Sanseiru kata and its variations: Part 1

Sanseiru/sanseru is an interesting kata in historical terms. Not only is it practised by all goju-ryu schools and tou'on-ryu, but also by uechi-ryu. Yet it is a kata that has arguably the greatest variation from school to school.

The uechi-ryu version appears completely unrelated to the goju/tou'on versions.

The tou'on-ryu version is very different from its goju cousin at the beginning (no mae geris) and does not end with the double ko uke. There is also no kansetsu geri, but rather a stomping ball of the foot to the hip joint.

Some suggest that this is because Chojun Miyagi learned the kata off someone other than Kanryo Higaonna - he was away doing military service when Juhatsu Kyoda and others learned it.

Seiko Higa's version is subtly different, although I'm not sure exactly how - more on that later.

I know that our version (brought back from Okinawa in the 60s) looks a little different from most goju kaiha in 2 respects:

1. The "mae/rising empi" performed in the IOGKF etc. we do as a forearm wedging block - ie. the elbow doesn't rise as an uppercut, nor is it a forward elbow thrust, but is instead a forward thrusting deflection, with the forearm vertical. We also apply it as a "sokumen awase uke" (hand sweeping past face block) - see below.

2. The move done just before the sideways elbow strike in shiko (in turn, just before the sweep and chudan morote zuki) we do as an outside sokumen awase uke, rather than a simple age/jodan uke or an inside sokumen awase uke (although we practice both in bunkai).

Here is a video of one of my sempai, Sensei Dave Goodwin in 1985 performing the kata as I was taught it:

Here's me a year or 2 later (not a complete performance):

In relation to the "empi/hiji ate", An'ichi Miyagi's version is quite similar to ours, except he seems to be using it as outside sokumen awase uke rather than a mae empi uchi:

I don't see point in throwing a high mae empi uchi. The only possible targets of a mae empi are:
* the solar plexus;
* the xiyphoid process (slightly higher);
* mid-breastbone (the middle of the line drawn between the nipples - a nasty nerve point);
* nerve points on the pectoral/under the arm (slightly higher again);
* the jaw (a rather weak and foolish uppercut, IMHO).

Once an empi passes the mid-line of your body its power reduces exponentially to almost zero at head height. Furthermore, as a high strike the technique exposes your midriff quite dangerously.

Rather, if you're going to raise your elbow it would be slightly to the side to effect a sokumen awase uke to the outside - sweeping the attackers punch past your head and protecting your face/ear.

You'll notice that the finishing position of the outside sokumen awase uke is used by MMA practitioners (where they put the hand or fist on their ear) - however they do not apply the move as an intercepting deflection, but rather just as a shield (which I feel is a lesser application of the movement).

In relation to sokumen awase uke in sanseiru, take a look at this short video I filmed last night:

I am told, but I have not had it verified, that our version of sanseru is, in this respect, the same as Seiko Higa's early version of the kata and was brought back from Okinawa/Japan by our instructors in the 60s (possibly via Ichikawa who was a student of Kanki Izumigawa who in turn was a student of Seiko Higa). Potentially we show our link to the Ichikawa lineage by the fact that we still use his fist in our logo.

That said, our style is predominantly IOGKF-based given our instructors learned from, and were affiliated to, Higaonna Morio Sensei in the Yoyogi days. I'd love to know more, but I am fearful of offending anyone by asking questions that traverse into the political minefield of ended associations.

For the time being, I am quite happy from a technical perspective to practice sanseru the way I was shown it so many years ago - after all, I've trained with IOGKF, Jundokan and Graham Ravey's TOGKF and known their versions for 23 or so years. I can easily do both, but I make a (hopefully) informed choice to make my standard version "different" from what seems to be the "norm" nowadays. But I certainly practice the bunkai for both.

As noted in the above video, I think the inside sokumen awase uke is really suitable only to the outside of an opponent: on the inside it leaves you quite vulnerable and creates a blind spot.

On the whole the inside sokumen awase uke is, in my view, a less useful technique, hence I am quite happy for it to be a lesser bunkai and for the kata to reflect the outside sokumen awase uke.

I have some views as to the use of the jodan uke in the shiko technique (just before the double punch), but I'll deal with that separately...

Next: Part 2.

Copyright © 2008 Dejan Djurdjevic


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