Sanchin kata can be traced back to China's T'ang Dynasty where a revolutionary art of self-defense called Shaolin chuan fa began to build up in militant Buddhists' Temples in order to establish itself as a leading force in that country's martial arts. This system was neither relaxed nor tensed in its combative actions; instead, it was influenced by the Taoist philosophy of combining both soft and hard techniques, so that they would become a bit more flexible in their actions of motion. This would also help them become tense and solid only at the exact instant of a block, strike or kick. This system of breathing was referred to as SAM CHIEN and was introduced to the Shaolin Temple by a man known as DARUMA, sometimes called "the father of modern day karate." The man responsible for bringing Sanchin kata, as we know it to Okinawa is Kanryu Higashionna. Higashionna was an Okinawan accountant from the city of Naha, who lived from 1851 to 1915. Curious about these Chinese fighting arts, he traveled to China and met with a Shaolin Chuan Fa Master named Woo Liu Chin from Fukien Province whom he studied with for some 20 years. Higashionna returned to Okinawa and established a dojo in the city of Naha, a section of Tonno, where he became known for his "unchokeable neck." He would allow his students to put a rope around his neck and try to choke him. None were ever successful. Higashionna drilled his students on the Taoist breathing methods he learned while in China. This method became known as SANCHIN KATA and was practiced with all opened hands. The minor modifications were made by Chojun Miyagi (Higashionna's number one student). Master Miyagi altered the original Higashionna form by practicing it with closed hands (fists) rather than opened hands. Miyagi wanted to emphasize the "hard" aspect of his newly formed Gojuryu style. Master Miyagi passed this kata on to Master Shimabuku, who incorporated it into Isshinryu with very few modifications, if any at all
Sanchin is the 3rd kata taught in Isshinryu and is required for promotion to Green Belt (1 Stripe). Sanchin is taught after the karte-ka learns Naihanchi Kata.
Sanchin emphasizes slow, powerful techniques combined with ubuki and deep concentration. Even though there are only twenty nine movements in Sanchin - including the three steps forward and two steps back - Sanchin takes longer to complete, at 117 seconds, than any other Isshinryu Kata. Sanchin kata when demonstrated correctly can be very impressive and rewarding. It is said that throughout the karate-ka life that if the karate-ka can perform this Kata perfectly one time it is a great defeat.
A Chinese monk named Hui Meng, who lived in the later part of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644 AD), wrote that "the lungs are reservoirs of air, and air is the lord of strength. Whoever speaks strength must know air." He was right to the point. This was one hundred percent correct. These methods of obtaining correct breathing techniques were to spread from China to Okinawa and become the heart of all karate styles.
Sanchin is the only empty hand Isshinryu kata that does not contain any of the vertical punches that became Isshinryu's trademark. Every punching and blocking technique is done in the traditional corkscrew and bone blocking method. Though Sanchin does not contain any kicks or kiais, and appears to be a very simple kata, Sanchin, is actually very complex. Sanchin kata teaches the karate-ka the principles of sabaki and ibuki, the fundamentals of movement and breath, and a way to control the three conflicts. The basic stance for each movement in Sanchin starts with toes gripping the floor, and tightening every muscle in the body. The purpose of the Sanchin stance is for the Karate-ka to become rooted to the floor starting from his toes and working up. This stance is known as "iwao no mi," a body like a rock. After the karate-ka learns the movements of Sanchin and the correct way of moving, stepping, "sabaki", ibuki is focused on. Ibuki is an isometric exercise which builds the physique, stamina and vital energy necessary to karate. While going throughout our normal day we tend to breath through our chest, known as the upper part of our lungs. In Sanshin the karate-ka learns ibuki or to use their diaphragm and inhale completely using the abdomen. When exhaling, the karate-ka learns to use their abdominal muscles to controllably squeeze the air out of their body.
About Sanchin: By: Joe Swift
This kata has been described by many writers as the original exercise that Bodhidharma taught to the monks at the Shaolin Temple. However, this theory has no substantive proof either way, so this actually remains nothing more than speculation.
At any rate, the Okinawan versions of Sanchin have their origins in the Quanfa originating from Fujian Province, where many, if not most, Quanfa styles have a form of this name. In fact, the term Sanchin (written as "three battles" in kanji) seems to be found only in Fujian-based Quanfa systems, as forms of this name are not found in the martial arts of other areas (Kinjo, 1999).
Many researchers, especially from the Gojuryu tradition, credit Higashionna Kanryo with bringing back Sanchin from his studies in China (Higaonna, 1981; Kai, 1987). However, there is evidence that Sanchin had existed in Okinawa since before Higashionna's voyage to Fujian and was passed on by Aragaki Seisho, who was Higashionna's first teacher (Iwai, 1992; Okinawa Prefectural Board of Education, 1995).
Higashionna's teacher in Fujian is believed by many to be Xie Zhong Xiang, founder of Whooping Crane boxing (McCarthy, 1995; Okinawa Prefectural Board of Education, 1995; Otsuka, 1998; Tokashiki, 1995), although there is opposition to this theory (Kinjo, 1999). Higashionna is believed to have learned the Happoren form from Xie, which is said to be the basis for the modern Gojuryu version of Sanchin (Otsuka, 1998). Higashionna probably integrated concepts from Happoren to the Sanchin he learned under Aragaki. When practicing Happoren alone, however, the breathing is silent (Otsuka, 1998).
In either case, Higashionna had his students spend several years on Sanchin alone before allowing them to move on to the other kata he taught. Higashionna apparently taught Sanchin as an open hand kata at first, with fast breathing, but later changed it to a slower, closed fist version (Higaonna, 1981; Murakami, 1991). Others give Miyagi Chojun credit for closing the fists and slowing down the breathing (Kinjo, 1999).
One provocative account survives about the importance of Sanchin in Higashionna Kanryo's teachings:
"When I was still a child, I wanted to see the karate of the famous Higashionna Sensei, even if only once. So I went to the place he was teaching. However, no matter when I went, I never saw Higashionna Sensei perform karate. His students were practicing only Sanchin with all their might, and Higashionna Sensei was instructing them." (sic, Murakami, 1991, pp. 133)
The three of Sanchin is often described in English as the battles between mind, body and breath. Other descriptions refer to attack and defense on the three levels, i.e. the upper, middle and lower levels (Kinjo, 1999; Otsuka, 1998; Tokashiki, 1995). The three important points of Sanchin have been described as the stance, the breathing method and the spirit, and if any one of these three are lacking, one will not be able to master Sanchin (Higaonna, 1981).
Higashionna Kanryo's Sanchin features two turns, and only one step back. In order to remedy the lack of backward stepping, Miyagi Chojun created a shorter version of the kata, featuring no turns, and two steps backwards (Higaonna, 1981). It is this version that Shimabuku Tatsuo utilized in his Isshinryu system.