Friday, June 26, 2020

Seishan Sidebar: Chinese roots

Seishan clearly came about via Chinese influences on Okinawan te.  Whether or not an exact version of Seishan exists in China seems unlikely, but there do seem to be several candidates for strong influence.  It's hard to get excited about this because there are LOTS of gungfu forms that start with a set of in/out blocks and a punch.

Jesse Enkamp has recently revealed some video from his China studies that shows a form with a great deal in common with Seishan.  I can only assume he was inspired by my lowly blog to share it. ;)

I'd love to see the whole form!

Update: The whole form.  

Having seen this, I think the influences are apparent, but there are lots of other forms with similar movements.  But you know, just as there are several versions of seisan on the tiny island of Okinawa, it could just be that on the mainland, a bigger game of telephone is being played, and different people brought different part of Seisan with them.  Still, this a very interesting form, and nice to see it preserved on video.

Seishan: Standard Bearers

(Author's note, I use Seisan and Seishan interchangeably; sue me.)

Having started my training in the late 1990s, I've always had the internet while training.  As time has gone on, it has become far easier to see how a form is expressed across different styles, and even across different organizations within a style.  I can watch a 7 year old kid perform it for the first time at a tournament and I can watch someone designated by the government of Okinawa as an Intangible Cultural Asset holder perform the very same kata.

Seishan is a great example of this, and my YouTube playlist is brimming with excellent examples from many styles.  For the purposes of this particular study, I've narrowed my study down to 4 different versions of the form that I feel are particularly interesting:

Of course, how we do it in my parent organization:

Shotokan's Hangetsu, which while different in some places, presents the best source for our form's footprint/embusen:

Seisan as demonstrated by Angel Lemus, as one of the best sources (to my naive eye) of a Kyan sourced Seisan.  Here, we still see lots of common ground with some wrinkles:

Goju Ryu's Seisan, as demonstrated by Morio Higaonna.  Here, the differences start to outweigh the similarities, but open us to some very interesting possibilities:

As previously mentioned, there are literally dozens of variations to choose from, each with their own unique treasures.  I chose these in particular because I feel that a good study of the Tang Soo Do version of the form can benefit from examining these others as well.

When I watch each of these, several questions come to mind.

1. What physical similarities and differences do I see?  Stances, techniques, pattern, tempo each come to mind.  Sometimes a version of the form travels in a completely different direction, such as an Isshinryu Naihanchi.  We see this with Seishan, in that some versions step out with the right foot instead of the left.  Some versions even step back.  

2. Does another version of the form appear to emphasize different parts?  Perhaps in the number of times a technique is demonstrated, the speed at which a technique is performed.  Maybe a differently placed kihap?  

3.  Do these differences awaken anything that you might have overlooked in your form?

4. What don't you like about the other forms? (for example, I'm perfectly happy to say my body hurts looking at the hangetsu-dachi in shotokan, but maybe I just don't understand it well enough to appreciate)

5. Is there anything in the other forms that you wish was present in your form?  For me, I find the additional kicks in the Goju and Kyan version to be fascinating and open up all sorts of discussions about "implied" techniques in a form.

6. Who is responsible for each of these changes?  What were the deciding factors in these changes?  Was it erroneous or intentional (say, for example, everyone who steps out with the left foot can trace their form back to one guy in Okinawa who couldn't tell his left from his right (we've all had this partner!) and simply... made a transcription error.  Maybe, they just thought it looked neat.  Other schools allegedly have "outer" versions of forms that are used for public demonstration that leave out key movements.  Could someone have watched a demo (or, you know, read a book in a train station library) that was intentionally leaving out key details? 

Over time, I'll share some of my observations and thoughts, but what I think is less important that what questions you ask yourself, and how you choose to apply them to your training.

If your answer to all of these questions is "I don't care about all this navel gazing deep thought!  The book says do this, so I do it!" then this blog probably isn't for you.  I've already been publicly shamed by a nameless senior rank for "insulting the Grandmaster" for doing and teaching things in a non-standardized way, so save your comments, please and thank you.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Let's Talk About Seishan (시싼 / 十三)

Whether your style calls it Seishan, Seisan, or Hangetsu, you probably have seen or performed some variation of the form.  In my particular style of Tang Soo Do, the form is reserved for more Senior ranking practitioners.   In other styles, it may be an intermediate form taught near the Black Belt level.  In some other styles, such as Isshin-Ryu, Seisan is actually the first form taught to students.  Indeed, the form is not a difficult one to execute.  On the surface, it is a relatively short and simple pattern of repeating sequences. A Tang Soo Do orange belt would not find any of the techniques particularly challenging.  Gup students reading this, I am sorry to disappoint you, but there are no secret moves waiting for you in this form.

IsshinRyu Seisan.  A beginner kata (performed by a very advanced practitioner!)

In an age of XMA, Hyper, and a focus on "new" it's easy to overlook the multitudes of lessons that a basic technique can teach.  Seishan, in itself, is a fighting style.  Everything you need for a well rounded karate student is found in this one form, and it harkens back to a time when instructors only taught 2-3 forms at most. After learning over 50 forms (and forgetting a good number of them due to lack of practice) I'm trying to avoid the "inch deep, mile wide" approach.

