Forms practice is the fulcrum of white crane boxing, a central point around which everything else rotates. The forms teach the principles of the style and represent a living and breathing expression of white crane. Of all the forms within white crane there is one that stands as the bedrock for all others and stands paramount for daily practice. This is of course San Zhan which translates as Three Battles. Fellow practitioners of Southern Chinese martial arts may be familiar with their own version of San Zhan as will Okinawan Karate practitioners who may practice a version called San Chin.
Within our school we teach 4 representations of San Zhan, 2 of which are the fundamental versions. One is the San Zhan from the Nam Yang lineage whilst the other is the Yong Chun San Zhan from the Weng Gong Ci lineage. At their core they are almost identical in principle and execution and it can easily be seen how the original Yong Chun San Zhan had migrated to Singapore where it had been blended with some tiger style principles to become the Nam Yang San Zhan.
To practice both iterations of San Zhan is a fascinating and worthwhile pursuit as it can be seen how over the years styles take their own path in the same way as Chinese whispers. We are lucking enough to train at the Weng Gong Ci gym in Yong Chun, which as the first official white crane gym to be established in Yong Chun has preserved the forms in meticulous detail over the last 90 years.
The Yong Chun San Zhan is a treasure to the world of martial arts and so earlier this year we held a workshop to give it the time it deserves. From the outside the form appears remarkably simple and undemanding and the sequence of movements can be learnt in a very short period of time. It is easy however to fool oneself into a false sense of achievement. Knowing the sequence of movements is not knowing the form in the same way that knowing the alphabet does not make you a poet.
Understanding the order of the movements is the first stage and presents the opportunity for solo practice. From here many people greatly underestimate the amount of hours it takes to begin to actually understand the form, and I mean begin to understand the form not actually understand the form. The figure that is often talked about is 10,000 hours to reach an expert level of achievement. With San Zhan 10,000 repetitions is a good target to begin to incorporate some of the principles into your body and brain.
Absent-minded practice will not suffice however. It requires focus and attention to detail. If you are not fully present in what you are doing then you are wasting your time. San Zhan is a method to lose yourself within white crane as you navigate a world of answers in search of the corresponding questions. The simplicity is beautiful and the complexity mind-boggling. The lifelong investment provides very personal rewards that will not give you Nectar points, air miles or an improved tan. The objective for practice is practice itself and San Zhan is the purest embodiment of this concept. Now switch off your computer and see where San Zhan will take you.