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Andrzej J
Andrzej J's picture
Is Sanchin No Kata an exception?

Hello All. One of the key things I've been learning from Iain's material is that every kata represents a complete fighting system, and that every technique in the kata is designed to incapacitate your opponent. I see how that works in almost every kata I know - been studying Iain's bunkai of the Pinan Series, Bassai, Tekki and Kanku Dai and trying to apply those principles to other katas - but I'm a bit stumped by one of my style's most essential katas: Sanchin.

In Kyokushin, we learn a mix of katas derived from the karate styles Mas Oyama studied - Shotokan and Goju-Ryu. I've always heard that Sanchin and Tensho are the most important katas in the Goju system (and are equally important in Kyokushin), respectively representing the go/hard and ju/soft aspects of that style. Yet, here's the thing: both katas execute most of their techniques under tension, with a heavy emphasis on strong abdominal 'ibuki' breathing; both only use a single stance, which itself requires the muscles to be tensed against each other from the ground up. Now I've seen a lot of self-defence applications such as break-holds, wrist and arms locks and neck cranks derived from the circular movements in Tensho - but almost nothing like that from Sanchin.

Sanchin uses a very small number of techniques - uchi uke, gyaku tsuki, a grab that's supposed to pull your opponent onto a double nukite strike to the mid-section (which never struck me as very practical), and finally two shuto mawashi ukes to the front. I've practised this kata for a long, long time, and in the context of my training, I always understood it to be an isometric strengthening exercise for the body, which trained you to take some hard hits (instructors can be pretty ruthless in testing your stance) and control your breathing. But now, in the light of what I'm learning here, I've been trying to see if there's more to it than that.

In the last couple of months, I've read articles and books and watched videos about the kata from senior goju instructors. All of them go into the mind/body/spirit aspects of the kata, all talk in great depth about the details of how to hold the stance, how to breathe, and how to perform the techniques. But NONE of them mention real combat applications - which is a little frustrating and leads me to wonder whether Sanchin might be the only kata out there which is primarily a physical/mental exercise, rather than a fighting system in itself.

It is possible to apply the type of interpretation Iain does to Sanchin - the initial punch/block sequence is a bit reminiscent of a brief section of Bassai, but that's only ONE brief section of a very involved kata. Then there's the impractical-seeming grab-pull-nukite sequence, then the circular blocks while stepping backwards. But this doesn't seem to constitute a complete fighting system in the same way that pretty much any of the katas I've seen Iain interpret does.

Another oddity - the kata is said to be about "the application of power", yet there is no hip movement in the strikes. In each position, the hips are tilted, held firm and always facing forward, while the only movement is in the arms and the breath.

So, yeah - is Sanchin different in this way from all the other katas in karate, inasmuch as it is more of an exercise in conditioning the body for combat, than a record of real, effective combat techniques? Am I missing something here?

 

Wastelander
Wastelander's picture

Although I practice Sanchin, I am not a Goju-Ryu guy, so take this with a grain of salt. To me, it seems that Sanchin helps develop a certain "feeling" of movement. It's hard to explain, and it seems that not many teachers really even try, which leaves a lot of people not knowing what it's for. I've only been given short explanations, myself, by asking my Goju-Ryu friends.

One can certainly find fighting applications to Sanchin, but that does not seem to be the intention of the kata. That said, I feel that calling it "an isometric exercise" or "breathing exercise" or "moving meditation" is a little short-sighted. Sanchin teaches and develops structure, angles of strength and weakness, and body control, which are meant to improve your ability to execute the applications of other kata in the system. Essentially, Sanchin is the geometry to other kata's carpentry. The other kata are what result in a tangible product, but you couldn't do as good of a job without the underlying skills in Sanchin, just like a carpenter with no understanding of math can build a chair, but it won't be as good as if he knew geometry.

OnlySeisan
OnlySeisan's picture

I don't personally practice Sanchin, but I have read Kris Wilder's Way of Sanchin Kata. (I leave no stone unturned if it can help me with my own kata.)

I personally believe that a person's structure and body movement are the most important things in karate, and I believe Sanchin teaches this wonderfully.

I believe that Sanchin is also a complete fighting system because it transmits its own principles, which one can be extrapolated.

I think some kata can be deceiving because of their length and complexity. My own kata seems complex at first, but most of the techniques are just variations on the core offensive technique.

Chikara Andrew
Chikara Andrew's picture

Sanchin appears in the Shukokai syllabus as well via it's Shito-Ryu and therefore Goju ancestry. However the version we practice is a longer version than the Goju one with two turns, albeit these don't really add additional movements to the kata still repeating the punch block sequence.

