Seisan Sai

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Seisan means “13” in the Okinawan dialect, but no one is sure how to answer the question “13 of what?” Seisan is one of the oldest kata, and its origin has been lost to history. Seisan is an extremely popular form which is practiced by intermediate and advanced students of most karate styles and karate-derived martial arts. When Gichin Funakoshi introduced karate to Japan, he renamed the kata for marketing purposes. As such, Shōtōkan stylists know Seisan as Hangetsu (“Half Moon”)

Because of its age and popularity, there are many variations and mutations of Seisan. This is especially apparent in Goshin-Jutsu Karate, where Seisan is practiced as a saijutsu kata, to highlight the parallels between karate and kobudō.

Directions

[video of Seisan Sai, performed fast and slow, viewed from cameras at #1, 3, 7, 5. Be sure that you take up the whole frame. A lot of our old kata videos are from too far away, and it hides some detail. ]

Points of Harmony.png
  1. Slide your left foot out to #2, entering a left front stance facing #1, extending the left sai into a downward block.
  2. Retract the left sai and shift into a right back stance with a left rising block. Shift forward into a left front stance with a reverse punch.
  3. Slide your left foot out to #8, entering a right front stance facing #1, extending the right sai into a downward block.
  4. Retract the right sai and shift into a left back stance with a right rising block. Shift forward into a left front stance with a reverse punch.
  5. Slide your left foot out to #2, entering a left front stance facing #1, extending the left sai into a downward block.
  6. Retract the left sai and shift into a right back stance with a left rising block. Shift forward into a left front stance with a reverse punch.
  7. Pull back into a right cat stance, facing #1, extending both sai with vertical flips, and pulling your hands to your hips.
  8. Slide your left foot out to #2, entering a left front stance facing #1 with a rising X-block. Slightly twist both sai inward, trapping and locking the opponent’s weapon within the sai’s prongs.
  9. Pull the sai back, overhead, with a right front kick to #1.
  10. Upon re-chambering, twist and slide your right foot out to #3, entering a horse stance facing #5 with double downward blocks to #3 and #7.
  11. Pull your right foot in and retract both sai. Immediately slide your right foot to #2, entering a left fighting stance to #5 with a left guard.
  12. Slide your right foot to #4, entering a right front stance facing #5, extend the right sai and downward block. Rotate your right wrist counter-clockwise for a parry.
  13. Retract the sai and slide back into a left cat stance, facing #5 with a left uppercut to the opponent’s chin.
  14. Slide your right foot to #4, entering a right front stance facing #5, extending the right sai with a vertical flip and stab.
  15. Slide your left foot to #6, entering a left front stance facing #5, extend the left sai and downward block. Rotate your left wrist clockwise for a parry.
  16. Retract the sai and slide back into a right cat stance facing #5 with a right uppercut to the opponent’s chin.
  17. Slide your left foot to #6, entering a right front stance facing #5, extending the left sai with a vertical flip and stab.
  18. Slide your right foot to #4, entering a right front stance facing #5, extending the right sai for a downward block. Rotate your right wrist counter-clockwise for a parry.
  19. Retract the sai and slide back into a left cat stance facing #5 with a left uppercut to the opponent’s chin.
  20. Slide your right foot to #4, entering a right front stance facing #5, extending the right sai with a vertical flip and stab.
  21. Quickly look to #7. Twist into a right cat stance facing #7, pulling your hands to your right hip (crossing the sai handles).
  22. Slide your left foot to #8, entering a left front stance facing #7, while extending the left sai into a downward block.
  23. Retract the sai and pull into a right cat stance facing #7, with a left rising block.
  24. Slide your left foot out to #8, entering a front stance facing #7. Reverse punch, front-foot punch, rear leg front kick, and reverse punch.
  25. Quickly look over your left shoulder to #3. Twist into a left cat stancefacing #3, pulling your hands to your right hip (crossing the sai handles).
