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.

8 Answers 8


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.

  • 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
    Commented Mar 1, 2012 at 14:29

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.

  • 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
    Commented Apr 22, 2012 at 15:37
  • Any constructive criticism from the downvoter? Am I mistaken, or is it a bad application? Commented Jun 18, 2012 at 0:39
  • The word translated as "heal" in from chinese more properly means "relief from symptoms", which is not what is meant when we say "heal". Hironiri Ohtsuka Sr, orthopedic surgeon and founder of the Wado Ryu family of karate styles might even have given you an upvote for the comments about meridians, since he very specifically said they had no place in his martial arts style.
    – pojo-guy
    Commented Mar 10, 2016 at 22:18

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.


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

I disagree that it's a silly question. It is exactly the question which should be asked about the contents of all kata and forms.

Certainly when forms were created, there would have been a single correct interpretation of the movements. The modern concept that there are and were always multiple meanings for movements in forms is a profoundly bizarre one. How could it have occurred, and over so many kata and forms? No, the fact of the matter is there was, and most probably is, a single correct interpretation that fits the movements well, and much of the difficulty we have today in terms of quality within our martial arts is related to the inability to find that correct interpretation.

I also disagree that "we'd all know it". There is generally a lack of questioning of teachers of martial arts, students are particularly credulous. It's typically only after several years and numbers of attempts to use techniques that they begin to question what is being taught. If that process never happens then as teachers they simply pass on the misinformation they have been taught. We end up with generations of practitioners and crucially, teachers, who have been deeply misinformed about the nature of their martial art, and what kata and forms are.

Thankfully today, students and practitioners are beginning to question the techniques which have been passed on to them, as they are tested and fail under pressure.

Example suggestion using a common entrance method:

  • The drill sequence begins opponent opposite holding your right wrist/forearm with his left hand.
  • uchi-uke "block" catches opponent's left elbow and rotates him clockwise. He ends up facing mostly away from you.
  • Right handed "punch" pushes his arm up his back.

It's a very common sequence found in many kata and forms and is a very common restraint/arm lock technique used all over the world. The application may continue further into the sequence, but I think it fits the criteria that it ends the fight at that point. I would start looking for the application of the next drill sequence from there.

It may not. Often sequences extend far further than one initially supposes and one of the more important aspects of analysis is finding the start and end point of applications. A notable example being the bear hug defence and subsequent choke retaliation (okuri eri jime) in Pinan/Heian Sandan which requires the entire second half of the kata; some 12 movements.

Looking at other versions of Seisan than the Isshin-ryu version (Goju-ryu/Shito-ryu/Uechi-ryu) and common to all of them is the double raised fist, similar to Sanchin. It's possible this represents a double grip on the opponent (possible clinch position) and the three repetitions of movements are meant to be taken together with each repetition progressively manipulating the opponent into a different position.

The more movements that an application matches, the lower are the chances that the match is random.

Caveat: It's clear today that kata and forms commonly do have multiple applications "hung" on to the movements. It should also be made clear that there is only one correct primary application, and the additional applications while still a (possibly useful, possibly not) component of the martial art are secondary.


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.


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.

  • 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
    Commented May 14, 2012 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. Commented May 14, 2012 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
    Commented May 14, 2012 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. Commented May 14, 2012 at 20:23

I am aware of three primary applications to the opening move for this form.

The first is blocking a right handed chest punch and responding with a chest punch (Although this always seemed a bit of a poor interpretation to me).

The second is similar, but instead of blocking a single punch two punches are blocked. The application differs slightly in performance to the kata in that it requires the two Ude Uke's (Outside block) to be thrown in sequence rather than simultaneously (as is seen in the kata).

The final application is to defend against a "Front Collar Grab" by first breaking the hold with a double Ude Uke (similar to what is seen in the 4th movement of Seisan), and then delivering a punch to the chest. This one is my personal preference as it lines up very well with the remaining moves in that line of the kata (Tori responds to chest punch by throwing two further punches while retreating, Uke chases, deflects and continues attacking).

Other than that I am not familiar with any other bunkai.


Isshinryu karate bunkai is tiered. That is, it has multiple levels of interpretation. Interpretations range from the simple and obvious block/punch to the deeply refined Kiko or chinkuchi bunkai. The opening sequence of seisan kata is a significant application, and a statement of the power and clarity of Okinawan combat knowledge. This level of kata was not passed along to the Western martial community. Only in the last decade are we seeing the truer face of kata interpretation. For an example of the application depth of this movement sequence, little known by mainstream isshinryu, check out this link; https://drive.google.com/open?id=0B4f9BzCVVkXTczhzZGZUVWlhNG8

  • 1
    There is a lot claims in your answer, yet there is no source. Also, links are subject to rot so you should describe what the link is about. Commented Mar 7, 2017 at 14:56
  • @Sardathrion what exactly would be "the source" for "this information was not available" ?
    – Anon
    Commented Mar 7, 2017 at 17:10
  • 1
    We do need a description of the salient points of the video. Here is an example of video description which was deemed good enough: martialarts.stackexchange.com/questions/922/…
    – Anon
    Commented Mar 7, 2017 at 17:11
  • Those of you asking for the source of my information on the seisan kata bunkai can write me directly for clarification at [email protected]. Simply respond, Stackexchange, source. Commented Mar 8, 2017 at 21:18

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