Explore Karate: What is “seiza?”

The father of modern karate, Gischen Funakoshi, sitting in "seiza."
The father of modern karate, Gichin Funakoshi, sitting in “seiza.”

Seiza is a Japanese word that means “proper sitting.” It stems from a tradition in Japanese martial arts, and is found not only in karatedo, but in judo and aikido, amongst other Japanese budō.

Sitting in the seiza position – back upright, legs folded beneath the body, head up and facing forward – is a sign of respect and discipline. It displays the posture of a focussed karateka, whose mind is centred on their training.

We begin and end senior training and major training courses – such as the annual Weekend Course – with this practice, as a way of continuing this Japanese tradition. Seiza allows the karateka to attain focus and adds a sense of formality to the occasion. Furthermore, the eyes are described as being in happo enzan: eight-ways, distant gaze. In other words: being able to take in every angle, seeing everything around you without fixating on any one single object – being alert of the world around you so that you may respond accordingly to any change. It is as much a reactionary and awareness lesson, as it is one of discipline and tradition.

The use of seiza is seen as a form of etiquette and social propriety in many Japanese customs, and its use in classical budō arts like karatedo signifies the traditional values imbued in the art. It’s one of the factors that defines traditional karatedo – that which SKKSA primarily practices – as an art, rather than just a sport.

Seiza is usually followed by the traditional Japanese bow – a signifier of respect between sensei and karateka.

We will be running a series of blog posts called “Explore Karate” that highlight various aspects of the art in a succinct and informative way. We hope you enjoy these posts!


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