Unlike most Karate katas which appear to have been developed in Okinawa under the influence of Chinese masters Sanchin existed and was practiced, and still is, in China in a number of different arts and styles. I remember watching an interesting video some years ago whereby various practitioners including Higaonna Sensei demonstrated their versions of Sanchin. Certainly some of the Kungfu versions were much more elaborate.

When the kata has been imported into Karate I think that practitioners have taken the conditioning and focus element from it and concentrated on this which I think goes some way to explain why there are two versions in modern Karate. . 

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

Always an interesting topic! While Sanchin does have bunkai, the general consensus from those who practise the kata (I don’t) is that it’s primarily about structure, posture and power. Kris Wilder has some nice lines that summarise this view (paraphrased from memory):

“Don’t look for bunkai in Sanchin,; Look for Sanchin in your bunkai”

“Sanchin is like the rain. If the techniques of the other kata are the trees, Sanchin is the rain that nourishes them all."

That’s not to say Sanchin does not have bunkai though, just that – for Kris and many like him –  it’s primary purpose is power generation and structure.

Here Ryan Parker shows some bunkai for Sanchin:

Chikara Andrew wrote:
Unlike most Karate katas which appear to have been developed in Okinawa under the influence of Chinese masters Sanchin existed and was practiced, and still is, in China in a number of different arts and styles. I remember watching an interesting video some years ago whereby various practitioners including Higaonna Sensei demonstrated their versions of Sanchin. Certainly some of the Kungfu versions were much more elaborate.

I think this maybe the video you are referring to.

All the best,

Iain

DaveB
DaveB's picture

I have cone to believe that a fighting system is composed of 3 main components. Mechanics Tactics And Strategy.

The three areas are interwoven, each defining and shaping the others. Strategy I believe is the foundation.

For many of the fighting styles from Fujian in southern China, their strategy was to strike at close range. This prompted tactics involving use of both hands equally to contro lthe centre line and clear defenses and strike. This in turn led to mechanics aimed at generating power in a short distance, keeping the groin defended and the stance stable. This led to Sanchin.

Sanchin defines the core mechanics of the styles it inhabits, defining how to issue force and receive it, how to root and step.

The version I know is one of the southern crane variations. We spent a year on it before moving on to other forms. It has no turns and it includes breathing and tension that are the basis of Iron Shirt training within the style.

I believe the Okinawan versions that do it were also originally doing some variation on Iron Shirt, but I don't know if it was forgotten or just different to how I learned it.

Applications of Sanchin, to my mind, should focus on the application of those core mechanics, I.e. The fundamentals of rooting, thrusting, recieving, stepping and if your version has it, turning. You'll have heard of the principles of float, sink, spit and swallow (lift, drop, express and receive make more sense in English). These are meant to be embodied in the kata. They can refer both to what is happening in your technique and what is happening to your opponent.

That said I think Mr Wilder's quote about finding Sanchin in your Bunkai is spot on. We often forget that kata function as physical training as well as code books for fighting. I think Sanchin is simply in the doing.

Beekeeper
Beekeeper's picture

Hi all,

Before I contribute, I wanted to mention (being new here) that I've been following this forum for a while now, and have been consistently impressed with the ideas shared in this space, particularly in regards to realistic bunkai applications. A lot of my recent progress with regards to decoding kata has been inspired by this sharing, so I'd like to quickly take this opportunity to thank you all for your help. :)

With regards to Sanchin, my idea is that it is the first kata in a series comprising of it, Sanseru, Seisan and Suparimpei, collectively constituting a complete self-protection system (insofar as my own research has shown). I won't delve into this too deeply (being beyond the scope of this thread), but basically by looking at the similarities between those four kata (e.g. their identical opening movements, the same movements found throughout, the heavy right-sided bias, their history, etc.), they seem to be of the same system and not four separate kata, in the same way that the five Pinan/Heian kata comprise a system. It's my belief, therefore, that Sanchin teaches the very basics of that system (which are built upon and expanded by the following three kata); in particular, basic concepts for limb-control, establishing/using/countering grips, and basic grappling skills.

