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Cataphract
Cataphract's picture
Pinch and Grab Similar to Seisan/Hangetsu

This crossed my mind when I saw Iain's demonstration of Kubi-Wa.

Some believe that Seisan/Hangetsu is a close relative to the Four Gates (Zimen), a form ubiquitous in southern China as Sanchin. Here are some applications of the Four Gates from Eight Character Fist (also Zimen Quan). Anyway should there be no connection to karate at all, I would still find the demonstration of the "cheek to cheek" position interesting. At 0:53 you see the typical pinch/grab from Hangetsu.

http://v.youku.com/v_show/id_XODMwNjg2MzEy.html

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

Cataphract wrote:
Some believe that Seisan/Hangetsu is a close relative to the Four Gates (Zimen), a form ubiquitous in southern China as Sanchin. Here are some applications of the Four Gates from Eight Character Fist (also Zimen Quan).

In the interests of complete information, we have to ask who believes that and why? On what basis is that claim made?

I’m not familiar with “Four Gates”, but a video of the solo form could be useful for the purposes of comparison?

We then have the issue of what we compare it to? There is little consistency when it comes to the many version of Seisan. The version that was renamed Hangetsu in Shotokan (pretty much the same as Wado’s Seishan) is radically different from the Seisan found in Goju and Shito-Ryu. Uechi-ryu’s Seisan is different again. Shotokan’s Hangetsu is perhaps closest to the versions found in Shorin-Ryu and Isshin Ryu (a few stylistic differences and extra kicks at certain places).

The versions are often so different, that if it was not for the common name you’d not think they had any connection. Shotokan’s Hangetsu (Wado’s Seishan), Isshin Ryu’s Seisan and Shorin-Ryu’s Seisan do look to be variations on a common theme. While quite different, there is enough commonality for it to be seen they are related (for the sake of discussion, let’s say they both belong to “Seisan Family A”). Goju-Ryu’s and Shito-Ryu’s Seisan obviously have a common source (“Seisan Family B”), but they are nothing like “Seisan Family A”. Uechi-ryu’s Seisan is not like “Seisan Family A” or “Seisan Family B”. As I say, aside from the name, they is little in the nature of these three strains of “Seisan” to suggest they are connected. You’d never guess any kind of connection just by looking at them.One or two common motions, but that's true of many kata.

I’ve done a quick YouTube search and none of the “Four Gates (Zimen)” forms coming up look close to being anything like either of the “three strains of Seisan” that I’m personally familiar with.

Am I looking at the wrong version of Four Gates (Zimen)? If so, could I have a link to a version where the connection can be seen? Or is there another traditional version of Seisan that I’m not familiar with where the connection is more obvious?

Could be a very interesting thread this! Thanks for kicking it off. The connections and differences between the various Seisans is fascinating!

All the best,

Iain

Seisan Family A-1 (Shotokan’s Hangetsu)

 

Seisan Family A-1 (Wado-Ryu)

 

Seisan Family A-2 (Isshin Ryu)

 

Seisan Family A-2 (Shorin-Ryu)

 

Seisan Family B (Shito-Ryu)

 

Seisan Family B (Goju-Ryu)

 

Seisan Family C (Uechi-Ryu)

 

JWT
JWT's picture

I'm really hoping for some videos now. :)

For what it's worth (just to show I'm happy to share videos) here's my (obviously Shotokan descended) take.
 

Cataphract
Cataphract's picture

Rob Redmond for one. In his "Kata - The Folk Dances of Shotokan" he writes: "Southern Chinese martial artists call this kata Four Gate Hands. Apparently Hangetsu originally comes from Southern China, and is alomst perfectly preserved in certain schools such as Southern Praying Mantis. When seeing the Four Gate Hands exercise performed, any experienced Shotokaner immediately knows that he is seeing Hangetsu."

This theory pops up here and there in the internet. I tend to agree, but "almost perfectly preserved" is rather optimistic from my point of view. It's more like a family of diverging remixes.

Patrick McCarthy writes here: "Unless there's been some new research that I am unaware of, I don't believe anyone can point to the exact source of Seisan. I do believe that the exercise clearly demonstrates [at least to me] Tiger, Monk, Lion and Southern Preying Mantis [SPM] movement and technique."

Search 四門拳 on YouTube etc. for many more examples from many more styles.

 

 

 

muratmat
muratmat's picture

Nice thread guys!
Here's an informal comparison between Hangetsu and Aragaki Seisan we did last winter in our dojo.

 

If Passai/Bassai is the kata which holds the largest number of variants, Seisan (十三, literally 13) has the record of most widespread, since it is present in almost all the stylistic systems.Today's versions of the Seisan kata are based on the traditions of Naha and Tomari: the version that Funakoshi synthesized for his stylistic system (called Hangetsu 半月, literally "half moon") comes mainly from the Tomari tradition, and among all the existing versions it's the one that makes less use of kicks techniques.

From the technical point of view is the only Shotokai kata in which is formally present the ippon ken, and has the interesting feature (especially from the point of view of applications) to conceal three kakushi waza (hidden techniques) of nami gaeshi in the final sequencies. Yoshitaka Funakoshi has changed very little in the form handed down from his father, effectively lowering only the classic position of Hangetsu dachi to improve the rooting to the ground and the feeling of stability.

The version passed by Seishō Arakaki is believed to coincides with the oldest form of Tomari-te, and as it can be noticed it is surprisingly the Seisan version that more resembles Hangetsu.
Also in Aragaki Sensei version appears the formal use of ippon ken, the positions are generally higher than Hangetsu and it makes greater use of open hand techniques (e.g. kake uke instead of uchi uke).

For Shotokai practitioners: 13 (Seisan) is also the number of positional adjustments (as rooted to the ground, but also dually at an inner level) that exist in the kata Hangetsu and are easily noticeable when performing the kata. Why did Funakoshi chose the name Hangetsu? Conjectures are many, the funniest is linked to the 26 phases of the lunar cycle: 13 (Seisan) days equals about half of one cycle or a half moon.

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

Thanks for the detailed post and the videos. A great addition to the thread.

Cataphract wrote:
This theory pops up here and there in the internet.

I think that’s the trouble though. People make assertions without ever pointing to a source that would support those assertions. You then get baseless things spreading on the basis that “everyone else says it”.  Karate has loads of myths that become self-sustaining in this way and, to my mind, it is damaging the art, obscures truth and discourages honesty.

Cataphract wrote:
Rob Redmond for one. In his "Kata - The Folk Dances of Shotokan" he writes: "Southern Chinese martial artists call this kata Four Gate Hands. Apparently Hangetsu originally comes from Southern China, and is almost perfectly preserved in certain schools such as Southern Praying Mantis. When seeing the Four Gate Hands exercise performed, any experienced Shotokan immediately knows that he is seeing Hangetsu."

I’m not seeing any connection in the forms, let alone “perfectly preserved”. Sure, they all have punches in them, but in terms of order, structure and nature I’m not seeing anything at all that would point to a solid connection. To suggest otherwise is like saying a chair is definitely descended from an elephant on the basis that the both have four legs. There’s no meaningful commonality to be seen. So, if that is all the evidence we have for a link between Seisan / Hangetsu and “Four Gates” then we have no evidence at all. We therefore need to stop the cycle of perpetuating the myth. The honest answer is that we have nothing that can tell us what the origins of Seisan are. That’s what we need to be saying. “We don’t know” is a fine answer. We should not “fill the gap” with things that have no evidence to support it.

Cataphract wrote:
I tend to agree, but "almost perfectly preserved" is rather optimistic from my point of view. It's more like a family of diverging remixes.

I’m not seeing any “remixing” either. There’s nothing there that suggests a common source to my eyes. The different variations of Seisan / Hangetsu and “Four Gates” are as different as any other two forms you could pick at random.

Cataphract wrote:
Patrick McCarthy writes here: "Unless there's been some new research that I am unaware of, I don't believe anyone can point to the exact source of Seisan.

That’s the key point to me. Can anyone point to any version of “Four Gates” that is close to any version of Seisan? If not, then we need to reject the connection between “Four Gates” and Seisan.

Cataphract wrote:
Anyway should there be no connection to karate at all …

I think that’s where the evidence if firmly pointing.

This is a really interesting thread! Thanks for once again for kicking it off and the interesting contributions.

All the best,

Iain

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

muratmat wrote:
Here's an informal comparison between Hangetsu and Aragaki Seisan we did last winter in our dojo.

