Introduction
Sanseru (also spelled Sanseiru, Sanseiryu and Sanseryu) means 36. Some people suggest that this has religious significant, as 36 is a divisor of the number 108, a number with great spiritual significance to the Chinese Buddhists from whom the kata may have originated. Other people suggest that the number 36 indicates the number of defensive principles in the kata. However, as the original moves have been modified since their conception, and some of the grappling bunkai is now lost in the version that we perform, this interpretation, even if originally true, is not longer relevant.

Some karate styles perform this kata very quickly, but in GKR, we tend to do most of it slowly, with lots of tension. The beginning in particular, bears a strong resemblance to the Goju Sanchin kata.

Sanseru is deceptively difficult to perform well. At first glance, you could be forgiven for thinking that as the kata primarily comprises basic techniques, and has a high degree of repetition, that it's simple. However, it's in the balance and movement that the difficulty of this kata manifests itself. If you understand how you should be moving, it's far harder to perform than if you are ignorant to the kata's subtleties.

Sanseru is rarely performed in tournament, and it's not a good choice, for any but the most adept of performers. It's hard to demonstrate distinguishing strengths in the kata, yet there are lots of opportunities to lose your balance. Worse still, it finishes with a difficult and complicated move, which if performed badly, will be the last thing in the judge's minds when they score you.

As a team kata, it's quite a good choice because it's ponderous pace makes it easy to synchronise.

Stances
There are only basic stances in kata Sanseru, but don't be fooled; it's not the stances, but the movement preceding each stance that makes these challenging. You'll have a tendency initially to make the sanchins too long, the zenkutsu dachis too high, and you may have trouble setting the angles in your shiko dachis.

Heiko Dachi Ready stance
Musubi Dachi Feet together, toes out stance
Sanchin Dachi Pigeon-toed stance
Zenkutsu Dachi Forward stance
Shiko Dachi Sumo stance



Strikes
No new strikes here, but delivering a rising elbow strike, when your movement appears to be descending requires special attention - the trick is to lower your stance at the start of the kick, not the end....

Also, it's unusual to deliver a second strike without withdrawing the first. Should you use your hips or not, and if not, how to you gain power for the punch?

Chudan Tsuki Mid-level punch
Hiji Ate Rising elbow strike
Jodan Tsuki Upper-level punch
Yama Tsuki U punch



Blocks
The way that we perform it makes this quite a contentious kata, and you'll be hard-pushed to find a plausible bunkai for all the cross arm blocks, let alone the finishing move. The original Goju version replaces the first shuto block with a teisho uke, followed by a grab to the ankle. We've substituted that for what appears to be a less satisfactory open-handed juji uke block. Whatever your interpretation, one thing is certain; you want to try to cross your arms just above the wrist joint, not at the hands. Furthermore, you should cross both hands at the same place.

There are three or four new blocks here - (three if you consider the final move to be a grapple rather than a block). The X block and the shuto gedan barai are easy enough to perform, but you'll need to pay special care to your execution of the upper arm block if you are to achieve all of its nuances.

Uchi Uke Inside block
Gedan Barai Shuto Knife-hand Downward block
Juji Uke Shuto Knife-hand X block
Keito Uke Chicken-head wrist block
Gedan Juji Uke Low-level X block
Upper arm block



Kicks
The kicks are simple enough; just make sure that you lift your knee high at the start and end of the side kick, and you use your hips.

Mae Geri Front kick
Kensetsu Geri Stamping or joint kick




Sequence:- By the numbers
Start Sanseiru footwork chart start Start in ready stance. Bring your heels together and bow. Return to ready stance.
1
Ichi
Sanseiru footwork chart step 1 Without turning your hips, step your right foot forwards into Sanchin Dachi, ensuring that you use a circular sliding motion of your foot (suri ashi).

At the same time perform two simultaneous inside blocks, one with each arm. Be sure that at the finishing position, your elbows are tucked in and your fists are at shoulder level.

This entire sequence should be performed slowly, with tension and good breathing.

