Sink, Swallow, Float And Spit

Chris Rowen 08 007

Sink, Swallow, Float And Spit

I love sanchin, a ‘core’ kata to many karate systems, it adds the qigong aspect, harmonising mind, breath and body.  It consists of three sections gradually increasing the level of difficulty in physical co-ordination and breathing technique.  In the first section you move one side at a time opening and closing one side of the body with a whole breath followed by a half breath (to prevent dizziness), in the second section you move opening and closing both sides of the body at the same time flexing the spine  whilst taking deep breaths utilising the abdomen and opening and closing the chest and back; in the third section you apply the highest level of co-ordination with each side of the body moving independently of the other with the highest level of restrained and focused breathing.

All the time the body is holding the internal connections and pumping the internal energy….

“Soften guys…..  soften….  You’re moving like a car with the handbrake stuck on… the tension is also limiting the amount of breath you can take in, sink the chest and open the back…

“I thought I was…”

Sensei put his hand on John’s lumbar region, “you have to open all the back, your lower spine is seized, you need to be able to open here to ‘bow’ the entire spine and open the ming men to energise the kidneys – hold your posture but keep softening…”

John was obviously frustrated as he couldn’t do it…  “It just won’t move!”

“The muscles are seized, it will take time for you make the necessary neurological connections and be able to soften and flex, but it will happen if you keep working at it.”

“Will this make a better ‘root’?”

“Yes it will.”

This made Bob pipe up.  “I don’t understand this ‘root’ business Sensei, surely if we ‘root’ it will render us immobile?”

“That’s a common misconception Bob, it’s a part of a process that actually increases mobility, speed and power…”

“How can that be, surely to ‘root’ you have to be immobile?”

“What are the four ‘ideas’ in sanchin?”

“You mean to sink, float, swallow and spit?”

“That’s correct.”

“Why do we have to sink?”

“To give us our root?

“We sink because it’s the nature of our internal energy to rise, that’s why we have to constantly push it downwards – and how do we do that?”

“By releasing the ankles, knees, hips, lower back and chest?”

“That’s right, we ‘soften up’ to allow our bodyweight to ‘sink’ into and be held by the muscles and tendons, we ‘swallow to bring our internal energy and awareness into our seiki tanden and then down into the feet, but what happens then?”


“It naturally ‘bounces’ upwards – we help that with the various ‘pumping’ actions of the body, this is all a very rapid process and allows us to ‘float’ and move with great lightness and agility, the faster and and more powerfully we can do this – the faster and easier we can move.  Then what?”

We’ve sunk, swallowed and floated – so I guess we ‘spit’?”

“Exactly, with the internal connections ‘hard wired’ into the body by persistent, knowledgeable training, the energy is always there and available to be spat out to the opponent.”

“So the root is only a momentary part of the process?”

“That’s right, it’s linked to ‘sink’ and ‘swallow’ and is a part of grabbing, pulling, trapping, locking and dislocating and is immediately followed by and mixed with ‘spitting’ – but without this process, how can you be light, agile, mobile and powerful?”

“It certainly puts sanchin into a completely different light…”

“That’s because sanchin is the ‘core’ of all movement, these ideas should permeate all martial technique to make them more effective.”

“But sanchin stance is hardly a mobile stance is it?”

“It is if you do it properly, take the stance…….. okay, now pump as we discussed and lift the back heel to spiral and drive a punch…”

“Yea!  I floated and spat! – That’s cool!”

“And if you had used the energy to slide the feet, you would have moved very easily.”

“At last, someone’s made sense of ‘root’ ‘float’ ‘swallow’ ‘sink’ and ‘spit’..”

“Put it into the other training in sanchin kata and you’ve got a powerful learning tool..”

“You can see why it’s the core kata in many systems.”

“Yeah in both Chinese and Japanese….  Sanchin is a good method of training the ideas but not the only way.”

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