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Jonathan Walter
Jonathan Walter's picture
Sanchin opening, detailed explanation

Hi everyone,

When making the Sanchin Dai Ichi overview I posted last week we also made a more detailed explanation of the first few steps of Sanchin: from the beginning to the full double-underhook clinch. We call it "the Sanchin clinch." In our estimation it is the most important posistion in Goju Ryu because it's simple and it neutralizes an attack such that they can't get to weapons while you hold them. There are two "punches" invoved in getting to the posistion, but while they still hurt they are not fight ending strikes. The real damage is the position itself. It's very disorienting. The neck pressure builds up fast. The same posistion apears at the beginning of Sanseru, Sesan, and Superimpei. That's why I believe that this clinch is the default posistion of Goju Ryu. When attacked: try to get the Sanchin clinch. It won't always work, of course. That's why the katas don't end there. But if it does work it's a simple and effective way to stop a person hurting you. 

Hope that makes sense. I'd welcome any questions, comments, nit-picks, or snide remarks. We're trying to make it as water-tight as possible so any feedback is appreciated. Thanks.

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

Hi Jonathan,

That is very interesting. Thank you for sharing. Can I ask if the initial motion is designed to crash in and stun i.e. forearm to neck? My question would be how his forward force is effectively naturalised on the first movement? If you crash into them, as opposed to them coming to you, that would solve that issue, but I wondered if there are other thoughts there? I really live the flow after that point. Very nice.

One thought I had was that you could make use to the initial salutation as a crash and crank (similar to what I show in the video: https://youtu.be/2juMhXuzEjc). If the push down on the neck didn’t work then, as they come up, you could impact and follow your flow through. You then end up with the enemy gripped in a way that would allow you loop back to the opening motion to escape. Just thinking aloud here, but that would seem to connect the dots and show a theme running through the first part of the kata i.e. control the head and disrupt posture to ensure an advantage. Thoughts?

Thanks for sharing this Jonathan!

All the best,

Iain

Zach Zinn
Zach Zinn's picture

Thanks for sharing this, it takes a lot to put oneself out there and there are some good principles at work here.

I submit that it might be worth tweaking the approach and exploring this as a variation on what you can do with morote-kamae without neccessarily trying to make the lower body "fit" Sanchin Kata as whole, or treating the application as a kind of "sanchin theory", but that's just my two cents. As far as the video itself, a more active uke would make the concepts ore understandable I think.

Jonathan Walter
Jonathan Walter's picture

Thanks for the reply. The short answer is: yes, absolutely crash in and stun the neck. Neck strikes are always too good to pass up, and it's easier to get behind the neck if you knock their head to the side first.

The long answer is: we don't think your arms are the force deliverer; your chest is. The main goal is to get your elbow behind their head and therefore get their head down. That requires their shoulder to end up tight against your chest.Too much emphasis on the arms and you can frame them out or bounce them off and stay too far away. We're looking at it more like a sumo style tahiai, initial charge. The main focus of the arm against the neck is to drive his weight to his back leg and open up a spot so I can ram into him with my chest. So you're exactly right that it's about you charging them as opposed to them coming at you. I actually think the initial movement is most suited to a preemptive attack. We look at the salutation as a distance guage. If they get that close, and are threatening, it's Goju time. That all being said, it is also a good strike to the neck. I think a large part of getting good at the Sanchin opening is learning how to deliver good power to the neck while still sliding over to get to the position. That and convincing people to let you train on them.

That video was a big inspiration for when we started looking at Sanchin. I've never seen any good Sanchin bunkai so I started researching Naihanchi hoping there was some overlap. I think there is. It's fascinating that the initial arm movements are the same, but reversed. In Sanchin they start low and pivot high, and in, at least some versions of, Naihanchi they start high and pivot low. They look to me like they're trying to come to a similar idea from different ends. 

Iain Abernethy wrote:

If the push down on the neck didn’t work then, as they come up, you could impact and follow your flow through. You then end up with the enemy gripped in a way that would allow you loop back to the opening motion to escape. 

I definitely think there is something here. The two positions are very similar. It would absolutely be possible to switch from Naihanchi to Sanchin. Three things come to my mind.

One, it looks like Naihanchi and the Sanchin have two different goals. I don't presume to explain Naihanchi to you, but the way it looks to me is ways to off-balance them at a distance to strike them in the head. Sanchin seems to be about getting your weight on their neck and using the position itself to break them down. Being in the Sanchin clinch is actively painful. Both strategies seem completely valid, but they're also mutually exclusive and require a change in general strategy. I don't know how feasible that switch would be under pressure. I'm not saying it isn't. I genuinely don't know.

Two, we think Sanchi Dai Ni looks at different ways to get to the Sanchin clinch not starting from the tachiai. The initial position looks like this:

https://goju-carlsbad.sites.zenplanner.com/retail-product.cfm?ProductId=...  

which we read as clamping with the "blocking arm", their elbow/bicep is in your armpit, and the chamber hand is a bicep tie on the other side. You're fully chest to chest. The next move is to punch their face to drive past their head, get the elbow behind their neck, and drive down. If you were in a situation like the Naihanchi video, with your hands behind their head, I could easily see an opportunity to clamp one of their arms, get chest to chest, and drive the arm past their head. I think it would be safer to go through the step of clamping their arm first. That way you don't lose control when you let go of their head. I like the behind the head grab as a preliminary "safe" postition if you can't close distance and need a way to ride it out waiting for an opening. 

