Sanchin kata underpins the martial art system of Goju Ryu Karate. That’s what you’re told as a Goju karate enthusiast. Sanchin kata is THE fundamental basis of the entire system. Some say everything you need is in the kata. A very sweeping statement, particularly, given the manner in which it is usually practised and taught.
The description of the kata in the Wikipedia article is typical of the manner in which I was taught Sanchin kata. That is, it typifies the ‘hard’ of the hard/soft of Goju, i.e. it ‘uses a very strong, tense closed fist “push”‘ and emphasises Isometric strength training.
The articles description is congruent with how I learned the kata. We used to have a great Saturday morning training sessions, where we’d concentrate on Sanchin and Okinawan strength training using traditional implement such as chi’ishi and nigiri game. Great sessions, emphasising the ‘hard’ of hard/soft but little else. We’d do Sanchin holding bricks to make it harder, and there was Shime testing too. We’d get hit on the legs, back, arms and had our strength tested during kata performance. I loved it at the time, but while strength development is clearly desirable and the shime testing was useful in regards of conditioning the kata never seemed to have a great deal to do with fighting. The link between the kata and the Thai boxing matches we attended was not obvious!
I enjoyed history at school, so the old style training implements always appealed to me and while the training was enjoyable the focus was firmly in the ‘hard’ camp. This was fine as the ‘soft’ would come later, so we were told. With friends interested in internal martial arts I was curious about the ‘soft’ side and became impatient. I knew that Sanchin kata performed in the manner I’d been taught was to say the least missing something. I wanted to know if the ‘soft’ performance was the missing link. To cut a long story short I got bored of waiting for the ‘soft’ side.
I became involved with the once excellent United Goju Forum and my eyes opened. There was a much larger Goju world than I had been led to believe and after meeting other groups through the forum and related seminars I began to discover more to Sanchin and Goju than I was experiencing in my own association.
I travelled around attending seminars and training with various Goju teachers with a variety of insights. I attended a number of courses in Kent with Steve Rowe who gave us an insight into the way he taught at Shikon. Steve Rowe’s use of Sanchin and Tensho katas was unlike what I was used to. This training helped me get to grips with the softer side of Sanchin, that’s for sure. Interestingly, this ‘soft’ side, for want of a better description involved more training alone than with others. I used to practice being ‘in the feet’ on the tube and tried ‘pulsing’ from the feet as I bounded up the long staircases located at some of the central London tube stations.
Complementing some of the training I was doing elsewhere this really helped. Another teacher I went to see, Mike Clark, suggested that we should do Sanchin soft sometimes and hard other times depending on what we want to achieve. This has stayed with me as it suggests using the kata for your own ends rather than being contained by the kata. Great stuff! So I could take the softer appreciation and ‘mix’ it with the harder approach I was already familiar with as I saw fit. This was very useful at the time.
At this time I was training with various Goju and non-Goju teachers, researching on the internet and training in Birmingham. I was getting better but it did seem that one common denominator was a bloke called Steve Morris, previously a Goju man he’d turned his back on karate. A course he was holding was advertised on the forum and I announced my intention of going. I was put off by a private message and advised to read his site. I can still remember that first exposure to his frankly amazing site. I spent hours working through the articles. The workings of a madman or genius?
I was intrigued and eventually had the opportunity to train with him, firstly, at Steve Rowe’s dojo in Kent and then in Birmingham and Coventry. I can categorically say that training with Steve Morris I have learned more about Sanchin kata than elsewhere, and that’s without ever having actually performed or specifically addressed the kata. I now feel I understand how a kata as ‘simplistic’ as Sanchin can underpin an entire system such as Goju. And it doesn’t involve holding bricks. It’s been a bit of a journey getting there and really there is no need for the journey to be as convoluted.
Morris’s recent blog entries on Sanchin kata, called Hands on the Wheel are very informative and required reading for everyone interested in Sanchin and how to use it, I thoroughly recommend these. It does require an ‘open mind’, however so get lateral NOT literal and give it a go!
Just to finish this entry, here’s a clip of someone I have never met ‘explaining’ Sanchin in a manner similar to that I learnt originally, i.e. ‘hard’. For illustrative purposes only.