Some people are of the opinion that Sanchin is primarily a routine for structure and conditioning, but, like you Sensei Iain, I like to make things hard for myself and have a practical, self-protection basis for all kata. I'm unconvinced that strengthening and breathing were it's primary purpose, and that its applications are just a by-product. That it's practised in this way in just about every dojo (and has been as far back as we can identify), is undeniable; that the kata is an incredible way of helping develop the strength, breathing, and structure of the practitioner (not to mention it's namesake stance), again is undeniable. Sanchin's amazing in these regards. However it's my personal belief that Sanchin was created to teach basic techniques and concepts to the practitioner, with strength and all of these other virtues being by-products of this practice. This is closest to the version I practise by the way (being a Goju-ryu practitioner):

I'm hoping one day soon to make a youtube video of these ideas, but for now I'll do the best I can by describing them verbally. As brief examples: the mawashi-uke at the end I see as primarily teaching a whole bunch of basic limb-control concepts to open the enemy up, e.g. sweeping one arm down-and-out whilst simultaneously bashing their neck with your forearm. Also, some of the gripping concepts that you teach, Sensei Iain, I think are encoded within the three opening 'block/punch' sequences of the kata - see this for comparison:

I'd love to see what other people have/can come up with in regards to this kata. Hopefully I can get a video up some time soon.

Regards,

Kouvelas

EDIT: for anyone interested, here's a link to the article that inspired this idea of the 'Sanchin System': http://dandjurdjevic.blogspot.com.au/2008/05/origins-of-goju-kata.html

Andrzej J
Andrzej J's picture

Thanks so much to everyone for the responses! A ton of food for thought here - love the Kris Wilder quotes and the bunkai in Ryan Parker's video, and watching the four different performances of four different versions of this kata was absolutely fascinating.

Simon Weaver
Simon Weaver's picture

I have come to learn that the value of sanchin is more for conditioning than fighting application. As a kyokushin karateka, qualified fitness instructor and sports therapist, I see the idea of the muscle "tensing" being an isometric exercise in order to strengthen muscles, perhaps used when you are training somewhere with no weights. Over time, sanchin will increase muscular strength and make muscles firmer, so they can withstand percussive impact while maintaining your balance during combat but another benefit is (they may not have known the science of it in the old days but they will have noticed a difference) that after you release the hard contractions, your muscles fill with nutrient rich oxygenated blood to feed the muscles and replennish ATP, which help with powerful movements. Combat application and power generation are not that feasible to me compared to simply conditioning to withstand strikes, after all, you can hit an aggressor as much as you like, but if you are unable to take a hit in a real fight, your chance of being the victor is slim. Also, it is a simple way to learn how to 'sync' your breathing with striking and to focus power or ki energy in every movement, as is need is actual combat. Two reason that support this are: 1- Sanchin is traditionally (before the taikyoku kata were introduced) the first kata taught, because the earlier one trains to become strong and learn proper breathing techniques etc, the better. 2- Sanchin is the only kata with which shime is practiced. This is the only practical way to, basically, test how well you have learned and how well your abilities have developed.  

css1971
css1971's picture

I don't practice it myself but Sanchin always seemed a bit short for a kata.

The video of the comparisons between the current Sanchin and various Kung-fu variations of San zhan forms it originated from with the back and forth stepping suggest to me it was originally used as part of a paired practice. If you imagine you're grappling with a partner who's stepping back and forth with you, similar to modern wrestling pummeling drills or a form of 3 step grappling sparring. As such it would be teaching core skills necessary for stabilty, grappling, gripping, locking, breathing and dealing with an opponent's body mass. The statement that it is a core kata that everything else depends on would be absolutely true in this regard.

Even with my very superficial knowledge of the kata I can see there absolutely are applications there, the obvious strikes, as well as joint locks, it looks to me like there's a fair bit of gripping going on as well and depending on the version, you could incorporate throws. I think you probably could base a simple fighting system with core techniques. Having said that... I do think compared to other katas it's the odd one out because I don't believe it was originally a kata :).

Kevin73
Kevin73's picture

I have looked at the main two branches of Sanchin kata in Okinawan karate (yes, there are many more sub divisions, but each seems to based on one of these two for the most part).  Uechi-Ryu and Goju-Ryu.

Goju-Ryu states that it changed the breathing and the hand configuration for the health benefits.

Uechi-Ryu states that it kept the kata the same as when Kanbun Uechi learned it in China with the open hands and different breathing/tension.

So what?  Their focus might be slightly different, but what it teaches it still in both.  Sanchin contains the SEEDS for all applications in the later kata.  Think of Sanchin more in terms of Wing Chuns first form, Sil Lum Tao (various spellings), it isn't "direct application" like we see in many bunkai/applications from other katas.  It teaches you the offensive/defensive concepts to make all the other stuff to work.

So, if you look at those ideas many applications can be pulled from the kata based on those ideas.  BUT, the kata itself doesn't really have applications in the normal sense of the word. Make sense?  LOL

For example, mawashi uke, if you look at the mini movements of it, it contains controlling and protecting your centerline with parries and blocks and exploiting and opening up your attacker's centerline.

