SEISAN'S ORIGINS

Article by Emanuel Giordano 

Seisan 十三 / セイサン (known in mainland Japan as Hangetsu 半月) is one of the typical kata of Okinawa Traditional Karate, and is one of the kata classifiable as Shorei / Naha-te. Together with the katas Sanchin, Sanseru, Suparinpei and Pechurin (which according to Juhatsu Kyoda is a different kata from Suparinpei) it is part of the basic kata of the Okinawan Traditional Karate styles born mainly from the influence of the Chinese martial arts of Fujian. Although the origins of Sanchin 三戦 are clearly to be found in the Chinese Sam Chien, basic form of many styles and of which there are many varieties and pronunciations, the origins of Seisan have never been clear. A misleading element is, for example, in the name written in kanji which refers to a Chinese form whose pronunciation is Shisan, but this form has nothing to do with the Okinawan kata. Others have suggested similarities with the form 4 door 四门 (of which different styles pass down two versions: Xiao Simen 小四门 and Da Simen 大四门), although this theory is not supported by evidence, and although it is different from Seisan. Others have come closer to the solution, noting similarities with one of the San Zheng (other pronunciation of Sam Chien) of the Luohan Quan, in particular with the one present in this video. Unfortunately, having removed a vague resemblance to the first part of the kata, it doesn't seem to have much else to do with Okinawan Seisan.
 
During a study of the various forms of Five ancestors Fist (Wuzu Quan 五祖拳), I came across something I had already seen before. I state that in our Shorin-ryu school the Seisan kata is not contemplated, but thanks to numerous technical exchanges organized by the Okinawa Karate Kenkyukai (association for the study, preservation and diffusion of Okinawan martial arts in Italy and Europe), it was possible for me to recognize a form very similar to the Seisan of Uechi-ryu! I also asked the opinion of my friend Stefano Carreri (Okikukai member), who agreed with me. I then performed a comparative analysis of the two kata, obtaining further confirmations. The form of Wuzu Quan identified by me is a "Chinese Seisan" very similar to that practiced in Uechi-ryu. Probably the two forms have a common ancestor or, even, the Seisan of Uechi-ryu could derive from this (video). From a first research, this is the first evidence published on the origins of this kata. Unfortunately it was not easy for me to trace the name of this form, but in the end I did it thanks to a well-known Chinese master from Yongchun Wuzu Quan. But before I tell you this name, I would like to make a brief reconstruction of the lineage of the school that appears in the video.
 
WUZU QUAN 

Five ancestors Fist 五祖拳 it is known by several names, depending on the Chinese dialect in use. The most used pronunciation is Wuzu Quan, but the Wuchu Chuan or Ngo-cho Kun pronunciations are not uncommon. According to Master Chee Kim Thong, the origins of this style date back to 1300 and at the northern Shaolin Temple. Although the date may not be shared by others, it seems instead that almost everyone agrees in identifying the origins of the style in the northern Shaolin Temple. With the fall of the Ming dynasty and the advent of the Qing dynasty, some monks fled to southern China, where the Ming resisted for a few years. Here the original style would mingle with Fujian martial arts, giving birth to Wuzu Quan. However, there are other theories, including one in which the style was born from Taizu Quan, a style that is based on the cult of the "great ancestors". To date, however, Wuzu Quan includes forms and knowledge of the following styles: Taizu Quan (Great ancestors fist), Luohan Quan (Arhat fist), Baihe Quan (White Crane fist), Hou Quan (Monkey fist) and Xuan Nu Quan (Soft fist). Starting in 1644, Wuzu Quan became the main style in China and especially in Fujian, where the main lineages would develop. Between the mid and late 1800s two great masters, as well as friends, reformed the style giving way to two main lineages, the Yongchun Wuzu Quan and the Wuzu Quan Ho Yang Pai, born respectively from Li Jun Ren and Chua Giok Beng. However, it should be stressed that not all teachers will join these two lineages, in fact a minority continued to transmit the original Wuzu Quan. According to what emerged in a private conversation with a well-known Yongchun Wuzu Quan master, the various lineages would transmit different teachings, a bit like what happened with Shuri-te and Naha-te. Continuing however with the part that concerns our objective, we will speak only of the Yongchun Wuzu Quan.

 
YONGCHUN WUZU QUAN
This lineage, sometimes called Yongchun Baihe Quan, originates from Li Jun Ren, who practiced Wuzu Quan at the Dongchan Temple of Quanzhou (a very important city for the history of Okinawa Traditional Karate). Moving to Yongchun County (west of Quanzhou) he created the Yongchun Wuzu Quan by mixing the teachings received at the temple with the style of the Yongchun White Crane (Yongchun Baihe Quan). His best pupil and heir was Master Kan Teck Guan (also known as Kee Lian, Kay Seong Sun and Gan De Yuan), who passed on his teachings to Lee Chai Luan. The latter migrated to Sarawak in the early 1900s, where he opened a school, and where he trained several students between 1950 and 1960. His successor was the Master Ong Sieng Chuan, who taught between 1960 and 1985, and who trained several students including his son Ong Zian Men and Stephen Tiong. Master Tiong, after receiving his master's "blessing" in 1980, began teaching Wuzu Quan in Australia in 1980, calling his school Shaolin Wuchu Chuan (the video comes from this school). In Master Tiong's video, alas, the form did not have a precise name, and therefore I had to ask a well-known exponent belonging to the same lineage. The master in question, who has been collaborating with great Okinawan Traditional Karate masters for 25 years, kindly replied telling me the name of the form.
 
THE CHINESE NAME OF SEISAN
As I said above, in China there are many versions of Sam Chien / San Zhan, and I am not referring only to the fact that each style has its own, but to the fact that in some styles more than one is studied! Well, the kata that we could call "Chinese Seisan" is actually a Sam Chien / San Zhan, in particular the 三 戰 十字 San Zhan Shizi (Three crossed battle / Three battle crossed pattern), that is a Sam Chien / San Zhan that develops in more directions. Clearly this discovery was possible thanks to the fact that the Seisan of Uechi-ryu is the most recent of the various okinawan Seisan, and that it is probably the least modified and, at the same time, coming from one of the versions more similar to that practiced in the Yongchun Wuzu Quan. However, there are many other versions of this Chinese form (also in the same lineage), therefore it is possible that the other Seisan of Okinawa come from other versions of the 三戰十字 San Zhan Shizi present in the various Chinese styles.
 
AND ABOUT THE FUJIAN WHITE CRANE??
As we have said, this Chinese style includes various teachings of the style of the White Crane, including that of the Yongchun. It is therefore possible that the Seisan Uechi-ryu and the Chinese counterpart originated from the style of the Fujian white crane. Personally, I hope I have also helped the various Uechi-ryu style friends to further clarify a piece of their history and to provide new information useful for their research.
 
For more information you can read:
 
"Shorin-ryu Karate: kata" (here)
 
 

"Shorin-ryu Karate: The legacy of the bodyguards of the king of Okinawa" (here)

"The legend of the masters of Okinawan Karate: Biographies, curiosities and mysteries"  (here)