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History of Sanchin

Sanchin Kata

Sanchin is generally accepted as the oldest Kata in Okinawan Karatedo. It's origin has been said to be related back to the stationary breathing exercises performed by Buddhist monks at the original Shaolin monastery. These breathing exercises were developed by Bodhidharma to provide a regimen for the monks so that they would not fall asleep during long hours of meditation. The folklore says that these basic exercises were then expanded by succeeding Shaolin monks into a method of empty-hand combat so that they could defend themselves and their monastery from invaders. Sanchin is said to be similar to the original Iron Monk Form, Tei Shao Mu Tshien. Kanryo Higaonna brought a version of Sanchin to Okinawa in 1879 after studying Gung Fu in Fukien province in South China for nearly 15 years. Also for Kanbun Uechi it was one of the three original Pangainoon kata that he brought from China.

Sanchin was originally performed from one rooted stance. The inclusion of steps forward and backward were added later. Originally Sanchin was practiced with open hands. The original version of Sanchin Kata Higaonna Kanryo taught, was executed with three steps forward, a 180 degree turn, four steps in that direction, another 180 degree turn, one step forward and then one step backward. This version of Sanchin kata was practiced and taught by another Higaonna Kanryo Sensei's senior student Juhatsu Kyoda. Kyoda Sensei was a founder of To'on Ryu Karate-Doh. Chogun Miyagi, the founder of Goju-ru, altered Sanchin to closed fists and developed his version of Sanchin kata with no turns but with three steps forward and two steps backwards.

Sanchin translates as "Three Conflicts" or "Three Battles" and is often referred to: mind, body and spirit. It is also that: posture (stance), tension (muscles) and proper breathing technique are in conflict until practiced, understood and applied. Therefore becoming harmonious and working in unison with each other. Through Sanchin practice, beginning practitioners create the "Iron Shirt" and are ready to perform and execute advanced movements and techniques, Sanchin brings these together to create a state of enlightenment. Sanchin is a widely practiced kata, with minor variants in Goju Ryu, Uechi Ryu, Isshinryu, Shito ryu and in Shorinjiru.

In Naha-te derived Karate, Sanchin Kata was historically the first kata taught at the 10th Kyu/white belt level and forms the core of Karate systems such as Goju Ryu and Uechi Ryu. Kanbun Uechi, the founder of Uechi Ryu, felt that Sanchin Kata was so critical, that he required his students to study it for several years before progressing to the other kata.

Sanchin teaches neither new techniques nor fighting skills. Its purpose is said to be esoteric. Sanchin requires a lifetime of training. It involves deep tension breathing known as ibuki and precise body movement or tai sabaki. The different types of breathing are revealed at different stages in the learning of the kata. Many Sensei believe that Sanchin represents the true essence of Karate-do, both spiritually and physically and leads to ki development.

The basic step can serve as a throw, the basic strikes can be aimed at a variety of targets, and the circular motions have many applications in grappling, joint locks, and breaking holds. The mere presence of the specialized Bushiken fist should inspire students to consider targeting strikes against a great many weak areas of the body. Although Sanchin is a superficially simple drill, performing it correctly requires understanding on many levels. The details of body position and stance are easiest to learn; mastering the blocks and strikes or the steps and turns takes longer because all of them must be performed with one's center, with the participation of both the mind and the whole body. But Sanchin performed with only perfect motions is only half a kata; the whole exercise involves the intense concentration of mushin and specialized Sanchin breathing, which serves to protect the martial artist and clear the mind. Understanding then integrating all these aspects of Sanchin takes years; perhaps the most interesting thing about Sanchin is that during those years it teaches itself. With a few words about the purpose of the movements, concentration or breathing, and occasional comments from an instructor, student's kata develop in all of their depth with practice. Once students have a solid understanding of the data, it encourages them to think about the basics they have learned and apply them in many ways, in different situations, to meet a variety of needs.

