata’. All have their importance and meaning. Grand Master Miyagi said, “The secrets of Goju Ryu are in the kata”. So, we must always study kata…even the simple kata. Gekisai Sho has a whole system within itself.
MA: Wall Sensei, thank you very much for giving us some insight into your training and personal history. We thank you for your continued efforts in preserving the old ways of karate and kobudo!
To learn more about Kimo Wall Sensei visit “Tales From the Western Generation”. This book contains extended interview content as well as extensive Q&A with other senior karateka.
Not all styles of karate possess a version of Seisan…but enough do to warrant a rather ubiquitious reputation, causing some practitioners to refer to it as the “universal” karate form. A bold nickname, but perhaps a well deserved one. Styles that have Seisan include: Goju Ryu, Shorin Ryu, Uechi Ryu, Shito Ryu, Okinawa Kenpo, Ryukyu Kempo, Ryute, Ryuei Ryu, Wado Ryu, Shotokan, Chito Ryu, Koryu Uchinadi, Seibukan, Seidokan…you get the idea. This kata is well traveled.
When different versions of Seisan are viewed in close succession they clearly exhibit unique stylistic quirks, yet preserve common aspects of some original pattern or set of concepts. That being the case, this “walking tour” article intends to do two different things:
- Establish a few bits of historical info that provide insight into the possible origins of the kata.
- View different styles of Seisan so as to observe and appreciate how each ryu has grown the form over time and made it “their own”.
Let’s get started!
The Historical Tidbits You Need to Know
It is evident that the many varieties of Seisan originating from Okinawa do NOT stem from a single, central practitioner. In fact, it appears that multiple individuals went to China at various times and brought back bits, pieces, and versions which conjealed and fractured over time.
One of the big defining points in karate’s history was after the fateful invasion of the Satsuma Samurai in 1609. It was then that records and stories began to take shape in meaningful ways. Throughout the 1800s the Meiji Restoration was taking hold and karate on Okinawa was developing into three nebulous, sometimes interweaving prongs: Shuri Te, Naha Te, and Tomari Te.
Two foundational versions of Seisan were imported/created at this time, one predominantly via Shuri Te and the other Naha Te. Both Shuri and Naha had strong roots in Chinese Chuanfa, especially from the Fuzhou Region (the Okinawans had a settlement in Fuzhou and Kume Village was a fairly direct historical connection). From that launch point we can analyze the backgrounds of both foundational forms, starting with the trickier one.
The Shuri Te variety of Seisan is very difficult to pin down lineage-wise. To see what I mean, read the following two quotes, both from respected researchers:
“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.” – Joe Swift on Fighting Arts
“Then there is the kata Seisan. It was a kata taught by Soken Matsumura. If Itosu’s primary karate teacher had been Matsumura, surely he would also have taught this kata. But he did not. An explanation for the absence of Seisan can be found in the existing Tomari te (Tumaidi) traditions. For example, the continuing Tomari traditions as were passed down through the Oyadomari brothers of Tomari, as well as those of the Matsumora ha Tumaidi (Tomari te) as passed down to Tokashiki Iken, also lack the kata Seisan, as does the tode passed on by Itosu. Seisan was not a Tomari kata.” – Tom Ross on Fighting Arts
Ahh buh? Well someone had to have it, the darn thing is all over the place!
Despite common belief, Matsumura was not the only teacher of Itosu Ankoh. Itosu was also heavily influenced by two Tomari gentleman named Tomari Gusukuma and Matsumora Kosaku, as well as one Naha based individual named Nagahama who was an expert at body conditioning. Therefore, either of the quoted suppositions above could be true. Itosu could have never learned the form from Matsumura because Matsumura didn’t have a chance to teach him and/or Matsumura didn’t know it, OR Itosu may never have learned the form from Gusukuma/Matsumora because they didn’t utilize it. Furthermore Itosu may have actually learned the form from either branch but forgot it or chose to pass it on selectively.
Noted researcher Patrick McCarthy seems to believe that Seisan existed in both lineages:
“Arguably, the martial art-like traditions in an around the old castle capitol of Shuri predate those elsewhere on the island. As such, the Shuri-based version of Seisan is believed to be the oldest. While several, if not many, other proficient Bujin are known to have resided in the Shuri district prior to the time of Matsumura Sokon [1809-1898], he is regarded as the father of its karate movement; hence, Matsumura Seisan “is” the oldest version.”
