"Three battles"








This dynamic tension and breath control exercise is the fundamental kata ("heishugata" - literally "closed fist form") of Goju-ryu. Its name: San - "three", Chin - "battle" - refers to the 3 battles of mind, body and spirit/breathing. Sanchin kata originated in southern China, and indeed versions of the kata are still being performed both there and in Taiwan. Many southern Chinese styles have versions of Sanchin as their basic kata, but it is with the old southern White Crane (Jap. Hakutsuru) styles that it is most often associated.

Its purpose then and now is as a basic conditioning tool which supports the rest of the system.

Although classified as a heishugata (lit. 'closed fist' kata) Sanchin contains both open and closed hand techniques - what the term really refers to is that the body is in a constant state of tension throughout the kata - the muscles are contracted or 'closed'.

Members can proceed to the Sanchin materials page for videos and other instructional material relating to the 2 versions of Sanchin kata.







The sanchin stance

Sanchin kata is performed in sanchin stance - a "pigeon toed" stance that offers stability even in a relatively high posture and from a variety of angles.

Note the following:

  • The heel of the front foot rests on the same line as the toes of the back foot. 
  • The outside edge of the back foot points forwards. 
  • The front foot is turned in a little. 
  • The feet are approximately shoulder width apart.

For more details go to the sanchin stance page.


Correct sanchin stance


The 2 versions of Sanchin kata

There are 2 versions of Sanchin kata, namely:

  • the original version known as Higaonna Sanchin (as taught by Kanryo Higaonna who is said to have learned this kata in Fuzhou, China - see below).

  • a modified version, Miyagi Sanchin, which was developed by Chojun Miyagi.

The Higaonna version of Sanchin involves moving forwards in sanchin stance with 2 turns. Miyagi removed the turns and included backward steps.

Both versions are practised in the Muidokan karatejutsu syllabus, although only the latter is examinable.


Sanchin testing


 Purpose of Sanchin

Sanchin is regarded as the cornerstone of Goju-ryu and hence of Muidokan karate.  Its primary purpose is to as an "iron shirt" training tool.  Initially the kata teaches basic posture, balance and breathing, but later it is used to develop correct tension to resist the impact of blows.  A student's development of proper Sanchin is tested at the lower levels with examiners exerting resistance against the students techniques.  From black belt onwards the test includes strictly controlled impacts.  These are administered by experienced, senior examiners to ensure that no injury is done to the student.

As a student becomes more senior Sanchin kata begins to take on a "softer" or more internal appearance, eventually fulfilling the same function as zhan zhuang (a form of rooted posture mediation) in the internal art of Yi Quan.  It is at this stage that the long term aim (and form) of Sanchin kata is realised.  An exercise for testing this aspect of Sanchin is Sanchin pushing, where students attempt "not to be pushed" rather than to push their training partner.  The goal is to be able to resist a push using as little pushing action of your own as possible.  Ultimately the key to success is to think of yourself as being immovable.

The "shime" (Jap. abbreviation of "shimeru" - tension) action in the hips is also a very important part of learning to generate force with the hips using an upward (rather than horizontal) action.

Miyagi Sanchin kata is required from White 3 to Shodan 2.

Higaonna Sanchin kata is required from Brown 1 to Shodan 2.



Sanchin related drills

The apparently simple hand movements of Sanchin kata host a variety of surprisingly subtle and profound applications that are best understood via a number of tanren (conditioning drills).  A sample drill can be found here.

Sanchin happo is an 8 point turning basics drill based on Sanchin kata.



Sanchin - origins and comparative analysis


Orthodox history maintains that Kanryo Higaonna brought Sanchin kata back from Fuzhou where he learned the form from Ryu Ryu Ko.  However there is evidence that Seisho Aragaki (Higaonna's first teacher in Okinawa) taught a version of Sanchin to Higaonna before he left for China.  It is uncertain whether this influenced the kata that he ultimately passed down.

Sanchin in Okinawa

Versions of Sanchin are presently taught in all Goju-ryu schools and in the other styles classified as Naha te, namely, in Ryuei-ryu, Tou’on-ryu (the school founded by Juhatsu Kyoda) and Uechi-ryu.

The Sanchin of Uechi-ryu is performed open hand (ie. finger thrusts) however it is known that this was also the case in Goju-ryu until Chojun Miyagi, or more likely Kanryo Higaonna,1 modified the kata (or, at least, expressed a preference for using fists instead – a preference that ultimately became the norm).

Neither Ryuei-ryu, Tou’on-ryu nor Uechi-ryu utilise the harsh breathing of Goju-ryu’s sanchin.

The  Ryuei-ryu and Tou’on-ryu Sanchin kata are sequentially similar to Kanryo Higaonna’s version, however Tou’on-ryu Sanchin kata utilises a single breath in the punch block sequence (not 2).

The Ryuei-ryu school does not perform sanchin testing while Tou’on-ryu and Uechi-ryu do.

The Uechi-ryu version is performed at normal speed and without dynamic tension.



Click on the picture to go to Martin Watts' White Crane site

Click on the picture to go to the Yong Chun Baihe site


Sanchin in China

Variations of Sanchin kata occur in many Arahat/Lohan schools (monk fist), in White Crane schools and in Ngo Cho Kun or Wu Zu Quan (5 ancestor fist — a style based partly on White Crane and Lohan boxing).

It is said that “if you do not do Sanchin you do not do White Crane”. The Yong Chun white crane Sanzhan form appears to be closer to Goju's Tensho kata than it is to its Sanchin.

1 see Mario McKenna's article Historical Progression of San Chin at: