Seiza is a formal sitting posture that one may use whenever sitting in the Dojo (especially in formal situations or when you will be sitting for a relatively short period of time). It is the posture used at the start and end of belt presentation ceremonies and is used extensively in Iaido (Katana) practice. Students should be very familiar with this stance since they will be required to perform it during the Presentation Ceremony for their next belt.
There are two ways in which Seiza is commonly performed. In both, Seiza is begun from the position of Musubi Dachi.
In the first use the left hand to brush the back of the Gi[/glossary/ (or [glossary]Hakama) creating a crease behind the left knee. Do the same on the right side with the right hand. Rotate your center toward octagon[\glossary] angle 7 as you lower the left knee down, forward and inward so that the left knee lands on the floor just forward of the right foot. Keep your torso erect and your head upright during this entire process. Your right knee will be up and facing angle 4. Swing the left foot behind you as your rotate your center back toward angle 1 and lower your right knee to the ground near your left knee. Your left foot should contact your right foot and you should be facing angle 1 with both knees in front of you. If you are male your knees should be spread about the distance of two fists. For women the knees may be placed together. Place both hands, palms down and fingers together, on top of each respective thigh in a relaxed manner with both elbows in and back. The hand should be positioned so the thumb is toward the inner thigh while the little finger is toward the outer thigh. If you are wearing a sword, your left hand will be used to retain the weapon in the Saya. You should rest your rear on the heels of your feet, your shoulders should be back but relaxed, and your head should be erect. This is our preferred method of doing Seiza and we will refer to this as Formal Seiza.
An alternate method that you will commonly find is to simply step back (from Musubi Dachi) with the left foot and to then lower the left knee to the ground. The right foot is then placed back as the right knee is lowered to the ground. This is popular in Kendo and many other arts. This is often faster and can reduce the chance for collisions if you are working in a crowded environment. You may use this method to establish Seiza when asked to be seated. We will refer to this method as Informal Seiza. The Formal Seiza above should be used for any ceremonial events requiring Seiza.
To rise from Seiza raise your torso upward until you are resting on your knees. You should maintain an erect torso throughout this movement and be especially vigilant to not create any forward lean. Now raise the right knee and bring the right foot forward until it is flat on the floor in front of you. Without bending or leaning in any way at the waist and while keeping the head erect, press the right foot into the floor in order to rise straight up onto your feet, then slide the right leg back and adjacent to the left leg to establish Musubi Dachi.
Sitting in Seiza can be quite difficult and even quite painful if you have not been accustomed to doing it since early childhood. Some people learn to do it well over time, but others struggle with it or find it impossible to do. Sitting in this stance can lead to immediate cramping and shooting pains.
To better support a larger population of students we do not require that students sit in Seiza at all. In fact, within Tensoku Ryu we prefer to sit in a position called Keiza. This is a seated position very similar to Seiza, with the exception that one does not rest the top of the foot on the floor. Instead, the foot is raised so that the ball of the foot rests on the floor. The bottom of the foot is then generally perpendicular to the floor.
We prefer to sit in Keiza because we believe we are in a better initial position to support a rapid movement if necessary. People who sit in Seiza must usually raise at least one foot so that the ball of the foot can come to rest on the floor. That position then allows them to press into the floor with at least one foot so they can rise. This is an extra step that is not required when sitting in Keiza.
Unfortunately, many people find it hard to sit in Keiza. Some people can sit in Seiza, but not in Keiza, and vice versa. Therefore we allow practitioners to sit in whichever posture is the most comfortable for them. While we have a slight preference for Keiza, please feel free to sit in Seiza if Keiza is not workable for you.
What do you do if you can’t sit in either posture? There are several possibilities:
- Practice sitting for a few minutes each day in whichever posture seems the most comfortable. Over time you may find you can tolerate the position for several minutes without substantial discomfort.
- Do not sit fully down on the back of your legs. Settle back as far as you can without major discomfort, but maintain enough elevation to limit your discomfort. Over time you may find you can sit further back.
- Discretely switch back and forth between Seiza and Keiza to change how you are sitting and perhaps postpone a build up in your discomfort level. You might also try twitching your leg muscles and toes to encourage blood flow.
- Tough it out. We seldom require practitioners to sit in Seiza or Keiza for very long. In most circumstances you will be in the position for less than thirty seconds at a time.
Whenever you see a Tensoku Ryu description or requirement to sit in Seiza realize that we mean you can sit in Seiza or Keiza as best fits your abilities. While we have a slight tactical preference for Keiza, sitting in Seiza is perfectly acceptable and would be preferred if you visited or practiced in a more traditional Japanese Dojo.
In some martial arts systems the hands are placed differently on the legs during these sitting postures. In those systems the thumb is placed on the outside of the thigh while the index finger is placed on the inside of the thigh. This inverts the orientation of the hand and forces the elbows outward somewhat so we do not normally practice Seiza in this way. But this is simply a slight cultural difference. We mention it so you will not be surprised if you see hand positions that are different from ours (you will commonly see both hand positions demonstrated in online videos).