Meaning 13, some people refer to it as 13 hands, 13
fists, or 13 steps. Customarily taught in both Shuri and Naha, this kata,
following the tradition of Kyan Chotoku, is the first kata the Isshinryu
It is unclear exactly what the number 13
actually represents. Some think it was the number of techniques in the
original kata; some think it represents 13 different types of "power" or
"energy" found in the kata; some think it represents the number of
different application principles; some think it represents defending
against 13 specific attacks; and some think that it is the number if
imaginary opponents one faces while performing the kata. Out of all
these theories, this author must disagree with the last, as it is highly
unrealistic that kata teaches one to handle such situations. On the
contrary, kata was designed to teach the principles needed to survive
more common self-defense situations, rather than a long, drawn out
battle against several opponents (Iwai, 1992).
Kinjo Akio, noted Okinawan karate researcher and teacher who has
traveled to China, Hong Kong and Taiwan well over 100 times for training
and researching the roots of Okinawan martial arts, maintains that this
kata originally had 13 techniques, but due to a long process of
evolution, more techniques were added to it (Kinjo, 1999). He also
maintains that the Okinawan Seisan kata derives from Yong Chun White
Crane boxing from Fujian Province in Southern China.
It is unsure who brought this kata to Okinawa, but we do know that in
1867, Aragaki Seisho (1840-1920), a master of the Chinese-based fighting
traditions (Toudi) demonstrated this kata (among others) in front of the
last Sappushi, Zhao Xin (Tomoyori, 1992; McCarthy, 1995, 1999).
The main lineages that include Seisan include those passed down from
Matsumura Sokon, Kyan Chotoku, Aragaki Seisho, Higaonna Kanryo, Uechi
Kanbun, and Nakaima Norisato, among others. Shimabuku learned this kata
from Kyan. Both the Kyan and the Shimabuku versions of this kata
strongly resemble the Matsumura no Seisan (see Sakagami, 1978).
The "Master Seishan" theory, which claims that the kata was brought from
China to Okinawa by a Chinese martial artist named Seishan (or Seisan)
is uncorroborated myth at best, probably propagated by well-meaning, but
not-so-well-researched American Isshinryu instructors. This legend
cannot be found in any of the literature coming out of Okinawa or Japan.
This kata seems to have been brought to
Okinawa by Higaonna Kanryo, who is said to have learned it under the
master Ruru Ko, or perhaps under Wai Xinxian, who is said to have taught
at the old Kojo dojo at Fuzhou City in Fujian Province. Recent research
has indicated that Ruru Ko was actually Xie Zhongxiang, founder of
Whooping Crane boxing, but this kata is not included within that style,
thus hinting that Higaonna had either learned it elsewhere, or else
developed it himself. However, here we run into a problem, as Nakaima
Norisato (founder of Ryueiryu) is also said to have learned this kata
under Ruru Ko. Another theory is that Miyagi may have been responsible
for creating this form or introducing it from other sources.
The word Seiunchin is written as "Control, Pull, Fight" by many Okinawa
Goju-ryu stylists, as well as Isshinryu teacher Uezu Angi (son in law of
Shimabuku Tatsuo), perhaps hinting at the various grappling and grabbing
techniques contained within. A good example is the "reinforced block"
which can actually be applied as a wrist-crushing joint lock (Tokashiki,
1995), and the "archers block" which can be used as a throw (Higaonna,
1981; Kai, 1987).
Otsuka Tadahiko, a Gojuryu teacher who has spent considerable time in
China and Taiwan researching the roots of his system, tells us that his
research indicates Seiunchin may mean "Follow-Move-Power" which would be
pronounced Sui Yun Jin in Mandarin Chinese (Otsuka, 1998). Kinjo Akio
says that his research has revealed to him that Seiunchin may be from a
Hawk style of Chinese boxing, and mean "Blue-Hawk-Fight" which is
pronounced Qing Ying Zhan in Mandarin, or Chai In Chin in Fujian dialect
This kata is preserved in many modern styles of karatedo, including
Gojuryu, Shitoryu, Isshinryu, Shoreiryu, Kyokushin, Shimabuku Eizo
lineage Shorinryu, Ryueiryu, etc.