Three, the "hands up, then pivoting down" movement does appear in Sanchin as the last move. It's the ending movement of every Goju kata. I've been looking at it as a head grab and push, just like in your video, but I now wonder if it would be better viewed as a reset than an escape. That's probably more a change of intent than technique, but I'll have to think about it. It does start to feel exactly like connecting the dots. This might be the way to get around the problems in thought one.

Thanks again for the reply. This has been very useful. I really like the idea of connecting the end of the kata to the beginning. We will definitely play with that. I also realize I need to put more emphasis on the impact in the tachiai. If you have any more thoughts I'd love to hear them. 

Jonathan Walter
Jonathan Walter's picture

Thanks for the feedback.

Zach Zinn wrote:

I submit that it might be worth tweaking the approach and exploring this as a variation on what you can do with morote-kamae without neccessarily trying to make the lower body "fit" Sanchin Kata as whole, or treating the application as a kind of "sanchin theory", but that's just my two cents. 

This is an interesting point. I see two completely valid levels of kata analysis. One is just as you say: using the kata to inform and inspire fighting technique. The second is trying to figure out what the kata actually means. At the moment we're focused on the second. I believe every good kata has to have a single, definable meaning intented by the person who made it. Growing up in karate kata was always presented as a kind of unknowable cosmic wisdom, but that can't be true. People made them so people can understand them. The techniques and structures were chosen for a reason and we want to know those reasons. In the normal course of teaching that basic level should have been passed along so the only work left to do was to progress the art with our own personal ideas. But as we know that didn't happen. That's why we're focused on the foundational level. We want to establish the foundation so we can build off it.

Your point about seperating the upper body part of the technique from the botom is also interesting. We've been looking at Sanseru recently and there is a section at the end where if you look at different versions of the kata you can see the same idea being accomplished with different stances. The stances, of course, simply represent ways to move your weight so we've seen the same upper body technique used with different weight transfer to do the same thing. I think the relative heights are a big factor.  That being said the stance is a huge part of the technique. Doing Sanchin dachi, exactly as in kata, makes it much more effective. It drops your weight straight down on their neck and pins their feet in place. The more we practice the more we think of it as a full body movement.

Zach Zinn wrote:

As far as the video itself, a more active uke would make the concepts ore understandable

That's entirely fair. The video was potato quality top to bottom. I am working on that for future. In my uke's defense he was very hungry. 

Zach Zinn
Zach Zinn's picture

Jonathan Walter wrote:

 

This is an interesting point. I see two completely valid levels of kata analysis. One is just as you say: using the kata to inform and inspire fighting technique. The second is trying to figure out what the kata actually means. At the moment we're focused on the second. I believe every good kata has to have a single, definable meaning intented by the person who made it. Growing up in karate kata was always presented as a kind of unknowable cosmic wisdom, but that can't be true. People made them so people can understand them. The techniques and structures were chosen for a reason and we want to know those reasons. In the normal course of teaching that basic level should have been passed along so the only work left to do was to progress the art with our own personal ideas. But as we know that didn't happen. That's why we're focused on the foundational level. We want to establish the foundation so we can build off it.

 

Sure, the first level is tactical, the larger level is strategic. Here is my take: It is a tough tow to hoe to claim that Sanchin is a "clinch" kata in it's overall meaning, because it assumes that a Karateka has specialized "clinch" skills. The Kata  has conditioning and broader body mechanics meanings for things like Tsuki and stepping that are more global, strategic, and which do not relate exclusively to a clinch scenario. Therefore, we are trying to take a specific tactical meaning and say it is an overall exclusive strategy, which I don't think fits. An analogy would be taking an application like a jab and saying you can draw conclusions about every Boxing punch based on it. Sure, the jab has a prominent use, but if you took it and tried to apply it to everything as an exclusive approach, it would be a lot tougher to understand how to use an uppercut. So trying to impose a specific tactical meaning on the larger strategic one becomes a limitation on the Kata itself.

I grant that Karate is self-defense based and so a  bit of a different paradigm, but I feel like once you hit lower body part of the video, the movements are  primarily conceptual to Sanchin, and secondarily practical.

e wrote:
Your point about seperating the upper body part of the technique from the botom is also interesting. We've been looking at Sanseru recently and there is a section at the end where if you look at different versions of the kata you can see the same idea being accomplished with different stances. The stances, of course, simply represent ways to move your weight so we've seen the same upper body technique used with different weight transfer to do the same thing. I think the relative heights are a big factor.  That being said the stance is a huge part of the technique. Doing Sanchin dachi, exactly as in kata, makes it much more effective. It drops your weight straight down on their neck and pins their feet in place. The more we practice the more we think of it as a full body movement.

In my experience results such as this depend very much on how you are testing them. If you have the uke perform a simple body lock takedown from the position you are in originally (just have him hug your lower spine and squeeze), I predict you would be mostly unable to avoid bad news situations prior to getting your hooks in - thus the neccessity of immediately taking a stance that gets at least one your feet out of the way, and to be used as a base. That is what I mean about the lower body. I buy what you are doing with the upper body and I think it's quite solid, the lower body portion I suspect might not fare as well with a test with broader parameters than the ones shown in the video.