2
Ni
Sanseiru footwork chart step 2 Slowly draw your left hand back into chamber by your side. Perform a fast Chudan Tsuki to the centre.

The instant your punch reaches the target, perform a lightning-fast Uchi uke. However, it's important to understand that you don't block in the usual sense - instead, you simply relax your elbow so that it drops down, turning your wrist as it goes. Ensure that the block is the same height as your other arm, which you have not moved.

3
San
Sanseiru footwork chart step 3 Without turning your hips, step your left foot slowly forwards into Sanchin Dachi, ensuring that you use a strong suri ashi movement.

Slowly draw your right hand back into chamber by your side. Perform a fast Chudan Tsuki to the centre.

The instant the punch reaches the target, perform a lightning-fast Uchi uke with the same hand as described in step 2.

4
Shi
Sanseiru footwork chart step 4 Without turning your hips, step your right foot slowly forwards into Sanchin Dachi, ensuring that you use a strong suri ashi movement.

Slowly draw your left hand back into chamber by your side. Perform a fast Chudan Tsuki to the centre.

The instant your punch reaches the target, perform a lightning-fast Uchi uke with the same hand as described in step 2.

5
Go
Sanseiru footwork chart step 5 Open both hands into a knife-hand shape. Slowly drop your right arm so that it points downwards at about 45 degrees, and extends straight out from your shoulder (rather than pointing across your body). Your palm should be facing downwards, with your wrist straight.

At the same time, slowly raise your left hand above your right shoulder. Your palm should be facing down towards your shoulder with the wrist straight.

Now chop your left hand downwards quickly, performing a knife-handed gedan barai. Note that there is no wrist turn because your wrist is already turned at the start of the move. As you block with your left hand, sharply retract your right hand into chamber by your right side, with your hand still open, palm facing upwards.

As you perform the block, step your right foot back swiftly into Zenkutsu dachi.

Ensure that your hips are turned to 45 degrees and your right hand is fully drawn back.

6
Roku
Sanseiru footwork chart step 6 Step your right foot through into Zenkutsu dachi. As you land, quickly thrust your open right hand downwards in a spear-like motion, across your body to the left at an angle of about 45 degrees (roughly the same finishing position as if you had just performed a gedan uke - low-level block - with that hand). Your palm should be facing to the left.

Immediately, thrust your open left hand downwards across your body to the right at the same angle, with the palm facing to your right. Your arms should cross just above the wrist, with the left hand on top. The point where they cross should be the centre of your body at about groin height.

Your shoulders and hips should be square in the finishing position.

7
Shichi
Sanseiru footwork chart step 7 Without changing your arm position, step through with your left foot and perform a mid-level Mae Geri. Land your left foot beside your right at shoulder width, and perform a mid-level Mae Geri with your right foot. This time, after returning your foot to the knee, you should land down in front stance with your right foot in front.

As you land, execute a Hiji Ate with your right arm, drawing your left arm back into chamber as you do so. Leaving your right elbow in the finishing position, perform a Gyaku tsuki using your left arm.

Use your hips on both strikes, but do not exaggerate the movement.

8
Hachi
Sanseiru footwork chart step 8 Continuing to look north, turn your body to the west and draw your right leg up into a side-kick preparation position.

As you do so, allow your left arm to bend at the elbow to about a right angle. Keeping your right arm in the elbow-strike position, as you turn, your right elbow will meet your left fist. Hold them tightly in that position as you perform the kick.

Forming a strong edge with the outside of your right foot, execute a stamping side kick (kenesetu geri) out to the north at an angle of about 45 degrees. Turn your hips into the kick.

Return your foot high to your left knee.

Turn your head and body to the south, and with control, slowly place your right foot down, and backwards into Sanchin Dachi. Be careful not to set your stance too long.

As you land, perform a strong medium-pace Uchi uke with your left hand, drawing your right hand back into chamber as you do so.

9
Ku
Sanseiru footwork chart step 9 Keeping your height low, perform a mid-level Mae Geri with your right foot. After returning your foot to the knee, place it down in front stance, with your right foot in front.