That’s really interesting video. Thanks for sharing! Nice to have the Shotokai and Aragaki Seisan versions added to the collection of videos!

muratmat wrote:
Seisan (十三, literally 13) has the record of most widespread … For Shotokai practitioners: 13 (Seisan) is also the number of positional adjustments (as rooted to the ground, but also dually at an inner level) that exist in the kata Hangetsu and are easily noticeable when performing the kata.

The “number names” (13, 18, 24, 54, 108, etc) are always open to interpretation, but – to my knowledge – there is nothing concrete that tells us what the numbers mean. Hence, all the variations on “13 hands”, “13 steps”, “13 weak points”, “13 disabling techniques”, etc. “13 positional adjustments” seems solid enough too. One alternate theory could be the embusen of the kata being represented by the “十”and the “三” (3) being representative of the fact that the core sequences are rerepeated 3 times each. Who really knows?

I also wonder if the names were not originally written as numbers? Just like how we use katakana to write most of the kata names; because we know the sound and not the meaning. For example, we don’t know what “Naihanchi” means, so we use katakana to “sound it out”: ナイハンチ. It could be that something that sounded like “Shi-San” in a Chinese dialect was transliterated as “十三” by subsequent generations. For example, the character for “pattern” or “form” (式) is also pronounced as “shi”. So maybe it was “form three” i.e. the third form learnt? Or any other combinations of things that would make those sounds. Could be any number of things. We just don’t know. It’s fine to have our own favourite theories, but we need to make clear that all theories are unsubstantiated and the truth is we don’t know.

We have all kinds of problems when we move through languages. I know of a gent who now goes by George because people kept mispronouncing Jorge (“Horhay”) when he moved away from his Spanish speaking homeland. Jesse Enkamp has a similar thing here in the UK due the different way the British and Swedish pronounce “J” (Swedish “J” would sound like “Y” to British ears). My first name most often gets pronounced as “eye-an” in Nordic places; as opposed to “e-an” back home. The same will happen to kata names too; and when you add in changes to languages over time, it’s no wonder we can’t conclusively unravel things.

muratmat wrote:
Why did Funakoshi chose the name Hangetsu? Conjectures are many, the funniest is linked to the 26 phases of the lunar cycle: 13 (Seisan) days equals about half of one cycle or a half moon.

That’s one thing we can say with certainty! He tells us why he changed the names in Karate-Do: My Way of Life:

“Another reform to which I give my attention was that of nomenclature. Shortly after I came to Tokyo in 1922, my book ‘Ryükyü Kempo: Karate’ was published. At that time, the word was still being written as “Chinese hands,” and almost all the names of the katas that I described in my book were of Okinawan origin: Pinan, Naihanchi, Chinto, Bassai, Seishan, Jitte, Jion, Sanchin, and the like. These were, in fact, the names that I had learned long ago from my own teachers. No one, by now, had any idea how they had come into being, and people found them difficult to learn. Accordingly, after having transformed “Chinese hands” into “empty hands,” I began to give the kata names that were easier to the Japanese people to use and that have now become familiar all over the world.”

And he tells us why he specifically chose “Hangetsu” in Karate-Do: Kyohan:

“In this kata your hands and feet trace a semi-circular shape as you move forward. This is why I named the kata, half-moon (“Hangetsu”).”

Having no idea was “Seishan” (Seisan) was originally supposed to represent, Funakoshi changed the name to “Hangetsu” (half-moon) due to the semi-circular foot and hand movements in the kata. That we can say with 100% certainty, because he tells us so. As to what “Seisan” was originally supposed to represent (13 what? Maybe not even “13” but a transliteration of something else?) we have no idea.

All the best,

Iain

JWT
JWT's picture

I'm with Iain on this.

I can see sequences in two of the videos that remind me of Seisan, one in terms of techniques, the other in terms of sequential directional changes, but it's just not enough for me to give any credibility to a direct link. There's only so many things in combative terms that we can do with the human body - you will find common movements in arts with no shared ancestor or cross training.

But thank you for sharing the videos. Except the last one. That gave me motion sickness. :)

All the best

John Titchen

Cataphract
Cataphract's picture

Iain Abernethy wrote:
The honest answer is that we have nothing that can tell us what the origins of Seisan are.

I'll give my very best to convince you. ;-)

We have a bit more than nothing. The general appearance hints strongly at South China as Seisan's point of origin. I hope we can all agree on that. It was built on Sanchin stance. That may be nothing special for Naha te, but in Shotokan it sticks out like a sore thumb. Therefore it must be quite fundamental to its fighting system. Throwing advanced stuff at Shotokan students unused to Sanchin dachi just wouldn't make sense.

Boxing styles in South China roughly fall into two categories (link), those with knees in and those with knees out in horse stance. The first being more or less Sanchin stance. Central among those with knees in is the Hakka fist family (Southern Praying Mantis, Bakmei, Southern Dragon, Fujian Tiger etc.; link), what Uechi Kanbun learned while in China. Patrick McCarthy likens Seisan to those styles in his article. Incidently those styles are built around the forms Sanchin and Zimen. Therefore the intention and thus content of Zimen and Seisan should be by and large similar, as both are meant to teach the fundamentals of Hakka fist.

(Another trademark feature of Hakka fist is its use of Phoenix eye fist, btw. The one Funakoshi had on the cover of his first book.)

Seisan A1 e.g. roughly contains these sequences:

a) triple uchi uke with gyaku zuki

b) grab defense, fish hooks, bear hug escape

c) triple pinch and grab

d) multiple punches with turns to four sides

e) kick with multiple strikes combination (twice)

f) slamming throw

g) lions mouth in empty stance

Compare this form. You will find a(!), b(!), c (but only once), d(!), e, f, g.

Mere coincidence? In order to evaluate the (dis-)similarities between Seisan and the Four Gates one should also take into account the considerable diversity within each form/kata "swarm". In my opinion a direct connection so far can't either be confirmed nor dismissed.

muratmat
muratmat's picture

Iain Abernethy wrote:

The “number names” (13, 18, 24, 54, 108, etc) are always open to interpretation, but – to my knowledge – there is nothing concrete that tells us what the numbers mean. Hence, all the variations on “13 hands”, “13 steps”, “13 weak points”, “13 disabling techniques”, etc. “13 positional adjustments” seems solid enough too. One alternate theory could be the embusen of the kata being represented by the “十”and the “三” (3) being representative of the fact that the core sequences are rerepeated 3 times each. Who really knows?

I agree, anyway there is a documented exception where the kata name "13" is next to the kanji 步 ('ho', meaning steps but also translatable with adjustments), I'm referring to the kata list handed down by Morinobu Itoman (1934): the kata is reported as 十三步. Certainly this is just a smoky clue, but it is nice to highlight it.

I was curious and I went also to see how Funakoshi reported the kata name in Rentan Goshin Karatejutsu: it was written in katakana as セ一シヤン  Sēshian (Se-e-shi-ya-n), so no additional meaning.

JWT
JWT's picture

muratmat wrote:
Here's an informal comparison between Hangetsu and Aragaki Seisan we did last winter in our dojo.

Thanks for sharing. :)

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

Cataphract wrote:
I'll give my very best to convince you. ;-)

I’d expect nothing less :-)

Cataphract wrote:
Mere coincidence?

I’m not even seeing the coincidences. The forms are all radically different from any version of Seisan. I truly can’t see any connections there. None.

It’s been suggested by others there was a connection (without any real evidence to do so), and then it seems to me as if you are looking for things to support that asserted connection.

CataphractI wrote:
In order to evaluate the (dis-)similarities between Seisan and the Four Gates one should also take into account the considerable diversity within each form/kata "swarm". In my opinion a direct connection so far can't either be confirmed nor dismissed.

For me, it can be dismissed … until such time as solid and compelling evidence can be put forward.

Philosopher Bertrand Russell argued that:

“If I were to suggest that between the Earth and Mars there is a china teapot revolving about the sun in an elliptical orbit, nobody would be able to disprove my assertion. But if I were to go on to say that, since my assertion cannot be disproved, it is an intolerable presumption to doubt it, I should rightly be thought to be talking nonsense.”

So, this strikes me as a case of “Russell’s Teapot”.

An unverifiable assertion has been made i.e. “Four gates” and Seisan are connected. However, there is no strong evidence being put forward to support this assertion. It is therefore both logical and acceptable to reject it.