Nimrod Nir
Nimrod Nir's picture

Hello everyone,

I was searching for this thread, as I remembered that there was once a discussion regarding the practical application of Sanchin.  So, I would like to pop this topic up again and pick your brains a bit further about it. 

For clarification, my post relates to both Sanchin and Tensho katas, together labeled as the "Breathing Katas".

Before posting this, I have read the free preview of Kris Wilder's book "The Way of Sanchin Kata: The Application of Power", so I could perhaps grasp the main points of his view regarding this topic, which was mentioned in this thread. 

I found an interesting bit of information in the foreword to the book:

Hiroo Ito wrote:
The basic kata sanchin has existed a long time, and has developed into variations called saifa, seiyunchin, shisochin, sanseiryu, seipai, kururunfa, and suparunpen, which are still practiced.

Is this true? Can anyone confirm that the other Goju katas are a variation that were developed from Sanchin? Doesn't sound plausible to me. If someone has more information on this, please enlighten us.

Is it safe to assume that the purpose of the Breathing Katas is not to record a civilian self defense fighting system, like the other katas we know? If so, what is their purpose?

To my understanding, there are several purposes to practicing this kata, some of them I find more reasonable and some of them less. Reasonable purposes: strength building, body conditioning (Iron Shirt), breathing techniques, focus, being in the moment - I can understand how these katas serve as a tool for all sorts of physical and spiritual (meditation) exercises. Unreasonable purposes: correct posture (posture in what context? fighting is dynamic and doesn't have fixed postures), power generation (how does these katas teach power generation?) foundation to other katas (how does these katas achieve this? The other katas obviously recording civilian self-defense fighting systems).

Wastelander wrote:
That said, I feel that calling it "an isometric exercise" or "breathing exercise" or "moving meditation" is a little short-sighted.

Why do you find this short-sighted, Noah? I find it the most plausible practical application.

Wastelander wrote:
Sanchin teaches and develops structure, angles of strength and weakness, and body control, which are meant to improve your ability to execute the applications of other kata in the system.

How does Sanchin teach these aspects? Structure for what? For fighting? Angles of strength and weakness for what context? Fighting context? Body control for what activity? Fighting? If so, how does the kata achieve this?

OnlySeisan wrote:
I personally believe that a person's structure and body movement are the most important things in karate, and I believe Sanchin teaches this wonderfully.

Most important things for which aspect of karate? Self-protection? Health improvement? How does Sanchin teach structure and body movement for these purposes?

Iain Abernethy wrote:
While Sanchin does have bunkai, the general consensus from those who practise the kata (I don’t) is that it’s primarily about structure, posture and power.

Iain, structure, posture and power generation for what context? Fighting? How does the kata achieve this? How does Sanchin teach power generation? How is this power generation method (if indeed there is one) different from the double hip method, for example? 

DaveB wrote:
Sanchin defines the core mechanics of the styles it inhabits, defining how to issue force and receive it, how to root and step. ... Applications of Sanchin, to my mind, should focus on the application of those core mechanics, I.e. The fundamentals of rooting, thrusting, recieving, stepping and if your version has it, turning. You'll have heard of the principles of float, sink, spit and swallow (lift, drop, express and receive make more sense in English). These are meant to be embodied in the kata. They can refer both to what is happening in your technique and what is happening to your opponent.

Dave, rooting, thrusting, receiving, stepping and turning in what context? Fighting? How does the kata achieve this? A real fight is dynamic, and you are not rooting (unless being wrestled). If you mean rooting for power generation, how does the kata teach this? The kata movement are very slow and does not resemble real thrusting. How does the kata teach thrusting? Maybe correct puncing mechanics, but thrusting? How does the kata teach stepping and turning for fighting/self-defense context?  Also, can you elaborate about the float, sink, spit and swallow bit? This seems interesting.

Beekeeper wrote:
With regards to Sanchin, my idea is that it is the first kata in a series comprising of it, Sanseru, Seisan and Suparimpei, collectively constituting a complete self-protection system (insofar as my own research has shown). ... It's my belief, therefore, that Sanchin teaches the very basics of that system (which are built upon and expanded by the following three kata); in particular, basic concepts for limb-control, establishing/using/countering grips, and basic grappling skills.

Kouvelas, I was also exposed to this "Cluster H theory" from Dan Djurdjevic article (maybe from reading this thread a few years ago?). So to my understanding, you believe that the first bit of the kata is teaching gripping/grappling concepts and the mawashi ukes at the end teaching limb clearance? seems like a legitimate line of thinking. So how would the rest of the katas comprising the cluster H (Sanseiru, Seisan and Suparinpei) build or expand on these concepts?  Maybe it is time to post that video you were thinking about doing :) 

Simon Weaver wrote:
I have come to learn that the value of sanchin is more for conditioning than fighting application.

