San Zhan is the first pattern in the white crane fighting arts system, but it is also the hardest form to truly master as it has no flash movements or jumping flying kicks in the form. It works the whole body, mind and breath of the individual. San Zhan gives the student the basic platform needed to be able to do Kungfu. Many students want to learn the more flamboyant movements of the crane system, but do not realise that they need the core strength in their body to achieve a high level. It will take most students of today, six months to a year, if they work hard, to pass their grading of San Zhan. What they do not realise is it is a lifetime of work that will enable them to reach the other levels of San Zhan.
San Zhan teaches you to sit on your stance, strengthening the ankles, knees and hips. It teaches you how to hold your posture correctly and move forwards and backwards. One of the old Chinese terms is to “move like a cloud”. You show no excessive movement, you just appear forward or back; almost as if you did not see the person move in or out of range. The core of the pattern is repeated six times, emphasizing its importance. The thrusting of the hands out and returning, teaches the practitioner to deliver their energy from the ground to beyond the hands and then returning back to the strongest point of defence, whilst not wasting the energy used.
Just as with the legs, the arms are also being strengthened, firstly, the shoulders then the elbows and the wrist joints. The arms are like a young crane learning how to use its wings. A bird cannot fly initially, it is weak and cannot move efficiently. As it gets better it can fly great distances with little effort. It takes many years to teach your body which muscles to use and which ones not to. If the triceps are helping thrust the arm forward, but the bicep is still tense then the movement will be restricted, thus wasting energy and economy of movement.
Finally the body; the engine, the core, the source of all power, the part that joins the top and the bottom together. The body moves in many different ways in the crane style to generate the power to the extremities, but San Zhan works from a basic level through to the advanced, utilising the waist to keep the stance rooted and generating the whip into the hands. Many people underestimate the power of breath in today’s martial arts but let’s face it how long can you last without breathing? Not long, so imagine, instead of giving yourself a standard fuel by being taught how to breathe correctly you have a high octane racing fuel running through your veins. As a result your body will be healthier, stronger, focused, faster and run smoother.
This is only a short section to open your eyes as to why San Zhan is practiced so much and the emphasis on getting the form right is so important. Many other styles in China have slightly different forms of San Zhan but the core is mostly the same. You will only get out of San Zhan what you put in to it, so go and practice.
Head Instructor Neil Johnson.