Seiunchin was chosen to specifically follow Bassai-dai in the GKR kata system. Students train in Bassai-dai over two belt grades and this kata concentrates on power developed through dynamic, straight-line speed. While this is an essential component to achieving effective karate, it is still only a small part of what karate represents. Seiunchin is one of the most famous kata in karate, part due to its uniqueness and beauty. So having trained with the explosive Bassai-dai for some time, arriving at 3rd kyu brown belt, it is important students develop a sense of fluency, beauty and strength within their kata.
While Bassai-dai trains students to develop snapping techniques and to be quick to move, Seiunchin develops its power by utilizing low shiko datchi (sumo stances) and circular movements to block or grapple. It is also more concerned with being ‘rooted’ instead of agile (hence its absence of kicking techniques). Its timing is completely different from all previous kata and so, too, its use of angles, introducing a number attacks and defenses on 45 degree angles.
Like many of the traditional kata, the origins of Seiunchin are steeped in mystery. Some believe it was introduced to Okinawa by Kanryo Higaonna after he returned from studying in the Fukian Province of China. Other equally reputable sources state that it was developed in 1920 by one of Kanryo’s students, Chojun Miyagi (founder of Goju-Ryu), and was possibly formulated after Miyagi spent a year in China studying Pa Kua Ch’ang Kung Fu (one of Kung-fu’s three internal styles). Miyagi developed the style of Goju by combining his studies of Okinawan Naha-te with his training from China.
Regardless of who developed this kata, its Chinese influences are apparent, as are its Naha-te based origins, because it contains the deep tension breathing common in that style. All of which results in a kata of power and beauty.
As there is no true literal translation from kanji, Seiunchin is mostly translated one of two ways. The first is, “Storm within the calm”, which is an appropriate translation when we take into account the timing of the kata. The second, and more likely correct translation is “to grab and pull in battle”. This is a translation apparent to its bunkai, which consists of numerous grabs, pulls, throws and locks. There is probably no other kata that better demonstrates traditional karate.
Seiunchin (whose creation was most likely influenced heavily by one of China’s three internal kung-fu styles) is very much an internal karate kata. The following paragraph offers a simplistic explanation of the term ‘internal’ versus ‘external’. In post war practice of karate, the emphasis on training predominately shifted to ‘external’ training. ‘External’ or ‘hard’ related to the development of power through body strength (ie. building stronger arms and legs). The ‘internal’ or ‘soft’ however concentrates on the whole mind/body merging together to create power (often using the energy of the opponent to receive, defend and attack with flowing counters). Additionally, Seiunchin incorporates numerous movements executed slowly with strength (but not over tension) and contains a lot of abdominal breathing (which controls blood flow and circulation).
Seiunchin’s combat philosophy concerns itself with equipping a practitioner to face a larger, stronger opponent who is constantly grabbing. You will note that during this kata, the emphasis is on being grounded and powerful. There is an absence of kicks (to prevent being off-balanced by a larger opponent); blocks are circular (to develop strength required to combat a larger opponent’s grabs and kicks) and it uses a unique version of multiple attacks. Most kata use separate limbs to execute multiple attacks (such as a kick then punch or one arm attack then the other), Seiunchin in contrast involves the ‘crane technique of vibration’ which involves delivering a multiple of attacks in the same action (such as the uppercut, back-fist then groin strike, or elbow then back-fist strike all done with the same arm). The crane technique of vibration theorized that by executing multiple attacks with one arm (and avoiding squaring the body off to a larger opponent), it is more difficult for this opponent to grab or seize you. Furthermore, in the event of being grabbed or seized, the entire body was not committed to the technique, therefore one arm was still free to deliver a decisive blow.
Seiunchin: Summary Points
- Most likely developed by Chojun Miyagi (founder of Goju karate and where GKR derives the kata from). Miyagi likely developed the kata after combining his tuition from Naha-te (in Okinawa) and Pa Kua Ch’ang Kung Fu (one of Chinese Kung-fu’s three internal styles). Some speculate his Okinawa teacher (Higaonna) developed the kata.
- Seiunchin translates as Sei = grab, Un = pull and Chin = battle. The ‘Chin’ character found in Seiun‘chin’ is also found in kata Sanchin, Shisochin and Sochin). The kata is often referred to as ‘the calm within the storm’.
- Seiunchin is an internal kata (developing its power through circular movements rather than relying on the strength of individual limbs).
- Seiunchin aims to strategize a person to face a larger, stronger opponent. All the tactics employed in this kata are ideal with this type of scenario.