As you land, execute a Hiji Ate with your right arm, drawing your left arm back into chamber as you do so. Leaving your right elbow in the finishing position, perform a Gyaku tsuki using your left arm.

Use your hips on both strikes, but do not exaggerate the movement.

10
Ju
Sanseiru footwork chart step 10 Keep looking south but turn your body to the east and draw your right leg up into a side-kick preparation position.

As you do so, allow your left arm to bend at the elbow to about a right angle. Keeping your right arm in the elbow-strike position, as you turn, your right elbow will meet your left fist. Hold them tightly in that position as you perform the kick.

Forming a strong edge with the outside of your right foot, execute a stamping side kick (kenesetu geri) to the south at an angle of about 45 degrees. Turn your hips into the kick.

Return your foot high to your left knee.

Turn your head to the east, and with control, slowly place your right foot down, and backwards into Sanchin Dachi. Be careful not to set your stance too long.

As you land, perform a strong medium-pace Uchi uke with your left hand, drawing your right hand back into chamber as you do so.

1
Ichi
Sanseiru footwork chart step 11 Keeping your height low, perform a mid-level Mae Geri with your right foot. After returning your foot to the knee, place it down in front stance, with your right foot in front.

As you land, execute a Hiji Ate with your right arm, drawing your left arm back into chamber as you do so. Leaving your right elbow in the finishing position, perform a Gyaku tsuki using your left arm.

Use your hips on both strikes, but do not exaggerate the movement.

2
Ni
Sanseiru footwork chart step 12 Keep looking east but turn your body to the north and draw your right leg up into a side-kick preparation position.

As you do so, allow your left arm to bend at the elbow to about a right angle. Keeping your right arm in the elbow-strike position, as you turn, your right elbow will meet your left fist. Hold them tightly in that position as you perform the kick.

Forming a strong edge with the outside of your right foot, execute a stamping side kick (kenesetu geri) to the east at an angle of about 45 degrees. Turn your hips into the kick.

Return your foot high to your left knee.

Turn your head and body to the west, and with control, slowly place your right foot down, and backwards into Sanchin Dachi. Be careful not to set your stance too long.

As you land, perform a strong medium-pace Uchi uke with your left hand, drawing your right hand back into chamber as you do so.

3
San
Sanseiru footwork chart step 13 Keeping your height low, perform a mid-level Mae Geri with your right foot. After returning your foot to the knee, place it down in front stance, with your right foot in front.

As you land, execute a Hiji Ate with your right arm, drawing your left arm back into chamber as you do so. Leaving your right elbow in the finishing position, perform a Gyaku tsuki using your left arm.

Use your hips on both strikes, but do not exaggerate the movement.

4
Shi
Sanseiru footwork chart step 14 Draw both hands back into chamber and move your right foot into Shiko Dachi facing south. As you move into stance, simultaneously thrust both hands downwards crossing them just above the wrists forming an X shape in front of your groin. Your left hand should be on top, and you should try to keep your back straight.

As you perform the X block, you should look downwards.

5
Go
Sanseiru footwork chart step 15 Look to your right. Crossing your legs behind you, step two shoulders to the east with your right leg.

Draw both hands back into chamber and rotate into Shiko Dachi facing north. As you move into stance, simultaneously thrust both hands downwards crossing them just above the wrists forming an X shape in front of your groin. Your left hand should be on top, and you should try to keep your back straight.

As you perform the X block, you should look downwards.

6
Roku
Sanseiru footwork chart step 16 Look west. Crossing your legs in front of you, step two shoulders to the west with your right leg and rotate into Shiko Dachi with your body facing south. Keep looking west.

As you do so, place your left open hand at your belly button, palm upwards. Place your right open hand beneath it so that the right palm is pressing the back of your left hand.

Move the elbow of your right arm in a circular motion performing an upper arm block. Your elbow should pass your belly button, your left temple, and your forehead, before coming to a stop just past your right ear and about a foot in front of it - remember that you are still facing west and should now be looking through the crook of your elbow.