I’ve just typed “kung fu form” into YouTube. This was the first one that came up:

 

https://youtu.be/T1UQU3_nZeI

I’ve never seen the form before. But let me make the claim it’s related to Jion (picked at random). Here is the “evidence” I could put forth to support this entirely baseless claim:

Jion and this random form have the following in common:

1 – Both start with feet together.

2 – There is a variation on “salutation” of Jion is seen at 21 seconds … and again at 25 seconds.

3 – There’s a low hammer fist stepping forward in a horse stance at 41 seconds. Jion has three of those.

4 - There’s what looks like a manji-uke at 46 seconds. Jion has those too.

5 – The sequence at 49 seconds bares some similarity to the hammer fist, back knuckle combination found in Jion.

6 – There is a “forearm block” followed by a lunge punch at 51 seconds. Jion also has that sequence.

7 – At 60 seconds he steps forward three times, and Jion does things in threes too.

8 – Both forms have lots of horse stances.

9 – The posture at 1:34 looks like to opening move of Jion.

10 – Both Jion and this form have hammer fists to the side in horse stance.

And so on.

There’s no way this form is related to Jion. But I can argue otherwise by pointing to some casual commonalties, and then explain away the differences by saying “one should also take into account the considerable diversity within each form/kata "swarm"; as you have done.

Now if I were then to say, “you can’t prove they are not related kata and hence you should not dismiss it”, most would point to the logical fallacy of that. They’d say that the burden of proof is on those making the claim. And then the reject the claim on the basis that some casual commonalities are to be expected and are nothing close to firm evidence.

I see your assertions of possible common origins between Seisan and Four Gates as being comparable with my false argument that this “Tiger Style” form is related to Jion. There’s nothing there.

The evidence we have so far for a link between Four Gates and Seisan are:

1 – Rob Redmond said the kata is “perfectly reserved” in Southern Praying Mantis’s Four Gate Hands. He claimed, “any experienced Shotokan immediately knows that he is seeing Hangetsu."

Unless he knows of a version we don’t, then I’m not seeing anything close to Seisan / Hangetsu in any of the “Four Gates” forms we have looked at.

2 – This theory pops up here and there in the internet.

It may well do, but that’s something that karate needs to stop. We make up self-supporting myths that we should reject, not prop up. Karate does not have its origins in the Shaolin temple. Board breaking was not to preparation to punch through the wooden armour of samurai. Karate was not the martial art of the oppressed peasants of Okinawa. And so on. We know these to be false, and yet they are all over the internet. We need truth not myths. Adding “Seisan / Hangetsu is a version of the kung fu form Four Gates” to the list of myths is not something we should be doing.

3 – We have compared a few versions of Four Gates with Seisan / Hangestu.

None of the versions of Four Gates look anything like any of the versions of Seisan. Just the kind of causal commonalites that could be used to connect any two forms at random while the huge and undeniable differences are explained away.

Is that it? Or is there as yet unrevealed “smoking gun”? Assuming there isn’t, we should not entertain the claim.

I know we have had similar discussions before around the alleged connection of kung fu forms with karate kata i.e. this one on Naihanchi: https://www.iainabernethy.co.uk/content/origin-kata

On that one too, I was far from convinced of any connection.

To me, it seems like you are stretching things and making logical leaps to find connections that are not there. Or starting with a conclusion and working backward, as opposed to accepting what the evidence can actually support. Is this connection something you feel you need to have?

To me, I’m totally OK with the origins of any being a mystery. I don’t need to know from where Seisan originates to benefit from its practise.

Are the kata any less valuable to you if we don’t know their origins?

What do others think? Does it matter the origins of a form are lost to history?

All the best,

Iain

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

muratmat wrote:
I agree, anyway there is a documented exception where the kata name "13" is next to the kanji 步 ('ho', meaning steps but also translatable with adjustments), I'm referring to the kata list handed down by Morinobu Itoman (1934): the kata is reported as 十三步. Certainly this is just a smoky clue, but it is nice to highlight it.

Interesting! 1934 is certainly from the period where the original meaning of the names had been lost. Funakoshi has switched to his revised names then. So, it could be Itoman is simply following the convention of assuming “steps”? I guess that could also make the kata name “Jusanho” (十三步) to Japanese readers? Could be “Seisan-ho” but he uses kanji there and not katakana as he does for other kata; so “Jusanho” would be the assumed reading. Anyway, the addition of steps / ho / 步 means it is no longer just “Seisan” whichever you read it.

Worth mentioning that Itoman puts the “13” (and other number kata too) down to their use in Buddhism. This strikes me as very sketchy though. Itoman and others are no doubt just taking the prevailing religion of their area and asserting a connection that will be attractive to the masses. Just as the Bodhidharma / Shaolin monk myth was used in the same way.

If the kata was created in Israel we could claim a link with Judaism because 13 is the age a boy become barmitzvah. In western Europe, we could also claim a link with Catholicism because of the Thirteen Tuesdays of St. Anthony (praying to the saint every Tuesday for thirteen weeks).

I think it is historically demonstrable that links to Buddhism can be totally discounted.

https://iainabernethy.co.uk/content/zen-and-martial-arts-why-it-bs

It’s understandable that Funakoshi, Itoman and others of the time used the myth to help legitimise their art. Even when the previous generation dismissed it:

“Karate did not develop from Buddhism or Confucianism.” – Anko Itosu, 1908

muratmat wrote:
I was curious and I went also to see how Funakoshi reported the kata name in Rentan Goshin Karatejutsu: it was written in katakana as セ一シヤン  Sēshian (Se-e-shi-ya-n), so no additional meaning.

Almost all tend to be written in katakana because they are both foreign words (Okinawan or Chinese; not Japanese) and their meanings are unknown. I can see why Funakoshi chose to adopt new names. The old ones are very unclear.

All the best,

Iain

JWT
JWT's picture

I'd say the origins of any form are of less importance than whether you can use it as an effective training tool in some form. Age or ethnicity does not equate to practicality or superiority in my opinion.  

For example, when I first learned Shotokan I learned some forms (before my teacher showed them to me) from KUGB books, others from a Kanazawa VHS tape, others from the 1957 Kyohan, one or two from John Van Weenan books, some from Nakayama's best Karate series, some from an Enoeda book, some from my Chief Instructor Roger Hall, and many from combining all those sources. Now it doesn't matter to me one bit if a form was created or modified by some unknown instructor, Matsumura, Azato, Itosu, Funakoshi, Nakayama, Kanazawa, JVW or Hall: what matters is what I can use it for.  

All the best  

John Titchen

Stevenson
Stevenson's picture

Worth mentioning that Itoman puts the “13” (and other number kata too) down to their use in Buddhism. This strikes me as very sketchy though. Itoman and others are no doubt just taking the prevailing religion of their area and asserting a connection that will be attractive to the masses. Just as the Bodhidharma / Shaolin monk myth was used in the same way.

Well, maybe don't dismiss that theory too quickly. There is a book I have been dipping into that may be of relevance here:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/0892818115/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o04...

Numerology is of extreme importance in Zen buddhism, and this side of martial practise is perhaps not appreciated as much as it should be in the west, especially in the context of understanding the eastern approach to kata and the fighting arts more generally.

So the idea, broadly speaking is that the numbers are odd and even (yang and yin) and that each number represents a quality which is positive or negative depending on your point of view. So the number 9 supposedly represents heaven, long life, resolution, or attainment of goals. Therefore, in the goju system at least the numbers that form the kata add up to 9; sanseryu (36), sepai (18), suparenpi (108). With the exception of seisan (13) which adds to 4 - considered the unluckiest of numbers and representing death. So some say it is the "killing" kata, that it's intent is for when there is no option for harmony but that a fight to to the death is all there is left.

And I would say too that it might be the philosophy that is consitent here rather than the kata itself, if the above has any merit. The spirit of the kata, rather than the exact techniques or in which order.

Just as an aside, suparenpi (108) is considered the highest form of attainment in Goju and the number itself is hugely significant in Zen buddhism.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/108_(number)

This is just (yet another) theory, but I like it because it is consistent with what we know of cultural practises and philosophies of the region and the period. I've been reading the I Ching book to try to get further insight. The main insight I have is to what an extrordinairly elaborate system it is and the significance and importance placed on it. I think it's probably important to understand numbered katas through that lens.

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

Hi Stevenson,

Stevenson wrote:
Numerology is of extreme importance in Zen buddhism

It certainly is, but the link between martial arts and Zen has been thoroughly debunked. It persists because it’s a useful myth that made karate sound more “legit” when it reached Japan. Westerners also like it because it sounds esoteric.