Simon, this of course resonates most strongly with me. This seems like the most obvious explanation to me also. But I would like to learn more about the other views expressed throughout this thread. 

Kevin73 wrote:
Sanchin contains the SEEDS for all applications in the later kata. ...  It teaches you the offensive/defensive concepts to make all the other stuff to work. ... For example, mawashi uke, if you look at the mini movements of it, it contains controlling and protecting your centerline with parries and blocks and exploiting and opening up your attacker's centerline.

Kevin, which other concepts do you see in Sanchin, apart from the example you gave regarding the mawashi uke? Also, what makes it a seed and not just a regular principal (mawashi uke also appears in most other Goju katas)?

I replied to the people originally participating in this conversation. However, other knowledgeable forum members are of course invited to contribute their own two cents. 

Shall we open this topic once again?

Nimrod

Zach Zinn
Zach Zinn's picture

e wrote:
Iain, structure, posture and power generation for what context? Fighting? How does the kata achieve this? How does Sanchin teach power generation? How is this power generation method (if indeed there is one) different from the double hip method, for example?

It's a short power method, and most Goju Ryu Kata utilize this short power method, so for instance, Goju Ryu has very little hip shift when punching. Honestly you should read the full book, there's no mystery to it in particular and it's layed out pretty well. You can eventually test both the movement - using a bo staff or another person, as well as the power - by having someone hold a couple of taped together phonebooks. Like i'm sure people feel in the Peter Consterdine videos, the first time I felt a punch with this method I was surpised by the huge amount of power within a small movement.

As one example of short power, you can look at old videos of Jack Dempsey when he lands shovel hooks to the head.

Here you go:

 

Now I am not saying Jack Dempsey did anything like Sanchin kata of course, only that Sanchin kata aims to create this kind of close range power.

e wrote:
Dave, rooting, thrusting, receiving, stepping and turning in what context? Fighting? How does the kata achieve this? A real fight is dynamic, and you are not rooting (unless being wrestled). If you mean rooting for power generation, how does the kata teach this? The kata movement are very slow and does not resemble real thrusting. How does the kata teach thrusting? Maybe correct puncing mechanics, but thrusting? How does the kata teach stepping and turning for fighting/self-defense context?  Also, can you elaborate about the float, sink, spit and swallow bit? This seems interesting.

Turning is turning, I.e. a method of pivoting and hitting. And rooting certainly exists in "real fights", for most punches you must root into one foot or another to create power, and indeed if you use the "heel up" method of punching you root into the opposite leg, for this method you initially root into the leg you are punching with, but it is not exclusive or a hard and fast rule. Sanchin uses the method of punching using the posture and connection to the ground, with little or no "preparation" in the hands - they hit from where they are. Doing things slowly is like studying each frame of a film, this is how Tai Chi functions at some stages of training too. Rooting is also not a static thing in practice, it does not mean standing still. It happens dynamically typically as one leg "empties", and the other roots.

To be fair, some Goju schools do Sanchin and do not seem to apply it's physics, and in my opinion it is not that well understood. I also disagree with the dynamic tension method of the doing the kata often seen, and that is not what is taught in the aforementioned book. Having worked directly with these concepts for years though, including learning much of this stuff straight from Kris, I personally do not doubt it's effectiveness to generate power and strong movement, though It's certainly not for everyone. I think for someone who is more Shorin-inclined it's a nice addition, but wouldn't function well as a primary method for them. Having done both Shorin and Goju, it made most sense to me to pick one or the other as primary method, though you can certainly make use of the other.

As to bunkai, if there is tactical applcation found in Sanchin it's exceptionally simple and relates as much to disrupting someone else's structure as to maintaining your own. The way I learned it is that Sanchin/Tensho is the primary mechanical andf energetic strategy of Goju Ryu, and the other Koryu kata in Goju Ryu are collections of tactics that revolve around that primary physical strategy.

On conditioning vs. fighting strategy, I am not sure why those are presented here as seperate things. In Karate as I have experienced it, most of the "conditioning" reflects the strategy, and wouldn't make much sense if it didn't.

e wrote:
How does Sanchin teach these aspects? Structure for what? For fighting? Angles of strength and weakness for what context? Fighting context? Body control for what activity? Fighting? If so, how does the kata achieve this?

