Niseishi means twenty-four in the Okinawan dialect of Japanese.
Arakaki Seisho, a karate master, created Niseishi over period of time extending through the last two decades of last century. His extended study into the theme resulted in two very distinct kata; Niseishi Sho and Niseishi Dai.
The oral tradition recollects that Arakaki recognized an opportunity to seize a new theme in kata after a training and discussion with his students on the beach. The noted master realized that his students were in awe of kata but that their awe dealt with themes of enduring substance; Kosokun (the universe), Seisan (the moon). Discussion abounded about the depth of such matters while kata with less enduring substance were dismissed quickly.
These kata included Bassai (impenetrable), Rohai (cranes).
Arakaki decided to study the “non-enduring.” He moved through his martial experience looking for the Great Theme but he couldn’t find the means of expression. His great theme was NOW!
Arakaki wasn’t the first to realize the importance of the NOW! The NOW! had been a religious and cultural ethic for countless centuries in the orient. Thousands of years earlier and thousands of miles away the Romans even had the same affection for NOW! In Latin they said, “Carpe Diem” or “Seize the Day!” The idea was not really new by Arakaki. Finding a way to artistically present the theme in karate kata was his genius.
Most good martial artists do not construct a kata. They do not put it together piece-by-piece. Such construction usually leads to kata without insight, feeling, aesthetic reflection or intuitive capacity. These kata usually do not help karate-ka inhabit the Earth through interactive experience. They are generally regarded as, and shortly proven to be, “vulgar” displays of violence. Most good martial artist construct a private form affectionately referred to as “a kata of a thousand movements” years before they release their kata as we know it to their students. This much larger “kata of a thousand movements” is a private affair between the master, his theme and his life-experience.
This private kata experience goes on for years. The master constructs, arranges, deletes, modifies, re-constructs the kata over and over again using as the basis of the kata his intellectual and intuitive grasp of the subject matter he has chosen. The subject and the master blend. The master changes. The private kata changes. Sincere interactive experience with the subject leads to purity of content. But, the interactive experience changes the master and the master changes the way he approaches his life-experience, a true interaction. And, as any component of the triad (life-experience, the master, the “kata of a thousand movements”) changes so change the other two. Full recognition must be placed on the fact that the kata changes most, but the “living process of creation of the kata” also reflects into the master and his life’s environment changing him, his recollection of past experiences and, often, his discovery of new vistas of life.
The experience of the master after years and years of processing is too much to place in one kata as we know it. The “kata of a thousand movements” is far too long to teach to deshi.
Sometime, and it is really when he least expects it, a sudden intuitive explosion occurs. The kata crystallizes into form. It is not over yet by any means but the kata is at least a nebulous being on the horizon waiting to be approached. The master now must carefully close the distance. The “kata of a thousand movements” groans and creaks. Another “new” kata emerges and grows into yet another “kata of a thousand movements,” then another, then another. He may have three or four or more. He selects. He bends. He chooses. By sheer force of will he abandons that which is “vulgar,” trite, or empty. The sweat of even one “kata of a thousand movements” is intense. Coalescing the various private kata he re-finds one and makes it home but only for an instant.
The kata is still lifeless. It is too long. It is too descriptive. It is too disjointed. The only thing the master can do is to continue with hope and faith. The sudden intuitive explosion may occur many times. This is good, actually it is very good, because it means the theme is becoming internalized. The master must not rush into the final format. The end stage kata must be pulled from the blind not constructed as the “kata of a thousand movements.” The end stage kata implodes more than develops. The implosion is dormant for years or even decades until the final instant of impact. It is then that the whole is seen as whole; the kata has been born, not made. (misogi shugyo)
I can see Arakaki working and reworking the “kata of a thousand movements” of Niseishi over and over. I can see him recognizing the really important things and finding the body movements that express those important things. I can see Arakaki meditating on his theme, reflecting on his own personal life, and interacting with experience to refine the private kata. But what I cannot see is what happened to him in the process (makoto shugyo).
During the process above described Arakaki “pulled from the blind” a worthy artwork. It was right. It was good. He gave it his stamp of approval by teaching it to one or more of his students. We know this kata as Niseishi Sho but it was simply called Niseishi then.
The force of the theme of Niseishi (the NOW!) was so strong in Arakaki by this time that he could not leave the theme alone. He had discovered and created the final form of a remarkable kata, but he had not released himself from the bondage of what NOW! really means and how he really expressed it. The “kata of a thousand movements” was not over even though one kata had been born. The process was reopened. The interaction with this life-experience continued to build. It was a long and slow incubation. The demand for patience must have been intense. He had completed his goal. He had created one of the most deeply provocative kata the world had ever known and yet he felt impelled to continue his search for more.
The reason I believe he continued is that the martial artist is taught that the interaction of the environment and the artist is a continual process which builds piece-by-piece. How could Arakaki believe or feel that he had “arrived.” His life was not yet over. The NOW! environment and he were not finished. Niseishi stood as a beautiful piece of art, but the artist did not stand. He moved forward once again into the abyss of a “kata of a thousand movements.” (Lucky for us!)
How long in such state he remained, I really don’t know. Arakaki had some depth of understanding of the NOW! already and was moving at a pace we can only imagine. Very little enters the deepest experiences totally naked. Arakaki was already clothed in experience and ready. He had already been primed. Years of makoto-type shugyo life-experience with his theme and the final misogi-type pulling from the blind of a magnificent kata freed his dreams. He approached the NOW! capriciously, seductively, viciously, forcefully and, probably, even endearingly.
Then, by dreams I only wish I had more frequently, another work crystallized. It was about 1898. Niseishi the Second was born. The names soon became Niseishi Sho and Niseishi Dai.
Arakaki lived about 20 years longer. No further Niseishi were created. I, however, have a feeling that his “kata of a thousand movements” continued to change ceaselessly during the remainder of his private life.
Perhaps, it is best that he never revealed more to us.
Perhaps, in what we already have Arakaki knew we had enough to make the leap ourselves and that no more were necessary, except that we do it.