Naifuanchi) is typical of in-fighting techniques, including grappling.
There are three kata in modern (i.e. post 1900) karate, with the second
and third being thought to have been created by Itosu Anko (Iwai, 1992;
Kinjo, 1991a; Murakami, 1991). Another popular theory is that originally
the three were one kata, but were broken up into three separate parts by
Itosu (Aragaki, 2000; Iwai, 1992).
This kata was not originally developed to be used when fighting against
a wall, but this does not preclude such interpretations. While the kata
itself goes side to side, the applications are more often than not
against an attacker who is in front of you, or grabbing at you from the
sides or behind. Some say that the side-to-side movement is to build up
the necessary balance and physique for quick footwork and body-shifting
Interestingly, most versions of Naihanchi start to the right side,
including Itosu, Matsumura and Kyan's versions. Isshinryu's Naihanchi
starts to the left. There are others that start to the left as well,
including that of Kishimoto Soko lineage schools like Genseiryu and
Bugeikan (Shukumine, 1966), the Tomari version of Matsumora Kosaku
lineage schools like Gohakukai (Okinawa Board of Education, 1995), and
Motobu Choki's version (Motobu, 1997). This last may account for
Shimabuku Tatsuo beginning his Naihanchi to the left.
Isshinryu Naihanchi is basically a re-working of the classical Naihanchi
Shodan, in order to keep it in line with the principles around which
Shimabuku built his style. The main reason Shimabuku did not retain
Naihanchi Nidan and Sandan is probably because his primary teacher Kyan
did not teach them (Okinawa Prefectural Board of Education, 1995).
This kata is said by many to have been brought
to Okinawa by the 1683 Sappushi Wang Ji (Jpn. Oshu, 1621-1689). It is
possible that it is based upon or inspired by techniques that may have been
taught by Wang Ji.
The problem with this theory is that why would such a high ranked government
official teach his martial arts (assuming he even knew any) to the Okinawans?
Also, Wang Ji was only in Okinawa for 6 months (Sakagami, 1978).
Wang Ji was originally from Xiuning in Anhui, and was an official for the
Han Lin Yuan, an important government post (Kinjo, 1999). In order to become
an official for the Han Lin Yuan, one had to be a high level scholar, and
pass several national tests (Kinjo, 1999). Just preparing for such a task
would all but rule out the practice of martial arts, just time-wise.
However, assuming that Wang Ji was familiar with the martial arts, the
Quanfa of Anhui is classified as Northern boxing, while the techniques of
the Okinawan Wansu kata are clearly Southern in nature (Kinjo, 1999).
So, if Wansu was not Wang Ji, just who was he? This is as yet unknown.
However, in the Okinawan martial arts, kata named after their originators
are not uncommon. Some examples include Kusanku, Chatan Yara no Sai, and
Tokumine no Kon. It is entirely possible that this kata was introduced by a
Chinese martial artists named Wang. As the reader probably already knows, in
the Chinese martial arts, it is common to refer to a teacher as Shifu (let.
Teacher-father). Could not the name Wansu be an Okinawan mispronunciation of
Wang Shifu (Kinjo, 1999)?
Other schools of thought are that Wu Xianhui (Jpn. Go Kenki, 1886-1940) or
Tang Daiji (Jpn. To Daiki, 1888-1937), two Chinese martial artists who
immigrated to Okinawa in the early part of the 20th Century, may be
responsible for the introduction of the Wansu kata (Gima, et al, 1986). As a
side note, Wu was a Whooping Crane boxer and Tang was known for his Tiger
boxing. They were both from Fujian.
Shimabuku is believed to have added on several techniques to this kata, such
as the side kicks, evasive body movement into double punches, and elbow
smash as these are not found in any other version of Wansu known in Okinawa
This kata is said to have
been taught to Matsumura Sokon by a Chinese named Chinto, but this
legend cannot be corroborated. According to a 1914 newspaper article by
Funakoshi Gichin (1867-1957, founder of Shotokan karatedo), based upon
the talks of his teacher Asato Anko (1827-1906), student of Matsumura
"Those who received instruction from a castaway from Annan in Fuzhou,
include: Gusukuma and Kanagusuku (Chinto), Matsumura and Oyadomari (Chinte),
Yamasato (Jiin) and Nakasato (Jitte) all of Tomari, who learned the kata
separately. The reason being that their teacher was in a hurry to return
to his home country." (sic, Shoto, 1914).
