Entrance to the Barn Dojo....

Sunday, January 01, 2017

Rooting in Sanchin

We used to head up to the White Mountains every Columbus Day. We'd start out early in the morning and, after a three or four hour drive, try to hit the mountain by ten in the morning. One of our favorites was the Franconia Notch trail that runs north along a knife-edge ridge that connects Mount Liberty, Little Haystack, Mount Lincoln, and Mount Lafayette. Most of the hikes in the White Mountains, at least if you're going up to the summit, are all-day affairs, but Franconia was especially nice to take the kids up when they were little, though we often had to tell long, drawn-out stories to get them all the way up. It might be Macbeth one year or Lonesome Dove the next. The rule was that every time we stopped to rest, the story stopped too. But when you get to the top, the trail along the ridge can be spectacular on a clear day; you can see down both sides and there's nothing to block the view.

One year, it was fairly warm at the bottom where we parked the car--warm for the end of October anyway--but by the time we got to the summit, there was two or three feet of snow, and it was quite a bit colder. We passed another family with a teenage daughter on the narrow path that led along the ridge. The daughter, dressed in fashionable sweatpants and a pair of pink sneakers, was sitting on a rock by the side of the trail. She was crying and sniffling and refusing to go on. She looked miserable. Her father was trying to reason with her. "You can't just stay here," he argued. But she wouldn't move. When her father suggested they turn around and go back down, she said, "No, I'm not going." When her father suggested that they continue in the direction they were going, she wailed, "No, I'm not going." Her father was clearly getting frustrated with the situation, and the girl, blaming her father for her own misery and the perceived ills of the natural world, decided she would make everyone around her as miserable as she was. She wanted another choice--one that didn't entail walking anywhere in the cold for the next few hours. The funny part--if there was anything funny about being on the top of a snow-covered mountain in the late afternoon with the only option being a four-hour hike in either direction with someone clearly not dressed for it--was how simple the situation appeared from the outside. They couldn't stay there for long, so the only choice--and they were both really the same--was which way to go down. Whether they went forward or back, it was about the same distance. It wasn't really a Hobson's Choice, but it seemed almost as simple.

We left them there, so I don't know what eventually happened to them. We continued on, but it wasn't quite the hike we had planned. The wind picked up and it started to snow. The rocky path along the ridge got more and more treacherous. However, we knew the trail, having hiked it many times before, and we knew that it would be a lot easier once we made it down to the tree line, and chances were there wouldn't be any snow down there. But up on the top, the path could be slippery, and it was no place to fall and get seriously hurt. Of course, we always tell our kids not to fall or "Be careful; don't slip," as if you had any say in the matter.

Sanchin kata
But of course, you do have some say in the matter. All you have to do is keep your feet under you. Is that a little too obvious? I would always say this half jokingly to my kids when we went hiking. That's all there is to it really, though it may be considerably harder to do than it might seem. After all, that's really, I have come to believe, a good deal of what Sanchin is about, isn't it? Balance. Rooting. Sinking. Down power. Lowering your center. How difficult should it be to just stand in sanchin dachi with your hips tucked under slightly and your center of gravity between your feet--from front to back and from side to side--and keep it there as you move and execute fairly simple techniques? Of course, your knees also have to be over your feet and slightly bent and your spine needs to be straight. It's the same thing that T'ai Chi practitioners are trying to work out when they engage in "pushing hands," I imagine. It's often said that Kanryo Higashionna was able to stand in Sanchin posture while four people pushed and pulled him from different directions. But in a piece written by Genkai Nakaima, Memories of My Sensei, Miyagi Chojun sensei tells the young student that he himself might have "performed Sanchin well only once out of 30 times" he practiced it!

Without a strong root, the tree falls.
How difficult is it? It's incredibly difficult. I think most of us tend to fall forward even when we walk, or we slump and sag and weave wherever we go. Or we work on balance and down power when we do Sanchin and that's it--that is, if we even realize we should be working on balance and rooting and down power and putting our center or mind in the tanden (dan t'ien). I think most people's Sanchin is too hard and the focus is on being hard. The martial arts is all about balance, and balance extends outward into all aspects of life. You just have to keep your feet under you. Simple really.

1 comment:

  1. Mike H6:27 PM

    The simple thinks can be difficult in life and for kata. Done correctly the reward is great. Practice make perfect