Bodhidharma – founder of Zen Buddhism – is credited as founder of the martial arts at the Shaolin Temple. However, historians have shown this legend stems from a 17th-century qigong manual known as the Yijin Jing.

“As for the "Yi Jin Jing" (Muscle Change Classic), a spurious text attributed to Bodhidharma and included in the legend of his transmitting martial arts at the temple, it was written in the Ming dynasty, in 1624, by the Daoist priest Zining of Mt. Tiantai, and falsely attributed to Bodhidharma. Forged prefaces, attributed to the Tang general Li Jing and the Southern Song general Niu Gao were written. They say that, after Bodhidharma faced the wall for nine years at Shaolin temple, he left behind an iron chest; when the monks opened this chest, they found the two books "Xi Sui Jing" (Marrow Washing Classic) and "Yi Jin Jing" within. The first book was taken by his disciple Huike, and disappeared; as for the second, "the monks selfishly coveted it, practicing the skills therein, falling into heterodox ways. The Shaolin monks have made some fame for themselves through their fighting skill; this is all due to having obtained this manuscript." Based on this, Bodhidharma was claimed to be the ancestor of Shaolin martial arts. This manuscript is full of errors, absurdities and fantastic claims; it cannot be taken as a legitimate source.” – Lin Boyuan, Historian

So, it has no basis in history. The myth was further propagated by a 1907 popular novel, ‘The Travels of Lao T’san’. And from there it appeared in a 1919 book called ‘Secrets of Shaolin Boxing Methods’.  Back to Lin Boyuan:

“As a result, it has enjoyed vast oral circulation and is one of the most “sacred” of the narratives shared within Chinese and Chinese-derived martial arts. That this story is clearly a twentieth-century invention is confirmed by writings going back at least 250 years earlier, which mention both Bodhidharma and martial arts but make no connection between the two."

So as a result of a forged document and a fictional novel, we have a myth with no historical basis that is so widespread and cherished that we can’t get rid of it.

Even Funakoshi repeats this myth … carefully adding the caveat that he does not know if it is true or not. As previously mentioned, his teacher is more certain:

“Karate did not develop from Buddhism or Confucianism” – Anko Itosu, 1908

In the west, the link with Zen largely comes from Eugene Herrigel’s book “Zen in the Art of Archery”. Eugene Herrigel credits his teacher, Awa Kenzo, teaching him Zen precepts through traditional archery. However, when Awa Kenzo was asked about his view on Zen, he said he hated it. So whichever way you turn, the much-cherished link with Zen Buddhism has nothing to support it and loads to debunk it. But it persists.

One way it persists in karate is the claim the numbers associated with certain kata derive from Buddhism.

Stevenson wrote:
So the idea, broadly speaking is that the numbers are odd and even (yang and yin) and that each number represents a quality which is positive or negative depending on your point of view. So the number 9 supposedly represents heaven, long life, resolution, or attainment of goals. Therefore, in the goju system at least the numbers that form the kata add up to 9; sanseryu (36), sepai (18), suparenpi (108). With the exception of seisan (13) which adds to 4 - considered the unluckiest of numbers and representing death. So some say it is the "killing" kata, that it's intent is for when there is no option for harmony but that a fight to the death is all there is left.

The “number names” we have are:

Seisan (13)

Seipai (18)

Niseishi (24)

Sanseru (36)

Gojushiho (54)

Suparimpei (108)

Accepting that 9 is a significant number is Buddhism, neither 13 nor 24 are dividable by 9. You then say that 1+3 = 4, and four is an unlucky number representing death … and maybe that seeing as 24 is also devisable by 4 (and 3, 6 and 12) maybe the same thing is happening there?

It strikes me as being very convoluted and twisting the numbers to fit the conclusion.

If we were adding 1 and 3 to get 4 because it is the “death kata” are we supposed to add the others too? Why are we dividing some and adding others? And are the others not killing kata also? Because they are divisible by 9 are those kata designed to give the enemy a long life?!

As for Niseishi, 2 and 4 are two even numbers so that messes up the Yin and Yang hypothesis.

Any good theory should be able to explain all the data. In this case we are applying one rule to the numbers that divide by nine, and another to the ones that don’t. And I’d suggest the only reason people consider doing this is because of prevalence of the “Zen in the Martial Arts” myth that we know came from a forged book and has no historical basis.

The trouble with numbers is that, retrospectively, you can make them fit anything. While 9 is a significant number in Buddhism, it is also a significant number in Norse mythology too. I could therefore make the case that all the kata are to do with Viking mythology:

Seisan (13) = This is the twelve seats of the gods plus Odin’s high seat in Asgard.

Seipai (18) = Odin has one eye and he rides an eight-legged horse.

Niseishi (24) = In a year, Mani (moon god) makes 12 trips around the earth followed by the 2 siblings Hjuki and Bil (2 X 12 = 24).

Sanseru (36) = There are nine worlds in total. There are four dwarves holding up the sky over our world (9 X 4 = 36).

Gojushiho (54) = Valhalla has five hundred and fourty doors that the warriors walk through each day to battle. Valhalla is Odin's hall and Odin's weapon of choice is a spear. The roof of Valhalla is said to be made of spears. There are repeated spear hands in this kata and that is why the name 54 was chosen (total BS, but the numers add up).

Suparimpei (108) = The earth (Midgard) was created by the three gods, Odin, Vili & Ve when they slew Ymir. The four dwarves hold up the skull of Ymir (the sky) over Midgard. They will do that until the end of the world (Ragnarok) when the start of the final battle will be signalled by Heimdall – the watchman of the gods – (who has nine mothers) when he blows on his horn. We have the product of 3 at the beginning, the product of 4 now, and the result of 9 at the end. 3 X 4 X 9 = 108. So, the number 108 encapsulates the totality, which is why the Vikings chose that number to name the kata that is the cumulation of learning in the Goju system :-)

The fact that some numbers coincide with some numbers in Buddhism is nothing significant. I’m pretty sure you could get the numbers to fit with just about anything. They only reason people think to connect the numbers with Zen Buddhism is because of the prevalence of a now totally debunked myth.

They are numbers. They will coincide with loads of things.

Stevenson wrote:
I've been reading the I Ching book to try to get further insight. The main insight I have is to what an extraordinarily elaborate system it is and the significance and importance placed on it. I think it's probably important to understand numbered katas through that lens.

For me, I’d need to know that the people who named the kata did so through that lens. There’s no evidence that they did.

It may be unsatisfying, but we have no idea why some katas have the numbers they do. Indeed, because the kata were created by different people, in different places, in different points in history, there is no reason to assume there is any underlying and unifying reason for the names. It’s more logical to assume the kata were numbered differently by different people for different reasons.

If people must insist on seeking / creating a unifying explanation, Buddhism is a non-starter in my view due to the fact the alleged connection is demonstrably false and not all of the numbers fit.

I’ve not seen anyone try the I Ching before, so I’d be interested to see what connections you see there. However, I’d very much doubt they would be historically sound for the aforementioned reasons.

Stevenson wrote:
Well, maybe don't dismiss that theory too quickly.

After careful consideration, I have dismissed it :-)

In the “Karate 3.0” podcast I talked about how karate needs to jettison its myths. The Zen Buddhism one is 100% debunked and I’m therefore opposed to anything that would prop it up. Attributing the kata numbers to Zen is one example of that. There is no reason to consider doing that aside from the debunked myth. If people have evidence that the historians have it all wrong, then they should come forward with it.

Until such time, it’s all very “Da Vinci Code”: Combine exciting sounding myths and selective numerology to get a theory that may be entertaining and satisfying, but closer examination shows it to be without foundation.

All the best,

Iain

Stevenson
Stevenson's picture

It certainly is, but the link between martial arts and Zen has been thoroughly debunked. It persists because it’s a useful myth that made karate sound more “legit” when it reached Japan. Westerners also like it because it sounds esoteric.

Hang on, I'm not proposing (and I don't know anyone who does) that karate or even kung fu came from Zen Bhuddism. That's a new one on me. All I am saying is that the prevalence of Zen Buhddist teachings and philosphies was high at the time the katas were devised - or so it appears from reading I Ching. In fact it pretty much governed all aspects of life, from bureacractic workings, to how people ran their households. It surely would be fair to presume that the thinking would find it's way into martial arts wouldn't it?

The whole basis of the Goju system is the Daoist "yin/yang", hard/soft....al of that. A lot of Goju clubs have the yin yang symbol as part of the idenity. So the choice of the names of the kata is thought to reflect that.