Another possibility would be to test this with pressure from something like the underhooks/pummeling drill in wrestling. This is a general drill that can apply to various grappling scenarios and can give an idea of things like framing out of takedown attempts, etc. My own experience is that other than a sprawl one of the most important things is is getting one leg back and having a solid base than can't be easily collapsed if someone grabs the torso, that combined with the kind of head and arm control shown in your video is quite effective, and standing in Sanchin with your center so much closer to the opponent in that particular position is something of a liability from my perspective, but your mileage may vary. In my experience to stop someone with real force like that your body has to kind of work as a buttress against theirs, with a back leg as a brace, even to hold momentarily.

I could easily be seeing something wrong or missing something here, but that is my two cents.

BTW as an aside but on a related subject, there are actually versions of Sanchin (such as the Okinawan Kenpo version) that use a longer stance, so it might be reasonable to just conclude that one should adjust the stance depending on situation. I will say that from my perspective Sanchin is not an ideal stance for vertical grappling, though I think it would be better for head-level clinching.

Jonathan Walter
Jonathan Walter's picture

Thanks for the second reply. Your two cents is exactly why I'm here.

Zach Zinn wrote:

It is a tough tow to hoe to claim that Sanchin is a "clinch" kata in it's overall meaning, because it assumes that a Karateka has specialized "clinch" skills.

I certainly agree that it is a hard row to hoe. We've been working at it for nearly three years and only feel like we really understand Sanchin and Sanseru. It's been a tremendous amount of work. But we're not arguing that karateka have specialized clinch skills. We're arguing that the kata teaches specialized clinch skills. Clearly those skills have not been passed on. Those strategies haven't been taught. 

Zach Zinn wrote:

The Kata  has conditioning and broader body mechanics meanings for things like Tsuki and stepping that are more global, strategic, and which do not relate exclusively to a clinch scenario.

People have assigned meanings to the kata, but do they actually make sense? Do they work together strategically? We can prove with force meters that the karate punching mechanic is less powerful than boxing at the same distance. Circle stepping is an inefficient way to cover distance. You hear explanations like: "it protects the groin" or "it protects against foot sweeps" but they don't hold water. The best defense against being kicked is to move. Sanchin stance is hard to move in. The best defense against sweeps is to keep them off balance, not to stand rooted. But in our explanation the punch is much more optimized. At clinch distance you need different punching mechanics and they look just like karate. It's the same with the steps. They might not make sense as a way to move yourself, but they work great to move someone else.

The conditioning side is a little different. Obviously Sanchin is a good exercise, but I submit that even that is part of our bunkai. The dynamic tension is a great representation of the intensity that you have to do the techniques. They aren't speed techniques. They are strength and leverage techniques. So the conditioning side of Sanchin doesn't need to change, it just serves the bunkai.

Zach Zinn wrote:

we are trying to take a specific tactical meaning and say it is an overall exclusive strategy, which I don't think fits

Implicit in the objection is the idea that there is another explaination.  If you know a comprehensive strategy for Sanchin, or for any kata, please let me know. I'd love to see it. I'm not trying to throw out the old strategy. I'm saying that to the best of my knowledge there isn't one. Of course, a lack of other explanations does not prove I'm right. But if we're going to throw anything out I would throw out the explainations that don't come together. 

Zach Zinn wrote:

An analogy would be taking an application like a jab and saying you can draw conclusions about every Boxing punch based on it. Sure, the jab has a prominent use, but if you took it and tried to apply it to everything as an exclusive approach, it would be a lot tougher to understand how to use an uppercut. So trying to impose a specific tactical meaning on the larger strategic one becomes a limitation on the Kata itself.

The big flaw in the analogy is we know how jabs and uppercuts are used. We can go to boxing coaches and ask them. To try and use an uppercut as a jab you have to first ignore all other information on the uppercut. The meanings of the kata were lost so we can't just ask how they go together. We're not ignoring information. The information doesn't exist. That leaves our only options as try to rebuild it with what we have, or move on to another martial art.

Zach Zinn wrote:

So trying to impose a specific tactical meaning on the larger strategic one becomes a limitation on the Kata itself.

I've already mentioned that I don't think there is another strategic meaning taught for any Goju kata except what I've presented, but your point about limiting kata is a good one. I actually think that's a feature not a bug. The traditional model for interpreting kata allows for every movement to have an infinite number of interpretations. But that is the least helpful way to look at it. If kata has useful meaning it has to exclude more than it includes. In fact, it should exclude as much as possible leaving us with clear instruction. If kata can mean anything then it doesn't mean anything. 

Zach Zinn wrote:

In my experience results such as this depend very much on how you are testing them.

This is a very good point. We are trying to be as thorough and objective as possible, but no one is perfect. That's why I posted here, and I'm glad I did. The feedback has already been very helpful in pointing us in better directions.

Zach Zinn wrote:

 If you have the uke perform a simple body lock takedown from the position you are in originally (just have him hug your lower spine and squeeze)

This was not clear in the video. The beginning of the kata, we believe, represents a sumo-style tachiai, charge. I'm ramming him with my chest. It is only suitable as a way to close a small amount of distance while off-balancing them. You're certainly right that I wouldn't try to stand fully upright with them already grabbing me. The goal of the initial impact is to drive their shoulders back and stay pressed against them until you can get underhooks. Everything is geared to prevent exactly the problem you point out. The video did not convey this well. We've also found a better way to do this that more closely fits with kata. We're working on it. 

Zach Zinn wrote:

the lower body portion I suspect might not fare as well with a test with broader parameters than the ones shown in the video.

Just to be clear, the video was not a test at all. It was just a demonstration. The goal was just to show the sequence. Our tests are exactly like what you're describing. It's different doing a kind of karate that can be practiced full power. I like it.

