Entrance to the Barn Dojo....

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Sanchin and stuff again

I recently came across this analysis of Sanchin kata.


I'm not sure the link actually takes you to the right place, but it was a YouTube video called "Sanchin Basic Analysis."

Yang Chengfu standing
in the Wu Wei posture
Now I must admit that any analysis of Sanchin--that is, the attempt to find bunkai in Sanchin--baffles me. A number of principles certainly, but I don't believe Sanchin in Goju-ryu was ever meant to be seen as a bunkai kata in the same sense as the other Goju subjects. I've written about this before. It's my belief that it's a futile endeavor--it's a basic kata to study  posture, breathing, and a number of other basic things--or, at best, the techniques are so elementary that it begs the question of why one would spend time trying to "find" applications for Sanchin when the other classical subjects are so much richer with intentional bunkai. I suppose this sort of thinking comes from what seems to me to be a misunderstanding of the oft-repeated statement that Sanchin is the fundamental kata of both Goju-ryu and Uechi-ryu. What do we mean by fundamental? Surely that doesn't mean, as I have sometimes heard, that the root of all Goju/Uechi techniques can be found in Sanchin. If that's true, it's certainly putting too fine a point on it for me. That's like saying that all T'ai Chi postures can be found in the Wu Wei beginning posture. I suppose in one sense that's true, as Wu Wei is emptiness or non-action, and all things begin from non-action, but it doesn't really get you very far.
First technique in Saifa kata

But what did interest me about this analysis of Sanchin was that the person demonstrating the techniques was doing the same technique against a right attack or a left attack, moving to the inside of the attacker or the outside. I have heard the same thing from some kung fu practitioners (and other karate people)--that you should be able to execute any technique regardless of which hand the attacker is attacking with. The "logic" behind this, as expressed to me, was that you don't have sufficient time to figure out which hand someone is attacking with and respond with the appropriate hand. I think this is ridiculous for two reasons: one, all techniques do not work from either side; and two, while I may not have sufficient time to contemplate which technique might be an appropriate response in a split second, I certainly have time to move and raise a hand to either the inside or the outside of the attack. That is, though I may not have time to contemplate which "bridging" or "finishing" technique may be appropriate, I certainly have time to respond with a "receiving" (uke) technique. (If I don't, I get hit--which means responding to the inside or outside with the same technique makes no difference anyway.)
What I do from there is dictated by my initial movement or uke (receiving of the attack)--and Goju actually shows a limited number of ways to receive that initial attack--the attacker's movements, and which controlling and finishing techniques fit with my initial response. One thing leads to the other rather
Part of second technique
in Seiunchin
fluidly and without a lot of thought. For example, the opening or first technique of Saifa (a technique that is shown three times to show the other side) is against an opponent grabbing my right hand with his left hand. It doesn't work if the opponent grabs my right hand with his right hand. If that were the case, I would respond with the second sequence of Seiunchin kata. Sometimes techniques are shown multiple times in kata because the kata shows attacks from one side or the other; the message is not, on the contrary, that the same technique (done with the same hand that is) should be able to be applied against any attack. Most of the time in Goju-ryu, this response is fairly easy to see based on the principle that the safest place to be or the safest response is to move to the outside of the attack. Training and logic both provide us with this answer. The problem, I think, is that the training is often not real enough or logic has flown right out the window.


  1. I agree that sanchin does not have bunkai except in the explanation that it does teach you the proper technique that promotes better posture, alignment, breathing, etc.

    In the thirty plus years I have practiced it I never tried to put a bunkai into it.

    I do attribute the sanchin kata as a means to learn and perfect the fundamental principles of martial systems but that is me.

    Thanks for the great post.

  2. "one thing leads to another fluidly and without a lot of thought"
    Well said! Does bunkai help develop this?
    You might find this interesting.