Sanchin Kata – The hidden muscle phases (Engl)

Sanchin Kata – the secret of the hidden muscle phases

written by Walter Seeholzer, Kyoshi Shihan 7.Dan International Karate Do Goju Kai

Within the traditional Gojukai Karate, the Sanchin Kata is with Tensho one of the two Kihon Gata, which carries the basic informations of the style. Both of them are important to pass on the traditional essence of the style. They are also considered as breathing Kata. In this essay, I mainly write about the first one, the Sanchin Kata, concentrating on informations, which are not so widely spread.
One of the interpretations of the name Sanchin which literally means three steps or three phases, is also three battles, which can be seen as the fight or the integration of the three levels, the physical, the astral and the celestial.
The name therefore implicate the work on the 3major body centers with the 3 energy levels of a person.

Three Energy Levels

The lower Dantien is the center of the physical body and the body etheric energy field. In martial arts, most of the training is done to strenghten this center. The lower Dantien include the etheric energy field, all infor-red, magnetic, electromagnetic and finer radiation given of by the body and extends out from the body to connect with its surroundings like an energy radar or responsiv energy net. 1
The middle Dantien, is the heart center the center of the emotional body or the astral body. It contains the solar plexus, the heart and the throat center. This center is enlarged about one arm length around the body, the so called large sphere, in which all the aspects of the person are included.
The upper Dantien is the center of the mental and spiritual realm. The upper Dantien is located in the center of the head (pituitari gland, hypothalamus, pineal gland).

Origin of Sanchin Kata

It has a great evindence, that the Sanchin Kata was strongly influenced by the white crane form „Babulien“, the 4th. set of the white crane. Kanryo Higaonna and Chojun Miyagi spent several years in Fuzhou, the south chinese city, where they used to train with Xie Zhongxian a master of the Fujian White Crane.

Goju Ryu: Chojun Miyagi – Gogen Yamaguchi – Goshi Yamaguchi

To master the Sanchin Kata is a life long task and we should put great emphasize to learn this kata and trying to go deeper. There is no end of the learning process, it is rather a infinite process, since each of the aim we realised, will show a new task, which comes to our consiousness, only after having mastered the previous step.

In the beginning it will be important to build a strong body and a strong mind and to use proper technics and having a good structure and a rooted stance. But we should always bear in mind, that the pure physical strength is just the first level of training.

Unbroken concentration from Yoi to Naote

On the first level of the training, our biggest task is to learn the proper breathing from the diaphragma, the proper body alignement, the stances and the accurate technics. We also try to build up the outer physical strength and the mental strength, our spirit. In Karate, when we talk about the spirit, mostly we imply that with a strong will power, which is generated from the depths of ones beeing.

We have to keep the focus on all those aspects from Yoi to Naote – from beginning to the end. Each session starts and end with the bow, the ritual beginning and ending of it. The bow is the outer demonstration of the inner respect which is done at each training session and which is also done when we enter or leave the place of Do, the Dojo. Each of the bow should show the respect to our own personal highest aim. It is a wrong understanding in the west, that peoples hesitate to bow, because they think, that it has something to do with hero or emperor worship.

On each of the trainings level there is this common task to keep the focus from the beginning to the end, and the concentration should not be interrupted. There is a constant change of the inbreathing and outbreathing. Inbreath and outbread are equally in length and intention. Within the cycle of the breathing, there should be no lost in concentration, nor should the energetic protection have any holes. The body should be as it would be covered with a energetic shield. The Ibuki Breathing plays a important roll to learn the first level of that kata. Ibuki is the strong fierce breathing, which is accompagnied with a strong muscle tension and a strong mental intention. The short intention of each breath together with the full contraction of the muscle strength, combined with one’s will power will build up step by step the power of a karate master, which has no limits. Whatever is in front will be penetrated with a fierce force, which is focussed to one point with the Kime. Kime means to focus the

Ki the Energy. The energy roots in the Dantien, which is connected to the feet by lowering the sacrum and is expressed through the waist, chest, shoulder, arm into the fist.

After having mastered the basic form, we can also starts to refine the movements, without loosing the first level of training, but we should go on and should search then for the internal sensations.
If at first, the strong breathing, the strong will power and the strength of the muscles are most important, then we have to switch our focus also to the inner changes, in order to integrate a new level of understanding.

