"36 hands"










Sanseiru is one of the 4 "core" kata brought back from China by Kanryo Higaonna (although the origins of Miyagi's version are disputed by some - see "Origins of Sanseiru").

The standard kanji of Sanseiru mean “36”. The pronunciation is an Okinawan rendering of the Fujian dialect. "San" means 3, "sei" means 10, and "ru" means 6. The number has siginificance in Buddhist tradition.

Traditionally Fujian quan fa schools would have added the character ("bu" meaning "steps") or sometimes ("ji" meaning "skill" or "technique") after such a number.  In Okinawa it is traditional to add the character ("te" meaning "hands").

In some schools this kata is known as a "dragon kata".





Description of the kata

This explosive kata develops low kicks and double hand techniques. Like Shisochin it also focuses on fighting in all four directions. The techniques in this kata seem basic, direct and hard, however there are some unique and advanced, close-in techniques. A feature of this kata is use of morote ko uke (two handed wrist block) which has many close-in fighting applications.

Sanseiru is presently taught in all Goju schools, although it is the kata that shows the greatest variation.

The Muidokan version is essentially that of the IOGKF/Jundokan except for 2 differences: It features a forearm wedging block instead of a rising empi (elbow), and features an outside, rather than inside, haiwan nagashi uke (although in the Academy we practice bunkai (applications) which include the IOGKF/Jundokan version of this technique).

Mario McKenna has suggested to Shihan Dan that these differences are attributable to the teachings of Seiko Higa, a student of Kanryo Higaonna who continued to train under Miyagi after Higaonna’s death and who eventually opened his own Goju-ryu school in Okinawa, the Shodokan. It is said by some students of Higa preserved some subtleties/additional techniques of Sanseiru that remain in the Shodokan version.

In the Muidokan system, the standard Sanseiru is called the "Sho" (first) version.  As Sanseiru, like all of the "core" Higaonna kata, is asymmetrical (right side biased), the Academy also practises a "Dai" (longer) version in which some of the moves have been repeated on the left hand side.  A further "Chu" (middle) version, which balances the right and left use but is approximately the same length as the Sho version, is occasionally practised.

Sanseiru is also taught in Ryuei-ryu, Tou’on-ryu and Uechi-ryu (the latter being related but significantly different). As with Sanchin, Sanseiru is said to have been performed originally with open hands.

Sanseiru is required for Shodan 1 and 2.



Sanseiru sho (performed by Sensei Dave Goodwin in 1985)

Sanseiru dai (extended version)

Sanseiru chu (redesigned along "Cluster M" lines)

    Sanseiru tuide

Sanseiru tuide is a 2 person "lock flow" drill, containing locks and holds found in Sanseiru.

It can be practised both standing and on the ground.

Sanseiru tuide is required for Shodan 2



Laoshi Bob demonstrates a tuide bunkai of Sanseiru

    Sanseiru embu

Sanseiru embu is a 2 person version of Sanseiru that can also be performed as a single person form. 

Sanseiru embu is required for Shodan 2.



Sanseiru embu (solo)


Origins of Sanseiru

It is generally accepted that Kanryo Higaonna brought Sanseiru kata back from Fuzhou where he learned the form from Ryu Ryu Ko  Othrodox history maintains that Higaonna taught the kata to Chojun Miyagi.  However it is thought by some that Miyagi never learned the kata from Kanryo Higaonna. This argument is supported by the fact that Miyagi's senior, Juhatsu Kyoda, was taught the kata while Miyagi was in military service1, 3. Kyoda’s version (To’on-ryu) is significantly different, featuring no double kick, no kick before the empi/punch combination and no double ko uke at the end. The Kyoda version is also lighter, springier and is said to be performed in a manner that is more “Chinese” in appearance3.

If Higaonna did not teach Sanseiru to Miyagi, where did Miyagi learn it?  Mario McKenna suggests that Miyagi may well have learned the kata in Fuzhou in 1915.  It is interesting to note that Miyagi is said to have met a former student of Ryu Ryu Ko's in Fuzhou who demonstrated Sanseiru after Miyagi left it out of his own demonstrations.  Miyagi said he hadn't performed Sanseiru because it was his "least favourite" kata4.



1See Mario McKenna's article  "Higaonna Kanryo and Nahate" at

2 See Joe Swift's article "The Kempo of Kume Village" in Meibukan Magazine No. 6 at

3 See Matheiu Ravignat's article "The History of Goju Ryu Parts 1 - 3" in Meibukan Magazine Nos. 2, 3 and 4 at:

4 Higaonna, M. (1985). Traditional Karatedo - 1: Fundamental Techniques. Tokyo. Minato Research and Publishing Co. Ltd.


Dan demonstrates Sanseiru sho in 1987

Nenad's and Dan's sempai Sensei Des Lawrence demonstrates Sanseiru circa 1986

Laoshi Bob leads Sanseiru practice in 1989

Nenad's and Dan's sempai Sensei Dave Goodwin performs Sanseiru sho in 1985