Zach Zinn wrote:

Another possibility would be to test this with live pressure from something like the underhooks/pummeling drill in wrestling.

I hadn't seen that drill before. I really like it. Thanks. I found a short video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xu2fm32vih0

It looks very Sanchin to me. They're driving in, using the shoulders and chest to maintain pressure. Even their stances are more like Sanchin than not. The degree to which your feet will be under you is simply a function of how far you can make them arch back. In short, this is very similar to how I think Sanchin looks in practice. The clinch they're going for is different, but in basic theme it's the same. It certainly looks a lot like our pressure testing. One great thing about Goju is kakie, which looks a lot like this at higher intensities. 

Zach Zinn wrote:

My own experience is that other than a sprawl one of the most important things is is getting one leg back and having a solid base than can't be easily collapsed if someone grabs the torso, that combined with the kind of head and arm control shown in your video is quite effective, and standing in Sanchin with your center so much closer to the opponent in that particular position is something of a liability, but your mileage may vary. In my experience to stop someone with real force like that your body has to kind of work as a buttress against theirs, with a back leg as a brace, even to hold momentarily.

I agree with everything here. The only thing I would add is that Sanchin does give you a leg behind to brace with. It also allows you to drive forward with the whole torso instead of just the shoulders. Also, the situation where they are under your guard is addressed in the last section of the kata. It is either a sprawl, or it's very similar to the underhooks/pummleing drill. We used to think it was a sprawl. That's what's in the first video. We've gone back to formula this week because we think there may be a better explaination.

Can you point me to a video of the Okinawan Kempo Sanchin? I Googled it, but came up dry. I'd love to see it. My general theory on different kata versions is we should look at a kata version as an individual's kata. Right now I practice Goju kata as passed down to Morio Higaonna. I do that because his kata are very well documented and close to how Miyagi taught them. That means I'm, hopefully, doing Miyagi's kata. We know that Miyagi changed the kata from how he learned them so presumably he changed them to better fit him and his ideas. That means it must be possible to change a kata to better fit an individual. My ultimate goal is to figure out the katas well enough that I can start to do that for myself. I say all of that to say that it seems completely reasonable to me that someone, having learned Sanchin, would do it with a wider stance because it fit them better. If the change was made with good bunkai reasons in mind then it would be a good version. I don't think there can be an objectively "correct' version of kata. 

Thanks again for the feedback. I know this got long, but if you have anymore please do please post it. This has all been very helpful.

Zach Zinn
Zach Zinn's picture

Jonathan Walter wrote:

 

I certainly agree that it is a hard row to hoe. We've been working at it for nearly three years and only feel like we really understand Sanchin and Sanseru. It's been a tremendous amount of work. But we're not arguing that karateka have specialized clinch skills. We're arguing that the kata teaches specialized clinch skills. Clearly those skills have not been passed on. Those strategies haven't been taught.

People teach all kinds of different stuff for Sanchin, what other schools of thought have you been exposed to on Sanchin kata?

e wrote:

People have assigned meanings to the kata, but do they actually make sense? Do they work together strategically? We can prove with force meters that the karate punching mechanic is less powerful than boxing at the same distance. Circle stepping is an inefficient way to cover distance. You hear explanations like: "it protects the groin" or "it protects against foot sweeps" but they don't hold water. The best defense against being kicked is to move. Sanchin stance is hard to move in. The best defense against sweeps is to keep them off balance, not to stand rooted. But in our explanation the punch is much more optimized. At clinch distance you need different punching mechanics and they look just like karate. It's the same with the steps. They might not make sense as a way to move yourself, but they work great to move someone else.

Yes, many of them make sense, and Goju Ryu as a whole is a reasonably uniform system because it was created by one person, we could certainly argue that it's partially understood - like most modern styles. Kris Wilder has written a whole book on it, and plenty of famous Gojuka (Taira Masaji, the Jundokan guys, Morio Hiagonna, etc.) have convincingly holistic views of what Sanchin is supposed to be. Similarly, you can look at both Chinese and Okinawan systems and it is farily clear that Sanchin is less about "bunkai" proper, and more about the mechanics of stepping, breath, alignment, tsuki, etc...- this is what the Kata was used for historically, and why it is classified as tanren, or something close to Tanren by so many teachers, and not typically as a source of detailed "bunkai". As to the circle stepping, I agree that the circle stepping as often taught is way too big, and causes people to actually put themselves off balance as they move. There is a traditional drill (you can find video of Taira and his students doing it, it is what I also use and was trained with) of karateka learning to move forward with the step by having a bo placed on the solar plexus. If you learn it this way the step tends to be much more natural and less "sloggy", it also becomes a part of how you generate strong forward motion, as I learned it.

From my perspective whatt you describe above is just people making excuses when they have limited knowledge of the kata, with regard to protecting the groin and whatnot, the typical folklore that springs up when knowlege of function is lost. That does not mean no one has it, it means that those people don't. I am skeptical your punch is optimal from that distance, mainly because I have done a fair amount of live training against people trying to punch me while playing "the grappler" and will make this observation:

It is surpisingly easy to shut down someone trying to hit you at that close range, even when you are not much of a grappler - which I am not. Once you are in the position for underhooks, overhooks or a good head/arm clinch, minus body blows to break a neck/head clinch, it is quite difficult to strike effectively if the other person is actively trying to stop you in any way.

