Sam Chien is an empty hand form that focus in the development of body structure, rooting, mental awareness, subconscious elevation, focus, concentration, power breathing-cultivation, strength through muscle tensioning and sensitivity all these leads to total physical well-being.
Sam Chien has been around for hundreds of years no one knows the exact origin one thing for sure, Sam Chien has been practiced and part of southern Tai Cho Fist 太祖拳 and Fujian White Crane Fist 福建白鶴拳 since the 1700’s. Sam Chien will also be adopted later by Japanese karate the first known Japanese to have traveled to Fujian province and train in Tai Cho and White Crane was Kūsankū sometime between 1730 to 1760 he train most of his life in Fujian province and later will pass his knowledge to Kanga Sakugawa (1733 – 1815) Sakugawa started his training with Kusanku sometime in 1757. The Sam Chien form that they learn would become an essential part of karate later it would also be incorporated by other Tai Cho Masters into their newly formulated Goh Cho Kun 五祖拳 kung fu system in the late 1870’s.
The term Sam Chien relates to the body, mind & spirit it is about unifying this three to coordinately act as one; the spirit for perception, mental for decision and body for reaction. Breathing cultivation or “Qi” 氣 meaning air or vital energy this is the process of exercising the internal organs through breathing. The breathing or Qi exercise was made well known and greatly attributed to the Buddhist monk Da Mo or Bodhidharma when he introduced Buddhism to China sometime in 500’s AD he introduced this breathing science to help monks stay healthy and for them to be able to mediate better and longer it wasn’t originally meant for martial arts. Later martial art warriors both in the Shaolin and Taoist temples will incorporate this breathing method into martial arts application to become a distinctive part of martial arts.
In Sam Chien the Qi breathing technique differs from Tai Chi or other internal martial arts in a way that in Sam Chien it is a form of power breathing a more intense type of breathing its main purpose is to get the internal technique developed in a short period of time. It is a form of internal resistance training in conjunction with muscle tension and external power strength training.
Strength exercise and tension goes hand in hand to improve power and to increase muscular density. Sam Chien Qi breathing is combined with strength exercises through external workouts that may include the use of weights, running, striking, kicking etc. these are design to further improve resistance training to be more successful in applying the actual application of fighting techniques in Sam Chien it is through Qi breathing that energy, blood and oxygen circulation is enhance that helps in revitalizing our muscles, organs, improve circulation, improves stamina and endurance it also develops good mental awareness, focusing, concentration; improve pain tolerance and in recovering from illnesses and from combat wounds.
Qi development is also behind the concept of iron shirt 鐵衫 “tie shan” technique. This technique is not about becoming invulnerable or invincible to make the body bullet proof or able to stop spears, swords, or knives from penetrating the body it is about the ability to absorb impacts, better pain tolerance and aid in recovering from illness and wounds.
The concept behind this iron shirt is comparable to air tires the ability of rubber tires to handle heavy load is due to proper amount of air pressure inside the tire. The ability to absorb impact and have good pain tolerance is essential in surviving a fight it allows a Goh Cho fighter to counter attack and outlast their attackers.
Iron shirt training; Muscle tension is not about being stiff or hardening one’s muscles or holding ones breathing this method creates imbalance blood flow and air circulation and too much stress to the heart proper tension is about smoothly applying muscle pressure in coordination with breathing. The pressure application act as a conduit to better improve circulations that assist in developing fighting power techniques through the combination of breathing and pressure tension this is essential in developing the whipping-power techniques sometimes it is also refer as soft-hard combination external-internal power technique.
Too soft is not good it becomes a water wave or air with no pressure that will just pass through brick walls, too hard not good it becomes unmovable too heavy to be lifted or thrown, it must be balance for it to be effective and applicable the flow of energy combine with strength must be coordinated. The muscle tension can be compared to water pumps; water get distributed to its destination through proper pressure from pumps a low pressure = low water supply, strong pressure = strong water supply a strong water pressure can punch through brick walls.
When unleashing a punch or kick combine with strong muscle pressure and breathing the technique can be fast and explosive. The tensioning of muscle aids in making our muscle groups more sensitive and reactive against attacks it strengthens our joints, tendons, and nerves this helps in preventing one’s elbow or wrist joints from getting trap, manipulated, and rotated or hyper-extended it allows escaping from such trappings during a fight.
