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Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Sanchin and Blood Pressure

I was discussing Sanchin (I should note that Sanchin is not part of the RyuTe curriculum) with someone the other night, and heard the "sanchin-makes-the-blood-pressure-spike" story.

I have read/heard this story many times. I think it is given credence by a pretty fair number of Okinawan Goju Ryu practitioners having given up the ghost relatively early in life. It has a superficial appearance of validity.

Goju Ryu emphasizes Sanchin, and a lot of Okinawan Goju practitioners have died young, sometimes of something heart-related. Makes sense, and yet...

I never heard the same thing about Japanese Goju Ryu practitioners. Maybe I just haven't been paying attention, but my understanding is that Yamaguchi Gogen lived to a ripe old age. As far as I know, Yamaguchi Gosei hasn't croaked yet. I haven't heard of any problems with Sanchin-related blood pressure problems from the local Goju crowd.

And, too, Isshin Ryu uses Sanchin. There's a famous photo of Arsenio Advincula practicing it. I swear, he looks like his muscles are going to bust right through his skin.

I believe he's in his seventies and doing just fine. Could be wrong about his age, but I'm fairly sure.

Chito Ryu uses Sanchin, too. Never heard any stories about Chito Ryu practitioners dropping dead from blood pressure problems.

Morio Higaonna still seems to be going strong. Toguchi Seikichi was an old man when he died. Eichi Miyazato still living? I'm not sure. He's an old man if he is...

In short...

I've never been convinced that Sanchin is a problem for most folks. Not that it would matter a whole lot to me, personally, as at least at this point, I do not practice the kata. But I might sometime. My instructor still practices some Goju Ryu kata, amongst them Tensho (although, due to his deteriorating health, he does it without the restricted breathing, the "lion's breath," as he calls it), and I rather get the feeling that he would teach me Tensho if I asked him, but that I had better learn Sanchin first. So it might happen. But I digress...

The more I look into it, the more I can't help but notice (Goju folks will have to forgive me!) that a lot of those famous Goju Ryu practitioners may have been fearsomely strong, but they were also blessed with...


...fearsomely big bellies...

...they're finding out that belly fat is a killer, you know...

At any rate, if you poke around the net a little bit, you find things like this quote from a forum ("Carl" speaking), emphasis mine:
Your question, "Is Sanchin dangerous to practice?" is a very good question. This argument has been going on for a long time. It really all depends on who you talk to. I once performed an experiment where I wore a blood pressure cuff while doing pushups and while performing Sanchin. Well, guess what. My blood pressure was higher while performing pushups than while performing Sanchin kata. And believe me, I wasn't holding back while performing Sanchin kata. People say that the oldtimers died young from performing Sanchin kata. I think this is hogwash. Remember, they simply didn't have the health care and nutrition we have today.
and this small study--yes, there's actually been a study!--which I think pretty much settles the question.
Sanchin Kata was performed in the Isshin-ryu Karate method for the purpose of the study. Isshin-ryu is a combination of Shorin-ryu and Goju-ryu Karate style created by Master Tatsuo Shimabuku. Each participant of the study performed Sanchin Kata on a real time EKG (Electrocardiographs), similar to a stress test, for the duration of the Kata. Blood pressure and pulse checks were performed both manually and mechanically at 30 second intervals during the performance of Sanchin, as well as at one minute intervals for five minutes both pre and post exercise. Prior to commencing the study it was determined that a physiological baseline should be established as a basis for comparison. This was done by having each participant of the study receive an EKG and blood pressure check while at rest, and while squatting 70% of their own body weight for three sets of 12-15 repetitions.

The 1997 Sanchin study performed and compared in the manner described above showed no significant physiological functioning difference between performing squats and performing Sanchin Kata. According to Dr. Seufert,
Based on this study I don't find the practice of Sanchin to be any better or worse for someone than the performance of any other strenuous activity, but, as with any exercise program, participants should consult their own physician prior to starting. Results showed an increase in both blood pressure and pulse in both exercises, however the increase was almost identical. Their where times during the performance of Sanchin that the EKG was unreadable due to muscular tension, but overall it was within normal limits for every participant involved.
And there you pretty much have it: Yes, Sanchin raises the blood pressure--about the same way that lifting weights does. If you're not going to have problems lifting weights, you're probably not going to have problems doing Sanchin. As this Dr. Seufert suggested, you might want to check with your doctor. And of course, you will want to get decent instruction as to how to do the kata. I have seen people--or, more accurately, seen video of people--doing it in such a way that merely watching them raised my blood pressure.

Just sayin'.

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