As to boxers punches, there's some truth there, I suspect they hit harder than anyone, by a mile. I now have about six months in a boxing gym to see how they do things. let me tell ya, there is a pretty simple reason they are better punchers: They probably throw ten times the punches a Karateka does in a training session, and it is their bread and butter.

At any rate, if you think there are no power lessons in Sanchin for powerful punching, I'd just suggest checking out Taira and Kris Wilder. I have not felt Taira's punch, but I have felt Kris punch plenty, and it is one of the powerful Karate punches I've experienced in my 30-something years in Karate, drawn largely from Sanchin principles.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wBoECsZLYT0

There's an example of Taira teaching Sanchin stuff.

e wrote:
The conditioning side is a little different. Obviously Sanchin is a good exercise, but I submit that even that is part of our bunkai. The dynamic tension is a great representation of the intensity that you have to do the techniques. They aren't speed techniques. They are strength and leverage techniques. So the conditioning side of Sanchin doesn't need to change, it just serves the bunkai.

I feel like If you look at the whole Goju syllabus (not to mentioned the Chinese versions of the form), it renders Sanchin as exclusive bunkai a somewhat akwward idea, because the movements in Sanchin are contained in the Koryu/Kaishu kata, which leads me to believe it is very probable that the focus on Sanchin is "body strategy" - i.e. body mechanics and movement, moreso than specific tactics - which again are found in the Kaishukata.

e wrote:

Implicit in the objection is the idea that there is another explaination.  If you know a comprehensive strategy for Sanchin, or for any kata, please let me know. I'd love to see it. I'm not trying to throw out the old strategy. I'm saying that to the best of my knowledge there isn't one. Of course, a lack of other explanations does not prove I'm right. But if we're going to throw anything out I would throw out the explainations that don't come together.

Again, it already exists in both progressive and "traditional" Goju Ryu. See Kris Wilder, Taira sensei, etc. whose explanations build on the notion of the overall kata being strategic moreso than a collection of tactics, which is it's known traditional use in Nahate forms, not even exclusive to Goju Ryu. Now, there is defintely room for how that's done of course, but as a Goju Ryu practitioner, I feel it's pretty settled that the form is central in the sense that it teaches the body structure, breathing, etc. but that it's purpose is more strategic than it is tactical.

e wrote:

The big flaw in the analogy is we know how jabs and uppercuts are used. We can go to boxing coaches and ask them. To try and use an uppercut as a jab you have to first ignore all other information on the uppercut. The meanings of the kata were lost so we can't just ask how they go together. We're not ignoring information. The information doesn't exist. That leaves our only options as try to rebuild it with what we have, or move on to another martial art.

I would disagree on the purpose of Sanchin being lost. There are people you can train with now that know the "traditional" meaning of Sanchin. We can argue that they have only a partial viewpoint on it (which is probably true, and is true of all of us, all viewpoints are partial), but the idea that the purpose of Sanchin is completely "lost" is simply not correct from my point of view, nor have I found it to be true in 20 years in Goju Ryu.

That said, the Boxing analogy is more like this: Saying that Sanchin is primarily about specific tactics is like claiming that a Jab is like a boxing stance. If you go to a Boxing gym the stance you learn is strategic, the overall style flows from it, and it can encompass all sort sof tactics, it is global. The jab on other hand has specific uses and is less global, though it is a fundamental technique.

So I am not saying that it is invalid to find tactis in Sanchin, only that I think it attenuates the purpose of the kata to view it this way exclusively, hopefully that makes sense

e wrote:

I've already mentioned that I don't think there is another strategic meaning taught for any Goju kata except what I've presented, but your point about limiting kata is a good one. I actually think that's a feature not a bug. The traditional model for interpreting kata allows for every movement to have an infinite number of interpretations. But that is the least helpful way to look at it. If kata has useful meaning it has to exclude more than it includes. In fact, it should exclude as much as possible leaving us with clear instruction. If kata can mean anything then it doesn't mean anything. 

Right, but half the Kaishu/Koryu kata of Goju ryu already include the movements of Sanchin, and we have generations at least of documented use of Sanchin as Tanren kata or Heishukata, not only in Goju but also other Naha styles, and farther back in Chinese styles.

e wrote:
This was not clear in the video. The beginning of the kata, we believe, represents a sumo-style tachiai, charge. I'm ramming him with my chest. It is only suitable as a way to close a small amount of distance while off-balancing them. You're certainly right that I wouldn't try to stand fully upright with them already grabbing me. The goal of the initial impact is to drive their shoulders back and stay pressed against them until you can get underhooks. Everything is geared to prevent exactly the problem you point out. The video did not convey this well. We've also found a better way to do this that more closely fits with kata. We're working on it.

What was the reason for choosing a Sumo-specific attack rather than something more general? Does it generate forward motion? If so, the body would look more like the bodies of the people doing the wrestling drill I would think, with the back leg kind of connected to spine in one line, and this line making a buttress against the forward force.

e wrote:

Just to be clear, the video was not a test at all. It was just a demonstration. The goal was just to show the sequence. Our tests are exactly like what you're describing. It's different doing a kind of karate that can be practiced full power. I like it.

