Uechi Sanchin as a Pivotal Event in my Isshinryu Larn’ing

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Uechi Sanchin as a Pivotal Event in my Isshinryu Larn’ing

Postby Victor Smith » Thu Jul 01, 2010 4:31 pm


First off I practice Isshinryu (37 years), Yang Tai Chi Chaun (32 years) and a few more things. When I talk about Isshinryu I am not a spokesperson for the entire system and am speaking only for myself. Did I ever really get anything, can’t say but I’m satisfied with my students progress to date and hope that counts for something.

Almost immediately after reaching Sho-dan I was on my own in Scranton. I started a youth program at the Boys Club to be able to keep doing Isshinryu (there was none in any convenient driving distance from there), did tournaments to push myself and started training at various dojo from friends made competing. About the same time I had the chance to study tai chi with Ernest Rothrock and did so.

Now I was teaching-training-studying maybe 7 days a week on a slow week, different practices on different nights, Very soon in my tai chi study I started feeling a real conflict between my sanchin practice and my tai chi practice. I don’t have good words to explain it but it was mostly a conflict between the energy release development between those studies. It didn’t affect my other practices but I think I found Isshinryu sanchin too binding compared to even my initial studies in tai chi.

Then came conflict resolution. I wasn’t walking away from Isshinryu but neither could I walk away from tai chi. If I asked my karate instructors they would say drop…. And if I asked Ernest I’m sure he might suggest drop…. So I finally resolved the conflict on my own I would continue tai chi and de-emphasize Isshinryu sanchin as a strong component in my studies. Personally I can’t say de-emphasis on Ir. Sanchin ever hurt me.

Side Note: Rothrock Laoshi, from his Pai Lum studies, has a Chinese version of Tensho, done with three entirely different and increasingly hard breathing patterns.

Later I would train with incredible MA’s whose study never included Sanchin. I truly accept strong Goju including Sanchin, but there are many answers.

In 85 moved to Derry NH, continued teaching youth at the Boys and Girls Club, and started an adult program. Several years later I had two of Buzz Durkin’s Brown Belts join my program, one Tom Chan stayed with me ever since . I had the chance to study a little of Uechi Sanchin and Seisan from Tom.. Nobody would ever mistake me for a Uechi stylist, but hands on knowledge is useful.

Side Note: Of all the outside MAs I’ve taught over the years those Uechi trained individuals found it easier to switch to my Isshinryu methodology than those from other systems.

I continued all of my studies, but found it so interesting that the energy release I found in my Uechi Sanchin felt right, really really good. I’m sure I was more than a little sensitized by my efforts in tai chi.

About that time I was getting deeper into the application potential study of Isshinryu kata technique. I came to see kata from the perspective of a tool to develop movement and cleaner energy release (using stronger body alignment in practice, stronger movement and body shifting strategies) all to bolster the study of application potential.

Note: the study of application potential is a very different way than application realization where all comes together and a technique actually completes an attack.

Over the years I always maintained the Isshinryu Sanchin was to break an attacker. Many times many thought I was balmy and always fell back on the only purpose of Sanchin was health. Of course I understood Uechi Sanchin was closest to what I was seeing, but those friends didn’t know Uechi.

Probably 15 years after Tom shared Uechi Sanchin (and it only was retained for me as an incidental supplementary practice – Though I always encouraged him to keep working on his Uechi) one day I decided enough is enough why couldn’t I change the way I practiced Isshinryu sanchin, and I did.

The first time I did Isshinryu Sanchin full speed, and only with natural breathing. I discovered something marvelous when I run the form that way I ended pumped, it was like it was a gigantic energy pump. I was so stunned I swore I would only practice and teach it that way evermore, after one time. And so I’ve done.

Then one day I introduced my students to Sanchin application studies and they didn’t like the results, or rather the pain. Make no mistake I wasn’t doing Uechi, but found my long belief that Sanchin was designed to break people held value.

I’m still Isshinryu, and know I’m not the only one in the system that does Sanchin my way, but it’s not the standard practice as I understand it.

Concluding note: By energy release I’m not talking about Lightening Lad, but how the practice makes execution work to effortless with great result. Such as a perfect (momentary) strike that feels effortless but your opponent drops from it.

Words get in the way of practice. I hope this isn’t too difficult to understand.

I’m old, really getting decrepit, but the Sanchin pump really works for me to this day.

Victor Smith
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Postby Bill Glasheen » Thu Jul 01, 2010 5:53 pm


First... Your words are poetic prose. Self deprecation not necessary.

