Towards a Dynamic Sanchin Stance
by David Mott
Grandmaster Kanei Uechi and Ryuko Tomoyose checks Tim Horgan’s Sanchin
Sanchin stance is a brilliant stance. It protects the inside surfaces of our legs,
helps to protect our groin from upward sweeping kicks, helps to protect our knees from being damaged by an outside kick, guards the shin bones from straight-on kicks, and distributes the weight of the body in a dynamic way.
We all know this. What this article addresses, however, is that over the years, I have observed a tendency for Uechi-ryu karateka to assume the stance in a static way. To be sure, for the body to accommodate the “pigeon toed” front foot and to make sure that the back foot is fully squared off takes work. I doubt that anyone initially finds the stance comfortable or even meaningful. But once body memory and an accurate feeling of the stance takes over and we don’t have to look down to see if we’ve correctly positioned our feet, the stance gets assumed as we get interested in the power of our strikes. Actually, it is in direct relation to the power of our strikes that the stance becomes dynamic.
Here’s what I suggest you investigate. At Cold Mountain Dojo the stance is taught using the model of either a motorcycle or a bicycle. In both cases the driving force is through the rear wheel. And in both cases the front wheel serves to stabilize (taking the bumps, steering etc.). The toed in position of the front foot in sanchin stance brilliantly acts to stabilize the power connected to the rear foot. (By the way, make sure that your knees are always in alignment with your feet. The stance’s effectiveness is severely compromised by the knees pulled towards one another or bowing out away from each other.) With this model, the legs are not stiffly pulled into opposition and the weight distribution is not precisely 50/50.
While the 50/50 static stance provides an effective platform for the torso, it cannot be used to generate power. With a stabilizing leg/ driving leg stance, the balance of weight is not far off from being equally weighted on both legs. It may be as slight as 51/49 (front to back) or as great as 60/40 depending on the function of the arms. The reason is that the back leg is pushing forward and the front leg is stabilizing that push. If the back leg’s function is to stabilize, it’s ability to generate power is commensurately reduced (as in a kick off the forward foot). But the weight shift through the stance should never go past the front foot’s ability to stabilize unless the forward foot advances in a sliding step. Actually it’s the driving force of the rear foot that would generate and support the sliding step -much like “popping a wheely”. Furthermore, the weight on the forward foot should never cause the knee to bend further than vertical alignment with the toes.
With this model you have a dynamic stance rather than a static one. The way to incorporate the transfer of power from the rear foot can be best understood with a punch on the same side as the rear foot. As you punch (and timing is critical here), observe a slight straightening of the rear leg at the knee and slight shift forward with the torso. Notice also a subtle hip engagement with a forward micro movement in the hip in consort with the extension of the arm and fist. This offers an opportunity to generate the power of the punch from the ground up through the body. It also takes much less effort than when generating the power through shoulder and arm strength alone. (This is a significant advantage for aging karateka!)
Essentially, punching over the forward foot produces the same mechanics and feeling except that there is usually a greater rotation in the supporting hip as the direction of rotation is more free as it moves towards the rear foot (instead of against the toed in position of the forward foot).
Of course, all this assumes that you feel your feet and a deep connection to the ground. If that’s a challenge, then start there before you investigate your stance. Since we stand around on our feet and legs we assume that we feel them. But often, our ability to stand for long periods is through dissociation rather than connection. There is a saying in Chinese martial arts, “My fist touches you but I hit with ground”. This understanding of a dynamic sanchin stance will help to make that clear.