Naha-te derived styles require the proper practice of Sanchin Kara to promote strong ki development, catharsis on physical, emotional, and mental levels, and breath control. The only stance used in Sanchin is Sanchin-dachi. When in Sanchin-dachi, the shoulders must not be lifted, the spine must be straight, your chest must be open and your stomach muscles must be

tightened. Your chin must be drawn slightly towards your chest, this enables the wind pipe to be most effective when inhaling and exhaling. The gluteus maximus (buttocks) muscles must also be tightened, but do not make too much of the often exaggerated lifting of the pelvis. This lifting in itself causes the shoulders to cave in, thus again affecting the breathing. There should be no unnecessary restriction placed on the body, e.g.: hips not on the same plane as the ground (horizontal).

From musubi-dachi no kamae, sink your body and slide your right foot in a circular fashion into migi-Sanchin-dachi. The width between the feet should be the width of your hips. Your toes should be gripping the floor by spreading the toes as far as possible and grip the floor like the roots of the tree. This is known as tako ashi. Both feet should be turned inward, and the knees must be bent directly over the toes. The knees, as in all stances, must be pointing in the same direction as the toes. The eyes must be fixed firmly forward as if gazing at a far mountain. The chest must remain open so that breathing is not restricted. When stepping forward in Sanchin-dachi, the feet never lift off the floor. The movement must be of a sliding nature with the feeling that only one sheet of paper can slide between the soles and the floor. This movement is termed suri ashi. Keep the muscles tight when moving and use a circular siding foot movement. Focus must always be placed on the heel when moving backwards in Sanchin-dachi, it must not lift off the floor- a common error. The muscles of the body must be tense during the entire duration of the kata and the breathing must be coordinated with all foot movements.

Sometimes the mind will drift off, actively keep it alive and stimulated and always keep your tanden full of strength. Do not rush in your practice and remember consistent practice, focusing on the above, will make your Sanchin-dachi a natural movement for you. At the early stages of Sanchin, training focus must be placed on the coordination of the breath with the correct execution of the techniques. The simple techniques of the kata involve only basic punches, chest blocks, and circular blocks. Each technique demands the karateka to focus under extreme tension. Although the techniques are elementary, the breathing is decidedly complex. Due to the slow ibuki breathing, Sanchin is a long kata to perform in terms of elapse time. In many forms of Sanchin near the end of the kata, the air remaining in the karateka's lungs is expelled in three sharp bursts.

In some styles, when a student is tested on Sanchin, an upper rank delivers multiple blows to the student's body whose muscles are tensed. This is known as Sanchin shime testing. Isshinryu Master, Taysuo Shimabuku stated there was not any discernable fighting application for Sanchin Kata, and its purpose was exclusively to develop muscle tension and conscious breathing. In 1962, Jui Meng, a famous Shaolin monk, stated that "the lungs are reservoirs of air, and the air is the lord of strength. Whomever speaks of strength must know of air."

Many Okinawan Karate authorities criticize the regular practice of Sanchin Kata for health reasons. Sanchin is pseudo-isotonic and pseudo-isometric exercise which enables one to achieve and sustain a high heart rate with low impact. The deep tension breathing in Sanchin also opens the lungs, increases blood circulation, opens the capillaries, strengthens the heart muscle, massages the lymph system, and opens epidermal glands. However, Sanchin has also been blamed for the early deaths of many Okinawan karate masters, mainly from Nah-te based karate styles, which practice Sanchin rigorously.

Sanchin should always be practiced with dynamic tension and students must be careful to proceed slowly when learning this kata and clarify its purpose. An already healthy individual will not experience any adverse effects from Sanchin, but an individual prone to heart problems should exercise extreme caution.

As a spiritual and mental exercise, Sanchin provides numerous benefits. It induces memory, both neuromuscular and cerebral, of the feeling of being either hard or soft. This is beneficial because it enables one to obtain an awareness of inappropriate muscular or mental tightness or looseness. Sanchin also serves as a strict Zen exercise of breathing and mushin (no-mindedness) and induces calm, awareness and egoless confidence. It also develops ki by focusing the energy into a single-minded purpose.

from article on Sanchin Kata from UKF files, author unknown