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Karatedo is a seed is the tree
We all share the same roots in our lineage of Gojuryu. Many of us come from branches that have grown differently. Some branches have grown strong and some are weak however it is not in our hands to criticize one from the other........... full article
THE PUZZLE OF SANCHIN KATA.
BY ANDY MOORHOUSE, 5th DAN GOJU RYU.
[The following is a text only version of an article
originally published in U.K. magazine,
Martial Arts Illustrated in 2008.]
This article differs from the usual ‘How to’ type of article, rather this is a ‘How not to’, article, on the subject of Sanchin Kata. It is also aimed at those who already study Sanchin Kata, as I believe Sanchin cannot and should not be learned from article books or D.V.D’.s! The Kata has too much ’feel’ involved , for it to taught effectively by anything other than an experienced instructor. So much is going on beyond what can be seen. It can only be taught in a direct, teacher to student situation. For those who don't know Sanchin Kata, it is a short simple Kata, which repeats very simple combinations in a stylised way, but done with an intense muscular tension and, in most styles, pronounced, loud and powerful breathing. Thus making it look, to the casual observer, ponderous and anachronistic, leaving it open to being mocked (Think of the build-up to by the first fight scene in ‘Way Of The Dragon’.) those who do not understand its aim’s.
Sanchin is not a general Karate exercise, but a specialised exercise.
Specific to the Naha-te branch of Okinawan Karate. From the turn of the 20th century Sanchin Kata came to be regarded as the defining Kata of the Naha-te branch of Karate. Goju Ryu and Uechi Ryu are the major styles that represent this branch today. The Kata is central to the training approach and the ‘feel’ of these styles. From the middle of the 20th century various other styles have adopted Sanchin, Shito Ryu, Shukokai and Kyukoshin being the major ones. Mostly taken from Goju Ryu. Perhaps because Naha-te/ Goju Ryu etc, defined themselves with Sanchin Kata. The other main branch of Okinawan Karate, the Shorin group of styles, came to define themselves by NOT using Sanchin Kata and proceeded to see Sanchin in a negative light. This lead to the view that it was counter-productive for Karate training, and dangerous to the health of the practitioner. This could be seen as negative propaganda, except for the fact that they had a point. Sanchin can cause health problems, if it is performed INCORRECTLY!
Within the framework of performance there is NO. ‘I do it this way and every other way is wrong!’ Differing styles of Karate have differing rules governing how Sanchin Kata is performed. Uechi Ryu; fingers out and done swiftly; where as Goju Ryu, with fist’s clenched and done slowly; Kyokushin the arms are carried high and mouth open. None are wrong. They are each correct for each style. Perform your Sanchin in the correct way for your own particular style. The points I raise as wrong in this article are errors in posture and the central principles which govern correct posture are the same for all styles, no matter what the variations are with regard to performance of the Kata.
THE AIMS OF SANCHIN.
Sanchin Kata is a deceptively simple multi-level exercise. Amongst the aims of Sanchin are to co-ordinate breath and
action, and to create power. To Cultivate deep abdominal breathing. As an isometric strengthen exercise. The slow motion practise of Kime and Ki-Ai (Kime is muscular contraction at the completion of technique and Ki-Ai the explosive ‘war cry’). ’Rooting’, creating a solid foundation with the stance, from which to deliver your blocks and strikes. It develops ’Sanchin feeling’ and ‘Sanchin spirit’ to project into your techniques, which is an underlying concept for all Naha-te branch styles of Karate. Lastly, but most importantly, the development of power through sustained muscular contraction.
As an example of the power that Sanchin creates, during in
the 1990’s while attending a course run by a now famous bouncer-come-blackbelt. I sent a big bouncer flying! Everybody stopped and looked. Most of the people attending the course were bouncers and come the point in training were we are protecting our space, so an attacker can’t get close. Pushing them away if necessary. So I pushed and sent a far bigger man flying. The others couldn’t believe how much power I could generate from a ‘normal’ standing position (Sanchin Dachi/stance). The power comes from the ’rooted’ stance developed by Sanchin training.
SANCHIN, THE INTERNAL PROCESS.