I get it, I just struggle to understand what the lower body portion of the video is trying to demonstrate, if it's some Sumo specific attack, why was that chosen? Similarly, if it comes out like the wrestling video in the pressure test, why does the lower body need to be adjusted for the demonstration?

e wrote:

Can you point me to a video of the Okinawan Kempo Sanchin? I Googled it, but came up dry. I'd love to see it. My general theory on different kata versions is we should look at a kata version as an individual's kata. Right now I practice Goju kata as passed down to Morio Higaonna. I do that because his kata are very well documented and close to how Miyagi taught them. That means I'm, hopefully, doing Miyagi's kata. We know that Miyagi changed the kata from how he learned them so presumably he changed them to better fit him and his ideas. That means it must be possible to change a kata to better fit an individual. My ultimate goal is to figure out the katas well enough that I can start to do that for myself. I say all of that to say that it seems completely reasonable to me that someone, having learned Sanchin, would do it with a wider stance because it fit them better. If the change was made with good bunkai reasons in mind then it would be a good version. I don't think there can be an objectively "correct' version of kata. 

Thanks again for the feedback. I know this got long, but if you have anymore please do please post it. This has all been very helpful.

No, I don't have one. I have done a little training with an Okinawan Kempo person though and had an in depth conversation on this, the stance is similar to what I think they call "seisan dachi", basically an elongated Sanchin stance, or a zenkutsu dachi with the feet slightly inward. It is not that much wider, but is longer.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aC1GPycT06M

This is close to the stance as I remember it, but the nuance of how it's being performed is maybe different. I think this stance makes more sense to the kind of structure you are wanting for clinch work, personally.

At any rate, thanks for being open minded and listening, it's been a thought-provoking conversation.

To summarize, I think that you might be onto something quite good if you run with the morote-kamae as a lever, and simply focus on application of that, without assuming you are supposed to be grappling all the time. If you want to get good at grappling exclusively, I am not sure that Sanchin is efficacious training for that. Well, in fact I know it is not (subjectively at least) because I have done enough grappling (Judo and Jujutsu cross training) to say so, though grappling is -certainly- not my forte at all.

On the other hand, as a 20-something year Gojuka with that tad of cross training experience,  the idea that Sanchin is an exclusive "clinch" Kata is a pretty hard sell for me, and I  imagine other Karateka with similar experience might have a similar reaction. The idea that one might draw some clinch-oriented movements from it, not so hard to swallow. I do wonder if the ideas in the video might develop more and really come to fruition with a freer approach, less bound to the exact kata pattern, or to exclusive theories.

Jonathan Walter
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Zach Zinn wrote:

People teach all kinds of different stuff for Sanchin, what other schools of thought have you been exposed to on Sanchin kata?

I've trained with numerous other Gojuka, and a few Uechi Ryuka, for thirty years. I've read Kris Wilder's "The Way of Kata" and "The Way of Sanchin Kata." I've read Morio Higaonna's Karate-Do series in addition to his various video series. I've researched the Chinese origins of Sam Chien. I've read Seikichi Roguchi's "Okinawan Goju-Ryu", Giles Hopkins' The Kata and Bunkai of Goju-Ryu Karate", and Gogen Yamaguchi's "Goju Ryu Karate Do Kyohan." I've researched Taira Masaji, archived videos of An'chi Miyagi, and, a personal favorite, Masaaki Ikemiyagi. I'm sure I'm leaving some people out, but my point is I have yet to find an explaination of Sanchin kata, other than my own, that gives it real martial application. If you disagree, great! What is it? Please tell me. I can't prove the information isn't out there somewhere, but you can prove me wrong by sharing it. That would be fantastic!

Zach Zinn wrote:

Similarly, you can look at both Chinese and Okinawan systems and it is farily clear that Sanchin is less about "bunkai" proper, and more about the mechanics of stepping, breath, alignment, tsuki, etc...

Certainly no real bunkai is taught for it, but that doesn't prove it doesn't have it. This strikes me as more a case of confirmation bias than evidence. I know that's something that I've had to work against. It's incredibly frustrating to rethink everything I thought I knew.  

Zach Zinn wrote:

this is what the Kata was used for historically

Do you have a source for this? We have a few tid-bits of anecdotal information from before the modern era, but as far as I can find, nothing comprehensive on Goju. Another way of saying this is: no historical source gives bunkai for Sanchin. That is true, but it isn't proof of anything.

Zach Zinn wrote:

whatt you describe above is just people making excuses when they have limited knowledge of the kata

100% agree. That's exactly what it is. I don't think either of us are suggesting they are being dishonest, but it's very easy to make up answers instead of doing the work, and asking the questions, to get real answers. It happens subconsciously. For example, your bo drill. I've seen a few ways to do this, but they all test the same thing: the ability to drive forward with chest. And you're exactly right that the circle step is a key component of lining the body up to do that. It is a good and important test. But why is it a good and important test? It's an important test because Sanchin teaches clinch fighting where you need to drive your opponent backwards using the chest. If your chest is not in contact with your opponent then why do you need to drive it forward? 

Zach Zinn wrote:

I am skeptical your punch is optimal from that distance

What do you suggest otherwise? If you're making contact at full extension then the distance is wrong for clinch fighting. Optimal doesn't mean perfect. it doesn't mean as powerful as any other punch. It just means as good as it can be in that situation. If you look at MMA fighters punching from the clinch it's very similar. This touches on a larger point I've come to believe about Goju in general. I think we put far too much emphasis on strikes in general and not nearly enough on grappling. The damage in the Sanchin clinch doesn't come from the punches it comes from the neck pressure. It's effectively a half-nelson and it really hurts. The punches are most valuable as a way to secure the under-hooks. Don't get me wrong, they do hurt. But they won't knock anyone out. I'm not suggesting they would.