“Kinjo Sensei sometimes refers to Seisan as Jusanpo (i.e 13 steps/ways). This Tomari version was taught to him by his teacher, Grandmaster Oshiro Chojo. It originally came from Oyadomari Koken by way of Iha Kotatsu who passed it onto Oshiro. Kinjo sensei believes the Tomari version of seisan may be the “cross-over” Okinawan representation from old Chinese quanfa (i.e. possibly the version from Aragaki or Kume).” – Patrick McCarthy, also pg. 73 of “Classical Kata of Okinawan Karate”
Many other resources seem to reinforce the idea that Matsumura was responsible for a variety of Seisan, some of which are:
- “Okinawa Island of Karate”, George Alexander, pg.100
- “Unante”, John Sells, pg. 258
- “Katas of Shorin ryu Seibukan”, Kim Mitrunen & Tommi Prami
It is stated that Matsumura Nabe, grandson of Matsumura Soken, learned and passed along Seisan to Hohan Soken. Unfortunately, the history and circumstances surrounding Nabe are difficult to verify. Kyan Chotoku is also often cited as learning his Seisan from Matsumura or one of his disciples (Sources: Graham Noble, Bill Hayes, others). Some individuals have suggested that Matsumora Kosaku is responsible for Kyan’s Seisan, but it’s known that Kyan added Tomari flair to a few of his pre-existing forms so the case may be made that the end product of Kyan’s form was based in Shuri and flavored in Tomari.
As mentioned earlier, both Shuri Te and Naha Te had strong Chinese roots, but Shuri Te was more apt to changing and “Okinawan-izing” things. Both branches did it, but Naha seemed a little more inclined to preserve Chinese elements.
Two men, Aragaki Seisho and Higaonna Kanryo, are the forefathers of what is considered “mainstream” Naha Te (mostly thanks to the titanic efforts of their disciple Miyagi Chojun). These men both travelled to China and definitely secured a version of Seisan there. In addition, Nakaima Kenri and Sakiyama Kitoku made travels as well (at one point traveling together) and brought back versions. Let’s also not forget Uechi Kanbun who was an avid student and preserver of Chuanfa. Each important individual constituted a separate spawning point under the Naha umbrella.
The final unmentioned “branch” of Seisan development is that of Funakoshi Gichin. In his writings Funakoshi explained that Itosu Ankoh and Itosu Azato were his primary teachers. Nevertheless, he also had extensive contact with Aragaki Seisho/Higaonna Kanryo of Naha Te and Iha Kotatsu of Tomari Te during his time as a teacher in Tomari (Source: Patrick McCarthy). As such his version of Seisan, which would become Hangetsu, took on a life of it’s own as he developed it for the Japanese masses.
One thing most researchers agree upon is that the movements for Seisan, in all of it’s original variations, were likely imported from Fuzhou, China. Specifically, it seems likely that it was part of the training regiment of the White Crane families who resided there (MORE specifically, Kinjo Akio suggests that it derives from the Yong Chun White Crane branch). Over time Seisan has grown on Okinawa while fading in China to the point where a direct mirror form can no longer be found in Chinese styles. The variations found on Okinawa contain pieces of the original concepts, stylistically emphasizing different ideas and growing in ways that agree with the overall construct of each Okinawan method.
That all being said, I think it’s time to view some kata! Let’s pay attention to the differences and similarities between each style, keeping in mind their roots in Naha and/or Shuri as well as their shared history reaching back into Fuzhou.
The Walking Tour (Right This Way!)
There are two samples of Goju Ryu below. The first is from Yamaguchi Goshi, student of Yamaguchi Gogen (The Cat). The form has distinct Goju characteristics and highly emphasizes rooting and breathing technique. As a Naha Te form you’ll notice an above average usage of open hand vs fist, although both striking methods make an appearance. The second video features well known practitioner Morio Higaonna, student of Ei’ichi Miyazato.
Kanazawa Hirokazu aptly performs the Shotokan variation known as Hangetsu. You’ll notice similar tension in some spots with increasing pace in later sections. This changing dynamic hints at the multiple influences on Funakoshi as he developed the form. You’ll also notice big wide stances and arm/leg movements which became signatures of Shotokan as it developed.
Founder of Wado Ryu, Hironori Ohtsuka, was a direct student of Funakoshi Gichin and an important Shotokan practitioner. It should be no surprise that the Wado Ryu variety of Seishan (aka Hangetsu aka Seisan) closely relates to the Shotokan version. Tatsuo Suzuki Sensei demonstrates.
Tang Soo Do
One thing we haven’t mentioned yet is the expansion of karate outside of Okinawa and Japan. The Korean art of Tang Soo Do traces much of it’s lineage to Shotokan Karate. We see here Nathaniel Verbeke perform a Tang Soo Do version of Seisan which shares many of the same qualities as the two previous videos. you’ll notice a little high kicking sneak in; Tang Soo Do is Korean after all.