So what is happening inside the body, when you perform Sanchin Kata? You inhale abdominally and tense the stomach muscles, creating pressure inside the belly (Intra-abdominal pressure). Next as you exhale you tighten the neck muscles to slow down the exhalation (Valsava’s manoeuvre). This pressurises the air in the lungs as the exhalation is limited, creating pressure in the chest cavity (Intrathoracic pressure). This increase in pressure forces the diaphragm down, thus increasing the intra-abdominal pressure. This increase of pressure with-in the torso’s cavities (Chest and abdomen) squeezing the main arteries and veins found there, increasing your blood pressure. All this accompanied by strong isometric muscular contraction. This increase in blood pressure is on top of the routine blood pressure increase associated with exercise.
Sanchin Kata is not to be done by children. Only those who have physically matured (I.E. gone through puberty) should practice it. Unless you have a medical condition, the human body can take this increase in blood pressure, so long as it is evenly distributed. Poor form when performing Sanchin Kata, creates bad posture which in turn can restrict blood flow causing uneven blood pressure in areas of the body. This is dangerous! Sanchin is about creating power through muscular tension. The problem is tensing the muscles can lead to distortion of posture. The distorted posture leads to an increase in muscular tension, thus making it feel, to you the performer of the Kata, stronger. Isn’t that what we are after? We now have to confront one of the contradictions of the Oriental Martial Arts. The difference between ’good form’ and ’fighting form’. Is this the puzzle at the heart of Sanchin Kata ?
Lets define what the difference is between, ‘good form’ and ‘fighting form’. ‘Good form’ is a stylised, more rigid and specific; head up, back straight, shoulders down. The arms just so, leg just so, etc. specific to each technique and stance. The focus is on the correct execution of technique. ‘Fighting form’ is a more general and flexible interpretation. Take free sparring as an example, things become a lot freer. The focus is on co-ordinating the execution of technique with your sparring partner. In kickboxing you are taught to tilt the head, raise the lead shoulder, arms to the body and curl the back down to reduce target area. ‘Good form’ tends to be for solo practise, but not always. ‘Fighting form’ tends to be with a partner. ‘Good form’ works with a partner, but not as well as ‘fighting form’. But ‘fighting form’ creates bad habits of posture, why is this important? Because of time! I free spar a couple of times a month. I do Sanchin almost daily. There is a danger from allowing ‘fighting forms’ poor posture to overcome ‘good form’. The cumulative affects of poor posture when performing Sanchin Kata over this time scale could create problems that would finish you, not just as a martial artist but would seriously undermine your overall health. Sanchin Kata needs to be performed using ‘good form’ as its guide, rather than what seems best to use in a fight, ‘fighting form‘, were delivery of technique is everything.
Remember that Sanchin Kata is a stylised exercise. Good form in relation to posture is required to protect against the long-term damage that high blood pressure can cause. Along with various other issues the internal pressures can cause with-in the body. Do not mistake tension for strength.
The complications of chronically raised blood pressure (Hypertension)
are well documented, the focus of this article is on the complications that occur from short-term increases in pressure of the circulatory system and with-in the bodies cavities, (Intrathoracic and intra-abdominal)that occur during Sanchin Kata training. The dangers of these pressure increases include;
ANEURYSM. This is when the blood vessels swell and stretch due to the pressure inside them. This causes sections too balloon out, creating damaged weak spots in the blood vessel. It can also damage to internal organs. This in turn can lead to the weakened blood vessels splitting (Haemorrhage). A significant percentage of the normal population have “Berry aneurysms” in the blood vessels of the brain, the possible fatal results of this are all too easy to imagine.
HAEMORRHAGE. Blood vessels bursting inside the body, perhaps due to an aneurysm or just spontaneously. This can occurs with possibly fatal results, in or around any of the major organs of the body, from the head downward!
PNEUMOTHORAX. Internal pressure in the lung can literally ’pop’ a lung. This occurs when the air pressure inside the lung becomes so great, in relation to the blood and Intrathoracic pressures within the lungs small air sacks (Alveoli), that they are crushed. This allows air to escape into the tissue covering the lungs (Pleural lining) and the chest cavity. This causes pain in the chest and shortness of breath. Irregular breathing patterns and perhaps an odd sensation in the chest as you feel air bubbles in the cavity. The air leaking into the thoracic cavity is at best painful; at worst the increase in pressure can stop the heart (Cardiac arrest).
