Using Sanzhan to improve my Sanchin Kata (Sanchin/Sanzhan pt 3)

So in my part 2 of Sanchin/Sanzhan posts I was discussing how me trying to follow more of the principles that Sensei had been recently talking about, led me to practice sanchin in three different ways, and that in turn led me back into practicing Sanzhan.

In part 3 I want to write about why I now think that some of the changes were made, and how practicing Sanchin and Sanzhan together has helped me improved my Sanchin kata.

What is interesting to note, and I mentioned this in another post is that when I was describing the power generation of Sanzhan’s with Sensei, he told me that in essence the power generation is the same with Sanchin, but because of the language barrier to get the key principles across they ended up over emphasising certain aspects. With the power generation being from the core in Sanzhan the Okinawan’s emphasised the hip to generate this effect.

The same can be said for the stance. The stance in white crane is like a cross between wing chin and a boxer’s stance. In the Sanzhan form, you have to tense your body everywhere, my sifu in China said that you had tighten everything including your anus. So you can
practice tensing your entire body from attack (but he also said it was to do with chi). We tense our lower legs to give us a strong stable stance, protect the legs and the groin.

I was just practicing both Sanchin and Sanzhan kata/form, because I noticed on the weekend when doing Sunday training with my mate that practicing that the Sanchin kata, I looked very knocked kneed, and my stability in the stance wasn’t great on the Saturday. Anyway I was going through both the kata and form several times and noticed that my Sanchin dachi was much narrower than my Sanzhan stance. After I focused on correcting it, and still going through both kata/form that it was much easier for me to tense my whole legs, groin and bum.

Which has led me back to thinking what Sensei discussed, about explanations lost in translation, and that to get this tension in the legs the Okinawan’s pointed the feet in as it’s easier to emphasis tension in the legs.

This is why I like the Okinawan martial arts and it brings me to something Sensei said, they are willing to learn and absorb kung fu from China, and they evolve or adapt it to focus on aspects they think are necessary. They don’t change it like the Japanese do just to make it more Japanese. They take what works and create their own art, their own interpretation of the path of the martial, the budo, of karate.


From the depths of despair rises the Phoenix.

Into the bowls of despair I reach,

Ready to take my leap,

Darkness consumes my soul,

Pain is all I know,

From the searing pain and madness,

I only feel the Loneliness and sadness

That consumes my soul,

As I walk up the path on top of the Volcano,

Its ashes become a mask,

Hiding me from the world,

Who Did I kid,

I don’t deserve my dreams,

As I plunge into the firey madness,

I get tears of pain from its searing ash,

Sadness leads to Pain,

Pain leads to anger,

Righteous Anger,

How dare I let the world get to me,

How dare it make me feel this way,

How dare I let myself feel this way,

I am a fighter damn to hell those that try to forsake me,

I will not go down without a fight,

The anger pulses through my veins,

I will not go down crying,

I will only go down fighting,

Searing pain explodes through my arms,

As the fiery wings of the Phoenix sprout through my arms,

I fight against the drag of the Ash,

The depths of hell want me to pull me down,

I beat my wings against the strong tide,

I rise through the ashes,

Through the searing pain that life can be

Scarred through my journey,

But reborn like the Phoenix,

I will follow my dreams,

I won’t give up without a fight,

I will use this pain to become the man,

I was born to be.

Training Kata and bunkai at Home

I don’t know how others memorise their bunkai but I have always practiced them like shadow boxing after I have practiced my kata. To me this is one of the things I love about karate, the other day I was saying how great it is to train with others, to practice karate and you will always get better by training with more people. But with the way karate is structured it gives you a great chance practice and drill parts of the syllabus be it kata, bunkai (via shadowboxing) kihon, kihon ido etc.

When I was learning Jitsu for example I would get frustrated that if I missed a lesson or a week of training that would have a massive effect on my learning curve, whereas if I missed a lesson of karate, I can always practice it at home. I have developed into a better martial artist because I am able to go to the lessons and train extra at home, then I would ever of done if I had stuck to Jitsu.