It is believed by this author that the "Matsumura" in the above excerpt
is a misspelling of Matsumora Kosaku, of Tomari. The fact that Matsumora
Kosaku, is evidence that Matsumora may have also been taught this kata
as well (Kinjo, 1999).
Now, what exactly is Chinto? There appears a form called Chen Tou in
Mandarin Chinese (Jpn. Chinto, lit. Sinking the Head) in Wu Zho Quan
(a.k.a. Ngo Cho Kuen, Five Ancestors Fist), which was a style popular in
the Quanzhou and Shamen (Amoy) districts of Fujian (Kinjo, 1999). Chen
Tou refers to sinking the boy and protecting the head. In the Okinawan
Chinto kata, this is the first technique, but in the Five Ancestors Fist
it is the last (Kinjo, 1999). However, this being said, this author has
yet to see the Chen Tou form to make a comparative analysis. It is,
however, worthy of further investigation.
There are 3 distinct "families" of Chinto in modern Okinawan karate:
Matsumura/Itosu lineage (performed front to back), Matsumora Kosaku
lineage (performed side to side), and Kyan Chotoku lineage (performed on
a 45 degree angle). Looking at technical content, we can see that the
Matsumora and Kyan versions are nearly identical, which is only natural
since Kyan learned this from Matsumora.
This kata has been
described by many writers as the original exercise that Bodhidharma
taught to the monks at the Shaolin Temple. However, this theory has no
substantive proof either way, so this actually remains nothing more than
At any rate, the Okinawan versions of Sanchin have their origins in the
Quanfa originating from Fujian Province, where many, if not most, Quanfa
styles have a form of this name. In fact, the term Sanchin (written as
"three battles" in kanji) seems to be found only in Fujian-based Quanfa
systems, as forms of this name are not found in the martial arts of
other areas (Kinjo, 1999).
Many researchers, especially from the Gojuryu tradition, credit
Higashionna Kanryo with bringing back Sanchin from his studies in China
(Higaonna, 1981; Kai, 1987). However, there is evidence that Sanchin had
existed in Okinawa since before Higashionna's voyage to Fujian and was
passed on by Aragaki Seisho, who was Higashionna's first teacher (Iwai,
1992; Okinawa Prefectural Board of Education, 1995).
Higashionna's teacher in Fujian is believed by many to be Xie Zhong
Xiang, founder of Whooping Crane boxing (McCarthy, 1995; Okinawa
Prefectural Board of Education, 1995; Otsuka, 1998; Tokashiki, 1995),
although there is opposition to this theory (Kinjo, 1999). Higashionna
is believed to have learned the Happoren form from Xie, which is said to
be the basis for the modern Gojuryu version of Sanchin (Otsuka, 1998).
Higashionna probably integrated concepts from Happoren to the Sanchin he
learned under Aragaki. When practicing Happoren alone, however, the
breathing is silent (Otsuka, 1998).
In either case, Higashionna had his students spend several years on
Sanchin alone before allowing them to move on to the other kata he
taught. Higashionna apparently taught Sanchin as an open hand kata at
first, with fast breathing, but later changed it to a slower, closed
fist version (Higaonna, 1981; Murakami, 1991). Others give Miyagi Chojun
credit for closing the fists and slowing down the breathing (Kinjo,
One provocative account survives about the importance of Sanchin in
Higashionna Kanryo's teachings:
"When I was still a child, I wanted to see the karate of the famous
Higashionna Sensei, even if only once. So I went to the place he was
teaching. However, no matter when I went, I never saw Higashionna Sensei
perform karate. His students were practicing only Sanchin with all their
might, and Higashionna Sensei was instructing them." (sic, Murakami,
1991, pp. 133)
The three of Sanchin is often described in English as the battles
between mind, body and breath. Other descriptions refer to attack and
defense on the three levels, i.e. the upper, middle and lower levels
(Kinjo, 1999; Otsuka, 1998; Tokashiki, 1995). The three important points
of Sanchin have been described as the stance, the breathing method and
the spirit, and if any one of these three are lacking, one will not be
able to master Sanchin (Higaonna, 1981).