A different level of understanding

On that new level of training we try to refine the movements from external movement to the internal movements and to the forces (pressure and stretches), which means to get access to a different form of power, which does not rely anymore just on muscle strength. Working with the forces or pressures means to feel the body not as a solid phyisical body anymore, but rather we feel it as a elastic ball.

On that level, the muscle strength is secondary, because we work on stretched muscles rather than contracted muscles. A stretched muscle can be generate forces about 10 times as much as a contracted muscle. In other words, we build up a power, which is
less obvious and far more effectiv.
In these days, the basic form and the the first level of training is well known and spread in many of the different Goju Ryu Styles. Therefore, I will not go too much into the details of the first level of training.
In my article, I would like to focus on other aspects, which are hidden and not visible at the first glance.
The understanding of the hidden phases in martial arts is based on some informations about using mind intention and using the inner senses to controll the muscle phases, rather than having a superficial body controll.



Goshi Yamaguchi, Saikoshihan of the IKGA

Saikoshihan Goshi Yamaguchi did not stopped to progress on a outer level. He always had a strong vision and he never missed searching for the deeper aspects of the martial art. When I started to learn from him in 1979, we already knew, that he and also some other Shihans like Kikuchi Shihan, who is one of the highest Shihans in the gojukai, started to do some internal training. They spoke about the Ki-Training but at that time, it was a training apart from the karate training.

Unknown to many members, Saikoshihan started some decades ago a new class, the wednesday morning class in Tokio, where he spread the knowledge of how to develop the internal energy. Most of the western karate visitors got the basic ideas of Saikoshihans higher martial art in this class. That training was clearly different to a karate class. Saikoshihan did not asked to wear the karate gi, nor he wanted to have a separation of the grades. Everybody, woman and men, young and old, sick or healthy learned together and he was partner to all of the the members in the group. In this class he did not only teach a lot of internal martial art, but spread a deep emotional love to the class, that no one left the class without having re-charged his own battery. He also encouraged the peoples to start such classes in there own country, because one of his aim was to teach the essence of what he knew to elderly peoples as well. In this class you could see the full depth of his ability. Although, there were not many members attening that class, he constantly taught from the bottom of his heart.
The essence of that training and the essence of what he learned within his own internal refinement he finally merged to the gojukai by teaching a new way of doing Sanchin/Tensho Kata, he called it the soft Sanchin/Tensho Kata.

The „soft Sanchin Kata“

While doing the softer way, we use the mind intentions and we use the two forces „kai and go“ which could be also interpretated as sinking and lifting or releasing and activation or magnetic and electric. In this way of training, the principle idea is to generate a elastic power, rather than using a solid power and to have access to the deeper parts of the mind.

When Saikoshihan explained the elastic power – he used to take a inflated ball and throw it to the floor. As stronger as he smashed it to the floor, as stronger the rebouncing was. So he always mentioned, that the lower body store the power and rebounce the power as it was obvious, when he demonstrated it with the ball. To execute a strong elastic punch, he explained, that the short and intense lowering of the Diaphragma has the same effect to the muscles as if the ball was smashed to the floor. In other words, the strong elastic force comes from a relaxed stretch of the muscles, then the wave of unstretching the muscles together with a deep intented force to the target generate the elastic power. Or again in other words. the power is stored in the muscles, as if the bow is in a full stretch, then the unstretch of the muscles is like releasing the arrow from the bow, it is a short intense unstretch of the muscle groups which are involved.

Mind intention – Phases of a motion

When we do the soft Sanchin Kate, we use a strong mind intention of taking the energy from the ground, bringing it up to the top of the head. This strong intention is done together with a rising wave of muscle contractions. When the contraction and mind is on top of the head, we start to release the muscles and at the same time our mind is releasing as well by sinking deeper. and we bring our mind down to lower dantien and further down to the feets and immediately back to the Dantien. These phases are done before we focus our intention to a target in front of us and releasing the internal force to that point.
After that, we remain in the neutral position, where the next motion starts.
When we look clearly at those informations, we see that this process is done in 5 Phases. Those phases will be explained in detail below.

Before explaining this mentioned process deeper, I would like to draw you to the difference of external- or internal motion and that we have to be aware, that beyond that, there is much more . The goal of any inner martial art is to refine the outer strength into inner strenth and target to a infinite progress to the inner developement, which includes not only the lower Dantien, but the middle and upper Dantien as well. It is the inner work of refinement, which basically means to reduce the influence of superficial parts of the mind and to have less and lesser control by the Ego.

