Seiunchin, Goju, Karate, Lessons, Vancouver, BC, Mario McKenna

When I was studying Goju-ryu one of my least favorite kata was seiunchin. It always seemed to be an “odd duck” compared to the rest of the Goju-ryu kata. The more I practiced it, the more I disliked it as I felt it was far too internal for my liking. With the wisdom of hindsight, I see that there is a lot of value to this kata and in many respects it epitimizes the ideas of strength and supplty that embody Goju-ryu far better than any other kata. Perhaps this is why Miyagi Chojun, during one period of his life, emphasized it among his students after learning san chin.

 Like most Goju-ryu kata, the history of seiunchin is a mix of stories, hearsay, and little else. The generally accepted history in Goju-ryu circles is that seiunchin was one of the kata that Higaonna Kanryo brought back from his studies in China with Ru Ru Ko. It was then passed down to Miyagi Chojun and incorporated it into his modern Goju-ryu. Then of course there is the Nakaima family tradition of Ryuei-ryu that also includes seiunchin supposedly from the founder, Nakaima Kenri, who reportedly learned from a teacher also called Ru Ru Ko in Fuzhou.

My own feeling is that this kata was on Okinawa long before Higaonna went to China. And that it was adopted by either Higaonna or by his student Miyagi. Interestingly enough, I remember having a conversation in 1999 in Tagawa, Fukuoka with Murakami Katsumi along with my good friend Joe Swift. Murakami, a man who is a walking encyclopedia of Karate and Kobudo history and technique, said that he believed seiunchin to have been practiced in Okinawa for a long time, although not necessarily only by Higaonna.

Seiunchin is known among various Okinawan and Japanese styles under slightly different pronunciations: Seiunchin, Seienchin, Seiyunchin, Seiinchin, etc. Most teachers prefer to write the kata name in katakana like this セイユンチン (one of the phonetic scripts of Japan), while some have assigned kanji to it.

A common set of kanji used to write Seiunchin is 制引戦, which can be loosely translated as “control pull fight”. This is used by Goju-ryu teachers, such as the late Miyazato Eiichi and Higaonna Morio, and seems to give meaning to the kata in terms of the multitude of grappling applications found in it. This translation is also interesting when you consider Miyazato’s Judo background.

Another set of kanji is 征遠鎮 and is pronounced Seienchin. This is used by some Goju ryu schools, but is more common in Shito-ryu circles. This set of kanji is used in Sakagami’s 1978 book “Karatedo Kata Taikan (An Encyclopedia of Karatedo Kata – not to be confused with the 1938 publication using the same name). The loose translation is “attack far suppress.”

Seiunchin, Goju, Karate, Vancouver
Karatedo Kata Taikan (1978) by Sakagami Ryusho                                                                                     空手道型大鑑 坂上隆祥

A further set of kanji I will talk about is 青鷹戦 and is also pronounced Seiunchin. This set is used by the noted Okinawan karate researcher Kinjo Akio. Roughly broken down it means “blue hawk fight,” Kinjo based his deductions on some movements in the kata that seem to mimic the hawk as it does battle. He states in his 1999 book Karatedo Denshinroku, that the Fujian pronunciation of these kanji would be ‘Chaiinchin’.

Vancouver, Karate, Goju, Seiunchin, Mario McKenna
Karatedo Denshin Roku (1999) by Kinjo Akio      空手伝真録 伝来史と源流型 金城昭夫

Another set of kanji used to write Seiunchin is used by Nohara Kiei in his 2007 book, “Okinawa Dentô Karate”. This set was pointed out to me by Andreas Quast, an excellent Karate-do researcher. Nohara uses the kanji 刺引戦, which is pronounced ‘cìyǐnzhàn’ in Mandarin. This contrasts to the typical Okinawa way that uses  ‘sei’ 制 as the first kanji.

Seiunchin, Goju-ryu, Vancouver, Karate
Okinawa Dentô Karate (2007) by Nohara Koei
沖縄伝統空手 野原耕栄

There are a myriad of variations in the way Seiunchin kata is pronounced and performed as passed down by the different students of Miyagi Chojun (e.g. Yagi Meitoku, Miyazato Eiichi, Higa Seko, et al), as well as between different styles such as Shito-ryu and Isshinryu. Most, if not all of these variations, represent idiosyncratic differences between instructors and their respective understanding of the kata. Regardless of the variation, Seiunchin is a challenging kata that deserves serious, long-term study from the student in order to grasp its meaning.

Good training.