|Other names||Sesan, Seishan, Sei-Shan, Jusan, Hangetsu|
|Martial art||Karate, Tang Soo Do|
|Place of origin||Okinawa, Ryukyu Kingdom|
The karate kata Seisan (十三)(alternate names: Sesan, Seishan, Jusan, Hangetsu) literally means '13'. Some people refer to the kata as '13 Hands', '13 Fists', '13 Techniques', '13 Steps' or even '13 killing positions', however, these names have no historical basis.
Seisan is thought to be one of the oldest kata, being quite spread among other Nahate schools. Shito-ryu has its own version and different versions are now practised even in Shurite derivatives like Shotokan (called Hangetsu) and in Wado-ryu (called Seishan). Isshin-ryū also adopted this kata. This kata is also practiced in Korean styles such as Tang Soo Do and Soo Bahk Do and is called Sei-Shan or Seishan in Korean. Due to its difficulty, this kata is often reserved for advanced students.
The following styles have made this kata a formal part of their curriculum.
- Go Kan Ryu
- Moo Duk Kwan
- Ninjutu Shito Ryu
- Seito Matsumura-ryu
- Shōrin-ryū Seibukan
- Shōrin-ryū Okinawa Seidokan
- Shorinjiryu Koshinkai Karatedo
- Tang Soo Do
- Yoshukai Karate
Myth and History
There are numerous theories regarding the name of the kata. These include the number of steps originally in the kata, the number of different types of 'power' or 'energy' in the kata, the number of applications, or that the kata represents defence against 13 specific types of attack. The most likely explanation is the number of non-repeating techniques contained within the kata. It is believed Seisan derives from Yong Chun White Crane Boxing from Fujian Province in Southern China, where the form is known as 'Four Gate Hands'. (This is completely unproven and uncorroborated. There are some other Chinese styles having a form called 'Shisan' (13) in their curricula, but a link from a specific kung-fu form to Okinawan Seisan has never been established.)
Versions of Seisan taught today have roots in Shuri-te, Naha-te and Tomari-te streams of karate (that is the karate that was traditionally taught in the Okinawan towns of Shuri, Naha and Tomari respectively).
This is the second of the three kata of Pangai-noon learned and then taught by Kanbun Uechi. It has obvious foundations in Sanchin, relying primarily on the "Sanchin stance" or sanchin dachi (三戦立ち) and opening as does Uechi-Ryū Sanchin for three strikes then later returning to these strikes near the end of the kata. Compared with other versions of the kata, Uechi-Ryū's is very different. The kata introduces some of the basic techniques such as knee strikes, the one-knuckle punch shōken zuki (小拳突き), spearhand nukite (貫手突き), and the front kick shōmen geri (正面蹴り) which were then incorporated in the "bridging" kata created by Kanbun Uechi's son and senior students between Sanchin and Seisan. In modern Uechi-Ryū, it is the fifth kata learned and the one tested for the first "black belt" or shodan (初段) grade.
Isshin-Ryū traditionally teaches this kata as the first one to be learned in their curriculum unlike other styles. As is a feature of the style, all punches are performed with a vertical fist. The founder's primary teacher of the kata was Chotoku Kyan of the Shorin-Ryū style, but the Isshin-ryu version also shares many features with the Goju-Ryū style, including tension and breathing techniques.
The Goju-Ryū (Naha-te) version of the kata is a more complicated version that contains close range fighting techniques such as short-range punches, low kicks, and directional changes to unbalance the opponent. It contains techniques performed under full tension thru the range of motion, as well as strong fast techniques. Seisan is said to complement Seiunchin. Although rooted in the same form, significant differences can be seen in the Goju version compared to the other versions mentioned above.
Seibukan Shorin-Ryū Seisan
The version of Seisan taught in the Seibukan Shorin-Ryū syllabus can be traced back to Sōkon 'Bushi' Matsumura (a highly influential teacher to Shorin styles, hence the name Matsumura-no-Seisan). The form predominantly features the stance Shiko-Dachi (common in Tomari-te kata) accompanying a block which often sets up a powerful pivot and punch into Zenkutsu-dachi. This form introduces many recurring concepts used in higher level Seibukan Shorin-Ryu kata.
Okinawa Seidokan Shorin-Ryū Seisan
Very closely resembling the Seibukan Shorin-Ryū Seisan from the same lineage the Okinawa Seidokan system traditionally teaches Matsumura-no-Seisan as the first kata in their curriculum. Though not considered a basic kata, the Okinawa Seidokan version is foundational in teaching koshi (trunkial twist power) from a beginners onset. The use of the shiko dachi (四股立), zenkutsu dachi (前屈立), and neko-ashi dachi (猫足立) serve to build up the legs of the practitioner for low travel and centered transitioning. Traditionally the regular performance is performed to a regular counting cadence maintaining the same tempo throughout the kata. However, Okinawa Seidokan also teaches a slowed down version where every count performs breathing similar to Goju-Ryū's Sanchin kata where breathing in and out is timed upon every outward movement. This slower version is called 'Seisan Breath' and taught to higher level students to develop internal martial arts. This kata is considered a gateway kata to understanding applications of many Shorin-Ryū kata following in the system.
Hangetsu contains many slow movements under tension, popular in Naha-te schools such as Goju-Ryū, but rare in Shotokan and Shuri-te influenced styles making the kata quite unique. Funakoshi was taught by Sokon Matsumura (Shuri-te), Kodatsu Iha (a student of Kosaku Matsumora of Tomari-te) and Seisho Aragaki (associated with Goju-Ryū) all of which had knowledge of a version of Seisan. Funakoshi's could have taken the best from these contrasting styles synthesising them into Hangetsu, which possibly explains why the form is so different from other kata in the Shotokan canon.
Aragaki no Seisan
Another more obscure version of this kata known as Aragaki-no-Seisan, bears the closest surface resemblance to the Shotokan kata Hangetsu. The Shotokan version was probably renamed when Gichin Funakoshi formed his school in Japan. Hangetsu translates to 'Half Moon' or 'Half Month' a reference to the half-moon stance used extensively and the semi-circular stepping actions in this kata. It is interesting to note the name Seisan could have been a reference to the 13-day cycle of the moons phases, and knowing this Funakoshi named the kata 'Half Moon/Month'. A more obscure and unlikely theory is that the kata was taken from a Chinese folk dance where the performer is explaining the importance of the tides as they cycle on 13-day intervals as the moon revolves around the earth.
- Bishop, M. Okinawan Karate (Tuttle, Boston, 1999).
- Hobbs, R. J. & Jones, C. M. "The Genealogy of Okinawa" Traditional Karate 15 (7), 14-18 (March 2002).
- Seisan Kata on fightingarts.com
- Hayhurst, D. Okinawa Seidokan Tome Volume I, History, LuLu Publishing (2010).