  26. Slide your left foot to #2, entering a right front stance facing #3, while extending the right sai into a downward block.
  27. Retract the sai and pull into a left cat stance facing #3, with a right rising block.
  28. Slide your right foot out to #2, entering a front stance facing #3. Reverse punch, front-foot punch, rear leg front kick, and reverse punch.
  29. Quickly look to #5. Twist into a right cat stance facing #5, pulling your hands to your right hip (crossing the sai handles).
  30. Slide your left foot to #6, entering a left front stance facing #5, while extending the left sai into a downward block.
  31. Retract the sai and pull into a right cat stance facing #5, with a left rising block.
  32. Slide your left foot out to #6, entering a front stance facing #5. Reverse punch, front-foot punch, rear leg front kick, and reverse punch.
  33. Quickly look over your left shoulder to #1. Right nami-ashi, stepping your right foot to #5, entering a horse stance facing #7 with a double behind-the-back pressing block, with your wrists on the back of your hips.
  34. Shift into a right, one-line back stance facing #1 with a left rising block.
  35. Slide back into a rightcat stance facing #1 while extending the left sai into a downward block.
  36. Invert your cat stance, retracting the sai and crossing their handles for a downward X-block.
  37. Lift your right knee towards #7, then step your right foot to #1, with your toes pointing to #7. Pull your hands to your right hip (crossing the sai handles).
  38. Straighten your right foot, and execute a left front kick.
  39. Upon re-chambering, step your left foot out to #2 entering a left front stance facing #1 while extending the left sai into a downward block. Retract the sai and reverse punch.
  40. Quickly look over your left shoulder to #5. Right nami-ashi stepping your right foot to #1, entering a horse stance facing #3 with a double behind-the-back pressing block, with your wrists on the back of your hips.
  41. Shift into a right, one-line back stance facing #5 with a left rising block.
  42. Slide back into a right cat stance facing #1 while extending the left sai into a downward block.
  43. Invert your cat stance, retracting the sai and crossing their handles for a downward X-block.
  44. Lift your right knee towards #3, then step your right foot to #5, with your toes pointing to #3. Pull your hands to your right hip (crossing the sai handles).
  45. Straighten your right foot, and execute a left front kick.
  46. Upon re-chambering, step your left foot out to #6 entering a left front stance facing #5 while extending the left sai into a downward block. Retract the sai and reverse punch.
  47. Quickly look over your left shoulder to #1. Right nami-ashi, stepping your right foot to #5, entering a horse stance facing #7 with a double behind-the-back pressing block, with your wrists on the back of your hips.
  48. Shift into a left sleeping crane stance facing #1 with a left rising block and simultaneously extending the right sai with a vertical flip, pulling it to your right hip, with the tip pointing down.
  49. Retract the sai and slide your right foot to #6, entering a right front stance facing #7, extending the right sai into a horizontal strike. Rotate your right wrist counter-clockwise for a parry. Retract the sai, then reverse and front-foot punch.
  50. Shift into a left fighting stance facing #1 with a left guard.
  51. Slide your right foot forward, into an attention stance facing #1 with chest-level double Figure-8 twirl, then pull your hands to your hips. Bow.

Notes

To aid in the development of muscle memory, this kata has many repeated series.

When using your reciprocal action, only rotate your hands a quarter-turn when using the sai. Otherwise, you’ll scrape yourself with the tine.

[yes and no photos]

When performing rising blocks with the sai, fully rotate your wrist, so your palm faces upward. This way, the block connects with the shaft of the sai, and not your forearm. Hold the sai at a slight upward angle; this will exploit the wedge technique, causing the opponent’s weapons to slide off and away from you.

[Photo of a sai rising block]

You must project the Unbendable Arm through the sai on all techniques. Otherwise, the sai just dangles awkwardly. Rather than treating the sai like holding a metal bar in your hand, envision the sai as being a long finger, like in point shooting.