Higashionna Kanryo's Sanchin features two turns, and only one step back.
In order to remedy the lack of backward stepping, Miyagi Chojun created
a shorter version of the kata, featuring no turns, and two steps
backwards (Higaonna, 1981). It is this version that Shimabuku Tatsuo
utilized in his Isshinryu system.
Often described in
Isshinryu as a "night fighting kata," this form was passed down from
Kyan Chotoku to Shimabuku Tatsuo. Interestingly enough, no references to
night fighting are found in the primary references coming out of Japan
and Okinawa, leading this author to conclude that such interpretations
were contrived to fit movements that are not very well understood.
In the year 1762, a tribute ship sent to Satsuma from Ryukyu was blown
off course during a storm, and ended up landing at Tosa Province in
Shikoku, where they remained for a month. The Confucian scholar of Tosa,
Tobe Ryoen 1713-1795), was petitioned to collect testimony from the
crew. The record of this testimony is known as the Oshima Hikki
(literally "Note of Oshima", the name of the area of Tosa where the ship
had ran aground). In this book, there is some very provocative testimony
by a certain Shionja Peichin, describing a man from China called
Koshankin, who demonstrated a grappling technique (McCarthy, 1995;
It is commonly accepted that this Koshankin was the originator of the
Okinawan Kusanku kata, or at least inspired it. However, there are
several unknowns in this equation. First of all, was Koshankin his name
or a title, or even a term of affection towards him? Second, if it was a
title or term of affection, what was his real name? Thirdly, what
martial art(s) did he teach, and how do they differ from the modern
karate kata of Kusanku? Most of these questions are still being
researched by this author and others.
For now, suffice it to say that Kusanku is a highly important kata in
the Okinawan martial arts, and has spawned many versions over the years.
Some of them include the Kusanku Dai/Sho Itosu Anko lineage styles, the
Chibana no Kusanku of Shudokan, the Takemura no Kusanku of Bugeikan and
Genseiryu, the Kanku Dai/Sho of Shotokan, the Shiho Kusanku of Shitoryu,
and the Yara no Kusanku of Kyan Chotoku lineage styles, including
Isshinryu. Of course, there are numerous others as well.
Kyan Chotoku is said to have learned Kusanku in Yomitan under a certain
Yara Peichin (Nagamine, 1975; 1976). It is unknown at this time whether
there is a familial relationship between this Yara Peichin and the
Chatan Yara who is believed to have studied under Koshankin during his
mid-18th century visit to Okinawa.
This kata was created by Shimabuku Tatsuo, although
it is still unclear as to exactly when he created it. It is often
described as a combination of techniques and principles from the other
seven Isshinryu karate kata. However, there are elements of other kata
as well, such as Useishi (Gojushiho) and Passai that Shimabuku is
thought to have learned under Kyan.
There is also one sequence that appears as if it came out of Pinan
Sandan. However, Shimabuku's teachers appear not to have taught the
Pinan kata, so we are faced with the problem of where he learned them.
However, looking at the timeframe in which Shimabuku was active, it
becomes clear that he could have learned the Pinan just about anywhere,
or even just taken the technique via observing the Pinan kata being
There seems to be some confusion as to what the name Sunsu means. It has
been stated that it means either "strong man" (Uezu, et al, 1982) or
"son of old man" (Advincula, 1998). However, a recent newspaper article
from Okinawa tells us a different story:
"It is said that when Shimabuku performed Sanchin kata, he appeared so
solid that even a great wave would not budge him, like the large salt
rocks at the beach, and his students nicknamed him "Shimabuku Sun nu Su"
(Master of the Salt) out of respect." (sic, Ryukyu Shinpo-sha, 1999,
Another possibility is that Sunsu may be named after a family dance of
the Shimabuku family (Advincula, 1999).
No matter what the meaning, it is safe to say that Sunsu kata represents
the culmination of Shimabuku's understanding of the principles of the
defensive traditions, and was, along with Isshinryu, his unique
contribution to the classical art of Okinawa karatedo.
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About the Author - Joe Swift is a professional translator, martial
artist and karate researcher based in Tokyo, Japan.