HAEMORRHOIDS. Better know as piles. The intra-abdominal pressure mimics the same internal ’straining’ of someone on the toilet with constipation. This pressure can cause inflammation of the blood vessels in the anus. This in people who are susceptible to them. This may seem funny and insignificant, but they used to give me grief, in the past. But since ironing out these faults I have little trouble with them.
As can be seen from the above list, the dangers from performing Sanchin Kata INCORRECTLY, can be life threatening. I repeat what I said earlier in the article; unless you have a predisposing medical condition, the human body can take this increase in blood and body cavity pressure associated with the Kata, so long as it is evenly distributed. So why do Sanchin Kata ? Because it offers tremendous benefits to the student when performed CORRECTLY!
Here I list the most common faults that can occur during the performance of Sanchin Kata. Remember many of these faults are caused by seeking only maximum tension. Maximum tension is not the aim of Sanchin. To be done correctly Sanchin becomes a balancing act between this seeking of tension and the need for ’good form’.
1-Do not hold your breath! Sanchin is a Kata deeply involved with breathing. Breathing is the process of BOTH inhalation and exhalation, by definition holding your breath is an interruption in this process. Holding your breath traps the air inside the lungs, pressurizing it with no way out. In seeking to escape, the air, under pressure, may rupture the lung! As the pressure increase is held the alveoli become squashed and damaged, then crushed and popped; Pnuemothorax.
Other side effects of holding your breath include dizziness, headaches and even minor bleeds on the eye. I repeat, do not hold your breath; Breathe.
2-Head down, beginners try to hide from embarrassment when asked to perform any Kata. This leads to a bad habit in all phases of Karate training. It might only result in a headache but it spoils the entire appearance of the Kata and so much else. Doing Kihon/basics with your chin on your chest makes it harder work. Overcome any feelings of embarrassment, a weakness. Karatedo is about overcoming your weaknesses. I know it sounds very old fashioned, but head up, eyes forward and face your fears.
3-Hunching up both shoulders, because the tension of the Trapezium muscles distracts you by feeling so strong. In is fact this places the shoulders in a weak position for blocking and striking. Relying on solely the trapezium muscles, rather than the major muscle groups of the upper body and skeletal alignment.
4-Raising the active shoulder, again this is due to tension of the trapezium muscle. Uneven tension focused on the side that is currently in use raises that shoulder and can also cause the head to tilt, as if the two are trying to meet. Again this is a weak position and can also bring on headaches, from a combination of tension in the neck muscles and the head being bent. (Note, it is a common theme of all Oriental Martial Arts that the shoulders are kept pressed down.)
5-Curling the shoulders inward, to bring the elbows closer together in front of the chest. Again this makes sense in fighting and feels tighter, but this constricts the chest and limits breathing. This constriction not only increases pressure with-in the chest cavity but also limits the space in which the heart can operate. By doing this, the blood pressure is increased in the outer areas of the body, due to pressure and constriction restricting the returning flow of blood. This can increase the risk of the joint dangers of pneumothorax and aneurysm/haemorrhage. It can also lead to straining the Rhomboid muscles between the shoulder blades, though in comparison to the above this is minor.
6-Arching forward the upper back. This is good ‘fighting form’ but you are not fighting, you are practicing Kata, so no need to reduce targets. Kata means form and ‘good form’ at that. You are ‘slouching’
Instead of standing upright. You will practice Sanchin far more times than you will spar. When you spar use ‘fighting form’, when you ‘do’ Kata use ‘good form’. As with the above, the increases in Intrathoracic pressure raises the risk of pneumothorax and aneurysm/haemorrhage.
7-Bending sideways, on the striking side. This distortion is due to the feeling of extra tension it creates in the Latissimus dorsi and External oblique muscles. This results in the same dangers as above.
8-The guard/Kamae. This is were you fold your arms in too tight, an angle of less than 90 degrees. This may theoretically causes the flow of blood into the limbs to become limited, and may increase its pressure throughout the torso. This increase’s the threat of an aneurysm or haemorrhage. This is the easiest to rectify, simply ensure the angle of your arm at the elbow is 90 degrees or more. Don’t allow your forearms to get too close to your biceps!
9-Curling the spine. Either curling the base of the spine (tucking the bottom under) or curling the whole spine into a ‘C‘ shape. (Shoulders rounded and bottom tucked) This creates a tremendous feeling of tension and power, and is correct ’fighting form’. Again, this distortion of posture incurs all of the dangers listed earlier in this article.