Being able to practice the Bunkai along with the kata at home to me is a very useful tool, it helps me to understand the kata in more depth, but also being able to relate the bunkai more closely with the kata.

Another great thing about practicing bunkai and kata at home is that you can turn them into any kind of drill. If I want to get a very good workout I might do a kata and its bunkai and then do a set of press-ups or burpees, or pullups, depending on how I feel. I might do it two katas and an exercise and keep rotating until I am exhausted (usually between 20-45 mins). If you want to focus on stretching, then you can perform the katas more like tai chi style, focus more on the body mechanics and then do sun salutation inbetween every two katas. They just help to make your training much more variable and enjoyable. You might just want to focus on the self defence aspect of the katas, so you just keep recycling through the katas (or forms or bunkai’s) that you know.

First week of training in China Part 1

I knew the first week of training was going to be tough, but no matter how much I mentally prepare for it was even tougher than I imagined. By the end of the week my roommate was swearing and complaining about how hard the training is with such a poor diet, and that it would not be allowed to be this bad in the west. I kept quite this was my baptism under fire,  private events that happened to me a year ago, I was living the dream, and facing the challenge with full steam, no matter how painful it was.

We got up at 5 in the morning to get ready to start the first and usually the worse part of the day, morning fitness. It is when all the kung fu groups get together and train, and they might do running, stairs (1000 times worse than when we do stairs in England) chest, legs, circuit, abs. It sounds like what every martial artist normal does but it is magnified when the owner of the school is taking the class and he was in the SAS reserves, trained in Shaolin kung fu in China for 4 years prior to opening the school and has done Shotokan karate since he was a kid. Because of his background you often had to commit over 100% effort, and if you looked like you weren’t, he would soon make it known; you often had to push yourself over what you could actually do to save face. We often breathed a sigh of relief when someone else ran the morning circuit, not because they weren’t hard, but because they were slightly more forgiving that we weren’t all super machines.

On our first morning fitness time we had the bleep test, where you had to get from one side of the court to the other before the beep. Each beep gets faster and faster so first you walk, then run, and then a little bit faster and faster. Let me tell you I was super hyped up, I had been getting more and more excited training all the weekend and I was almost shaking with adrenaline. I was bouncing up and down ready to go and when the first beep went, everyone walked, and I couldn’t contain myself I sprinted, and I kept sprinting to each beat, people told me to slow down and I knew I should listen to them but I couldn’t, I kept sprinting to each beep until I completely blew out of gas. It wasn’t a terrible score, but not the greatest. One of the senior students commented that I was like a mad excitable puppy, which leads to my first and most well-known nickname at the kung fu school. Puppy.

After my over the top performance I had to choose a style to learn first, I was torn between Shaolin and White Crane. I decided to do Shaolin first, as that was my dream ever since I was a kid, the plan was 2 weeks of Shaolin and four weeks of white crane and then go home. But the need to explore the ancestor style that influenced White Crane was too great, so I did Shaolin for a week, and moved on to White Crane, and my trip to china changed from 6 weeks to nearly 4 months.

Extra training with mates.

Some Sundays I get the chance to do some extra training with a mate; he has a friend who lets us use his martial arts gym. I do enjoy this type of training as we have the opportunity to practice parts of Goju that we can only touch upon in class because it’s a university club (nothing wrong with that as we get to reinforce the basics which is always crucial) so our Sunday time is gives us a chance to work on lots of different things.

Sometimes we just practice bunkai, sometimes we practice grappling locks and throws with others from other martial arts and we get to share ideas and drill stuff we don’t get a chance to. Sometimes we spar, hit pads etc, but we have decided to practice some drills at the start of the session that is strictly Goju Ryu so we have been doing a lot of kakie (sticky hands) and Hatkutsuru-te (White Crane hands). I feel like they are really helping to improve are defence and reflex, especially my mate, as he seems to becoming more and more natural at it. With kakie we use it more try and experiment with applications be it sudden pulls of misdirection, inch strike or throws.