I don't think it is just a matter of finding data to fit the conclusion. From what I can gather, numerology was really big in the East during this period, it seems a reasonable that this may have contributed to the naming of a kata (with numbers).

Also I think I may not have made myself clear wrt the kata numbers themselves:

The katas were possibly named based on philosophy of the kata. The numbers only ever ADD - there is no other complicated mathematical permutation - at least so far as I know, but I could be wrong about that. Also, pointing out other forms of numerology from other cultures is a bit beside the point - it's what these guys thought not what importances other cultures ascribed. Numerology is not unique to China and the east.

There is a lot of importance given to 108 in these religions cultures - it's considered a sacred number. Whether it is important in other cultures doesn't really matter - is it not a fairly reasonable assumption to make that the importance of this number would be known to the namer and that the fact it is the last kata in the Goju system it might have had significance for that reason?

I think my main point really is that with regards to tracing a katas lineage, we might be getting it the wrong way round wrt to the name. If I am right, and the numbers had more significance than merely a quantity to the people of the time, then it might be that they were assigning a commonly agreed intent that the number represents to their kata, rather than adapting or changing a pre-existing kata of the same name. So seisan (and it's derivatives) which adds to 4 - regarded as the number for death, might say something about what the kata meant to the practioner rather than a single kata adapted and changed lots of times.

Of course we don't know for sure whether this is correct, or whether peoples understanding of the numbers changed (I have reason to think it was probably very consistent). But people like making meaningful connections....including me... :) ....I suspect there was more to the number names than something as arbitrary as just coz.

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

Stevenson wrote:
I'm not proposing (and I don't know anyone who does) that karate or even kung fu came from Zen Bhuddism. That's a new one on me.

It’s in the introduction to loads of karate books and the myth is very widespread. Bodhidharma visits the Shaolin temple, creates the basis for Shaolin martial arts, and then karate is descended from that. Even Funakoshi retells the myth … along with quite a few other masters. It’s because of this myth that many jump to the conclusion that the numbers may likewise be derived from Buddhism.  It’s false though.

You are taking a different tack:

Stevenson wrote:
All I am saying is that the prevalence of Zen Buhddist teachings and philosophies was high at the time the katas were devised - or so it appears from reading I Ching. In fact it pretty much governed all aspects of life, from bureacractic workings, to how people ran their households. It surely would be fair to presume that the thinking would find it's way into martial arts wouldn't it?

It's possible, but it doesn’t look like it. The numbers don’t consistently tie in with the numerology of Buddhism.

Stevenson wrote:
The whole basis of the Goju system is the Daoist "yin/yang", hard/soft....all of that. A lot of Goju clubs have the yin yang symbol as part of the idenity. So the choice of the names of the kata is thought to reflect that.

Goju is not the only system. The number kata are found in other styles, and not all of the number kata are found in Goju. Even so, the number kata were all in existence before Chojun Miyagi settled on the name Goju … so it’s not a good idea to “time travel” and superimpose a later style name on the former kata names. The kata names were decided upon before Goju existed. Therefore, the names of the kata can’t “reflect” anyhting implied by the later naming of a style. The timeline is wrong.

Additionally, not all the number names fit the Ying/Yang (odd/even) hypothesis you are proposing. “24” throws a spanner in the works. You’d not expect that if the numerology was so widespread that it covered pretty much everything as you suggest.

Stevenson wrote:
From what I can gather, numerology was really big in the East during this period, it seems a reasonable that this may have contributed to the naming of a kata.

It may be reasonable, but there’s no evidence for it. The number kata don’t show any consistency of approach.

Stevenson wrote:
The numbers only ever ADD - there is no other complicated mathematical permutation - at least so far as I know, but I could be wrong about that.

Thanks for clarifying. I’m with you, but that poses other problems:

Seisan (13): 1+3 = 4 (the death number)

Seipai (18): 1+8 = 9 (a special number in Buddhism)

Niseishi (24): 2+4 = 6 (???????)

Sanseru (36): 3+6 = 9

Gojushiho (54): 5+4 = 9

Suparimpei (108): 1+0+8 = 9

9 is a really lucky number, but 4 is a really unlucky number. But you explain that as, “some say it is the "killing" kata, that it's intent is for when there is no option for harmony but that a fight to the death is all there is left.”

Who says that? I’ve never hear that before. Is it a reliable historical source?

Based on what has been put forth so far, I'm not buying it. It’s way too inconsistent; especially if a consistent system of numerology is said to be the basis of it all. Some kata have “good numbers”; but one has the opposite of that?

You could avoid that by saying that four was the four noble truths (as opposed the death), but we are again just starting with a conclusion and seeing where the numbers fit. They will always fit when done that way around (as shown with the "viking names").

And what does 6 represent?

The six realms into which the soul can be reborn in Buddism? Maybe the kata's creator practised Shintoism and the six refers to the Rikkokushi (Japan's six national histories)? Maybe the six represents the six days of creation and the kata’s creators was Christian? Or maybe it represents the ‘Six Articles of Faith’ and the creator was Muslim? Or maybe it represents the number of points on the Star of David and the creator was Jewish? We could do this endlessly.

The trouble is we can make the numbers fit with anything you like if we start with a conclusion and work back. We need to be check ourselves against doing that just because we find it in some way satisfying.

Back on point, there's not the consistency you’d expect for a robust theory.

Odd, even, lucky, unlucky, etc. It's all in there. There's not any consistent pattern to be seen.

Stevenson wrote:
There is a lot of importance given to 108 in these religions cultures

True. It is a number meant to represent multiplying the senses of smell, touch, taste, hearing, sight, and thought (six) by whether they are unpleasant, pleasant or neutral (three), and then again by whether they are internal and external (two), and finally by past, present and future (three). 6 × 3 × 2 × 3 = 108 possible feelings. It therefore can also be a shorthand for “everything”; like we may say “a gazillion”. There is a case to say that kata may have the number because it combines so much of what we find in other kata and it is so long (i.e. the kata is everything). But I feel that is more likely to be the colloquial shorthand use of the number than inferring any strong overriding link with Buddhism. And even then, it’s just an unverifiable hypothesis.

The big problem for the wider hypothesis is that the other number names show no consistency in that regard. That is very important.

We therefore can’t claim a universal “code” that all the kata adhere to. It's not there.

Indeed, one has not been put forth at this point. We have just picked the ones that fit, and ignored the ones that don’t. What is the underling theory that explains it all and connects all the dots?

Why don’t all of them add up to nine?

Can you explain why Seisan is the death kata? What is special about it?

Why were people aledgedly so keen on numerology happy to practise an unlucky kata?

What is the significance of six?

What is the historical basis for your answers to the above questions?

Stevenson wrote:
But people like making meaningful connections....including me... :)

Me too :-) But “making them” is very, very different from finding them. In this case, I think we are indeed making a universal connection that isn’t here to be seen if we look dispassionately.

Stevenson wrote:
....I suspect there was more to the number names than something as arbitrary as just coz.

Absolutely. But we don’t know that that was. And there is no reason to assume a universal approach to that numbering based on Buddhist teachings. We can more confidently assume that’s not the case though based on the fact the numbers, quite literally, don’t add up.

It’s more logical to assume the kata were numbered differently by different people for different reasons.

One could be the number of steps, one could be the number of drills it includes, one could be the number of anatomical weak point attacked, one could be a mispronunciation that was falsly transliterated, one could indeed be as a result of cultrural significance, and so on.

The claim of a universal Buddhism based code has been put forward many times, but to have merit it should be able to explain ALL the numbers (not just some) in a consistent way.

That’s what we should demand of a good hypothesis. Taking the ones that fit as proof positive, while ignoring the ones that contradict or applying an alternate theory to them, is not good enough in my view.

If they all added up to nine, then that’s a consistency that should not be ignored. However, two very important and very widely practiced kata – practised alongside kata that do divide by nine – don’t. So that fails. If all the kata are supposed to be odd / even then that fails because of “24”.

There’s not the universality that has been suggested should be there. The hypothesis therefore fails in my view.

All the best,

Iain

Cataphract
Cataphract's picture
"Iain Abernethy" wrote:
I’ve just typed “kung fu form” into YouTube. This was the first one that came up:

Look at his shirt. I'm 120% convinced you've found Shotokan's lost link. ;-) (On a more serious note, those tigers and dragons in a circle are Chinese military tokens, btw.)

