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When people start comparing karate styles, there is often some confusion about the function of kiba dachi (referred to as the “horse stance”) and shiko dachi (open legged stance). These comparisons often overlook function as a distinguishing factor and focus more on aesthetic details, or rehash arbitrary stylistic dogma. Although the two look somewhat similar, the postures lend themselves to different applications and contexts of usage.

Kiba dachi

Generally speaking, kiba dachi is found in the Shorin family of kata. The Naihanchi series make extensive use of it.  In appearance, it looks much like a high squat position: legs straddled a bit wider than shoulder length, toes facing forward, knees bent, butt dropped behind the ankles as opposed to in front, torso erect, slight posterior pelvic rotation. The depth and length of the stance varies from group to group,  but there’s no point in making it so low and wide that your lower back hyper-extends (the dreaded “shelf butt”), or your knees collapse inward. Some sources, such as Motobu Choki, advise that twisting the hips towards one leg or another in this kiba dachi forms the fundamental stance for free-engagements.

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Today I ran across a very useful clip in which the Goju Ryu and Uechi Ryu versions of the Seisan kata are performed side by side, sequence by sequence:

The Seisan kata has become a major preoccupation of my practice in the last two years. It exists in practically every major school of Okinawan and Japanese karate, and may well be among the oldest of the extant kata. When I learned the Goju version, I didn’t see much resemblance to the Hangetsu form that I was familiar with; but after working through some application scenarios the commonalities began to stand out like beacons. This led me to learn the Uechi version of the kata for further comparison. I find that the Goju and Uechi versions complement each other extremely well, and the Hangetsu version seems to reflect a composite of the Naha versions. Harry Cook describes the dominant theme of the kata as “take no prisoners,” and I have to agree: circular deflections, mangling of windpipes, uppercuts, aggressive throws and stomping of knees and ankles can be mapped all over the place. If you are familiar with one version, give the others a look and see where they lead you.

Ryuei-ryu Seisan

Goju-ryu Seisan

Uechi-ryu Seisan

Shito-ryu Seisan

Shotokan Hangetsu

Wado-ryu Seisan

Seibukan Seisan

Isshin-ryu Seisan

Kyudokan Shorin-ryu

Uechi Ryu pioneer Seiko Toyama has passed away at the age of 81. Toyama sensei was the last remaining practitioner to have trained directly under Kanbun Uechi. The first time I saw a video of him demonstrating kata I thought “wow, I can only hope that I’m in that kind of shape and moving like that if I ever get to his age.” Our condolences go out to his family and students.


Click here to watch a video of his performance of  Sanseiryu kata.

Uechi guys doing what they do best, looking incredibly strong, and slightly crazy. Check out the beautiful yakusoku kumite near  the end.

"Try to see yourself as you truly are and try to adopt what is meritorious in the work of others. As a karateka you will of course often watch others practice. When you do and you see strong points in the performance of others, try to incorporate them into your own technique. At the same time, if the trainee you are watching seems to be doing less than his best ask yourself whether you too may not be failing to practice with diligence. Each of us has good qualities and bad; the wise man seeks to emulate the good he perceives in others and avoid the bad."
Funakoshi Gichin


July 2020

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