Sanchin/Sanzhan training

I have put my strength and fitness regime on a down step, and have focused on swimming (mainly butterfly) walking, and Sanchin/Sanzhan training. I am listening to my body, some days i will train alot of San(zhan)chin, and others little or non. I mainly do them with pullups, not necessarily for reps but for one day full range explosive, and another day very slowly with tension. then I will finish off with Shisochin.

I am trying to develop the way I want to fight via these three kata, and when we start proper sparring again (too many injuries from the big grading) I want to see how it has affected the way I spar. The pullups is to help me to focus on my back muscles (and I missed doing them after 2-3 weeks), which Sifu Yen Da Shi (my White Crane teacher in China) said that doing white crane, specifically the Sanzhan form really develops you back muscles, especially your lats. I have noticed that when I practice Sanzhan regularly that my short range power increase alot, and when I came back from China my pullup max increased dramatically.

What I love is the more I discover about Sanchin from my Sensei, the more i realise that my white crane teacher was teaching me directly translates to it, I didn’t appreciate at the time but I really do now. I find for me to develop in my understanding in a mental and spiritual way that i need to do both, one for perfect alignment, subtly and get the body to work together as a rooted tree, and the other for explosion tension and sheer will power.

I need to start practicing more kicking and stretching more to get to where I want to get to, but I will build up my year journey towards my full Shodan slowly and with patience.

through San(zhan)chin I am trying to develop the body, my willpower and I have recently found a meditative calmness during it. I know it will take a lifetime to truly understand it, but the doubts that the other masters in kung fu school in china are long gone, it is a constant battle of the the three parts of human, it is designed to prepare to fight, it is the heart of our art.

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Sanchin-The path to fighting

The more I understand Sanchin kata, the more I realise that it is the basic blueprint on how to fight an opponent and that all these hidden techniques are very much in the Sanzhan form (from White Crane Kung Fu) that a lot of Kung Fu styles scoff at, simply because they don’t understand it’s true meaning.

Last night was a great opener in what I need to do to improve my Sanchin, towards the end sequence I am starting to rush it and with a little chat to Sensei, I can now have a further understanding of what I need to do to get to the next level in my way of Sanchin. Which ironically will be me drawing more from the Sanzhan form that I learnt from in China.

Someone requested that I do my own thoughts on Sanchin and it’s role in the way we fight and spar, and at the moment I am unable to do that as my new level of understanding of Sanchin kata and it’s role in fighting started when work was getting in the way, followed by a rib injury and a shoulder injury.  But through two great resources and trying to implement them in in my shadow boxing has made a huge difference, in fact with the pad drills I am now able to throw faster punches without straining the shoulders through this method (it is a little like wing chun principles.

The book the way of Sanchin and a few videos by the actor Michael Jai White (he holds several blackbelt’s one of which is in Goju Ryu), and for me they go hand in hand to developing the way I think of Sanchin, which is the role of a fighter or gives you all the basic tools in how to deal with the situation. I won’t say too much, and if anyone wants me to review them I will, but these have been great tools, in developing my way of Sanchin, and the way I think about the battle of Kumite which is a testing ground for if you want to go into the ring, or have to deal with a situation on the street.

The many ways of Sanchin

Not only are there many versions of Sanchin (or Sanzhan in Chinese), there are many ways to perform or practice the kata. When ever I am injured, I up the tension and turn it into an isolation exercise, to maintain or build strength in the muscles (upper and lower) so that you can keep up your training and train around your injuries. When I am feeling stressed, I take most of the tension away and have a Zen like view, like Qigong  I use it when I have a spare minute or two to bring me back to myself, and feel that I am not losing my mind, I am still in control or when I need to get some peace for the sole. Or when I am forced to be away from the dojo, I end up exaggerating the moves, trying to emphasis it’s martial aspect, the lifting of the blocks, the sinking of the legs, being relaxed and tense, over emphasising the hip movement with the once inch punch.

In any of the case’s, or in whatever way that you train Sanchin, it doesn’t take too much time, and you can quickly disguise it if someone comes into the room, making me really appreciate the okinawan factor of persevering their art through hidden forms, it means I can keep practicing the core of my karate training wherever I may be.