Zach Zinn wrote:

It is surpisingly easy to shut down someone trying to hit you at that close range

100% agree. That is why it makes so much sense for a self-defense art to focus so heavily on grappling, and clinching in particular. Since, as karateka, our first priority to neutralize their attacks a clinch is an ideal first line of defense. That is especially true if we know how to get to positions that hurt and drain our opponent faster than ourselves.

Zach Zinn wrote:

there is a pretty simple reason they are better punchers: They probably throw ten times the punches a Karateka does in a training session

Of course focus and repetition matter, but a 6 month boxing student won't have thrown more punches than a 10 year karateka. But the boxer will still have a stronger punch. Their technique is optimized for maximum power at full extension. My assertion is that karate punching is optimized for max power at half-extension. There is a simple way to test it: hit things. With traditional karate punching mechanics I can hit much harder at half extension than full. At half extension my hips are still moving forward so my whole body weight is behind it. The only way to do that at full extension is to rock forward on the toes. And the only reason I can see to emphasis punching power at half-extension is for a clinch where the distance is short.

Zach Zinn wrote:

if you think there are no power lessons in Sanchin for powerful punching

Hopefully I've already explained this, but I don't think that. I don't think that at all. Sanchin absolutely teaches the mechanics of punching with power. I just think that power is generated at half-extension, and punches are used to augment the grappling.

Zach Zinn wrote:

There's an example of Taira teaching Sanchin stuff.

That's a good video. I'd seen it before, and I still agree with it. There is nothing Taira says there that I disagree with. But the question he never answers for any of it is: why? He talks about how important it is to keep the elbow tight to the body, and not letting it rotate until the elbow it past the body. I agree. That is the point of impact so keeping the elbow tight allows you to transfer the hip drive more efficiently. It's not too different from a body punch in boxing. Of course in karate we follow through to try for an underhook, but the punch part is the same. He says to aim the punch to the side of the solar plexus. I agree. That will help the puch slide past and get the underhook. He talks about lowering the upper body down to the hips instead of raising the hips up. This is very important. Since their head is under your arm curling the hips that way drops your weight straight down on their neck. This is probably the most important part of the posture. I don't have notes on the last section of the video. We're tweeking our bunkai on the last section of the kata. I'm sure his points are valid. I just don't know exactly how to apply them yet. Now, I'm sure he wouldn't agree with me as much as I agree with him, but that's the crux of my arguments. I believe my bunkai explainations, not only work, but also justify the traditional kata performance.

Zach Zinn wrote:

I feel like If you look at the whole Goju syllabus (not to mentioned the Chinese versions of the form), it renders Sanchin as exclusive bunkai a somewhat akwward idea, because the movements in Sanchin are contained in the Koryu/Kaishu kata, which leads me to believe it is very probable that the focus on Sanchin is "body strategy" - i.e. body mechanics and movement, moreso than specific tactics - which again are found in the Kaishukata.

I've never said that Sanchin practice should exclusively be about bunkai. I've only said Sanchin, and any kata for that matter, practice should support the bunkai. Also, body mechanics and movement are bunkai. Every technique requires both, and if a mechanic or movement is valuable as martial arts training is must have a practical application. I would make an exception for pure physical training, but them we'd have to establish that Sanchin the best physical training. I certainly think it's good training, but in purely conditioning terms it isn't the best at anything. We wouldn't tell weight-lifters, for example, to do fewer reps with the barbell and substitue a few rounds of Sanchin. Another hypothesis for why there is so much overlap between Sanchin and the other kata is they show a development of ideas. Sanchin, being the first kata, gives the simplest explanation possible. As you gain more skill you learn more advanced kata which develop those ideas further. I do call this a hypothosis rather than an conclution. I mentioned before that we only think we have good explainations of Sanchin and Sanseru, but Sanseru feels exactly like Sanchin Level 2.

Zach Zinn wrote:

the idea that the purpose of Sanchin is completely "lost" is simply not correct from my point of view

I just want to reiterate that this is not my assertion. If I thought that I would consider Goju to be a lost cause and move on. My assertion is that we have lost the foundational level; the practical, fighting applications that everything else was built on. But that doesn't mean that what we do have is wrong. I agree with traditional kata performance, and traditional training methods. I think they make more sense when viewed through my lens. Of course, if you have a better explaination then I'm here for it. 

Zach Zinn wrote:

we have generations at least of documented use of Sanchin as Tanren kata

I agree. I have no issues with this. I just believe it is best built on a solid bunkai foundation. If it was simply about tanren then the pattern would be irrelevent. Any hard physical work can improve character. If I start a weight-lifting program and stick to it I will learn discipline, consistancy, the satisfaction of hard work, and many more things. But weigh-lifting isn't about character. It's about getting stonger. If all my karate training revolves around the actual skills of fihgting, then I will learn fighting and build character. If I do any aspect of it with the goal of building character then I will, but there's no reason to believe I'll get better at fighting.

Zach Zinn wrote:

What was the reason for choosing a Sumo-specific attack rather than something more general? 

Great question. I think we're have two very interesting conversations here. One is about the nature of kata, but this gets up back to the specific bunkail. I've spent a lot of time thnking about both so I appriciate being able to talk about them.