As I have described above the distortions of posture are the result of getting the need for tension and the need for ‘good form’ out of balance. Because of this Sanchin Kata needs to be constantly checked. This places the Sensei at a very important position, he is central to monitoring the student’s posture. The mistakes are easy to correct and also very easy to fall back into, because of this balancing act. This is why Goju Ryu master Morio Higaonna always starts every course he does with Sanchin , so he can see any faults. Just because last week you were doing it right, doesn’t mean you will be doing it correctly today. Using a mirror is the easiest way to check posture for yourself. To get the spine correct, use a method my Sensei Tony Christian was taught by Shihan Teruo Chinen, using the BO/staff as an aid. Place the Bo vertically, touching the spine between the shoulder blades, the back of the skull and the tailbone. There will be a gap were the natural curl of the spine at the lower back arches away from the Bo. Tip the hip, do not curl it, if you curl the spine comes back to the Bo, but the tailbone moves away. Just tip the hip a little so the tailbone maintains contact and the spine uncurls and contacts the Bo. This is the correct position. Feel it, get used too it. Rounding the shoulders and curling the hips create more tension, but that’s mistaking tension for strength. The differences between the two may only seem small, in the short term there seems more benefit in ‘fighting form’, but in the long term the benefits of health are of more importance. Ask yourself this question. How many fights have or will you ever have? Then ask, how many years have you and will you be training? This, the puzzle at the heart of Sanchin Kata, is a personnel-balancing act of form verses function. I’ll give you a clue, I train at Sensei Christians Dojo several times a week, and I always do Sanchin Kata. It’s part of my warm-up. The last time I’ve had to hit anyone was over ten years ago. How many times have I done Sanchin and how many fights have I had? Where does the balance lie?
Lastly a few words on Sanchin Shime or testing. Notice I separate the correction of Sanchin and it’s testing. Too many students believe they are one and the same. Correction involves watching, verbally correcting or simply moving or pushing into the correct posture. Shime grows from simply touching to ensure a muscle group in tensed, developing into to supplying resistant to the movements of Sanchin, through to slapping and striking the student. First, the level of intensity of testing must be related to the level of training experience. Sensei Christian believes that excessive testing is part of the problem. Students with only limited experience in Sanchin being given harsh testing. This causes them to use ’fighting form’, and the balancing act begins to go wrong. This is one of the causes of posture distortion. Shime / testing is not an excuse for battering a student and excessive striking of lower grade students could be considered bullying! Another is ego, don’t let your ego lead you to go harder in testing than the level you should be at. You can get carried away, perhaps trying to compete with more senior students, wanting to go hard, like the seniors. They are the finished article and this process is only complete after several years of continuous practice of Sanchin Kata. Learn Sanchin slowly, first the simple movements, then add the breathing. Only then do you slowly add the muscular focus, gradually increasing it, not trying for everything at once! Sanchin training is a slow and gradual process of development.
Finally, it is not a disposable exercise! I had a recent encounter with a group who felt Sanchin Kata only needs to be practiced for a couple of years, to create its benefits and then dropped. This is wrong! If Sanchin training is not maintained then its benefits will fade. Sanchin is a continuous process of development through constant practice and correction, of trial and error. Remember that every time you do Sanchin Kata it’s different. Like golf, you may play the same hole a hundred times, but each time is individual and unique. Sanchin is a unique form of exercise with tremendous benefits, if done correctly. Follow these guidelines and you will avoid the problems that could undermine your Sanchin training.
THE OXFORD DICTIONARY OF SPORTS SCIENCE AND MEDICINE.
BY MICHAEL KENT.
JOURNAL OF APPILED PHYSIOLOGY NUM 89 -
CHANGES IN INTRA-ABDOMINAL PRESSURE DURING POSTURAL AND RESPIRATORY ACTIVATION OF THE HUMAN DIAPHRAM BY P.W.HODGES AND S.C.GANDEVIA
JOURNAL OF PHYSICAL THERAPY SCIENCE VOL19 NUM 2 
INFLUENCE OF LONG DURATION OF ISOMETRIC CONTRACTION ON BLOOD PRESSURE.
BY , LIN JIANHUA / ZHANG QI / GUO HUI.