Sanzhan an overview (Sanchin and Sanzhan part 1)

I wanted to do a post about comparing Sanzhan and Sanchin, my views on both which I prefer and why, and in what way Sanzhan has helped me to develop both my Sanchin and my Karate. However every attempt at writing this topic has failed because of the Sheer magnitude of the subject, I now know why sensei loves this subject and why he hasn’t yet written his book on Sanchin. So this post will be my overall analysis of the key aspects of the Sanzhan form.

So for 3 months we laboured over the Sanzhan form, it is the foundation the cornerstone behind White Crane just as Sanchin is in Goju Ryu, it helps you to develop the power, tension, and speed that you need to build up in a young martial artist, but unlike the Sanchin kata in my opinion it isn’t designed for fighting, but the building blocks that lead to fighting. And from my perspective I felt that you could tell that the White Crane kung fu style was an older martial art than Goju Ryu, and that Wing Chun and Goju Ryu have evolved from this Kung Fu system. So even though I still practice Sanzhan, I focus more on the Sanchin kata as to me it feels like a more complete kata.

Sanzhan has four main areas that it focuses on to develop its practitioner, tension, snapping speed, inch power and increased flexibility of the wrists and elbow, a lot of this is supplemented and enhanced with various basic drills and conditioning and similar training to an early version of Hojo undo.

The Sanzhan form and indeed a lot of the stuff we learnt in White Crane focused a lot on what I like to term the inch power. Where you are in the basic stance and elbows are bent but you are able to generate a lot of power from your stance and abdomen, you are able to generate a short explosive power from your shoulders to your hands where it feels like your whole body is connected to this power. What I have found interesting is that unlike in Goju Ryu White Crane doesn’t use the hip to generate this power, it relies just on a good stance and short range power generation from your latissimus dorsi muscles (lats) to your shoulders and arms. White Crane develops big strong lats, which probably explains why when I went to china I struggled with 8 pullups and 12 chinups, to being able to do 14 pullups in china, and with my new focus on Sanzhan/Sanchin and pullups I am now able to do 27 chinups, but I digress again, I just wanted to point out how doing White Crane, and primarily the Sanzhan form has changed my strength in certain ways to build this inch power.

Sifu told us that the best metaphor to increase this power from the lats is splashing in the water. Whilst trying to imagine this doesn’t make developing the power any easier, practicing it in a swimming pool has helped me to fully realise what he means, and be able to practice this power generation.

Another aspect of Sanzhan, and something that Uechi Ryu do but Goju Ryu doesn’t is this snapping speed, it’s not as practical as either Uechi’s spear hand or Goju’s fists as it has both hands firing out at the same time, but I believe this is designed for equal development on both sides. You have to snap your shoulders, elbows and wrists forward one fast motion explosive motion. The more muscular you are the harder it is, as the style was really designed for a woman. While this has definitely helped to develop speed in my strikes, it comes at the cost of jarring your joints.

Now the position of the arms and hands in Sanzhan are representing the wings on the crane, but while the arm position is the same with Sanchin’s double chudan ude uke (middle block), but because of the position of the wrists, it puts incredible strain on both the wrists and the elbow, developing increased flexibility. The idea being that you can do wrist locks and grabs from awkward angles. Again it is a form that is ideal for a woman to do, as the bigger your muscles are, the harder it is to perform this part of the form.

The next aspect of Sanzhan is the tension, and in many ways I feel that this version of White Crane I learnt is more Go (means hard in Japanese) more Karate then Okinawan karate is. Like Sanchin you get tense in after a certain sequence to help you prepare for any attacks against you, and you use the tension at the key points to be able to survive the blows. But in white crane, I find that Sifu is only happy if you tense so much that you feel like your head is going to explode, you have to do the white crane face, which both tenses your neck and is meant to make your face intimidating to opponents.

I like Sanzhan and Sanchin in different ways, I probably lean more towards the Sanchin kata as its more designed for my build, whereas it took me a very long time to be able to do certain aspects of the Sanzhan form, but more of that for another post.

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