"13 hands"








Seisan is one of the 4 "core" kata brought back from China by Kanryo Higaonna (see Origins and analysis of Seisan). 

The standard kanji of Seisan mean “13”. The pronunciation is an Okinawan rendering of the Fujian dialect. "Sei" means 10, and "san" means 3. The number 13, a prime number, is a symbol of good luck and prosperity in China.

Seisan is required for Sandan 1 and 2.


Seisan kata performed by Shihan Dan in 1993



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").

Seisan is an elective kata from Nidan 1 onwards.



Applications of the kata

Seisan has devastating bunkai (applications) involve grabbing and controlling an attacker while striking and ripping at vulnerable parts of the body using a variety of hand techniques and low kicks.  In this respect it is similar to Xingyiquan - it fights a war of attrition.

Some say that, in accordance with its name, Seisan contains 8 defensive and 5 offensive techniques.  Others1 argue that the original kata would have had 13 techniques but that these have long since been added to or taken from, as the case may be.

The various versions of Seisan appear largely the result of which bunkai (application) of a particular move has been stressed. 


Hike and throat grab (note raised elbow)

The "ryuken" (dragon fist) application



An example of this is highlighted in the clips to the left:  Where one school (eg. ours) effects a grab to the throat (see first clip), another school (in this case Uechi-ryu) will effect a "ryuken" (dragon fist) strike (see second clip).  Seisan is such a rich kata that it is quite possible that it was intended to accommodate both of these variations.  Accordingly while the Muidokan version contains a throat grab, the ryuken is accepted as a valid bunkai.


    Derived drills

Two drills serve to explain the function of the kata techniques illustrated in the excerpt of the kata shown above:



Hike punch / ryuken drill


  The first clip to the left (a hike uke punch drill) illustrates the function of the lifted elbow at the beginning of the excerpt.  After you throw a punch you realise your attack has been thwarted so you "snake" your punching arm around, using the recoil of your punch to deflect your opponents counter.  This drill sets up a fast sequence that tests your coordination as well as teaching you correct snap punching technique.  The clip illustrates that this drill can and should be performed against a strike shield or, in this case, a telephone book.  


The second clip to the left combines the hike uke punch drill with the ryuken attack (it could also be a throat grab or even just a punch) to illustrate how both are applied.  The drill not only teaches pinpoint accuracy with deflections, it also serves as a sensitivity drill as well as providing some forearm "tanren" (conditioning).

Understanding the bunkai (applications) of kata is vital to martial training: without this knowledge one might as well be performing a dance.


    Seisan tuide

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

It can be practised both standing and on the ground

Seisan tuide is required for Sandan 2.




    Seisan embu

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

Seisan embu is required for Sandan 2.





Origins and analysis

It is generally accepted that Kanryo Higaonna brought the Goju Seisan kata back from Fuzhou where he learned the form from Ryu Ryu Ko, and that Higaonna then taught the kata to Chojun Miyagi.  However it is also known that a version of Seisan was taught by Higaonna's first instructor, Seisho Aragaki, as early as 18671.  Moreover the Shuri and Tomari te styles of karate (what we have called on these web pages the Shorin school) appear to have taught a version of Seisan even before this.

Seisan is presently taught in all Goju-ryu schools, in Ryuei-Ryu, in Tou’on-ryu and Uechi ryu (the "Naha te" schools).  Although the Uechi-ryu version is significantly different in the second half, the first half is clearly identifiable as being from the same source.  As with Sanchin, Seisan is said to have been performed originally with open hands (which is still the case in the Uechi-ryu kata).

Seisan is also still common to all systems of Shorin schools, truly warranting its status as "the universal kata".  At first glance the Shorin versions of Seisan appear to be completely different to those of the Naha te schools, however a closer analysis reveals that they too are related, albeit distantly. 


Shr san tai bai ("13 treasures") - the Chinese form closest to Okinawa's Seisan (click on the photo to go to the site).  

The above posture corresponds with the posture in Seisan shown at the top of the page.  However note also the similarity of the above posture with the corresponding posture in Tensho depicted below.


Traditionally it has been said that the Goju-ryu version of Seisan contains the beginning and the end of the "ancestral form", while the Shorin contains the middle.  In this regard it is interesting to note that the Uechi-ryu version (which begins in a manner similar to the Goju form) features in its "middle" techniques and an embusen similar to those of the Shorin version.  This poses the interesting question of whether the Uechi version is perhaps closer in some respects to the "original" Fujian version than any other Okinawan kata, or whether it reflects a "combination" of both forms by Kanbun Uechi. 

The closest present day "relative" of Seisan on the Chinese mainland would appear to be Yong Chun's "Shr san tai bau" form (which translates as "13 treasures").  Some have argued that this kata might be the "ancestral" form of all the Okinawan Seisans, however a more likely scenario is that it is a "cousin" form - ie. it shares a common ancestry with the Okinawan versions.  Again, the Uechi version would appear to be its closest Okinawan counterpart.

Seisan is most notable for its use of "Seisan dachi" a stance that in some karate schools resembles the Yong Chun san zhan stance.  In others (eg. IOGKF/Jundokan) it takes the form similar to Xingyi's "san ti" posture.  The potential link to Xingyi is not to be lightly dismissed as many of the moves (in particular the double block advancing forward after the first turn) are highly reminiscent of Xingyi's "pi quan" in feel and application.



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