You really should get the book if you want to delve in to this degree, this is not stuff that lends itself to verbal "proofs" in a forum, it is very much experiential and needs to be felt to actually be understood. That's not a cop out, but if I sit here and list off answer to your questions, they will either not make sense or you will simply disbelieve them based on pre existing biases as to you think is The Gospel of Punching and Moving. I know because when I was first introduced to them I held my own biases, such as believing it was nigh impossible to punch hard without substantial hip rotation, it's not,  at all. One of the first things the training does is to determine just whether or not your moving forward in stance has any structure to it, or will get uprooted immediately, there are a number of ways to test this, from something akin to limited grappling to the traditional variation where someone pushes  a bo staff or a fist into your solar plexus/midsection while you walk forward, to simply having someone fire one off at you. Beyond the obvious, this teaches you to find the points in your step where you can hit effectively, and there is more than one, and to work with one leg "empty", and one leg rooting, which is a constant of most martial movement that involves moving and hitting.

Again, I don't feel like it's something which will be relevant to everyone's training, but it is well worth a deep dive, particularly for people who are Nahate practitioners. I'm not even sure that everyone who makes the dive ends up in the exact same place, but it's worth a study.

Nimrod Nir
Nimrod Nir's picture

Thanks for contributing to the debate, Zach. 

Zach Zinn wrote:
It's a short power method, and most Goju Ryu Kata utilize this short power method, so for instance, Goju Ryu has very little hip shift when punching. ... As one example of short power, you can look at old videos of Jack Dempsey when he lands shovel hooks to the head.

How is this power generation method different from the double hip? Can you explain? The video of Jack Dempsey looks to me like hip-generated power, not too different from Bruce Lee's "two-inch punch" (which also uses hip motion to generate power).

Zach Zinn wrote:
Rooting is also not a static thing in practice, it does not mean standing still. It happens dynamically typically as one leg "empties", and the other roots.

Ok, let's assume I'm going with your view - how does Sanchin present this concept? How is it different than any pother kata in that respect, and what makes it "fundamental" as opposed to other kata? 

Zach Zinn wrote:
Having worked directly with these concepts for years though, including learning much of this stuff straight from Kris, I personally do not doubt it's effectiveness to generate power and strong movement,...

Can you explain how this different power generation method works? Given that the double hip method is aiming at transferring maximum mass (bodyweight) behind the movement and into the opponent, using hip motion with the "axis" being one of the hips instead of the center of the body (this would be the single hip method). How is Sanchin/Goju power generation method different from that? I don't think you're referring to the snapping "towel"-like power generation method, right? An explanation would be welcome.

Zach Zinn wrote:
The way I learned it is that Sanchin/Tensho is the primary mechanical andf energetic strategy of Goju Ryu, and the other Koryu kata in Goju Ryu are collections of tactics that revolve around that primary physical strategy.

What mechanical strategy? What energetic strategy? Can you elaborate?

All the other katas don't teach you the mechanics of punching or power generation. They teach you combative civilian self-defense principles like going off the enemy's attack line while keeping the enemy on your attack line, clearing limbs in order to enable you to strike vulnerable parts, protecting your head as a top priority, disrupting posture in order to facilitate striking or escape, throwing principles, joint-lock principles, choke and strangulation principles etc. What is a mechanical strategy? What is an energetic strategy?

Zach Zinn wrote:
On conditioning vs. fighting strategy, I am not sure why those are presented here as seperate things. In Karate as I have experienced it, most of the "conditioning" reflects the strategy, and wouldn't make much sense if it didn't.

I agree that conditioning is part of the fighting strategy, and I also can see how Sanchin can teach that (the Iron Shirt drill), given that it is practiced with a partner of course (can't see how it could be done alone). However, there are better methods to achieve the desired conditioning, in my view, that performing the Iron Shirt drill. I heard that part of the Iron Shirt drill goals (other than to improve conditioning) is to check the structure and posture of the practitioner. This point I don't get at all. How is this supposed to teach self-defense principles?

Zach Zinn wrote:
You really should get the book if you want to delve in to this degree, this is not stuff that lends itself to verbal "proofs" in a forum, it is very much experiential and needs to be felt to actually be understood. That's not a cop out, but if I sit here and list off answer to your questions, they will either not make sense or you will simply disbelieve them based on pre existing biases as to you think is The Gospel of Punching and Moving.

I disagree. I think that the essence of the method could be explained quite easily, as I have done above with respect to the double hip method or to how katas teach combative self-defense principles.

Zach Zinn wrote:
I know because when I was first introduced to them I held my own biases, such as believing it was nigh impossible to punch hard without substantial hip rotation, it's not,  at all.

I don't think it is impossible. For example, another method of power generation i am aware of is the snapping "towel"-like method I described above. I can see how it works and I can direct you to videos describing it. I don't need to practice it to understand the basic principles of it. 

