The video above is a clip taken from a demonstration in 2006 at the Seni show in Birmingham showing Sanchin kata as it is currently practised in modern Karate (Preserved in Uechi Ryu) and the restored antique form performed with a pair of sai.
The research within Kodoryu looks into the original function of the form as utilised in China before its migration and re-invention in Okinawa. The demonstration is not simply an empty hand kata performed with sai, it shows a sai drill that later became an empty hand kata.
The Sanchin drill is an ingenious exercise that develops a full range of skills required to manipulate the sai for use as a civil arrest tool. Every nuance of the form is significant and lays the foundation for developing further skills and techniques recorded in other kata such as Seisan and Sanseriu.
The sequence opens with locating the sai and drawing them, a key skill that cannot be overlooked. A comparison would be in the drawing of a pistol in modern policing, this must be well trained and second nature. From the draw the sai are unfolded into an open position and the correct grip is established, the 45 degree angle of the arm aligns the sai into the correct position which is essential for functional trapping, flipping and striking. Next the circular movement of the arm drawing back and the thrust demonstrates the arc the sai follow when flipped into the closed position and continuously followed into the basic thrust which uses the pommel to strike the limbs. The many repetitions train the practitioner to maintain a tight grip on the weapon while striking in a way that the sai does not deviate on impact and in the worst case come out of the hand.
Section two trains to flip the sai while the arms are extended and establish grips without drawing the arms in, as well as being an excellent continuous exercise that develops strength and speed in striking.
Section three trains establishing contact with the sai in a closed position, pinning the limbs of the opponent, flipping them at close quarter with limited space, trapping and again striking with the pommel.
Finally the closing of the kata brings the sai together to free a hand or to put them aside in order to restrain further or tie up a disarmed opponent.
This brief overview sketches the function of the drill in preparing the practitioner in the essential basic skills for using the sai, once the draw, grips, flips, key positions and basic strikes are mastered further techniques and skills can be developed in the advanced kata Seisan and Sanseriu.
In further blog posts I will explore how this Chinese sai drill became an empty handed kata as well as exploring the techniques encoded in related forms.
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