Friday, June 26, 2020

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.

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