Zach Zinn wrote:
One of the first things the training does is to determine just whether or not your moving forward in stance has any structure to it, or will get uprooted immediately, ... Beyond the obvious, this teaches you to find the points in your step where you can hit effectively, and there is more than one, and to work with one leg "empty", and one leg rooting, which is a constant of most martial movement that involves moving and hitting.

Why and where would you move forward "in a stance"? For what purpose? It sound to me like the Sanchin you describe is a two-person drill for practicing body conditioning and striking effectively while moving forward (not the best drill I can think of for these purposes, but maybe it is...) Would you agree with this description? If not, how do you see it?

Zach Zinn
Zach Zinn's picture

I've answered the initial questions to the best of my abilities, maybe someone else will take up the conversation. Best of luck in your search for answers!

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

HI All,

I think we are butting up against the limitations of this medium in this thread. Written discussions can be good for dissecting the nuances of a given topic where all participants have a grasp of the core issues. They are not good for explaining something from the ground up and we can get locked in an endless “why loop” of questions.

Nimrod Nir wrote:
Before posting this, I have read the free preview of Kris Wilder's book "The Way of Sanchin Kata: The Application of Power" …

I strongly recommend reading the full book if you want to know more about the role of Sanchin. Kris explains it better than anyone I know, and I’ve had the “pleasure” of being hit by him first hand (in the very room I’m typing this in).

I don’t seek to generate power in the same may Kris does (my over mythology favours a more rotational method), but I know first-hand that it works. If you are interested in it, then the free preview won’t be enough. The book will help a lot. However, it still falls short of first-hand experience.

Nimrod Nir wrote:
Reasonable purposes: strength building, body conditioning (Iron Shirt), breathing techniques, focus, being in the moment - I can understand how these katas serve as a tool for all sorts of physical and spiritual (meditation) exercises.

Unreasonable purposes: correct posture (posture in what context? fighting is dynamic and doesn't have fixed postures), power generation (how does these katas teach power generation?) foundation to other katas (how does these katas achieve this? The other katas obviously recording civilian self-defense fighting systems).

We differ on quite a few categorisations here. I see “Iron Shirt” (using the mythical “chi” as a shield) and “spiritual exercises” as unreasonable explanations. However, I do find the following entirely reasonable: correct posture, power generation, and foundation to other katas (with the Goju pedagogy).

I’d also disagree that posture and dynamic movement are mutually exclusive. I also think it’s a error to conflate posture and being static in combat. The dynamic forces of combat need structures that can both withstand and generate those forces. We need to be aligned in a given way at a given moment before we flow to the next position. We label these momentary positions “stances”, but the literature is very clear those stances / positions are not meant to be static for a period of time:

https://iainabernethy.co.uk/article/my-stance-stances

Iain Abernethy wrote:
While Sanchin does have bunkai, the general consensus from those who practise the kata (I don’t) is that it’s primarily about structure, posture and power.

Nimrod Nir wrote:
Iain, structure, posture and power generation for what context? Fighting? How does the kata achieve this? How does Sanchin teach power generation? How is this power generation method (if indeed there is one) different from the double hip method, for example?

Yes, in a fighting context. It’s important understand that Sanshin in not the entirety of the fighting system through. It’s a part of it. If we isolate if from the whole of which it is part, we can hardly then criticise if for being incomplete.

Sanchin will isolate and refine muscular and skeletal alignment. Having developed those skills we can practise applying them combatively. I’ve shared the floor with Kris many times and I’ve seen him do that many times. He’s not alone in this either.

I too teach kata and kihon and show how they can be applied combatively. I will isolate a stance, a form of motion, and alignment. We follow a cycle of testing, isolation and reintegration. Again, if you read Kris’s book you’ll have a better understanding of this.

When I read the thread, I feel the mistake you are making is isolating part of the whole and then questioning how it can be complete in and of itself. You are creating the shortfalls you are then challenging. The logical fallacy of strawman is therefore present, as is personal incredulity based on your lack of exposure to the methodology.

It’s a little like asking a boxer how a punch bag helps him fight when he does not fight bags in matches. Or why skipping is beneficial when he does not fight with his hands down, with his feet side by side, while hopping up and down. And so on. We understand that those are all part of the whole. They all bring something to the table, but none are complete in and of themselves. Same with Sanchin. It is a great for teaching structure and alignment, but it’s not compete in and of itself. It’s part of the Goju system. However, it’s not the entirety of the system. Other methods teach how to utilise that structure and alignment in free-flowing combat.  

I am no expert on this kata, but I do have enough exposure to it to understand the general purpose it plays. I’ve also felt the results first-hand.