After more than 40 years of deepening the gojukai karate do, my search, brought me some years ago to the chinese line of tradition, where our ancestors have learned. This line of tradition is spread in the West through Patrick Kelly – a master of the internal arts, who studied more than 20 years under Master Huang Xingxian, one of the most respected Taiji Master on earth. In this days, Patrick Kelly is bringing that wisdom back to China through his 9clouds studio in Shanghai. Beside that he has a base in Zürich and Aukland, where he regulary supervise the classes. Master Huang himself got his basic martial art knowledge from Xie Zhongxian the same teacher, as Master Higuaonna and Master Miyagi learned, when they were in Fuzhou the south chinese city.

The below informations comes from this line of tradition.


Whatever we do, we will do from the level on which our mind will be on that moment. Our daily actions are done with our everyday mind, the superficial mind, which constantly controll our thoughts and actions. If we wants to use a deeper part of the mind, we have at first shut down those superficial activities.

To close down the brain functions and to strengthen the deeper parts of the mind is the first aim, if we do the soft Sanchin Kata.
This sounds difficult, but we have to know, that only by being able to close down the superficial mind, we are able to go deeper and to get access to the deeper body sensations and to the body’s energy field.

It will help to know, that we shut down our brain activities everyday before going to sleep. This process is accompangied with a dreamy state, in which we usually slip to the sleep. In order to awaken an other way of feeling, we have at first to let go the superficial mind state until we reach this dreamy state. Usually we can do that with 2-3 deep breathes and by a relaxing on each outbreath. Then when we reach this dreamy state, we have to switch our concentration – otherwise we remain on a dreamy – on a daydream state, which is not usefull for our training, neither it is for the meditation. To switch the concentration means to know, that there are other senses, which will be used. So we shut down the outer senses and focus on the inner sensations.

5 Inner Senses

  • muscle state sense (relax, stretch, unstretch)
  • joint position sense (accurate movement, body alignment)
  • pressure and stretch sense (feeling the body as a elastic ball) –
  • temperature sense (warmth, fullness)
  •  pains sense (tingling)

As soon, as we switch our superficial senses to the inner senses, we will loose the dreamy state and we will be even more awake and activ – but now on a much deeper level than being active on the superficial level.

It is a long process of internal refinement. Nobody should think to reach that without a great effort. And, without detailled explanation of a good teacher it will be hardly possible to learn that.

The difference of external and internal training

External training:

1) The idea to move initiate the motion.
2) The body moves by power and speed
3) We are aware of that movement
In that case, the mind our our consiousness is slower than the body movement. Mostly the hand or the head is in ahead of the motion in a external training.

Internal Training:

The reason, why the internal arts are done slowly is to give the mind the chance to lead before the body moves!

1) The deepmind forms a intention.                                                                               2) With that intention, there is a activation of the nervous system.
3) This activation gives a energy response in the muscles.
4) Then the pressure developes elastically in the body
5) Body moves

5 Elements – 5 Phases

In the classic they wrote, that each movment has to be done in accordance with the 5 Elements. Patrick Kelly was the first western person, who gave light to that expression. He also was the first person, who discribed the muscle phases. There lies the secret of the awesome elastic force of some masters. Only knowing about the muscle phases, there will be a possibility to use the muscles as a elastic. That is the reason, why at the very beginning of each training session, we have to close done the outers senses and listen to much deeper processes. The muscle phases of contract – release – stretch – unstretch – neutral can be felt only after a long training and with a deep listening to the inner changes. At first it cannot be felt, but by knowing where to listen and for what sensations we listen, we can step by step get access to it.

The 5 Phases in Detail

  • Phase 1: „contract“ refers to metall – it is the wave of activation and  energising of the muscles,
  • Phase 2: „release and aligne“ refers to water – it means a controlled releasing of the muscle groups
  • Phase 3: „stretch“ refers to wood – means to store the tension – like pulling the string of the bow.
  • Phase 4: „un-stretch“ refers to fire – means to let go off the tension – like shooting the arrow
  • Phase 5: „neutral“ refers to earth – also the state of mind is neutral in that position

In a internal training it should be the minimum at every movement to listen to those phases of muscle changes.

Each of this muscle change can be realised only with the equivalent state of mind! That means, that we have to deepen the mind awareness, in order to find the different phases of the muscles. That is one of the most important learnings in a internal training.

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