Sanchin (“Three Battles”) is unique; instead of being a collection of solo hand-to-hand combat drills, Sanchin focuses on physical and emotional development through a combination of dynamic tension exercises, ibuki breathing, and guided visualization. This allows students to engage in bodybuilding without losing flexibility. While it is said that these exercises pose a risk for hemorrhoids or strokes, there is no empirical evidence backing these claims.
Some karate styles (such as Gōjū-ryū) consider Sanchin to be the fundamental kata which their art is built upon. They even go as far as to say that “karate begins and ends with Sanchin,” and require their students to practice it thrice a day. While Goshin-Jutsu stylists acknowledges the benefits of Sanchin training, we feel it is more fundamental to delve right into self-defense techniques, since we consider a deeply-ingrained avoidance of freezing or locking up when confronted to be paramount. These different paradigms do not make any one style “right” or “wrong,” just different. Students are free to learn Sanchin at any time, but because of our shifted priorities, students typically do not learn Sanchin until after receiving their black belts.
Sanchin has its origin in Chinese martial arts, as it strongly resembles sam chin, a form practiced by several kung-fu styles, like White Crane, and Five Ancestor Fist. There are also obvious parallels to Iron Shirt Chi-gung. However, any further details have been lost to history. Many karate schools and styles teach this kata, so karateka do not consider the origin of Sanchin to be a mystery -- and that's the problem. Many origin stories exist, each school considers their version to be true, most of the stories conflict with each other, and no one can prove their claims. As such, many variations of this kata exist.
This kata requires you to fight three battles. Your idealized self battles the pessimistic version of yourself; the pessimistic version of yourself battles your idealized self. While these two sides fight, there is a third battle, which is your struggle to survive. Regardless of which aspect of you prevails -- good or evil, right or wrong -- you still have basic needs that must be met.
As such, each movement has a meditation associated with it. These are listed after the movement in italics.
[video of Sanchin, performed fast and slow, viewed from cameras at #1, 3, 7, 5. Be sure that you take up the whole frame. A lot of our old kata videos are from too far away, and it hides some detail. ]
- Stand in an attention stance with both of your hands open, left over right, at groin level.
Think to yourself “karate is my secret.”
- Rotate your feet 45° outward, so your toes point to #2 and #8. Raise and rotate your hands up to solar plexus level, with palms facing up.
Think to yourself “I bring no evil and bare no weapons.”
- Shift into a ready stance facing #1. Place your hands horizontally against your chest at neck level, with your middle fingertips touching one another. Slowly lower your hands to waist level, with ibuki breathing.
Think about the completion of the life cycle, life returning to its source and life starting again.
- Slide your left foot out to #1, entering a left sanchin-dachi facing #1, with a downward X-block. Relax completely.
Recall every sad, depressing, or cringe-worthy thing you’ve ever done. The pain and trauma of your every failure, rejection, and heartbreak must be channeled into this moment. The Grey Man, who stands before you, uses these negative feelings as a weapon to overpower you. When it seems like they will succeed, immediately proceed to the next step.
- Tense every muscle, pulling your hips up and forward. With ibuki breathing, rotate both forearms up into a double cross-body block.
Tap into your transcendent desire to surpass your ideals, and escape the previous step’s depression. Indulge in phantasy, and imagine yourself undergoing some sort of Super-Saiyan transformation into the person that you wish you were.
- Relax completely. Open your left hand, tracing an S-curve in front of you as you pull it to your hip. Leave the left hand in a cross-body block.
This traces the dividing line of the yin-yang, symbolizing the cyclic and ever-present nature of duality.
- Tense every muscle. Execute a reverse punch with ibuki breathing.
Imbued with your inner strength, the invincible fist of truth vanquishes the Grey Man.
- Relax completely. Slowly inhale and execute a left cross-body block, finishing when you reach 2/3 of your maximum lung capacity.
- Continue inhaling, and repeat Movements 4-8 from a left stance with right punches.
- Continue inhaling, and repeat Movements 4-8.
- Quickly look over your right shoulder to #5. Slide your right foot to #2, snapping into a left sanchin dachi facing #5, with a left cross-body block. Tense every muscle. Execute a reverse punch with ibuki breathing.
The quick look symbolizes the owl; by closely looking all around, one can appear to be wise.
- Relax completely and repeat Movements 4-8 towards #5.
- Quickly look over your right shoulder to #1. Slide your right foot to #6, snapping into a left sanchin dachi facing #1, with a left cross-body block. Tense every muscle. Execute a reverse punch with ibuki breathing.
- Relax completely and repeat Movements 4-8.
- Continue inhaling, and repeat Movements 6-8 from a left stance with right punches.
- Continue inhaling, and repeat Movements 6-8.
- Inhale sharply while snapping your hands to your hips.
This symbolizes the speed of a flying swallow.
- Tense every muscle. Execute a double four-fingered spearhand strike(palms down) to the opponent’s eyes, with ibuki breathing.
The attacks in this series embody the owl’s wisdom. Rather than fighting other animals, owls spread their wings to appear larger, intimidating rivals into submission.
- Repeat Movement 17.
- Tense every muscle. Execute a double four-fingered spearhand strike (backs of hands touching one another) to the opponent’s throat, with ibuki breathing.
- Repeat Movement 17.
- Tense every muscle. With open hands and ibuki breathing, reach out and cross your wrists, as though you were to perform a cross-choke. Grab the opponent’s ears.
- Immediately snap your hands to your hips while sliding your right foot to #3, entering a horse stance facing #1, with a powerful kiai.
- Execute a left downward pressing block. Immediately follow-up with a right palmheel strike to the opponent’s chin.
- Keeping your elbows stationary, inhale and rotate your forearms clockwise until they are nearly touching and horizontal. The left arm is at shoulder-level; the right arm is at solar
- Pull your hands to your hips, with ibuki breathing.
- Pull right foot up to #1, entering a left cat stance facing #1, with a double palm heel strike to #1, with ibuki breathing. The right hand strikes the opponent’s chin; the left hand strikes their groin.
- Slide your right foot to #3, entering a ready stance. Enter an attention stance, and Goshin-Jutsu bow.
When performing the tension parts of this technique, it may be helpful to have a training partner push, pull, and strike you in various places to test your tension and stancework.
Recall that ibuki breathing is a teaching tool for the more practical nogare breathing. This spasmodic, sneeze-like full body tension is an important skill to develop. When all other defensive options (i.e., evasion, blocking, parrying, and covering) have failed, completely-tensed well-developed muscles can be used as a form of armor plating to protect your internal organs. (This is the “Iron Shirt” skill.)
This kata is intended to be a conditioning regimen, and not a combat drill. Still, there are a few simple martial applications.
The fundamental repeated motion from Movements 4-8 take the form of a simple block-counter defense against punches.
When executing the spearhand strikes in Movements 18 and 20, and the ear tears in Movements 22-23, your raised arms will block against circular attacks, just like a mountain punch.
Movement 25 is a simple defense against a right pursuit punch.
Movement 26 deflects a left punch, and wraps the opponent’s arm up into a standing arm bar. Alternately, the left hand could be a deflecting a front kick into a variation of the Heaven-and-Earth throw.
Movement 27 pushes an injured opponent off of you. When performed quickly, this movement could be a double strike with a built-in head cover, like a mountain punch. Alternately, this could be a setup for a belt throw.