What he does looks like Hung Gar or Fu Jow Pai to me. Might even be from one of Karate's distant cousins. But I see your point. No smoking gun.

"Iain Abernethy" wrote:
To me, it seems like you are stretching things and making logical leaps to find connections that are not there. Or starting with a conclusion and working backward, as opposed to accepting what the evidence can actually support. Is this connection something you feel you need to have?

I don't need a connection. I'm looking for context. Connection is just a means to an end. (Although it would satisfy curiosity for sure.)

The Okinawans learned certain forms from Fujian, but it seems we lack some theory behind the kata. For example, I've found a video of an exponent of Hung Gar doing exactly the slow motion beginning of Unsu. (I'll post it when I find it again.) Was Unsu a Hung Gar form? Probably not. But is there some degree of connection? Can somebody still explain its purpose of that move? Those are relevant questions.

There is a kumite gap. One has to reverse engineer and reinvent to fill it. That's totally not what I expected when I started learning Karate. But then again, thinking about bunkai is one of the most fun parts for me now.

On that numerology thing: Those numbers are very common in kung fu for some reason. E.g. Taichi has 13 basic techniques and the Yang form has 108 postures while the Beijing form has 24.

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

Cataphract wrote:
Look at his shirt. I'm 120% convinced you've found Shotokan's lost link. ;-)

Very good. I like that :-)

Cataphract wrote:
I don't need a connection. I'm looking for context. Connection is just a means to an end. (Although it would satisfy curiosity for sure.)

The Okinawans learned certain forms from Fujian, but it seems we lack some theory behind the kata. For example, I've found a video of an exponent of Hung Gar doing exactly the slow motion beginning of Unsu. (I'll post it when I find it again.) Was Unsu a Hung Gar form? Probably not. But is there some degree of connection? Can somebody still explain its purpose of that move? Those are relevant questions.

There is a kumite gap. One has to reverse engineer and reinvent to fill it. That's totally not what I expected when I started learning Karate. But then again, thinking about bunkai is one of the most fun parts for me now.

I’m with you. Makes sense to me. Would it be fair to say that you are using these forms as a means to reflect on karate? Would that be a fair summation?

That process makes sense to me and I can see how one could find value in it. I think the caveat has to be that we have to accept that time and distance have probably severed most direct connections. While Seian (in its various guises) is now practised by millions worldwide; it was once only practised by far smaller number of people (dozens?). The “karate branch” of the Seisan family tree has thrived, but I think it likely that all other branches died out centuries ago. To expect that they too maybe around today is probably hoping for more than we can reasonably expect. And even so, those versions will also have moved on. Chinese martial arts have had a pretty similar journey to their Okinawan counterparts:

“Individual training [forms] is prevailed in those institutions but the applied aspect of techniques learnt is ignored … Striving for nice-looking movements without practical use and absence of fighting spirit are at the bottom of it. In this way, we shall lose little by little all the heritage of our ancestors who brilliantly used all methods and techniques in combat.” - Instructor’s Manual for Police Academy of Zhejiang Province by Liu Jin Sheng, 1936

That’s pretty much what was happening to karate at the same time.

As regards finding “lost cousins”, there may yet be some hope though if Motobu is to be believed. In his writing, he notes that Sanchin, Gojushiho (Useishi), Seisan, Seiyunchin (Seienchin), Suparinpei are all Chinese in origin and are still practised there. Was he aware of a Chinse versions of the above? If so, the bad news is that he also notes that Naihanchi (Tekki), Bassai, Chinto (Gankaku), Chintei (Chinte), Wanshu (Empi), Rohai and Kushanku (Kanku-Dai), while also of Chinese origin, are no longer practised in China. So maybe Motobu was aware of a Chinese version of Seisan? Maybe it was hearsay? Or maybe it was just an assumption on his part?

While it would be remarkably fortuitous to make a solid connection at this time, it’s not impossible. I’m pretty confident that there is no link with “Four Gates” and Seisan / Hangetsu though.

This is a nice video comparing the versions of Sanchin that may be of interest? If only we had something like this for all the others :-)

 

Cataphract wrote:
On that numerology thing: Those numbers are very common in kung fu for some reason. E.g. Taichi has 13 basic techniques and the Yang form has 108 postures while the Beijing form has 24.

My understanding is that one version of Wing Chun’s wooden dummy form has 108 techniques too … but originally it had 140, it was then dropped to 108, and then it increased again to 116; which is where it is today. So, in that case it was just pure coincidence it was 108 at one point, as opposed to an attempt to get the form to match with any kind of numerology. We have to be careful to avoid “data mining” to get what seems like a robust theory i.e. we seek the numbers that fit, and ignore the ones that don’t.

It would make sense to see numbers that are culturally preferred to make a more frequent appearance. Today we know the following numbers are “liked”:

3 – Nice round number

7 – The most frequent number picked if you ask people to pica number between 1 and 10

9 – Does some pretty cool thing mathematically and it’s the biggest single number

12 – It divides by 2, 3 and 4 … which is why it used for time keeping and imperial measurements (makes the maths easy).

Something similar may have been the case during the time our kata were created, which could lead to some numbers appearing more frequently than others. However, it’s a stretch to assign any definitive meaning to that, or select one single source for all numbers. I therefore think we can rule out the Buddhist thing as the “prime mover” in all of this.

For example, while much has been made of the significance of the number 9 in Buddhism, we get a bigger number of hits when we divide by 6.

Of the six “number kata” only four of them equal nine when we add the digits together. And only four of them are divisible by nine. So that’s failure rate of 1/3. If we divide by six, then it works for all of the kata apart from Seisan (13 is a prime number) so that’s a failure of 1/6 (twice as good!).  

Therefore, we can make a better case for six being the magic number that unites all the kata. What was the prevailing cultural significance of six? One thing we can be clear on is that six is not a significant Buddhist number, so that’s not it.

Like I said, I can’t see any meaningful pattern that ties in with “cultural numbers” in any significant way.

Back to the shifting numbers in the Wing Chun wooden dummy form, it could well also be the case that changes to our own forms will forever obscure what the originally numbers represented? Add in an extra step, or remove it, and you now have “name+1 steps” or “name-1 steps” and therefore it does not fit the number when do the counting today. Simplify the hand positions, standardise the stances, tweak it so the kata starts and ends on the same place, etc. and that could cause a “miscount” … not that we even know what we are supposed to be counting.

It’s turned out to be an incredibly thorough thread this one! Thanks everyone!

All the best,

Iain

Stevenson
Stevenson's picture

It's possible, but it doesn’t look like it. The numbers don’t consistently tie in with the numerology of Buddhism.

Maybe they do maybe they don't. All of the kata bar 2 have numbers sum to 9 which is according to the I Ching have components based on 2 philsophers "arrangemnets", Fi Xi, and King Wen circular arrnegments of the primary gua.

We have a broadly consistent pattern (the numbers sum to 9) with 2 outliers - seisan and niseishi. In the case of seisan it is very prevalent, and with neisishi - it's a kata I have never heard of so perhaps less prevalent than seisan? I would suggest that seisan is prevalent and with the meaning supposedly ascribed for a reason, and possibly niseishi is an error of transcription (chinese whispers) or there is some other meaning (provided the theory holds true) that might be divined from it - ie it's intent....or whatever.

Goju is not the only system. The number kata are found in other styles, and not all of the number kata are found in Goju. Even so, the number kata were all in existence before Chojun Miyagi settled on the name Goju … so it’s not a good idea to “time travel” and superimpose a later style name on the former kata names. The kata names were decided upon before Goju existed. Therefore, the names of the kata can’t “reflect” anyhting implied by the later naming of a style. The timeline is wrong.

Sorry Iain - you've lost me here a little. Higoanna went and studied in southern china where these philsophies and teachings were really prevalent and returned with a synthesised version of white crane kung fu and okinawan karate. Miyagi may have named this style of karate "Goju" later but surely he did so because of the philosphies consitent with the "taoist/zen buhddist" teachings that may have lead to the katas being named in this way. Just because the name "Goju" came later doesn't invalidate the theory at all - the name came from the content of the karate not the other way around.

Additionally, not all the number names fit the Ying/Yang (odd/even) hypothesis you are proposing. “24” throws a spanner in the works. You’d not expect that if the numerology was so widespread that it covered pretty much everything as you suggest.

Maybe - maybe not. Maybe it would be instructive to find out if there is any other names for the kata, whether it could ahve been mistranslated, or whether the numerology these guys were thinking about gave it a different intention than the other katas. We don't know.... 

