This article taken from the International Okinawan Goju-ryu website. Some say the meaning of sanchin (“three battles”) relates to the three journeys of life: Developing body, mind and spirit. Through proper martial arts training, one properly learns to develop her or his body through exercise and practise of kata/forms. Later, one begins to understand the true meaning of one’s training and develops an understanding of bunkai and history, developing the mind. Spirit is developed much later in life and is only understood by those who have achieved this.
In the pursuit of perfecting the art of Goju Ryu, this precious Kata must be at the heart of our training. We all have access to it but perhaps only get it out occasionally, look at it and put it back. The more I practice, the more that I believe that I understand Higaonna Shihan’s edict of practicing Sanchin every day. You almost need ‘mushin’ (no mind) to accept Sanchin and that is also a training journey unto itself!
In overcoming the stresses of balancing your work/home life, Sanchin is a unisex, cross-cultural me-time. I say that because ‘me-time’ means different things to different people. From a hot scented bath with favourite background music, to x-box time, to sitting on a beach looking out to sea, or a mountain or a desert. We cannot always obtain these perfect personal scenarios, but we can come very close to surpassing the final experience with Sanchin or Tensho. A calming of the mind, a workout for the body and a better understanding of yourself, in terms of capability and execution of the technique, for me completes the set towards fulfilment.
Wikipedia’s entry on this kata makes for interesting reading.
In Goju-Ryu, the idea is to remain soft until a hard motion is executed, and then tense briefly at the right moment. This allows for better overall movement since continuous tensing is not conducive to easy or speedy movement. Sanchin is often practiced as a means of developing hardness of the external muscle sheathe of the body, making it easy for the practitioner to withstand solid, powerful blows from an opponent. But the steady tensing used by some styles, e.g., Goju Ryu, in its practice tends to slow one’s movements if the practitioner doesn’t learn to turn the hardness on and off easily. There have also been claims that the isometric method of practice can have long term deleterious effects on practitioners’ blood pressure and circulatory systems. Styles like Kyokushin often incorporate sanchin method of practice, as seen in the Goju version of the style, in everything they do. Many who have seen the Okinawans performing Sanchin have accepted a notion that the form requires hardness and tensing in its very nature but practicing in this manner can make it difficult to learn from the kata, to achieve a better understanding of the techniques it contains, when it’s performed in a state of constant strain and tension.