Your arm should be bent to a right angle at the elbow, and your right hand is still open, and is positioned just in front of your left temple, palm facing outwards.

7
Shichi
Sanseiru footwork chart step 17 Turn the sole of your right foot towards you, and at a medium speed, draw your right foot in until it touches your left toes (a hooking sweep). As you do so, pull both arms into chamber.

Now, moving swiftly, step back out two shoulders to the west into a right-foot forwards Sanchin Dachi. As you move, deliver a Yama Tsuki (a simultaneous Gyaku tsuki with your left arm, and a Shita tsuki with your right).

Both punches should be to the centre line.

8
Hachi
Sanseiru footwork chart step 18 Move your front foot two shoulder-widths to the left, look sharply over your shoulder, and pivot so that you are facing east in Sanchin Dachi.

As you move your foot, prepare your left hand beneath your right elbow in readiness for an Uchi uke. As you pivot, execute the block so that it finishes at the same time as your turn.

9
Ku
Sanseiru footwork chart step 19 Step your right foot forwards in Sanchin Dachi with a strong suri ashi movement and perform an Uchi uke with your right hand.
10
Ju
Sanseiru footwork chart step 20 Step your left foot out so that you are in Shiko Dachi with your body facing south, and your head looking east.

As you do so, place your right open hand at your belly button, palm upwards. Place your left open hand beneath it so that the left palm is pressing the back of your right hand.

Move the elbow of your left arm in a circular motion performing an upper arm block. Your elbow should pass your belly button, your right temple, and your forehead, before coming to a stop just past your left ear and about a foot in front of it - remember that you are still facing east and should now be looking through the crook of your elbow.

Your arm should be bent to a right angle at the elbow, and your left hand is still open, and is positioned just in front of your right temple, palm facing outwards.

1
Ichi
Sanseiru footwork chart step 21 Turn the sole of your left foot towards you, and at a medium speed, draw your left foot in until it touches your right toes (a hooking sweep). As you do so, pull both arms into chamber.

Now, moving swiftly, step back out two shoulders to the east into a left-foot forwards Sanchin Dachi. As you move, deliver a Yama Tsuki (a simultaneous Gyaku tsuki with your right arm, and a Shita tsuki with your left).

Both punches should be to the centre line.

2
Ni
Sanseiru footwork chart step 22 Allow both arms to drop to your groin. As they fall, your left hand turns over so that the palm is facing downwards. Both hands open into a natural shape, and the wrists precede the palms downwards (so it looks as though the hands are dragging behind the wrists. This should be a medium paced, graceful movement.

As you lower your arms, you should also be corkscrewing your body downwards. In other words, you keep your feet where they are, but you start to pivot your legs around each other, turning to your right, and dropping as low as you can as you twist. Keep your back straight.

You should also be looking as far over your right shoulder as possible.

When you have turned as far as possible without moving your feet, move your left foot in a straight line, diagonally to the south-west until you are in a Shiko Dachi with your body facing north west, and your head looking north.

As you move into this stance, you should raise both hands from your groin, so that they come to rest along your centre line, with the right hand at chin height and the left at solar plexus height. Both hands should be in chicken foot shape (tips of all the fingers touching, fingers more-or-less straight, with the wrist bent forwards as far as possible), with the wrists uppermost.

Keep your elbows in tight to your body.

End Sanseiru footwork chart end Return to ready stance. Bring your heels together, toes out. Bow. Return to ready stance.

download icon

Left-click above to open a printable version of this document in Acrobat PDF format. Right-click above to download a printable version to your hard drive (244k) You'll need Adobe Acrobat Reader to access it). You can download Acrobat Reader here

All graphics and text on this page are copyright Mat Broomfield 2005. Feel free to use or print the pages for yourself if you are a student.

Senseis, feel free to print multiple copies for your GKR students only.

Unauthorised reproduction in any additional form, including, but not limited to other web sites, books, videos or multimedia is strictly prohibited. All rights reserved.