Sanchin : The Qi Gong of Karate

For a martial artist, when they hear the word Karate, first thing which comes to their mind is the Kata. In Karate, Kata is referred to as forms which consist of predefined set of movements, attacks and defense techniques. Learn Kata is very important in Karate because it’s the core of Karate. There are many Kata in Karate each style of Karate has their own set of Katas. In all Katas, Sanchin is one of the oldest and most important one. Many styles of Karate schools still practicing Sanchin as a primary Kata and believe that mastery over Sanchin is important to became a master in Karate.

The word ‘Sanchin’ and the Sanchin Kata itself have Chinese roots. Many people given different interpretations to the word ‘Sanchin’. Anyhow Sanchin literally means ‘three battles’ the battle here is referred to as the unification of mind, body and spirit.


History and development of Sanchin

The true history behind the creation of Sanchin was lost in time but when you look into the history you can seen that there were two types of Sanchin Kata brought to Okinawa by two masters. One version brought by Goju Ryu master Kanryo Higashionna and the other one brought and developed by Uechi Ryu master Kanbun Uechi. Both masters made changes to Sanchin and add the kata to their training.

When we look at the biography of both masters, we can see that they both learned some Chinese martial arts. From this information we can assume that Sanchin have a connection with Chinese martial arts. The breathing techniques and dynamic movements of Sanchin are very different than other Katas in Karate (except Tensho). Now I’ll share a widely accepted theory with you.

According to the legend Bodhidharma, an Indian monk who is a mastered in an ancient martial art called Kalarippayattu was travelled to china to spread Zen Buddhism. The monk reach shaolin temple and tech the monks some breathing exercises by combining Yoga and Kalarippayattu which later became the founding stone for Shaolin Kung Fu. Many believe that Sanchin was developed from this technique and given to Okinawan masters.

The Importance of Sanchin in Karate

Sanchin Kata was one of the precious gifts that received to Karate. Karate was there, before Sanchin became part of it. So, what made Sanchin an important Kata in Karate? Let’s look into that.

Proper execution of techniques is very important in any Martial Arts. You may be faster, stronger, flexible but all this will nothing if you can’t able to execute a technique properly. Here what Sanchin help you. Sanchin help you to mold your body into something which can execute any technique in its most perfect way.

Now let’s see how Sanchin helps you in your Karate.

First let’s analyze the Sanchin Dachi. It is the only stance we use through out the Kata.


As seen in the above image, Sancin Dachi resembles a position of triangle. The legs are in the width of the shopulder with feet inward 45° angle. This position protects your groin from attacks, tightens your thigh muscles that will give you more grip on the floor and strengthen your leg muscles. At the same time Sachin Dachi let us freely rotate our hips so that we can execute punches and blocks.


Now let’s analyze the breathing in Sanchin

The breathing pattern which followed in Sanchin is called IBUKI. This breathing technique was created by Goju Ryu master Chojun Miyagi to ensure the body’s development internally and externally.

There are two types of IBUKI:

  1. Yo-Ibuki: It is a hard style of breathing which uses in Sanchin and Tensho. In this particular breathing the practitioner forcefully breath out completely and contract the muscles. This will help to absorb any external impact we receive to our body. Some people perform this breathing in a wrong way that they hold the breath and then exhale. It is very harmfull to your body. Never hold your breath, instead of narrow down the flow of air with the help of your throat muscles and exhale completely. The correct pattern is, breath in through your nose and concentrate on your abdominal region, especially Tanden and breath out through your mouth.
  2. In-Ibuki: This type of breathing is more like baby breathing. We know that when babies breath in their stomach expands and contract when breath out. In-Ibuki uses the same pattern of breathing. It is more similar to the breathing technique in Yoga.

Now from the analysis you may understand the importance of Sanchin in Karate.

Shime: The way of testing Sanchin Kata

The Shime is a method where the master checks a students balance, concentration, strength by slapping and pushing on student’s body while doing Sanchin. Shime also provides a conditioning to student’s body. The word Shime means to ‘Shut’ or ‘Lock’. As the name means the Shime testing gives the practitioner the ability to tighten the body from vulnerabilities.

Most Karate schools uses the following to check Shime:

  1. Give lite or heavy slap to the shoulders to check and correct the natural position of the shoulders.
  2. Make sure the Lat muscles are tight by give lite or heavy strikes.
  3. Light tap to the student’s elbow to check whether their hands are in proper form.
  4. Slapping the sides of the knees from behind to check whether the legs are in proper form.
  5. Fix the posture by gently touch or poke at the back of the neck.
  6. Check the angles of the feet by throw front kick to the groin region. If the student has a proper stance and the pelvic region is tilted in proper form, he can trap the kick using his inner thighs.
  7. The breathing pattern check by throwing lite or heavy punches to the stomach.

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