Early on in our study of Sanchin-Ryu we are introduced to the concept and training ideas of forms. We learn that the forms are a series of stance changes and movements that allow us to deal with up to three opponents. Sometimes we have students ask us, or we have asked ourselves…”What do forms really have to do with fighting?” In some cases, an example is given that boxers don’t use “forms” to learn how to box, or some may make reference to the late Bruce Lee and use his example that he didn’t use forms in his training. So why in Sanchin-Ryu do we utilize forms to help us in our training, and more importantly how do they relate to fighting (kumite)?
As in all discussions of this sort, it is important to define what it is we are talking about in regards to forms in Sanchin-Ryu. In simplest terms, forms are a series of preset movements that teach us how to deal with multiple attackers. In those terms, all martial arts and combat sports utilize forms even if they don’t call it that. In boxing, for example, as a beginner you would learn your basic punches (jab, cross, hook, etc.) and then learn to put them in a combination of a left jab, right cross, left hook. You would then practice that combo over and over to make it your own. Why don’t we use that approach as well in Sanchin-Ryu? Why the need to learn 10 different forms? Again, it all comes back to what we are training for…self-defense and the ability to protect ourselves and loved ones from an attacker(s). In combat sports (boxing, etc) you only have to worry about one opponent, and you know the time place etc (see article “Ring Life vs. Real Life” for a more in depth discussion). You also know where he is going to be at…in front of you. Also, you know what type of clothing you will be wearing…shorts and boxing gloves. So what types of things do we need to worry about? For a few things: we need to be aware of how many people there are; we need to be aware of what they are attempting to do to us (punch, kick, grab etc); we also need to be aware of their positioning to us (coming up from behind, flanking us, etc). When you start to throw in these variables along with environmental factors we start to see the need to have different concepts and strategies to learn how to manage these situations.
To put it another way, think of the analogy that Chief Grandmaster Dearman uses with punctuation in kumite/hand to hand. Think of your basics like letters in the alphabet. Letters are broken down into two ideas, consonants and vowels, maybe like upper body and lower body basics. Then we have our CBA’s (Combined Basic’s Advanced), these are like words and convey an idea to us when we hear the word. For example, if I say the word “cat” you immediately picture a cat in your mind. Same with our CBA’s, they present a snap picture of a kumite situation to convey an idea. Our next step is learning to put words together to write a sentence. Sentences need to have a noun and a verb to tell us what the subject/idea is doing. This is what our forms do. They take those words and put movement to the separate ideas to start to make a moving picture in our head. These sentences paint us the picture of what the variables are that we are dealing with. For one last grammar lesson let’s look at this idea a little bit deeper. Cat, Table, Ran. Just those three words and we start to paint a picture. Looking at those three words, we can fill in the blanks that a cat is running and a table is involved. Because of our knowledge of what a table is, we know that the table isn’t running, so it must be the cat. We still don’t have a complete picture unless we had in a descriptive word. If we add the word “under” to our grouping, we could make the sentence, “The cat ran under the table”. The sentence describes exactly what is occurring and helps us to create that mental picture. This is similar to our forms, we see very similar movements in our forms, but we need to look at the descriptive word to understand the context of how that word is being used in that particular sentence (technique being used in the form)
This analogy will help us to understand our forms a little bit better. Our forms give us a short story that tells us what is happening and the tools to respond to such a situation. The forms give us the correct words to use and they also give us the correct syntax to use to achieve a balance between offense and defense. If we use the example of our sentence again, we could also say “Under the table, did the cat run.” While grammatically correct, it is awkward to say (unless you’re Yoda). Most of us don’t talk with way in real life. The same thing with our forms, they are designed to “grammatically flow” or to put it another way, they are logically designed to be natural movements that don’t require a high degree of athleticism to pull off. While sophisticated in concept, they are simple in performance.
The final aspect that forms help us with, are underlying principles and foundational concepts that are applicable to all of our movements. Remember… the lessons learned in Sanchin-Ichi are carried through with us into our introduction of Kibon-Ki (the final form). Let’s take a look at the first form we usually learn, Sanchin Ichi. Sanchin Ichi seems “basic” compared to the higher forms and many times is overlooked in the process of learning the next form. Again, if Sanchin Ichi is our foundational form for what we do (It’s not a coincidence that we study SANCHIN-Ryu and our first introduction to more advanced ideas is SANCHIN Ichi), what important lessons can we take with us? Let’s list some of the things that I have discovered in my study of Sanchin Ichi (again, this is not all there is to it, but just a partial list).
- Staying rooted while in stance
- Increasing peripheral vision
- Using your center for movement
- Always looking at your opponent
- Basic timing of your hands and feet
- Relaxing and tensing at the proper moment
- How to use your lower body to..
- Decrease distance with your opponent while being protected
- Countering lower body attacks to your center
- How to transition from defense into offense
- How to control your opponent’s space
- Use of angles
- How to advance into an opponent while defending (upper and lower quadrants)
- How to use the opposite hand to protect while attacking with the other
- How to counter an attack
After reading this list, go back and study your Sanchin-Ichi and find those things in it. Now think about how much extra study would you have to do to incorporate separate drills and techniques to show those things? EVERY TIME we practice Sanchin Ichi we are practicing those things (and a host of others as well). You see, forms start to train us to move, think and feel a certain way that becomes a part of us. Think about the first time you tried to follow along as you went through an unfamiliar form and got lost trying to keep track of how your Sensei was moving. This is the same feeling of chaos we are controlling with our opponents. The forms teach US to be in control of the situation. If you are focused on what we need to accomplish (another strategy learned from Sanchin Ichi) then we are worrying so much about “what ifs” from our opponent.
Sanchin-Ryu forms are a great way to get A LOT of study and exploration out of a “small” grouping of movements. Look back at your forms and start to really dig through them and find what lessons they teach us; both technique wise, but also strategically and conceptually. When you start to take this approach you will start to wonder why doesn’t everyone use forms in their studies?