Sanchin: Under the Hood

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Sanchin, Goju, Vancouver, BC , Lessons, Karate

Sanchin (三戦)is the fundamental kata of Nahate-based styles such as Uechi-ryu, Goju-ryu and Tou’on-ryu. It teaches the core ideas posture, breath and body alignment that each system considers ideal. What might not be apparent among these traditional versions of Sanchin is that these core ideas are not meant to be obvious. That is, on the surface there really shouldn’t be any extraneous movement when performing Sanchin as most of the important movement is occurring “behind the curtain” so to speak. That is, it  involves the coordination of the breath with the contraction of the muscles and the alignment of the skeleton. An observer should only see the deliberate stepping, punching, and turning in a prescribed sequence. It really should look rather dull. Not flashy at all.

Take for example this performance of (a barely recognizable) Sanchin. Its hard to know where to start when examining this interpretation, but sticking to the topic at hand let’s highlight a few points: (1) all the excessive and wasted motion it contains, (2) the lack of coordination between the breath and the muscles, (3)  the rounded shoulders and slopping back, and (4) the improper alignment of the shoulders, elbows, hips, knees and feet. I think you get the picture. Practicing Sanchin this way has little to no real value for one’s busai (武才). What value it may have is to create a light sweat, although there’s probably an infinite number of better ways to do that than practice this version of Sanchin – of which we’ve discussed in detail in a previous post. There is also a strong chance that this instructor and his students won’t be be practicing Sanchin (as they’re doing it now) in the future. In other words it adds nothing to his practice. So, why bother? This is only one example of literally 100s that are availabe to choose from, but the common thread in all of them is a clear lack of detailed instruction in learning Sanchin, and in some cases no detailed instruction at all. There is truth in the idiom, “The devil is in the details.”

Contrast that performance with this one by Miyagi Tatsuhiko of the Ryushinkaikan. Of course there is no comparison, but putting that aside lets take a look at what we do see. Each step and strike is performed with the correct amount of energy and tension. The shoulders, elbows, hips, knees and feet are always in alignment. The shoulders, chest and abdomen do not rise and fall from improper use of the breath. In other words all the core principles: breath, posture and body alignment are occurring internally. This is how it should be done – it’s correct – as nothing needs to be shown. It all should happen “under the hood”.