Isshin Ryu traces it’s Seisan through Tatsuo Shimabukuro, a student of Chotoku Kyan and other Shuri influences. As such, this is the first form on the tour that could be considered predominantly “Shuri Te”. It is important to note that the practitioner in the following video, Angi Uezu Sensei, executes the kata while incorporating specific Isshin Ryu concepts like the vertical punch. Despite this being Shuri instead of Naha, the embusen remains similar especially in the opening three strike sequence and the turns to the side and back. One trademark of Kyan flavored Seisan is an “Ananku” like sequence toward the end.
Kyan Shorin Ryu
The next clip comes to us via one of Kyan Chotoku’s direct students: Shimabukuro Eizo. You’ll notice slightly higher stances and less emphasis on the hard breathing than in Goju and Shotokan versions. While the footage is quite old and seen at a distance, you’ll still be able to notice the rigorous pacing and application of body movement.
Don’t be fooled, we are still in Kyan country. In fact the father of our next performer is often considered the individual with the most personal time spent under Kyan. Watch as Shimabukuro Zenpo, son of Zenryo, demonstrates the acceleration, snap, and percussive power of Kyan style Seisan. Although the very end appears slightly different, you’ll still notice the twisting technique to finish the final opponent.
For the next video we go back to Naha Te, but not in the standard Goju way. In fact, the next performer was not heavily influenced by the popular Aragaki/Higaonna/Miyagi chain and instead traces his roots to Nakaima Kenri. Sakamoto Tsuguo became well known for his Annan form, but he performs a skillful Seisan as well. Despite the Naha nature of Ryuei Ryu and it’s close connection to China, you’ll notice Sakamoto Sensei emphasizing the speed and acceleration of the form not unlike Kyan style. You’ll also notice he shares the high stances utilized by Kyan and Tomari styles.
Tomari Seisan / Okinawa Kenpo
This next one offers an interesting dilemma. We can surmise from historical context that there probably was a Tomari Seisan at one point and it may have been influenced by Aragaki Seisho, Matsumora Kosaku, and Iha Kotatsu. However, there is a Tomari Seisan floating around in modern culture that is completely unrelated to these men.
Tomari Seisan as it can be found today traces back to Ryukyu Kempo, a style named by Oyata Seiyu. Interestingly, Oyata received his Seisan from Nakamura Shigeru, the same man who taught Odo Seikichi of Okinawa Kenpo. Not so coincidently, the “Tomari Seisan” of Ryukyu Kempo and “Seisan” of Okinawa Kenpo are identical. The snag is that Nakamura Shigeru’s Seisan came from Kuniyoshi Shinkichi. Kuniyoshi was one of the primary students of Sakiyama Kitoku, the travel mate of Nakaima Kenri (Ryuei Ryu) and one of the individuals who brought Seisan concepts back to Okinawa. Sakiyama is largely grouped into the Naha vein of things, and Kuniyoshi lived in Nago village. As such, Okinawa Kenpo’s Seisan has virtually nothing to do with Tomari, and thus Ryukyu Kempo’s Seisan also has little to do with Tomari. It might be argued that both Nakamura Shigeru and Oyata Seiyu had Tomari influence in their arts, which is true (Nakamura with Motobu Choki and Oyata with earlier experiences before Okinawa Kenpo). But as we have seen many instructors were influenced by Tomari, some much more than Nakamura and Oyata (namely Kyan), and thus we would be teeming with Tomari Seisans if everyone affected by Tomari was labelled as such. Furthermore, the Okinawa Kenpo Seisan is well documented to have come from Kuniyoshi and is preserved in form by both Okinawa Kenpo and Ryukyu Kempo. Possible differences in bunkai alone would not warrant such a geographical name change.
As of this writing I have not uncovered the explanation for this matter.
View below Oyata Seiyu Sensei demonstrating Tomari Seisan and Odo Seikichi Sensei performing Seisan:
Last but certainly not least is Uechi Ryu. Uechi Kanbun spent significant time in China and developed an art which preserved Chinese elements more than most. In the following video Uechi Kanei, son of Kanbun, demonstrates his version of Seisan. Notably, Uechi Ryu was originally taught with just three kata: Sanchin, Seisan, and Sanseirui. You’ll notice similarities to other versions of Seisan in the beginnings of Kanei’s pattern, but pretty soon significant differences emerge. The most unique aspects come in the form of persistent open hand usage and lengthy additional concepts toward the middle and end of the form.
That Wraps It Up
I hope you enjoyed this stroll through one of the most frequently practiced kata of our time. When viewed back to back it becomes easier to see some of the common threads. Seisan’s opening sequence has some interesting differences between Naha and Shuri but follows a very consistent structure. Various karate styles have taken the form and used it to express the functional concepts of their system. On one hand the growth of the form over time has moved it away from it’s roots; on the other hand the kata has grown into a distinctly effective Okinawan method.
I imagine if you do this form it is probably subtly different than many of the examples of above. Let those subtleties inform your training and give you ideas about the breadth and possibility of Seisan!