I recently had the chance to read a very interesting book that had been sitting on my shelf for some time.  "Five Years, One Kata" by Bill Burgar details the author's intimate study of Gojushiho/Ohshipsabo over the course of five years.  Taking a form and devoting time to delve into each movement and the lessons to be learned.  This is what inspired me to take on my own current form, and dive in.

To be super clear... I'm not at this level of understanding of Seishan; not by a long shot.  Plenty of people have been working with this form since before I was born, much less practicing. I'm still just dipping my feet into the pool, so to speak.  But I've got a plan for moving forward and I wish to share that and my progress along the way.

Here's what I'm starting with: WTSDA Seishan.

Seishan, as performed at 2017 Region 2 Championship

Again, to be super clear, I like this form as we do it.  I'm not advocating for changing the standard hyung.  A standard exists to lay groundwork from which to transmit information, and it's a starting point and springboard for the student who wishes to embody the concept of Shuhari. Shuhari is explained in Aikido thusly:

"It is known that, when we learn or train in something, we pass through the stages of shuha, and ri. These stages are explained as follows. In shu, we repeat the forms and discipline ourselves so that our bodies absorb the forms that our forebears created. We remain faithful to these forms with no deviation. Next, in the stage of ha, once we have disciplined ourselves to acquire the forms and movements, we make innovations. In this process the forms may be broken and discarded. Finally, in ri, we completely depart from the forms, open the door to creative technique, and arrive in a place where we act in accordance with what our heart/mind desires, unhindered while not overstepping laws."
With that in mind, here we go!

Thursday, June 11, 2020

My Current Training - Seishan

I recently had the honor of talking to Master Mark Jorgensen for his ongoing "Meet the Masters" chats on Facebook.  Having the chance to talk to an old friend again, even in an interview setting, was really wonderful, and highlighted some of the things that I greatly miss about training with a great group of people.  The reasons for my absence, which I was happy to share and discuss, are still there, but that doesn't mean I've taken a break from training on my own.

Training on my own has allowed me to have a more narrow focus on facets of the art that interest me.  I still walk through the other forms as a sort of moving meditation and memory maintenance, but for the moment, I've stuck to three forms: Bassai, Seishan, and Mountain Wind.

With the onset of COVID-19, and working from home, I've increased my intensity on these forms, especially Seishan.  This seems fitting to me, as it is one of the designated forms for my current rank, and also - at least within our Organization -- is the first "Master level" hyung.  This designation brings lots of questions to my mind.  Questions I'm seeking answers to through study and training.

During my interview, I was asked to give advice to anyone watching.  I shared the question that my instructor and his were fond of asking: "What are you working on?"  My friends, in my mind, there is nothing more embarrassing than being asked this question by a senior Master and having no answer.  If you're not actively engaged and owning your own training, why should someone else be willing to invest time in you? 

We also talked about something I've become somewhat known for in our region: performing hyung backwards -- starting with the last movement and working through to the beginning.  It's not a unique idea, but I'm probably one of a small handful in our group who have taken the time to do this intellectual exercise for more than the introductory forms.  For me, it was an opportunity to put one of the training requirements to the test: 

When you learn new techniques, learn thoroughly the theory and philosophy as well.
Learning a form is one thing.  Learning forwards, backwards, up and down, trying to understand the intent of the entire form as well as sequences, learning the history of the form, seeing how other styles do the form, exploring the similarities and the differences, and more is another.  Too often, when we start to collect and accumulate the movements, we rarely take the time to explore them past the surface.  I'm not going anywhere, and I have no plans or desire to test anytime soon, so why not really delve into my current form?

That's right, while my friends are making sourdough starters, I'm working on Seishan in rich, utterly boring and minute detail. :)

Right now, my intent is to share some of that with whoever wants to read it.  I suppose that comes with the standard disclaimers:

  • Opinions are mine, and mine only.  Please don't try to attribute anything I say to my parent organization.
  • I'm not your instructor.  If you like or hate what I'm saying, cool.  I'm neither trying to cause a revolution or undermine your way of doing it.  You do you, as the cool kids say.
  • There are no secrets, and I'm not giving anything away that you can't already figure out from another source.  Everything I share or pull from is already public domain in one format or another. If you think Seishan is super secret master-level stuff, I know some white belts in Isshin-Ryu that will make you very sad.
  • Don't take anything I say personally or as sacrilege. The bullet point above is a perfect example. :) . No disrespect intended to any of my peers or predecessors.
With that out of the way... please stay tuned for sporadic updates.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019


2018 was a year of change for me. We handed off the Tang Soo Do classes we were teaching to one of our senior students. We took a step back from involvement in our organization, including my stepping down from the position of Regional Director. We don't go to tournaments, tests, clinics, camps, etc. We didn't quit; we're lifetime members of our org. Just taking a step back for awhile.

At the end of the year, the bill came due for my webhosting. I decided I wasn't using it, but wanted to keep the CTSDA domain, so blogger came to the rescue in case I want to write anything and anyone wants to read it.

I've gotten a new job, delved more into tai chi, started playing disc golf, and otherwise focusing on my family and enjoying life.

I still practice TSD. I walk through the one-steps and forms for memory purposes. My personal training revolves around Seisan and Oh Sip Sa Bo.

Maybe I'll write more. Maybe not. :)