I was 17 years old, the fire in my mind was burning strong but the demands of school and time had been creating a lot of conflict in my life. I was generally in open defiance of authority and much of my life wasn't going in what would be considered a positive direction. Most of my leisure time was spent learning Slayer riffs on guitar and I had given up on finding anything interesting within the public school system. It was at this turbulent time that I walked into a Dojo for the first time.
I had been training at a local kickboxing gym for about a year but it had gone out of business. A good friend recommenced a Karate Dojo he had been training at and it turned out that my brother had also trained there as a child. I recalled the little bit of Karate my brother had done years before when we were kids. It seemed like it involved kicks and punches and loud shouts, all things I was eager to do.
So I went and I was deeply impressed with what I saw from my first class. The Sensei at the Dojo seemed to know endless techniques and I wanted to learn them all. I took to the training eagerly. The Dojo was teaching the Karate style called Goju Ryu and so the first Kata I ever learnt was Sanchin.
Kata is of course the main vehicle upon which the knowledge of the Karate is transmitted. Each one profoundly combines the of most ideal body mechanics and breath control with proven combat principals. This makes each Kata is a treasure trove of information and a serious student of martial arts must cultivate them with care and purpose. Sanchin however is quite unique in that is doesn't focus so much on fighting techniques as it does on the perfection of the most minuscule aspects of muscle and breath control.
In the style of Karate I originally learnt Sanchin was practiced as the founder of Goju Ryu Karate, Chojun Miyagi, had taught it. Miyagi Sensei is said to have spend many years training in Southern China and learnt everything from Tai Chi Chuan and Bagwa to White Crane Kung Fu and Qi Gong. What he exactly learnt or not is a subject of some debate but it can be assumed with a high degree of certainty that he learned a version of Sanchin most often practiced by White Crane Kung Fu schools.
White Crane's Sanchin doesn't look much like the Karate Kata Sanchin. White Crane's Sanchin is most often done in the low horse riding stance and uses quick open hand movements that somewhat resemble a crane opening it's wings and then striking with lighting speed. I was taught a White Crane Sanchin Form once but didn't see the resemblance to the Karate Kata I had been practicing. It would be years before I came to understand how the two Kata were teaching the same thing. Other styles, notably Uechi Ryu, perform Sanchin with open hands but in a more upright stance than the White Crane Form.
It is said that Miyagi Sensei was the one who changed the open hand movements to closed fist movements and added the upright stance of sanchin dachi. This might seem like a totally different technique but the key is that regardless of the shape of the hand the mechanics of how strength and kinetic energy are transferred through body is a constant. Having only two arms and two legs means that the only way to achieve maximum efficiency in a movement is to coordinate the whole body as one. It is in this regard that Sanchin is a supremely brilliant form.
In the writings of the internal Chinese martial arts, particularly Chen Style Tai Chi Chuan, there are references to the the idea of weaving a fine golden silk thread, often times simply called silk reeling. This spiraling flow of energy can be visualized as a string that coils up from the feet around the legs, through the torso and out around the arms, ending at the hands.
All movements in martial arts are designed to utilize this flow of power through the body. The illustration above also shows that the spiraling thread passes through the lower abdomen, an area called the Hara in Japanese and the Dandien in Chinese. This specific place is of critical importance and is discussed in greater detail in the Blog article called "Center Point" at the link below.
By tying the silk reeling and breath from the Dandien together in the Sanchin Kata the KarateKa (Karate practitioner) is putting all of their being into every inch of the Kata. Watching a skilled practitioner perform Sanchin is an awesome thing to see. All the muscles of the body ripple with controlled and coordinated tension and the fighting spirit of the warrior is displayed at their fullest ferocity. There are times when I practice Sanchin that I get the sense of my body being like a great gnarled tree root that has the strength to drive right through stone.
It is in this sense that all versions of Sanchin are singing the same tune. Whether the White Crane Form or the Karate Kata both are designed to teach the student of the martial arts to synchronize every millimeter of movement and breath in their body. Often when a student is being drilled on this form they are slapped along the arms and legs as well as being (lightly) kicked and punched to help them learn to remain stable and rooted even when being attacked.
Sanchin is considered to mean the three powers or lessons. Each one is part of the fabric that all martial arts are woven from. They are, mind and body as one, sight with perception, and breath with spirit. Each one is a lesson that is really only learnt through endless practice of the form. The general consensus within the Goju Ryu schools I've trained with is that to truly master Sanchin it should be practiced seven times a day for seven years.
I've often heard it said that martial arts are like a great web and you can't pull on one strand without effecting all the other strands. In this way Sanchin is a cornerstone Kata. It develops the basis of all other movements and directly cultivates the shift of brainwave function to the meditative awareness that makes the martial arts what they are. It is a work of genius and of sublime insight. It is not a surprise then that the Kata has been adopted by many styles of Karate. I would recommend all KarateKa learn this Kata in whatever style they can.
And so even though it has been many years since I was a teenager Sanchin has remained a steady companion for me. It reminds me that no matter what might come my way if I coordinate my mind, body and spirit into the task at hand I can overcome even the greatest obstacles on my path.