If you want to know more about it, then investing in Kris’s book is a good place to start. The questions you are asking require a full ground up explanation of the method, so you are effectively asking people to write a book. It’s probably better to actually start with one that has already been written. Kris is an expert in the kata. I’ve read his book, but more importantly I’ve felt it in action. That will really help you. Seek out some hands-on instruction from someone who is also familiar with the kata and its purpose. Having done that, you will be in a better position to accept or reject the legitimacy of it.

All the best,

Iain

Zach Zinn
Zach Zinn's picture

Though this might be of help as my last contribution to the thread:

 

Here is a video of Yamashiro sensei, I've briefly felt his technique once, and it "feels" fairly similar to me. The power works similarly to my experience of  the sanchin method, but his method is a bit different. I have done a two day seminar with him years ago, and the material was close enough for me to feel it's a "cousin" of sorts. Anyway, this stuff is actually out there, it uses a different method than what people are used to, so I know a lot of people will react with an initial skepticism simply due to it being so foreign to what they are used to. I understand that many Karateka get fed up with the (presumably lacking) power generation that people might teach in some "3K" Karate (the "heel up vs down" debate is an example of this), and out of frustration and/or just expediency they might assume that the power method of boxing, or the double hip etc. is the only valid thing out there worth using, and that other traditional power methods are lost to time, or that they are mutually exclusive to boxing/kickboxing methods etc. People can actually play with both, even if they pick one that is their main deal. The video I posted addresses this a bit, as it is MMA fighters learning who seem to be learning his method. There is more than one way to hit hard, and to hit and move effectively.

I really reccomend people who are interested in traditional power methods related to Sanchin to get Kris's book, there are not that many books out there on how to specifically create martial power "traditionally" in Karate, and even less specifically in Goju Ryu. I can give my own testimonial that as a (mostly) Gojuka this material was the missing link for me. I trained up to shodan (about 14 years ago) with what I think is standard in some Goju places, basically a quick hip shift done in Sanchin stance. I always felt it was lacking in power but knew nothing else Goju-wise, and I am a big guy could kind of force it to work anyway. Sanchin is the "physics engine" of Goju Ryu, and at least for me the style began to make sense and open in a way it did not prior to me learning the methods represented in the book.

Of course the book cannot substitute for in person training in these methods, and I've been lucky to have some of that, but I do think that if someone practices Sanchin and applies what is in the book, they will see very positive results fairly quickly if they work it, even without in person instruction.

A basic explanation of the nuts and bolts (since that seems to be the bone of contention) is simply related linking the chain of postural muscles and skeletal alginment in your punching and the "power line" that Sanchin uses, which again is covered in appropriate detail levels in the book, it goes from the feet up. There's other stuff there too, breath etc. Remember it is a short range method, so once you begin to apply it a dynamic way (as one example) you get the most bang out of standing closer to your heavy bag than you would normally be comfortable. It shifted the way I do a number of things, or maybe it's more accurate to say it opened up other possibilities.

To bring it around to the original question:

All that being said, I know that some people find value in "Sanchin bunkai". It doesn't track with my understanding of the kata nor it's purposes in the larger context of the style, but the proof is the pudding and if someone is deriving useful applications from Sanchin, that is a positive thing. Diversity of methods is not a bad thing, and shouldn't be seen as one.

Nimrod Nir
Nimrod Nir's picture

Thank you Iain and Zach for your educated replies.

It seems I need to do more research, learning and specific training before trying to grasp this topic better.

Hopefully soon we will be able to resume full training. 

Zach Zinn
Zach Zinn's picture

Found another video:

 

Around the two minute mark there's a diagram showing the various postural points, it's slightly different from Sanchin but quite similar, he also demonstrates the step at the beginning, again not exactly like what I've learned but very close. It's at least a little thing to get started with when combined with Kris's Sanchin book, happy hunting!

Tau
Tau's picture

I'm not a Goju practitioner, but I consider this essential reading:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/1594390843/

I recall training in Portishead some years ago with Iain and with Dan Lewis. He covered bunkai to Sanchin. Conversely I've heard Kris state in person that Sanchin and Tensho aren't for application but for excercise.

Zach Zinn
Zach Zinn's picture

it depends on what we mean by "for exercise". The quote earlier about "finding Sanchin in your application" rather than "application in your Sanchin" has always been how Kris has approached it in my experience.

Sometimes Sanchin and tensho are classified Tanren Kata in Goju Ryu syllabus, this can get watered down (and is in places) into "conditioning Kata", but Tanren of course has a deeper meaning than physical conditioning, and "conditioning" sounds like mostly an affair of just repetition until you are conditioned, which does not reflect the purpose.