The Northern Okinawa city of Naha (where the styles Naha-te and Goju originated) gave birth to a number of kata still practised by traditional styles the World over. Go-Kan-Ryu practices seven of these; Saifa, Seiunchin, Sepai, Kururunfa, Shisochin, Seisan and the kata you about to embark on – Sanseru.
Before we discuss kata Sanseru, we feel it is important that you understand some history of an older kata, Sanchin.
Sanchin kata is one of the most famous kata to hail from Naha and it’s often regarded as the cornerstone of several styles, including Naha-te and Goju. It was developed by the founder of Naha-te (Kanryo Higaonna) after he trained in the Fukian province in China. In China, the techniques and principles of Sanchin kata were the core of several styles including White Crane, Five Ancestors and Tiger Crane (a combination style) and it was referred to as Saam Jin (cantonese for Sanchin).
Sanchin kata, as the name suggests, is performed entirely in sanchin dachi and the signature technique of the kata (and most commonly used technique) is the morote uchi uke (double inside hooking block). This technique is proceeded by the pulling back of one hand before pushing it back out with a gyaku tsuki (reverse punch).
So What Does This Have To Do With The Kata Sanseru?
Considering Sanchin kata was the core of Naha-te (and later Goju), a number of other kata were later developed using the original sequence of Sanchin. Sanseru happens to be one of these kata. Kata Seisan (GKR 3rd Dan kata) is also. Note that both these kata have the term ‘San‘ in their name. Another GKR kata that uses the opening sequence of Sanchin kata is Shisochin however with this kata, the techniques are performed kaishugata (open handed).
While the opening sequence of Sanchin and Sanseru are identical in appearance, the way each is practised differs. Sanchin is executed while maintaining full tension in all of the body’s muscles (including the arms when blocking or punching). With Sanseru, the legs and core muscles remain at full tension during the opening sequence however the arm – although strong – should not hold full tension. During the blocking movements the arms are strong but not at full tension. And just prior to punching, all tension in the arms should be released to allow the punch to develop proper speed and momentum.
When comparing kata Sanseru with some of your previous kata (eg Bassai-dai, Seiunchin and Empi) it may appear far more simplistic; and from an aesthetic perspective, it is. To begin with it’s barely more than half their length, making it easier to learn and less tolling on the body. But it’s not just its shorter duration that makes it less tolling on the body. It does not demand the explosive movements like Bassai-dai or Empi, nor does it demand we spend the majority of the kata in a deep-rooted shiko dachi like Seiunchin.
So Why Would Sanseru Be A Higher Grade Kata?
Sanseru is a higher grade kata because of its combat principles (senjutsu). It avoids toe-to-toe combat via a different means to any previous kata and requires more skill and mental fortitude to make it a success.
Sanseru is generally recognised by its signature technique that occurs in the final movement. Some styles refer to this technique as morote koken uke (double wrist block or double crane-wrist block). A more appropriate description however would be morote koken waza (double wrist technique) as the bunkai can be far more effective than simply executing two blocks. The crane-wrist technique (koken waza) can be used a block, a strike, a throw, a grab etc.