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As of 1989, there were 336 Branches of Isshin-ryu Karate (a style only named as of January 15, 1956).

Given this fragmentation, I have chosen a fairly recognized figure in the Isshinryu world, the grandmaster: Shimabuku-soke. He performs Seisan in this video. I am curious about the opening move (so, 0:08 to 0:012 or so). I don't want to ask a silly question like "What is the authoritative bunkai" -- if there were such a thing, we'd all know it, I'm sure -- but what is a -reasonable- bunkai for this small sequence? You are welcome to extend the bunkai to the next move if you feel that the section I have chosen is too small.

There are many things which factor in this question. The fact that the first step is forward, for instance, as well as the spirit of the form itself.

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Isshin Ryu Sesan. The opening move bunkai is generally accepted as a heavy double forearm drop onto the forearms of the attacker who is holding the shirt front/lapels.This,with a forward step should cause a slight dip in the attackers posture - at which point you strike them.The heaviness of the impact on the arms is referred to as muchimi and is a feeling of sticking with weight.

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After watching a few times, I think this is a pretty straightforward sequence: get your hands up so you can defend yourself, move forward and attack.

The form seems to assume that your attacker has made his or her intentions clear, and that you can move in to attack immediately without compunction. I learned a slightly different variation that has an explicit middle block at the beginning, on an "always defend first" principle, and having seen Shimabuku's fairly small movements before, that may be implicit in the raising of the hands in this version.

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That is a very interesting interpretation with a good potential for implications down the line. Following sen-no-sen to its most rigorous. I always say that a bunkai/waza ought to be a response that leaves no room for the attacker to continue. What we are responding to is always the trick. Here, you are saying we are responding to intent... Hmm. – Anon May 14 '12 at 15:52
The "intent" you're responding to here could be someone charging you angrily; they haven't attacked yet but it's clear what they're trying to do. You're not allowing the attacker to continue because you're punching them in the solar plexus three times and driving them back. The final x-block-high, turn, and strike-to-rear move would be the finisher in that sequence. – Colin Fredericks May 14 '12 at 16:29
Ooh, you went way further than I intended. I literally just meant the original step/block/punch sequence. Nothing after that! :) – Anon May 14 '12 at 16:54
I know; I was just following it up with what might happen later. My original analysis was just for the step/block/punch sequence. – Colin Fredericks May 14 '12 at 20:23
up vote 0 down vote accepted

Here is a possible movement which, with a little tweaking, works for grabs or punches.

Block/trap/disrupt at the top (adapt for grab or punch), bring the left leg behind the other person's left leg (or behind their right leg, if you're right in front of them) and takedown.

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The most accurate and productive interpretation of that move that I came across in Isshinryu is "put up yer dukes and punch 'em." Other moves might have secret wrist-locks and pressure points on Chinese meridians that the superstitious Okinawans believed in, but the opening move of Seisan kata is getting your hands up and punching.

The step forward is just because standing square on your heels is going to get you knocked over and is sub-optimal for producing power.

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Your comment on superstition and acupuncture points detracts from your main argument, mainly because Chinese medicine has been healing people for thousands of years, so there's probably something to it. Regardless - after a decade of Isshinryu, I admit that there is something to what you said :) – Anon Apr 22 '12 at 15:37
Any constructive criticism from the downvoter? Am I mistaken, or is it a bad application? – Dave Liepmann Jun 18 '12 at 0:39

As you mentioned, there are a couple of different bunkai that are applicable here. My favorite is to have your attacker perform a cross grab on your right wrist. This makes the first move an escape (your left arm comes across and under the right hand of your attacker and "brushes" it off of your wrist as your right hand pulls back). The next move is a simple straight punch.

Another bunkai has this first move as a block/stike/deflection to an incoming right straight punch followed by a simple straight punch.

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Hmm. Does that escape you mention truly work while stepping? I understand doing this for the sunsu opening move (one wrist grabbed, or both) but here, with the hand coming back to the hip, it seems like you'd have to use force to make it work. What am I missing? – Anon Mar 1 '12 at 14:29

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