There are two things here. Second, what would you consider general wrestling? When I realized that the bunkai looked more like wrestling than the karate I was used to I started researching wrestling methods. If you've done the same I'd be very interesting in your assesments of them. First, I don't think I took the technique from Sumo, but I did take the word. It's the best word I've found to describe what I see in kata. Both are about using a full body impact to stop an opponent. That being said, I have done some research into Sumo. The Okinawans have their own version of sumo called Shima. According to Funakoshi a lot of karate masters were big fans. I haven't found much technical instruction on it, but there are a few matches on Youtube. From what I can tell there are some important similarites with Japanese Sumo. Specifically, the lack of ground fighting. In both touching the ground loses the match. I did Judo for a year. It was very valuable for many reasons, but the fact that most of the technques end up on the ground limits it's effectiveness for self-defense. That is my big issue with most wrestling traditions. There's nothing wrong with ground fighting as it's own thing, but I don't believe karate kata teach it.

Zach Zinn wrote:

If so, the body would look more like the bodies of the people doing the wrestling drill I would think, with the back leg kind of connected to spine in one line, and this line making a buttress against the forward force.

  

That is what the very beginning of Sanchin looks like. Right before the first step the shoulders come forward and the whole body shoots forward from the back heel. It isn't as pronounced as in Sumo because the distance is so short, but it's there. Of course, by the time the front leg has found it's spot you've already made contact so it's also about dropping the weight down on the neck, but the shoulders are still pressing forward to keep them upright. You don't want a low stance here. You want to maintain pressure to keep them high. If they can drop their stance it takes pressure off their neck. 

Zach Zinn wrote:

 I just struggle to understand what the lower body portion of the video is trying to demonstrate

I don't think I've fully explained this yet. It's a very good question. It deserves a good answer. First of all, I believe all karate stances are attempts to represent weight transfer in a solo drill. We shouldn't think of Sanchin Dachi as the correct placement of the feet, or back or anything else. It is a demonstration of how to exert foward pressure on their torso with yours while also cranking on their neck. Turning the feet in locks the hips forward to drive forward. Thrusting the chest out forces their shoulders back. Curling the hips under drips your weight straight down. In kata you get to the posture and hold it. In application everything will be in constant movement. The challenge comes in trying to drive their shoulders back, keep your weight down, and stay pushing forward as they struggle to get away. But kata can't show that, and we couldn't show that with our camara set-up. No doubt showing some pressure testing would help.

Another key element of keeping the feet close is locking their feet. You want your whole body lined up on their neck. That puts all your weight on their neck. They have two choices from this position. One is to level change and get under. I'll explain why that doesn't work in the following two paragraphs. The second is to support your weight. To do that they have to get their feet under their neck as well. I mentioned in the video it was similar to a "good morning" which is a kind of barbell lift. They can't move their feet because if they do your weight will drive them into the ground.

There are two mechanisms shown in Sanchin to keep them from getting your legs. You've pointed to this problem a few times and rightly so. The first way to keep them from shoting under is to maintain forward pressure with the chest. If you can drive their shoulders back they can't shoot. That forward pressure should be established at the tachiai, and maintained until the backwards steps. The second defense is a sprawl. I believe that's what the closing represents. At the very end of all Goju kata you bring your hands together palms up, pivot them down, and stand up. This same movement happens at the beginning of Naihanchi. Iain describes it as a head grab an push. I think he's right, but I think it can do as far down as needed. Kata can't really show a sprawl because it requires a person to lean on. The best it can do is have you bring your feet together and get your body in a line. It can't tell you what angle that line will be at. It happens at the end of kata because it will break the sequence. Either you get enough space to get away, or you need a new tachiai to start over.

You mentioned in a previous reply the danger of them shooting under before you establish an underhook. This is a very important consideration. It was one the first things that occured to us as well, but it isn't actually a problem. If you get their shoulders back they can't shoot. If you lose the shoulders you're still over their head. You're already trying to drop your weight on them. If they go low you naturally follow and drive them into the ground; sprawl. You can go down as far as you need to to stop their shoot. 

Zach Zinn wrote:

This is close to the stance as I remember it, but the nuance of how it's being performed is maybe different. I think this stance makes more sense to the kind of structure you are wanting for clinch work, personally.

That looks perfectly reasonable to me. It reminds me of another Naha-Te style called Ryuei Ryu. Here's their Sanseru 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_jspKtXxr_A

I think all of these stances are trying to do very similar things. The differences are more due to personal variations than any change in purpose. A lot of it seems to relate to height. I'm the tallest in my training circle, and if we look at archived pictures of Miyagi with other katateka it looks like he had a similar problem. When I do the stances just like his kata they work really well for me, but some of my friends have to modify them a little to get up over my shoulders. It doesn't mean we're doing different things. We're just doing the same thing a little differently. 

If you want to test any of this it's pretty simple. A good first test would be to get in a good Sanshin Dachi over someone's head. Let your weight rest on their neck. Make them hold you up. From there let them try for a leg. If you keep your weight on them you'll eventually have to bring your feet and hips back and will naturally end up in a sprawl. It's shockingly easy. 

Zach Zinn wrote:

 I do wonder if the ideas in the video might develop more and really come to fruition with a freer approach, less bound to the exact kata pattern, or to exclusive theories.

This brings us back to the purpose of kata. Kata is the japanese word for pattern. Fundamentally that's what kata is, a pattern. If we change the pattern we change the kata. If our bunkai doesn't match the pattern then it isn't bunkai for that kata. No one's suggesting that an actual fight will look like a kata, but our bunkai should. If we take one element out and look at it without the rest of the kata then it won't be bunkai for that kata. It may be good karate, but it won't be bunkai. I hope to get to that level one day, but first I want to set the base-line. To jump ahead is to say that the pattern doesn't really matter; which is the same as saying the kata doesn't really matter.