Where did Seitei come from? – July 26, 2015, Kim Taylor, Renshi, CI Sei Do Kai Guelph ON, Nanadan

I often get asked where the seitei forms came from and I usually say they are a standardized form of the koryu kata. This is close enough for my liking but perhaps a bit more detail for those who are interested.

The ZKR iaido forms did and didn’t exist before the kendo federation iai forms. They came from somewhere, (the koryu of course) but they came from more than one source and are probably best considered “their own thing” now, like any other art that has existed for a couple of generations as something different than the parent art. ZKR Iai first appeared around 1968.

You do have people assuming that the ZKR iai kata were somehow made up out of whole cloth brand new when they were introduced, or at least some sort of smooshing together of MSR and MJER with a bit of extra stuff thrown in for confusion’s sake. To be sure there was a bit of that, but all the bits and pieces came from someone’s koryu. What senior koryu instructor would simply make up a movement when creating something like seitei? It would be more horse-trading than horsing around.

Cross contamination between seitei and koryu?

Then you have folks who will say things like “seitei gata has contaminated koryu” but that’s not accurate in my opinion. There are lines of Muso Jikiden Eishin Ryu (my koryu) which are demonstrably (by video from before “seitei” existed) identical to the seitei movements which are now supposedly contaminating those lines of koryu. In other words, those movements in seitei that are now found in koryu were in the koryu before seitei existed, and are not a result of students learning seitei shapes and having them cross over to the koryu. Of course the Muso Shinden style is very close to much of the seitei, as one would expect since this was the dominant style of koryu in Tokyo when the seitei was created.

That’s not to say that students don’t mix up seitei and koryu, they do but that’s a beginner thing and fully to be expected. They even mix up one kata with another within the seitei. It gets sorted out with time and proper instruction. On the other hand, it’s entirely accurate to say that many in the kendo federation practice seitei to the detriment of their koryu practice, or perhaps they even practice only seitei. This isn’t so much a contamination of the koryu as wholesale replacement. I have also now experienced those who have indeed changed their koryu kata to more closely match the seitei way of doing things. This happens in those clubs which put a great emphasis on competition. If your koryu and seitei kata are close enough that you might confuse them during a tournament, change the koryu to match the seitei for the benefit of the compeititors.

While I would not do that, I would say that koryu is big, it can encompass a large range of movement without losing its meaning, and that includes the shape of seitei. You know, I lie. I do tell my beginners to do So Makuri from my koryu in the same way as they do their So Giri from seitei, for exactly the reason I mentioned, it’s too close to worry about trying to separate as a beginner. It’s not for the benefit of tournaments so much as it’s a way to get past the attempts to keep things separate so that the real instruction can take place. Inevitably the students switch to the koryu shape as soon as they can, which would seem to indicate that I “have opinions” which they pick up.

While most people worry about seitei contaminating koryu, I’ve also seen examples of koryu contaminating seitei. I’ve watched quite senior instructors take parts of their MJER into their seitei in ways that I would not. Do I think that is wrong? No, the “contamination” is in the grey areas where the book does not comment. Obviously they reached their rank with the approval of those even higher up in the federation which would mean this “contamination” is actually an allowed variation and I’m simply seeing problems where none exist.

So the iaido side of things is a bit complex with its multiple koryu roots. On the other hand, the ZKR jodo kata are all more or less straight from the Tokyo styles of Shindo Muso ryu and any variation from the koryu is within the variations to be found in the koryu lines themselves. In other words, if someone did a kata without declaring it “seitei” most people would have a hard time pegging it as koryu or seitei. It would easily be “somebody’s koryu”.

I’m sure all that will start lots of discussion about how different koryu and seitei is, and welcome to it. The ultimate point I have here is that for iaido, you’d have trouble finding a koryu that does “Uke Nagashi” like it’s done in seitei, but you can see where it came from in both MSR and MJER. (Do MJER Uke Nagashi, Seitei Uke Nagashi and MSR Ryuto and you’ll see a continuum of shapes that form a single “meaning”.)

On the other hand, you could likely find a koryu match for almost all the seitei jo kata so it would be easier to say that the jo kata existed before the kendo federation than that the iai kata existed before the kendo federation if you wanted to generalize.

At the end of the day, if you’re in the kendo federation, you practice two different schools of iai or jo. One standard and one koryu. Take them as different things and you’ll be all right. If you don’t want to practice one or the other, it makes no difference but from my personal viewpoint, I will not mix them. If you care only about koryu you don’t need to practice seitei, if you care mostly about grades and tournaments, there is no reason to practice more than a couple of koryu kata until you reach 8dan, when you will need seven or eight of them.

Students in the iaido federations also have to deal with this problem of standard and koryu styles of iai. In fact, anyone in an organization that has a grading in iai will have a “standard” way to do the kata if they want to pass that grade. Whether this is formalized or simply “the way the judge does it”, if there are multiple lines of practice there will be two shapes of kata to deal with.

So deal with it.

Kim Taylor
July 26, 2015

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