Meaning “13”, some people refer to Seisan as "the kata of 13 hand movements", or "13 fists", or "13 steps" (Advincula Arsenio Sensei does the latter, e.g.). Customarily taught in both Shuri and Naha villages, this kata, following the tradition of Kyan Chotoku, is the first kata that the Isshinryu student learns after the warm-up exercise Kata, Te Waza (Chart 1).
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 this kata; some think it represents the number of different application of spiritual principles; some think it represents defending against 13 specific attacks; and some think that it is the number of imaginary opponents one faces while performing the kata (the bunkai, i.e.). Out of these theories, the last seems most unlikely since no kata would pit a student against 13 opponents and expect that student to learn anything about basic fighting techniques. This is preposterous. On the contrary, kata was designed to teach the principles needed to survive more common self-defense situations, learn new combinations of movements (te waza, ashi waza and dachi), and exercising different parts of the body's muscle groups and the corresponding neural pathways which automatically learn how to control those muscles to produce the desired effect in realistic situations. (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 Kung Fu from Fujian Province in Southern China. (Fukien Province is the location of the Shaolin Te school of Northern China).
It is uncertain who brought this kata to Okinawa, but we do know that in 1867, Aragki Seisho (1840-1920), a master of the Chinese-based fighting tradition (Toudi) demonstrated this kata, among others in front of the last Sappushi (Feudal Lord), Zhao Zin (Tomoyori, 1992; McCarthy, 1995, 1999).
The main lineages that include Seisan include those passed down from Matsumura Sokon, Kyan Chotoku, Aragaki Seisho, Higaonna Kanryu, Uechi Kanbun, and Nakaima Norisato, among others. Shimabuku Tatsuo learned this kata from Kyan Sensei. Both the Kyan and Shimabuku versions of this kata strongly resemble the Matsumura no Seisan (Sakagami, 1978).
The “Master Seisan” 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-research American Isshinryu instructors. This legend cannot be found in any of the literature coming out of Okinawa or Japan.
(After the bow in process and you have opened and announced the kata:)
1. Left Seisan stance, left middle inside forearm block (ripping away from a wrist grab, de Advincula Sensei)
2. Don't change stance, right reverse punch (snap arm to middle inside forearm block)
3. Advance to right Seisan, left reverse punch (snap to middle inside forearm block)
4. Advance to left Seisan, right reverse punch (snap to middle inside forearm block)
5. Chamber left leg and lunge into a double upward block (on left angle of 45 degrees)
6. Take two steps in order to reverse direction (turn 135 degrees facing rear kata line) and execute a double, downward, knife-hand block to the rear
7. Step forward right Seisan, do left palm heel block, right back hand block (coming up from under the palm heel block), with back hand block do a left knife hand block downward to left / do a right knife-hand strike and then grasp the opponent with the right hand and slowly pull him/her to the right side with nogari breathing
8. Step forward left Seisan, do right palm heel block, left back hand block with right knife hand block down, left knife-hand strike, grasp opponent with the left hand and slowly pull him/her to the left side with nogari
9. Step forward right Seisan, do left palm heel block, right back hand block with left knife hand block downward, right knife-hand strike, grasp opponent with right hand and slowly pull him/her to the right side with nogari
10. Look left 90 degrees, chamber both hands to the right side, chamber the left leg, turn left 90 degrees into left Seisan, execute left middle inside forearm block, then do a right reverse punch, then a left punch, front kick right returning the kick to the left Seisan position and end this with a right reverse punch
11. Chamber both hands left, chamber the right leg, look over the right shoulder, turn right 180 degrees into right Seisan, execute a right middle inside forearm block, a left reverse punch, right punch, front kick left re-turning the kick to the right Seisan stance and end with a left reverse punch
12. Chamber both hands right, chamber the left leg, look 90 degrees to the left, turn left 90 degrees into left Seisan, execute left middle inside forearm block, right reverse punch, left punch, front kick right returning to left Seisan, right reverse punch, (opponent grabs your punch hand now), pivot into left Seiunchin stance with a left middle inside forearm block
13. Chamber left leg while pivoting 180 degrees so that the chambered leg takes you back to the kata line into right cat stance with both hands chambered on the left side
14. Step right into the kata line in the T-stance, execute the downward backfist strike to the nose (opponent grabs this hand), pull the opponent backward as you slide back into right cat stance, step across into left "x" stance, front kick right and Kiai, come down from the kick into right Seisan with right downward block, reverse punch left, pivot into right Seiunchin with right middle inside forearm block
15. Chamber right leg while pivoting 180 degrees so that the chambered leg takes to the place you were in step 6, you are in left cat stance with the hands both chambered to the right
16. Step out into left T-stance and execute a backfist strike left to the nose (opponent grabs hand), slide back into left cat stance (Neko Ashi Dachi) dragging the opponent, step across into right "x" stance (Kagi Dachi), front kick left and come down into left Seisan with a left downward block, reverse punch right, pivot into left Seiunchin and execute a left middle inside forearm block
17. Chamber left leg while pivoting 180 degrees so that the chambered leg takes you back to the kata line into right cat stance with both hands chambered to the left side
18. Step into right Seisan, right backfist to bridge of nose, downward block (Gedan Barai) right while pivoting into right Seiunchin, pivot back to right Seisan with left reverse punch (Seiken Tzuki), pivot into right Seiunchin, do right Chudan Ude Uke (middle inside forearm block)
19. Step back into left Seisan with left Wing Chun block (cleaning off the grabbed right block arm)
20. Simultaneously do right augmented uppercut punch plus a right front kick and Kiai
21. Chamber right leg to step back into left Neko Ashi Dachi, catch side kick with both hands, cock the twist, break the leg with both hands
22. Close kata (Yoi and Rei)