A Sanchin Experiment. . .
by Paul Giella (DMH)
Thought I would fill you in on an experiment in progress. I recall you saying, many years ago, that the Old Masters would say “all you need is Sanchin” and that it was possible to keep up a high skill level with regular Sanchin alone. So I have set the month of December (actually, a little before) to do the long, thousand step Sanchin every day for a month. I am up to day twenty and feeling good. It takes about forty minutes. I am heated and sweaty by the middle and really into the groove by the end. It is like a massage from within, and the muscles feel electrified for several hours afterwards. The only danger so far seems to be the risk of a repetitive strain injury (like tendonitis) in the elbows, so I have softened the focus at the end of the strikes to minimize that risk. Except for the full workout in the Saturday class at the Hut, I am trying not to do any other formal exercise, in order to isolate the Sanchin effect as much as possible. So far, very interesting! I’ll keep you posted.
Paul Giella,PhD, CCICMHC
Thanks for the update Paul. How about a photograph of you doing Sanchin and a bit more background on why you created such a difficult challenge. Also a bit more on the different levels/interpretation of Sanchin. I’ll be honored to post an article on the site.
So, I finished the month of long sanchins daily. I had wanted to try to isolate the ‘sanchin effect’ so I set aside thirty days, from Thanksgiving to Christmas, and performed the three part, thousand step sanchin each morning. And no other exercise except the unavoidable day to day tasks (snow shoveling one day, wood chopping another, etc) and the Saturday full class at the Hut. I wanted to test out the old legend that “all one needs is sanchin”. Not being a purist, though, my sanchin was not just the classic, classroom form. Three hundred steps/strokes in the classic form; three hundred chambering with the step; three hundred striking with the completion of the step, and allowing for greater freedom in the third phase so there were a few kicks, a few foot sweeps, some punches and elbows and ridge hands, etc…and the wa-uke series at three levels with the classic first, emphasis on the circle block second and the hard push out third… but all following the sanchin principles of eyes, breathing, posture.
Here is what I found:
Overall, it was a worthwhile and enjoyable experiment. I felt energized and the muscles ‘electrified’ for much of the day.
Some excessive strain on the elbows, and I had to modify (soften) the focus so as to avoid something like tendinitis.
By far the hardest part was getting started in the morning (I had to start at 4:45am so that I could get to work on time… facing the cold and dark when I would rather have pulled the covers over my hard was very tough on some days. But I managed to do it, and by about a hundred steps I was cooking. By the last phase I was really into the zone, and the moves just shot out like arrows.
Going back to the regulation ten step sanchin felt strange… like jogging a hundred yards and calling it a workout. (the thousand step sanchin took about forty minutes and the overall exertion effect felt about like a three mile easy run).
I did miss the other moves from the kata, and I don’t think I could live with just sanchin alone forever… that was why I put some of the other moves into the third phase. Getting back to the regular kata workout after the experiment was over felt good and natural.
My timing changed somewhat over the month. Heck, thirty thousand sanchin strikes should lead to some improvement in flow, wouldn’t you think? Felt more natural, with less obsessive attention to classic detail but much more of the ‘natural man’ feel; a good thing that has stayed with me in the couple of weeks since I finished.
If I think of other effects I will send another note. Please feel free to post this on Van or Bill’s site if you would like. I would certainly encourage others to repeat this experiment, or come up with others of their own. It’s not as if our art is so perfect it cannot be tested or improved.
Hope you and Susan are well and Happy New Year!
I thought I had a camera for a picture but I don’t! As far as why I created the challenge; always searching for the ‘perfect workout’… also an age related thing to try to find a workout that would leave me energized without the muscle soreness. And with the Winter doldrums coming, I wanted to challenge myself to something that I could feel new and accomplished. Which I did. I’ve been encouraging the boys at the Hut to try this. So far, only Justin said he’ll try a thousand step sanchin. About the different levels: first level is the classical one. Second level is to step into a chambered and bladed position and then shoot out the strike. Third level is to strike with the step, so the strike and the step end together. I guess people would have to see this to grasp it. Whenever I have someone try it for the first time they feel awkward and anxious, like they are violating some sacred taboo. But after awhile, when they get used to the differences in timing and the flow most people really like it. Eyes, breathing and posture coordinate quite well at the third level! The hardest thing of all is to get people to realize that there is some freedom to experiment as they study. Would you believe I have been told that I have no right to do this. Why? Because they don’t do it on Okinawa! Maybe they haven’t thought of it there yet! Again, hard to get people past the superstitious belief that sanchin is so perfected that it cannot ever be tampered with… like some religious ritual. Someone once said the hardest thing about getting new ideas in is to get the old ideas out… and in this case the old idea is the one that says ‘don’t experiment’. Anyway, if this is such a sin, then I plead guilty… better, though would be for people to keep the mind open and give it a try. Or come up with their own experiment. If there is no value to it it will fall by the wayside…