Second... Your initial journey sounds very much like my own. My primary mission in my youth was my education. Martial arts were important, but the how of that had to take a back seat to where my academic journey was taking me. So I started with Japanese karate (from a hyper-talented Japanese with a vicious streak) at W&M. Then UVa took me away, where I began studying Uechi Ryu from Rad Smith - a student of George's. Then Harvard took Rad, which meant I was on my own. I continued my Uechi journey via road trips up the coast where I met and worked out with many of today's Uechi greats. And I savored every moment of their time, knowing what little time I had to pick brains.

All while being on my own WAY too soon and being forced to teach to keep learning, I picked up Yang style taichi, Shorei Kai Goju, Tomiki method aikido, traditional kobudo forms here and there, and whatever else I could pick up from my martial network.

I was also blessed by having the World Heavyweight Powerlifting Champion (and UVa strength coach) take me under his wing and help me develop strength training for my karate school at UVa.


I understand much of your journey.

On the "bottling up" thing with the dynamic tension...

These days at the ripe age of 56, I still go into the weight room. I'm basically the only old fart who still does freeweight squats, as well as some classic Olympic-style lifts. You see a few kids coming in doing this stuff, all taught to them by their football or basketball coaches.

I don't need a Goju-style Sanchin to build strength. I can do that MUCH better with open-chain weight training exercises. So like you, I can focus on relaxed, effortless movement in my Sanchin thrusts.

  • Not all movements in martial arts are about a fist flying through the air until it meets its targets. Many throwing moves and some head-to-head resistance movements involve moving the body against a load. In kata, you can't get that load. But what you can do is simulate it via dynamic tension.

    Goju Sanchin has helped me add in a dynamic tension and "dragon breathing" element into my Uechi kata that frankly someone on Okinawa forgot to add in. There are days when I see the grab-lift-carry movement in Seisan done by a practitioner on a test as if he's moving air as fast as he can. I want to get up off my seat, grab him, and say "WHAT THE HELL DO YOU THINK YOU'RE DOING THERE???" Others who've learned from very narrow lines in Uechi Ryu just don't understand the dynamic range that ALL fighting systems should have - including and especially an in-fighting system where extended contact is to be expected.
  • I take the dynamic tension and dragon breathing "concept" of Goju Sanchin and run with it in my warmups. Whether it's from doing traditional freeweight training or walking in Sanchin with the weighted jars, I always have a sore tendon this or a tender muscle that. My body's always talking and complaining. And the older I get, the more it talks... or these days squawks. But if I do range-of-motion exercises with dynamic tension and dragon breathing per the Goju Sanchin method, then I can get blood coursing through my sore muscles and tendons. This warms them up (temperature wise) and actually speeds up the anabolic process that happens in-between weight training sessions.


    As I am want to say with my students, these kata are like tool boxes. And we shouldn't be afraid to take a tool out of the box and use it in any fashion that serves a purpose on our respective journeys.

I hope my thoughts made sense to you.

Oh and one more thing... You could do a lot worse than train with some of Buzz Durkin's students. Buzz is an amazing instructor.

- Bill
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Postby maxwell ainley » Sat Jul 03, 2010 11:12 am

Bill I always was of the understanding ,uechi-ryu had its own dynamic tension element, I have questioned George on this .
His reply was uechi did have this element .

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Postby Bill Glasheen » Sat Jul 03, 2010 7:21 pm

maxwell ainley wrote:
Bill I always was of the understanding ,uechi-ryu had its own dynamic tension element, I have questioned George on this .
His reply was uechi did have this element .


Many years ago when I first started practicing Uechi Ryu (1974), George and others were teaching that the first Sanchin should or maybe could be done with dynamic tension per the Goju variety. The second one was to be done with slight tension. And the third one was to be done relaxed. However as time went on, that sort of requirement and/or option seemed to evaporate. The description of this process can be found in George's older Uechi Ryu Karate Do book.

George can step in any time he wants here.

It's worth mentioning that George's instructor was Tomoyose Ryuko, and he also did Goju Ryu. So was this a prevalent practice in the Uechi family, or was this something Mr. Tomoyose decided to add in to the Tomoyose clan experience? My guess is that it's the latter.

Bottom line is that a mixed martial artist of ANY generation (past in China and Okinawa to present day around the world) realizes that these routines aren't religion, and they can be adapted to suit one's needs or one's evolving personal preferences.

- Bill
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