9 is a really lucky number, but 4 is a really unlucky number. But you explain that as, “some say it is the "killing" kata, that it's intent is for when there is no option for harmony but that a fight to the death is all there is left.”

Who says that? I’ve never hear that before. Is it a reliable historical source?

Yeah it's in the I Ching. When I was training with Gaivn Mullholland I first came across this theory - it's in their student handbook. I resolved to try and understand a bit more about it so I did some research and settled with the I Ching. Confucius wrote a treatise on it and it was clearly practised even before him. It is a whole subject in itself...it's a bit like taking someone from the 18th centry and teaching them modern electrical engineering, or even just using the internet.....it's really really deep and complex - a whole subject in itself. People studied it as dedicated discipline and would take years to master it. But the broad structure of it is very consitent.

So, depending on whose "arrangement" you favour, 18 (sepai) 1 + 8 = Heaven and Earth. 36 (Sanseryu) 3 + 6 = Fire and Water. Incidentally - you can't change the order - it has to be 1 then 8 etc. For example 54 (Gojushiho) 5 + 4 = Thunder and Wind, but there are two versions of 45 - 4 + 5, which is either Lake and Mountain, or Fire and Water.

My thinking that seisan turns up so often in different styles has to do with what the practioners of the time believed the numbers to singify. That may change or evolve somewhat from area to area, from period to period (from what I can gather from I Ching I suspect not much). It's all astrology and feng shui and hocus pocus of course, but I am interested in what THESE guys thought it meant. THAT'S the important point - not whether you or I think that there is anything in the numbers but whether they did.

Why don’t all of them add up to nine?

I am pretty sure that there is significance to seisan being 4, but I have no idea about neishieo or whatever it is. I cannot find anything in the I Ching regarding that combination - but I am at the "log on" level with it - you've inspired me to get back into it and see if I can't wrap my head around it a little better. If there is a connection then I suspect it will be because of the King Wen arrangment as opposed to the Fu Xi....or it is just a mistranslation.

Can you explain why Seisan is the death kata? What is special about it?

Why were people aledgedly so keen on numerology happy to practise an unlucky kata?

So this is one of the reasons I picked up the I Ching, to try and get better insight into questions like this. According to the DKK handbook, the idea is that the katas that add to 9 are about seeking resolution, attaining goals which is what the number is supposed to signify, and the idea is that you would be able to resolve the situation with only as much force as was needed. But Seisan is for when there is no hope of resolution and the only way for things to continue is through death or extreme destruction - therefore it is supposed to be used as last resort.

I know (somewhat) the Goju version of this kata and hangetsu and I don't particularly see anything that would appear to me to be too different in character or technique from other katas I know. I know for Kris Wilder it is his "desert island" kata - the one that speaks to him the most. The only theory I can come up with that makes sense to me is that it is the "spirit" of the kata - the intent. With the "9" summed katas perhaps there is the potential to scale force, but with Seisan it's all out.

From the point of view of modern practise I don't necessarily think it's that relevant, but it's interesting none-the-less. What were the katas founders thoughts and intent when creating a new kata, what was the philosphy behind it. Given the importance of numerology at the time there might be some clues from understanding what was probably common knowledge.

What is the significance of six?

Dunno.

What is the historical basis for your answers to the above questions?

The I Ching. Something that struck me in Mabuni's book "The Essence of Karate" is that eastern and western thinking are very different. I'm trying to be open minded about how people of that era and in that part of the world saw things.

My final point is - I think you are very caught up on what the numbers add up to. That most of them add up to 9 is probably significant, that 1 of them does not and is well known number of significance and is highly prevalent as a kata name would be signifiant I would have thoguht, but if one of them does not add to 9 it might be telling us something about what the originator intended for the kata. The theory is NOT that all the kata add up to 9. The theory is that numbers had special significance for practioners of the time.

Cataphract
Cataphract's picture

Iain Abernethy wrote:
Would it be fair to say that you are using these forms as a means to reflect on karate? Would that be a fair summation?
Yes, absolutely.

Kiwikarateka
Kiwikarateka's picture

Very interesting thread, it's given me some new stuff to think about on this topic.  

My thinking that seisan turns up so often in different styles has to do with what the practioners of the time believed the numbers to singify

Adding/agreeing with this, karate (as stated earlier) does not come from Bhuddism or Confucicism. But that doesn't mean that these things could not have influenced things like the rituals involved or names of kata. It's my thinking that there are serveral different seisan kata that simply share the same name because it was 'fasionable' or held a special significance. An example of a similar occurance would be the name of the art itself, karate. (Trying to recall correctly, don't have the book on hand) As Gichin Funakoshi says in his book "Karate: My way of Life" he's not sure if karate was written as 唐手 (Chinese hand) from the start, or if the 'Chinese' or 唐 was added later on because China was associated with quality/refined things.  

ky0han
ky0han's picture

Hi everyone,

that is an interesting discussion. I have a few things to add.

muratmat wrote:
Today's versions of the Seisan kata are based on the traditions of Naha and Tomari: the version that Funakoshi synthesized for his stylistic system (called Hangetsu 半月, literally "half moon") comes mainly from the Tomari tradition, and among all the existing versions it's the one that makes less use of kicks techniques.

Not really. According to Nakazato Joen, his teacher Kyan Chotoku (from Tomari) learned Seisan directly from Matsumura Sokon (Shuri). Sakagami Ryusho learned a Kata named Matsumura Seisan. If you compare the version of Kyan, Sakagami and Funakoshi you will find them to be very similar. Matsumuras studen Asato Anko mentioned Seisan in an interview conducted by his student Funakoshi. So I think it is most likely that Funakoshi learned Seisan either from Matsumura or his main teacher Asato. That is how Seisan became a Kata of Shotokan. Other versions of Seisan may have found its way into the Tomari region. Who taught Aragaki his version of Seisan?

Iain Abernethy wrote:
Interesting! 1934 is certainly from the period where the original meaning of the names had been lost. Funakoshi has switched to his revised names then. So, it could be Itoman is simply following the convention of assuming “steps”? I guess that could also make the kata name “Jusanho” (十三步) to Japanese readers? Could be “Seisan-ho” but he uses kanji there and not katakana as he does for other kata; so “Jusanho” would be the assumed reading. Anyway, the addition of steps / ho / 步 means it is no longer just “Seisan” whichever you read it.

Seisan as a Kata was first mentioned in the famous 1867 martial arts program. Here the Kanji 十三步 were used. In Japanese they are pronounced Ju-San-Ho, in Mandarine Shih-San-Bu and according to Kinjo Akio the first two Kanji in the southern Fujian dialect are pronounced Sei-San. Maybe that is why Funakoshi used Katakana pronounced Seishan and Asato used Katakana pronounced Seisan, Funakoshi mixing the Mandarine and Fujian pronounciations.

According to Henning Wittwer as for all the numerology Otsuka Tadahiko (wrote a book on the Bubishi) thinks that the 13 is due to the addition of the 8 oracle trigrams (Pa Kua) from the before mentioned book I Ching and the 5 Elements (Wu Hsing). Whatever.

Wittwers theory for the origin of Seisan is very interesting. Matsumura was a student of a chinese man named Iwa (Asato mentioned that) so he might have learned Seisan from his teacher Iwa. Kinjo Akio has a theory that Iwa could have been a chinese man named Yao who was an adept of dragon boxing (Lung Chuan). So Wittwer now has the theory that Matsumura has learned just a few forms of Dragon Boxing (there are to many forms to learn them all in a short amount if time). Within the few forms he learned was a Seisan form that he altered according to his martial experience.

But that is also just a theory. It is quite save that Matsumura taught a version of Seisan. The exact chinese source is not known. I am sure there are more than one original sources.

Regards Holger

Stevenson
Stevenson's picture

Just a thought on a possibly "meaning" or intepretation on the significance of Niseishi (24). According to the I Ching it signifies "turning back". A quick google search for "I Ching and the significance of 24" and the results show "to return" coming up in the various hocus pocus sites I would rather not click on, but obviously derived from the I Ching.

It's in King Wen's upper canon. So in case we might be confrimation biasing the house down by finding something that "fits"....all of the 30 numbers in the upper canon have meanings such as 1 = Initiating, 2 = Responding, 3 = Beginning, etc etc....9 = Little Accumulation....10 = Fulfilment. "Return" or "turning back" seems an appropriate sentiment for a kata, but I doubt very much that it will end up being anything as literal as that.

