Sanchin: The Bonus Kata

I now get to learn two new kata before obtaining my next belt. No pressure, but there is a lot of tension.

Dynamic tension, to be exact.

Sanchin is a tension kata, and as such running it is very different from running a “normal” kata like my other new one, Empi Sho. Where we typically put our full power into our techniques like punches and kicks, we instead tighten every muscle in the body and push the technique out slowly, using passive resistance all the way. We also breathe out, slow and steady, making it both a good breathing exercise and an isometric workout for the muscles.

Perhaps it’s easiest if I just show you:

This is the Shito-ryu version of the kata, and as usual our Shuri-ryu interpretation of the kata has some slight differences, but it works the same way: run the kata with dyamic tension and controlled breathing. We’re also a bit louder than this guy, but we don’t use the same odd (to me) breathing technique as they do in the Kyokushinkai version. Sanchin comes from the Naha lineage, and if you’re curious you can find some thoughts on its history on Mario McKenna’s blog and on Wikipedia.

I wasn’t terribly worried about holding the tension. My dojo has turned the last class on Tuesday night into a more intense workout, and Sensei Miller always has us run at least one tension kata. Because it was not yet time for me to learn Sanchin, I’ve been running the various Taikyoku kata with tension. This gave me plenty of opportunity to get the breathing and isometric resistance down, which should make things easier as I inch closer to brown belt.

Not that it made learning Sanchin easy, mind you. I’ve been watching my classmates run Sanchin for months, and there aren’t a lot of steps to it. However, the weekend I learned it I found myself asking Noah Legel, another Shuri-ryu student, for a quick review via email. I remembered it right, but the application feels strange at times, especially with tension thrown into the mix and having to nail down the peculiar Sanchin-dachi stance.

I think I’ve got it down, though. Now it’s just a matter of refining the technique, making it look good and making sure it has the desired effect. It’s also cool to see characters running tension kata in movies like The Executioner and knowing both why they’re doing it and how it feels, even if it does look a little awkward on the screen.

Now if only I could shake that dorky feeling when I run it at home…

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

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  1. Noah L says:

    Haha, and Sanchin is just the beginning–you still have Seiunchin and Tensho, and then the two other versions of Sanchin (Sei and Mitsu). I have TWO versions of Tensho, in fact, but I get to do some funny breathing for the Goju-Ryu version. In any case, they are fun and definitely very good for increasing your strength. Just remember, do not ‘push’ your techniques in one direction–do not ‘push’ your punches forward, or your blocks outward. Instead, ‘push’ in all directions at once. You will understand the first time Sensei Miller or Shihan starts pushing on you :P. Also, beware if they are hitting you to test your tension and they go behind you–if your stance is incorrect, you WILL take a kick to the groin.

  2. Mike says:

    I’ve seen Seiunchin, as well as Sanchin Sei and Mitsu, but not a lot of Tensho. I’m thinking it will be more a question of learning the steps/movements than worrying about the tension. I have gotten the ab/lat chops and the attempted kick and they seemed happy, so I must be doing something right. :) Sensei has been pushing on me for a while, and once he showed me the proper way to execute the turn in Sanchin and land with the feet lined up properly, I was pretty well golden.

  3. Noah L says:

    Very nice! It’s always good to get a jump start on things, especially when it comes to dynamic tension, and it sounds like it did wonders for your Sanchin. As far as the stance and stepping–it took a private lesson on a beach in Hawaii with just Shihan, Jason D. and I for me to get that down. Let it be known that if you can do Sanchin in sand, you are set :P. By the way, I posted something you might find interesting–and actually relevant!–on my blog just now.