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.

Ying and yang?(Sanchin and Sanzhan Pt2)

I carried on practicing Sanzhan when I came back to England for a few months, I didn’t want to lose the skills that I had learnt from China, but as the months rolled on I gave it up as in many ways Sanchin is the evolution of Sanzhan and I wanted to focus on the foundational kata of my art, especially with the summer school grading approaching sooner and sooner. Sanchin to me has much more of a martial aspect to it, especially when compared to the Sanzhan form, it helps you to place the correct amount of tension when you are punching and blocking, the short range power from the torque of the hip not only increases your punch power whilst improving its technique. It also develops your block to resist against a larger force with using the hip and block in a upwards circular motion. Sanchin is clearly an Okinawan art as it takes the basics of Sanzhan and modified it to include the basics of your fighting techniques.

When I first learnt Sanzhan I was really excited, I felt like the Okinawan’s must of done when they were learning Chinese kung fu to develop their karate. As time went on I became really frustrated with the form, with the way the Sifu taught the form, what other kung fu students were learning at the school and favouritism, but that is for a different post. But I suppose my real problem is that Sanchin has always seemed so natural to me, and yet Sanzhan the form that Sanchin came from, felt so alien and wrong. While Sanchin is a simple form to learn it takes a lifetime to master, but Sanzhan felt at times almost impossible to learn as it wasn’t designed for my build. So back home I focused on Sanchin kata as I much prefer it as a kata/form.

Besides I had a grading coming up and I needed to put focus on it. I injured my elbow at the grading and I didn’t allow it to heal properly, I had other injuries prior the grading and I was getting impatient. My main focus in my own strength training over the past 9 months has been pullups. Strength training is a separate passion of mine from karate, and it is only since China that I have modified my strength training to be more practical with karate. Weightlifting strength isn’t that compatible with karate, which has lead me to calisthenics training. Anyway my elbow tendon was getting worse and worse, and I had to have a rest from doing pullups and chinups. So I focused on hanging pullups and I thought practicing Sanchin would be could form both as an exercise for my back muscles and it is a kata I needed to focus on.

Practicing the kata daily gave me many ideas, as I said in a previous post I was able to improve my short range kicking with the term I like to call “Sanchin Kicks”, and I started to work on the Sanchin inch range punch that Sensei was showing us at summer school and during the summer. It relies a lot on the hip movements, and with training with a mate we were able to conclude that the White Crane inch punch and the Sanchin inch punch have a very similar level of power. We also compared the wing chun punch, a normal karate punch and the boxers punch but that might be for another post. So I started doing my normal Sanchin kata, and then did another version of focusing on the inch power, not only in the strikes, but also in the lifting of the blocks.

Then I was comparing the Uechi ryu Sanchin and our Sanchin, and I decided to experiment with the Sanchin again and make the punches fast and explosive, then I experimented again and practiced the Sanchin kata with ridiculous amount of tension, and then I would cycle through them. I was trying to see if training in these hidden, or should I say subtle aspects of Sanchin to see how it would improve my overall Sanchin kata.

I think it did improve my Sanchin kata but the value of this experimenting was the insight I felt that I had gained. This experimenting made me realise why Miyagi took out the speed of the strikes and turned them into tense punches. The reason I think that he had taken out the speed of the strikes is because he incorporated this aspect into the later katas of Shisochin, Saneriru etc. So that he could simplify and turn Sanzhan into a more martial kata, and that by practicing all the later katas, his senior students will be developing this explosive punch in each of the higher katas bar Kururunfa.

It also made me realise that I had been trying to blend Sanzhan and Sanchin, and while Sanchin contains many of the Sanzhan aspects, it does it on a much subtler level. I therefore decided to start doing the Sanzhan form again, because I can work on my inch power, tension and the snapping speed of my strikes, letting me therefore to focus on Sanchin kata in itself. It is strange how learning Sanzhan improved my Sanchin, and by me focusing on Sanchin, it  has lead me right back to Sanzhan, it seems to be a circle, I can’t seem to be able to do one without the other.

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.