It's paired with 23 = "falling away" and might have some signficance over some of the other pairings, but I am as unclear as to precisely how. But in the lower canon there is 33 = "retreating" and 34 =  "great strength" which seems llike a martial artsy sort of thing to go for to the untrained (in the art of I Ching) mind.

My (very very tentative) guess is that Niseishi's name was derived from the King Wen arrangemnet of the Gua. I have no idea why, but just maybe it might in the fullness of time be a clue as to its origin.

I'd be very interested to hear from anyone who knows more....

EDIT: Just a little more - another translation for 24 "to return" "turning back" is "turning point". Here seems to be as credible an interpretation as I can find for the time being: http://www2.unipr.it/~deyoung/I_Ching_Wilhelm_Translation.html#24

muratmat
muratmat's picture

ky0han wrote:

Not really. According to Nakazato Joen, his teacher Kyan Chotoku (from Tomari) learned Seisan directly from Matsumura Sokon (Shuri). Sakagami Ryusho learned a Kata named Matsumura Seisan. If you compare the version of Kyan, Sakagami and Funakoshi you will find them to be very similar. Matsumuras studen Asato Anko mentioned Seisan in an interview conducted by his student Funakoshi. So I think it is most likely that Funakoshi learned Seisan either from Matsumura or his main teacher Asato. That is how Seisan became a Kata of Shotokan. Other versions of Seisan may have found its way into the Tomari region. Who taught Aragaki his version of Seisan?

According to Charles Joseph Swift, and supported by karate authority Kinjo Hiroshi ( http://www.fightingarts.com/reading/article.php?id=222 ), there is no evidence of a Seisan kata being passed down in the "Shuri" lineages of Sokon Matsumura and Anko Itosu, and that the familiar "Shuri" lineage Seisan versions such as the Hangetsu of Shotokan and the Seisan of Kyan lineage systems, should be referred to as Tomari Seisan.

Cataphract
Cataphract's picture

According to "Die Meister des Karate und Kobudo" Funakoshi learned the Tomari version of Seisan from Iha Kotatsu who got it from Matsumora Kosaku.

see https://books.google.de/books?id=dbskAQAAQBAJ under Iha Kotatsu

Also compare the article by Patrick McCarthy that I linked to above.

ky0han
ky0han's picture

Hi

muratmat wrote:
According to Charles Joseph Swift, and supported by karate authority Kinjo Hiroshi, there is no evidence of a Seisan kata being passed down in the "Shuri" lineages of Sokon Matsumura and Anko Itosu, and that the familiar "Shuri" lineage Seisan versions such as the Hangetsu of Shotokan and the Seisan of Kyan lineage systems, should be referred to as Tomari Seisan.

Mhhh. What about the evidence I presented? In Mark Bishops Okinawa Karate -Teachers Styles and Secret Techniques on page 72 you will find that:

According to Joen Nakazato, Chotoku Kyan, at one time or another, learned the katas:

Sesan, Naifuanchi and Gojushiho - from Sokon Matsumura (Shuri-te)

It is correct that Sesan is not a part of the Itosu Style, but that is only because Itosus main teacher was not Matsumura of Shuri. Itosu learned from Nagahama of Naha and Gusukuma of Tomari. According to Funakoshi Asato followed Matsumuras line and Itosu followed Gusukumas line.

And when Sakagami lists the Kata in his 1978 book Karate Do Kata Taikan he lists Sesan and Bassai as Kata from the Matsumura school and no Sesan in the list of Kata from the Itosu school.

Cataphract wrote:
According to "Die Meister des Karate und Kobudo" Funakoshi learned the Tomari version of Seisan from Iha Kotatsu who got it from Matsumora Kosaku under Iha Kotatsu

That book is highly not recommended as a valid source because it is full of errors. Whats his source for that information?

In McCarthy's article he wrote that he learned Matsumura Seisan taught to him by Sakagami Ryusho (at his residence in Tsurumi) as well as from Kinjo Sensei, too. Other versions include the Tomari Seisan from (Iha Kotatsu to) Kinjo. So there is a Shuri version of Sesan. The article further states:

Hangetsu traces its lineage through Funakoshi Gichin to Iha Kotasu of Tomari. Kinjo Sensei sometimes refers to Seisan as Jusanpo (i.e 13 steps/ways). This Tomari version was taught to him by his teacher, Grandmaster Oshiro Chojo. It originally came from Oyadomari Koken by way of Iha Kotatsu who passed it onto Oshiro.

Wow, now I am really convinced that Funakoshi learned Sesan from Asato Anko. Asato had only two students Funakoshi and Oshiro Chojo. I highly doubt that Funakoshi learned the Kata from Iha. That would mean that both Asato students learned Sesan from Iha. Possible but not likely. In Mark Bishops book on page 65 you can read:

During an interview with Seikichi Hokama, he told me how he had learned the katas Naihanchi Shodan, Nidan, Passai, Wanshu, Rohai, Wankan, Kushanku Sho and Dai from the brothers Kotsu Oyadomari and Konin Oyadomari. The style incorperating these katas  had been handed down from Kokan Oyadomari through the Oyadomari family from father to son for three generations...

Mhhh no Sesan mentioned. Why is that? Where should he learned Sesan from? According to Asato Anko, Oyadomari learned from a Chinese who stranded on the shores of Okinawa!

Look at this fantastic article on Tomari Te by Andy Quast http://ryukyu-bugei.com/?p=6630. Here you find some information on Iha Kotatsu and there is no mentioning of Sesan. He was around the same age as Funakoshi (Funakoshi was 5 years older). So I think that Iha could have learned Sesan from Funakoshi and Oshiro and not the other way arround.

Regards Holger 

Cataphract
Cataphract's picture

No idea, but I have only the preview.

According to this http://www.msisshinryu.com/history/tomari-te/ Kinjo Hiroshi thought Funakoshi's Seisan (and Wanshu, Niseishi) is from Tomari.

ky0han
ky0han's picture

Hi Cataphract,

I read a few lines of that article and it contains errors, so I stopped reading.

However, most of the Itosu knowledge came from a Tomari master called Gusukuma and from the Naha master Nagahama, and not from only Sokon Matsumura. Gusukuma was a disciple of Annan (see below) and of Jion, a budist monk, who learned the kata of the same name. Aparently, Gusukuma to Itosu Naifanchi I & II, Rohai, Wanshu and Chintei, and from Jion he would the personal form of this later, Jion, and two Sai kata, Jitte and Jiin, that he adapted to empty hand kata.

The most famous Tomari-te masters were both the chikundun peikin Kosaku Matsumora (1829-1898), Kokan Oyadomari (1827-1905) and Gikei Yamazato (1835-1905). They were also disciples of the Chinese Annan (also Ahnan or Anan) and of Ason, a Chinese sergeant. According Tomari-te tradition, Annan was a castaway from a shipwreck in the Okinawa coast. Being a pirate, he that took refuge in the cemetery of the Tomari's mountains, starting to live in a cave (a tradition says that this was the master that taught the kata Chinto to Sokon Matsumura).

I agree on the first sentence. The history of Jion is kind of a mystery to me, since I have been looking for clues to its origins for ages now. I never heard of Gusukuma beeing a student of a monk by the name of Jion. A source for that claim would be really helpful.

We know that a couple of Tomari masters learned from a shipwrecked (if his name was Annan or if he was from Annan (old name of Vietnam) is not clear). According to Asato Anko, Gusukuma and Kinjo learned Chinto from that man, Matsumora and Oyadomari learned Chintei, Yamazato learned Jiin and Nakazato learned Jitte. The Vietnamese split his teachings up because he was in a hurry to get back home. Not sure about him living in a cave but be it as it may.

So Matsumura Sokon never learned Chinto. There is no such Kata as Matsumura Chinto. Jitte and Jiin are no Sai Kata that had to be adapted and those two Kata were not transmitted by a monk with the name Jion.

Regards Holger

Cataphract
Cataphract's picture

The Seibukan makes it rather clear that Kyan got his Seisan from Matsumura of Shuri (not Matsumora of Tomari).

Patrick McCarthy lists a number of styles using Seisan in his "Bubishi". Those are Dragon Boxing, Monk Fist and Lion Boxing. I understand him in such a way that he swapped the name Four Gates for Seisan. Seems like he changed his mind about the origin of Seisan.

The Jion monk theory seems to originate with Fernando P. Câmara. He has written a book on the Bubishi, but that's all I know. In an interesting twist of affairs he identifies the Four Gates with Empi in a (speculative?) article on his blog.

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