In Movement 8, you are not blocking with the crossed shafts of the sai. You are trapping a weapon between the shaft and the outer tine of each sai.

The stabs in Movements 14, 17, and 20 come at slight upward angle (i.e., past parallel). These are not thrusts to the solar plexus; the sai must come up under the ribs, to pierce the diaphragm itself, and the vital organs (i.e., heart, lungs, liver). and structures (i.e., the aorta) contained within the rib cage. This is a standard practice when stabbing people.

After the “drunk step” in Movements 37 and 44, it is imperative that you straighten the foot prior to kicking. Otherwise, you will be twisted and off-balanced.

The Figure-8 motion at the end of the kata requires extra practice. Only one who is truly comfortable with the sai and its manipulations can do double Figure-8’s; that is why we require it. Practice each hand individually, until you can perform the Figure-8 continuously without looking. For an additional challenge, see if you can perform Movement 51 silently.

[Video demonstrating how to Figure-8 the sai]

Bunkai

Many possible bunkai exist for any one kata. This is one example, where the sai is used in various ways to against opponents armed with .

In Movements 1 and 2, the opponent attempts to strike the side of your knee, then steps in with a downward strike. You block both of these attacks, before countering with a strike to the opponent’s solar plexus. Your thick-headed opponent tries this multiple times (Movements 4-6), before giving up and charging you in frustration, but quickly stops upon realizing they will be impaled (Movement 7). The opponent attacks with a downward strike, but you trap and lock their bō in the tines of your sai. You pull their bō back overhead, jerking the opponent forward to off-balancing them, and pulling them into your front kick (Movements 8 and 9). When the opponent doubles-over, twist to clear them away (Movement 10) to prepare for the looming opponent at #5. (Movement 11)

In Movements 12-15, the opponent attempts to strike the side of your knee, but you block the strike, and parry their bō to the side, to deny them an attack vector. As the opponent tries to recover their stance, use an uppercut as an atemi, buying the time needed to thrust the sai into the opponent’s diaphragm. This sequence is repeated several times (Movements 16-20), since the opponent faced in kata practice become increasing tougher as you progress in rank.

In Movements 21-24, and the opponent attempts to strike the side of your knee, then steps in with a downward strike. You block both of these attacks, before countering with a series of blows. This sequence is repeated against a different attackers coming from different directions (Movements 25-32).

The first attacker recovers from being kicked, you try to back away, but they try to break your back with a horizontal “baseball” swing, which you block (Movement 33). The enraged opponent quickly attacks with a downward strike, a strike to the side of your left knee, and a thrust to your groin, all which you block (Movements 34-36). Reach your leg around the opponent’s trapped bō, and stomp down on it to force it out of their hands (Movement 37) and follow up with a kick to their groin (Movement 38). The kick forces the opponent to double-over and kneel, and when they punch your groin in a desperation move, you block and counter this attack with a punch to their face (Movement 39). This cycle is repeated when the attacker at #5 regains their composure (Movements 40-46).

The opponent at #1 regains their composure, and you try to back away, but they try to break your back with a horizontal “baseball” swing, which you block (Movement 47). The opponent at #7 also regains their composure, and attacks the side of your right knee as the opponent at #1 comes in with a downward strike. You simultaneously evade and block both attacks (Movement 48). You strike the temple or eyes of the opponent at #7, using the tines of the sai to trap the bō of the attacker at #1, and pulling it to your hip with your reciprocal action. The blinded or disoriented opponent at #7 drops their bō, and grabs your sai with their left hand, in a desperate attempt to disarm you. You parry his hand to the side, like an inside wrist release, and finish him off with punches to the solar plexus or throat (Movement 49). Finally, you assume a fighting stance to stop the weary, hapless original attacker at #1 who eventually flees in terror rather than face an additional beating (Movement 50). Having abandoned their violent intentions, they are not to be pursued, enabling you to astonish dazzled onlookers with your saijutsu prownness (Movement 51).