Today I got us to practice san dan gi, and I definitely think it’s a great tool to help improve our sticky hands or defence reflexes. It is especially good for me to practice Hatkutsuru-te, kakie and san Dan GI as it helps me evolve from my primal way of fighting which is smashing and attacking when it comes to sparring. I like San Dan Gi as it makes you use both arms for blocking a move, to train you to always keep in contact with your opponent’s arms. My mate did some sparring while I practiced my kicking and hit the heavy punch bag, and afterwards we had a judo match. Hopefully next Sunday we can still drill Hatkutsuru-te and San Dan Gi, and experiment with applications off of Kakie, and hopefully we can practice anything else that comes to mind, as Sunday’s are the time to experiment!

Shisochin; the four ways of bunkai

Training yesterday was very fun as we got to do bunkai for Shisochin, which is especially exciting for me as I am just starting to learn the bunkai for it. Shisochin means “to destroy in four directions” but can be interpreted as “to destroy in four ways”, and we had to see if we could get that four different bunkai for each part of the kata could target the four ways that make up Shisochin. The four areas that this kata specialises are vital point strikes, knockouts, joint and limb destruction and crushing impact.

What we noticed is that most parts of the kata could hit all four categories, but it largely depended on the angle and your interpretation of that part of the kata, and depending on the many ways you could possible but not probably damage someone. With the freedom of experimenting  we were able to come up with a lot of interesting bunkai’s, I do love these technical sessions (we had a fitness session before this one) and you do get to learn a lot from 3 Nidan’s.

Kata’s, the evolution to how they are taught.

Back when Miyagi was teaching karate to his students the way they learnt the katas were a lot different than they are today, the geksai katas were introduced to teach karate to middle school children in Okinawa to give them a strong basics. Miyagi’s direct students spent the first three or four years learning the Sanchin kata with other training like hojo undo for example. Then he would choose a kata that he thought would suit that student’s characteristics and style and that would be there main kata that defined them for the rest of their karate lives. From the sounds of it was their fellow student’s that taught them the other katas, plus with the death of Miyagi’s senior student in WW2 made sure that the need to teach all his main students the whole of his karate system made it necessary to survive.

It makes you wonder how many styles of karate and kung fu died as a result of this one student knows all the techniques and essence of that style. It also shows to me how the different linages were born from Miyagi’s need to make Goju Ryu survived, with each of the senior students versions of Goju Ryu being slightly different from their emphasis on that one main kata. Each kata to me has its own characteristics its own animal to it, and being heavily influenced by that one kata will to me undoubtedly influence their interpretation of Goju Ryu. That’s not to say that they are less Goju than the original, but it has evolved them into distinctive versions of Goju Ryu. I suppose the only way to see how Goju Ryu has evolved would be to compare it to it sister style Toon Ryu.

I often wonder which kata my sensei or even Miyagi himself would choose for me and my fellow karate ka’s. Not that I think it was a better way of learning the katas, I think the style has evolved since then and continues to evolve, each kata is like a stepping stone to the next kata and I believe it helps us to become a more complete karate ka. I think in this way it shows that our systems is not only a traditional martial art, but is still evolving. I am just very interested  with its history and tradition. I often wished I did my university degree in this subject, the myths and lore’s of martial arts.

This post was meant to be about me wondering what kata I would have been chosen, and yet it seemed to evolve into the way Goju Ryu students use to learn kata, and how that has helped to influence and evolve Goju Ryu and its lineages into what they have become today. I think it is part of what makes Goju Ryu more exciting, although not my intention in this post is that our style is still growing and moving and let us hope it stays fresh for many more years to come. If I were to fantasize about which kata Miyagi would of chosen for me, it would probably be Shisochin, because of its short range destructive power and its sudden dynamic turns as it would suit my build as I seem to geared for explosive movements. I would like to know which kata sensei would choose for his students and why.