Structure and foundation starts in Sam Chien the fighting stance, the rooting, the foot movement, the coordination of upper body, mid-section, and lower body the mechanics of it all of proper unleashing and transferring of power without losing balance and the use of efficient energy and power. The arms positioning to have proper defense and offense in coordination with the body and legs, and the mindset focused and concentrated. The three steps forward and three steps backwards is designed to customize the rooting and leg positioning in shifting and changing position without losing fighting space. The “beh poh” horse stance 馬步 is to develop endurance, strength, stability, and a form of resistance training. The stance is as wide as or little wider than the shoulder it is pyramid-triangle shape like tree roots that spreads outwards holding the huge trunk this is how Tai Cho Goh Cho Kun fighting stance is related to the feet slightly facing inwards and knees align with it for better anchorage. The triangle or pyramid fighting stance is for good mobility and to develop sturdy foundation to enhance the five powers which are the:
(1) Footing for stability and mobility
(2) Hip for torque power
(3) Shoulder for amplification of power
(4) Arms for impact-contact power density.
(5) Breathing for the extra pressure and focus the mental state of the no fear factor.
All these five powers put together can make one’s technique very explosive, aggressive, fast, accurate and difficult to stop. This technique concept is also called “yo sin lat”
The fighting stance in pyramid shape like a tree with its roots spread outwards
Proper Sam Chien fighting stance the feet slightly pointed inwards.
Not proper Sam Chien fighting stances with feet either too much pointed inwards or pointed outwards.
Mental concentration awareness to the surrounding, focus on the situation, have a sound mind to make quick and good decisions, to take away fear, to self-inject or enhance oneself with that hyper-adrenaline to be fierce and fearless to be in control to come out on top when faced with hostilities and danger to your safety and others in a fight situation. When performing Sam Chien the eyes must be focus straight ahead 100 feet in a wide angle it is also known as the “tiger eyes”, the mind stays alert seeing and sensing your right, left, back and front. The footing well rooted and the entire body on alert. The back-tail bone tucked, shoulder, chin and jaw sink down tension whenever exhaling or releasing a technique when it reaches its end technique or target same time partially tensing the neck this is to strengthen the neck muscles, open the lungs whenever inhaling and keep both elbows in 90-degree angle when pushing down guarding your side rib area.
Both arms at 90 degrees angle protecting the side body
Some fighting techniques in Sam Chien include
(a) Double arm trap “kuyi kun ke chiu wat”
(b) Salutation head trap and punch
(c) Horizontal elbow strike
(d) Double low block and front kick
(e) Inside block chop out
(f) Elbow break
Sam Chien sequence movement
1. horizontal elbow strike,
2. chop out,
3. kidney strike,
4. inside jaw strike
5. and chop out.
The knife hand thrusting is aim on soft spot such as the eyes, throat, and armpit. In the old days the use and conditioning of the fingers are part of ancient kung fu training and application to make it as deadly as an actual weapon comparable to a knife. The thrusting is to develop proper trajectory technique and targeting. Today, the use of finger or knife hand thrusting is no longer widely use at all. Training to condition one’s fingers and hands to become deadly as a knife or strong like a hammer requires careful extensive training and health care supervision.
Double arm trap
Arm trap elbow break
Double "crane wings" low block front kick
Knife hand thrust
Kidney chop hand strike
Knife hand thrusting conditioning exercise
As a combat meditation form the Sam Chien is perform with full intent, intensity, concentration, emotion, focus, mentally and psychologically with deep Qi breathing and muscle tension to develop self-enhancing one’s adrenaline to fighting mode that is instrumental to get the fighter ready as quickly as possible to stand a fighting chance in facing against approaching hostile forces.
Sam Chien being the entry fighting form and being a major part of training, alone it is not enough to be applicable in self-defense fighting supplemental exercises and work-outs are necessary and incorporated that is part and parcel of Goh Cho Kun training such as strength, flexibility, mobility, two partner drills and full contact sparring all these is to better naturalize and fully developed oneself on the techniques to succeed in self-defense this goes back to what Sam Chien relates to they are;
1. Perception (Spirit),
2. Decision (Mental) and
3. Reaction (Body).