How many Sesan do you need to make a style?

Sesan, Vancouver, Karate, Kobudo, Kitsilano, Higaonna Kanyu Kanzaki sensei performing Kanyu no Sesan kata

From time to time Kanzaki sensei would recollect to me about his time learning Tou’on-ryu from Kyoda Juhatsu in the 1950s and 1960s. He shared some great stories, but often he would tell me how much of an influence Higaonna Kanryo had on Kyoda. I don’t doubt this as there are many anecdotes and much circumstantial evidence to support this. One only has to look at the name of Kyoda’s style Tou’on-ryu [東恩桁] which uses the first two kanji of Kanryo’s last name, Higaonna [東恩納]. However, I think there is more going on in that name than meets the eye.

Besides Higaonna Kanryo, Kyoda Juhatsu had two other teachers: Yabu Kentsu and Higaonna Kanyu (I suppose you could add Go Kenki I think that because they were close in age and part of the Kenkyukai that they were more likely peers). Yabu is a well-known figure in Okinawa Karate-do and much has been written about him. In contrast, Kanyu is a much less-known in the history of Okinawa Karate-do and we could go as far as saying that he was a minor figure. What is important about Kanyu however, is not his fame but his relationship with HIgaonna Kanryo and Kyoda Juhatsu. Kanyu was the cousin of Kanryo and although he was better known as a musician he was also a practitioner of Karate.

What few people know is that Juhatsu’s first teacher might actually have been Kanyu, not Kanryo. His mother, Omito, was a relative of Higaonna Kanyu and she brought Juhatsu to him to learn Karate. Besides learning Kanyu’s Sesan kata, Kyoda also learned Kanryo’s version. Although Kanyu’s Sesan followed the basic template of most Sesan kata, it differs significantly in places. Therefore Kyoda knew two versions of Sesan kata.

Many years later when Kyoda was living on the Japanese mainland teaching his Tou’on-ryu to Kanzaki, he would flip-flop on which version of Sesan he would pass on to him. Sometimes he would even say that he would take the best techniques of both and combine them into a new version of Sesan. Ultimately, he taught Kanzaki the Kanyu version of Sesan and not the Kanryo version (1).

I’ve always found this decision a little strange given that Kyoda by all accounts was a devoted student of Kanryo and named his style of Karate-do after him. Lately, however, I’ve came to a different conclusion. I think that Tou’on-ryu actually represents both Higaonnas; Kanryo and Kanyu. Now, I don’t think Kyoda was really conscious of this, but his waffling of whether to teach Kanzaki the Kanyu or Kanryo version of Sesan, or to combine them instead seems to hint at this reason.

Its just speculation on my part of course, but I think this is something to consider.

(1) I asked Kanzaki if Kyoda had ever shown him the Kanryo version of Sesan and if so was it the same as the Goju-ryu version. Sadly he replied that he had never seen Kyoda. I followed up by asking him if he had seen Juko, Kyoda’s son, perform the kata, and replied that Juko never learned it either. Personally I find it sad that Kyoda did not pass on Kanryo’s version as it would have been interesting to compare it to the Goju-ryu / Miyagi version of the same kata.