On Sesoko no Kon (Bojutsu Kata Series)

06for some reason exponents of Ryukyuan martial arts (RMA) like Okinawan dialect. So, as everyone likes it so much these days, Sesoko no Kon is pronounced Shisuku nu Kun in the native dialect. I really didn’t make this up. Rather, this is the exact spelling given by one leading Okinawan master on the matter.

Sesoko no Kon is probably the longest traditional kata to be found in Okinawan bōjutsu. Only paralleled by Soeishi no Kon, without doubt it is also among the technically most sophisticated forms. Yet no-one ever seems to have learned, let alone seen it. Notwithstanding, Sesoko no Kon is listed as a traditional form of bōjutsu on a myriad of kobudō websites. So what is this crazy kata everyone seems to know yet no one ever learned or even saw?

Kana for Sesoko no Kon

Kana for Sesoko no Kon

To begin with, Yamanni-ryū, Matayoshi lineage as well as Taira lineage and other kobudō have been thouroughly propagated in both North America and Europe. This is because kobudō dissemination is simply defined by a) logistical availability and b) the consumers’ willingness for personal research, including traveling. Its that easy. In other words: the circus has to come to town, not vice versa. Or maybe people are just stingy and lazy, dunno.

And, a large and very sophisticated part of kobudō never reached the customers yet. Its kinda like the same as with many other sophisticated works, such as Chinen Shikiyanaka, Soeishi, Hantagwa, Kojō, Chatan Yara, etc. pp. Sesoko no Kon belongs to this sophisticated yet mostly unknow part of tradition. And you probably never learned Sesoko no Kon simply because your Sensei didn’t learn it, and neither his Sensei did.

“So why did no one actually go there and research it?”

you might ask.

Well, simply because it is well beyond peoples control.

To find out about Sesoko no Kon, lets get backwards in time and gather the handful of actual sources we have.

The Encyclopedia of Okinawa Karate and Kobudō of 2008 as well as in Nakamoto Masahiro’s 2007 book[1] lists Sesoko no Kon as a traditional Okinawan bō-kata.

When in 1997 a handwriting by Taira Shinken was posthumously published for the first time, Sesoko no Kon is found among the “Kinds of Training of the Ryūkyū Kobudō Hozon Shinkōkai.”[2]

In 1990 Matsuo Kanenori Sakon merely mentioned it,[3] but six years earlier, in 1984, Akamine Eisuke described the thirty regular kata of Ryūkyū Kobudō step-by-step in a handwritten document. Among three “additional study Kata” that he listed – the techniques of which were unfortunately not described – was Sesoko no Kon.[4] Furthermore, it is also found on the kata list also written by Akamine Eisuke hanging in the Shinbukan Dōjō.

In 1978 the Bugei Ryuha Daijten[5] verified that a) Sesoko no Kon had been established by a certain Arakaki, and b) that Mabuni Kenwa had studied this person’s style, called Arakaki-ryū.[6] Besides Sesoko no Kon, this Arakaki-ryū included Urasoe no Kon and Tsuken Hantagwa no Sai, that is, two of the most sophisticated traditional kata in existence. In addition, the style included what was called Arakaki no Sai and Shokyu no Kon.[7]

In 1975 Sesoko no Kon is found listed among the kinds of kobudō as given in the “History of Okinawa Prefecture.”[8]

And in 1974, for the first and only time, so far Inoue Motokatsu described the whole kata both in photographs and descriptive text in the ultra-rare 2nd volume of his three-volume series of Taira lineage kobudō.[9] In his 1st volume of 1972 he already noted that Sesoko no Kon had been handed down by a certain Arakaki.

Eight years earlier, in his 1964 Ryūkyū Kobudō Taikan, Taira Shinken listed Sesoko no Kon among the kinds of bōjutsu, and intended to cover it with photos and text in the 2nd volume (Gen no maki) of the Ryūkyū Kobudō Taikan, which unfortunately was never published.

But it was in 1938 that the name Sesoko no Kon is found mentioned in written form for the first time, in an article about kobudō written by Taira Shinken and published in the Karate-dō Taikan. There he states that it is one of the traditional bōjutsu kata from Okinawa handed down “until today”.

It is thought that Taira Shinken learned this kata since 1934, when he invited Mabuni Kenwa from Ōsaka to his dōjō in Ikaho Onsen, Gunma Prefecture. He continued to study with Mabuni for the following six years, until September 1940.[10]

In 1914, the Ryūkyū Shinpō devoted an article to two of the isles greates “warriors”, one of which  was Arakaki Seishō, described as an old gentlemen of seventy-five years of age at the time who still trained the tug-of-war troops, jumping around like a youthful warrior.

This is related to an incident that took place in 1874, whe the same Arakaki, thirty-five years old at the time, was the general of the eastern troops during the tug-of-war in Naha Wakasa. Arakaki’s party won and celebrated their victory, but a riot took place. It had been handed down in writing that Arakaki,

“with a six foot staff defended in all directions against the yari, naginata, and bō that rained down on him. His , marked with the signs of the combat, was enshrined in his family’s alcove to worship the soul of the warrior.”

And finally, it was the same Arakaki who performed martial arts in front of the Chinese investiture envoys at the royal tea villa (Ochaya-udun) in Shuri Sakiyama in 1867. On this occasion Arakaki Seishō performed some martial arts techniques with weaponry. This martial arts presentation was a part of the festival of school arts hosted by the Kumemura Meirindō village school.

Official history?

So the above is the official history of Sesoko no Kon and its founder, Arakaki Seishō. To wrap it all up, Sesoko no Kon was handed down from Arakaki Seishō to Mabuni Kenwa to Taira Shinken and is one of the rarest kata you may ever see.

The actual history might be different, though. The view that Mabuni actually taught kobudō to Taira Shinken or others might be one of those typical “gap fillers” of Okinawa: Probably noone really knew where Sesoko no Kon came from and people just took a best guess. Since Mabuni is said to have studied Arakaki-ha Karate, and since Arakaki was famous for his staff fencing techniques from the 1914 newspaper article, people probably thought “Mabuni must have learned it from Arakaki! Yes, it is possible!” However, Mabuni makes no mention of kobudō from Arakaki in his books, but only karate, and even these are unclear whether he learned it ddirectly from Arakaki. It is kind of a cliff hanger. As almost always in such cases, Japanese stakeholders will do all but come to the rescue. This is based in the guideline of “protecting the tradition.” It means that once something has been established in favor of the founder, or once the founder said something, it must not be corrected under any circumstances. This is not considered cheating in Japan, but it is considered protecting the tradition. There are countless examples for this method and as it stands now the method is that they will never correct it.

This doesn’t mean that it couldn’t have been from Mabuni. It just means that there are a number of strong leads that point to a tradition other than Mabuni. My hypothesis is that Kamiya Jinsei was somehow involved in it.

Short technical analysis

As can be seen from its composition, it can be likened to Soeishi no Kon and Sueyoshi no Kon. The common parts of these three kata can first be seen in the close resemblance of the enbusen, and second in their technical similarity. Specifically, it resembles Sueyoshi no Kon as the first lane is identical, except Sesoko no Kon has one more technique in its signature combination, done two times in the first lane. Furthermore, the two first side lanes to the left and right are completely identical with Sueyoshi no Kon, emphasizing a gedan-gyaku-uchi in ippon-dachi (one-leg stance) and so forth. There are many other similarities. And the 180° rotation into a one-knee stance with yoko-uchi, followed by sukui-uke and gyaku-uchi, is exactly the same as in Soeishi no Kon.

The main characteristic technique of Sesoko no Kon is the combo sukui-uke/gyaku-uchi/gyaku-furiage-uchi/gedan-barai/jōdan-ura-uchi/shōmen-uchi/tsuki. This is a very difficult one and it would be much easier without the gedan-barai. There’s also the left and right jōdan yoko-uchi (also called furi ate-uchi) performed on the spot, followed by a 360° revolution (which is also found in the original Chatan Yara no Kon [not the one you find on Youtube]). This kata has many more characteristic moves and skills, like the kakiage-uchi followed by hataki-uchi, and might rightfully be called the mother of Okinawan bō kata.

Below you see my customized version of it, i.e. its not what I refer to as an “association Kata” with all the need for habits and stuff. I actually chop-sueyed it a bit with parts from Chatan Yara, Urasoe, and Chinen Shikiyanaka no Kon.

  • [1] Nakamoto 2007: 92.
  • [2] Taira 1997: 195-98.
  • [3] Matsuo 1990: 74.
  • [4] Akamine 1984 (Handwritten document).
  • [5] BRD 1978: 910.
  • [6] BRD 1978: 353.
  • [7] Cf. Mario McKenna, referring to Okinawa Dento Kobudo: Sono Rekishi to Tamashi, pp. 150.
  • [8] Okinawa Kenshi 1975: 608.
  • [9] Vol. II 1974: 223-266/269-273.
  • [10] Ko Taira Shinken Senshi Nana Shūki Tsuitō. 1976. Miyagi Tokumasa in: Taira 1997: 203.

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