Saturday, January 23, 2010

Sanchin Testing

We have had a nice influx of new students at the Broken Bokken, so I am repeating an old post on Sanchin Kata and one of the reasons why we practice it. Again, repetition is the key to mastery in the arts. This is also good for senior students.

Sanchin Kata, or Three Battles Form, is one of Karate's oldest and most revered training forms. It's history is reportedly traced back to the Shaolin Temples and the Qigong of Bodhidharma. Karate styles that practice Sanchin Kata typically have 'testing'. Testing occurs after the student has learned the form and consists of the student being 'hit' by the instructor.

Dependent on your teacher, testing has many lessons to teach us. On a physical level it conditions our bodies to take a punch or kick with less injury. For White Belts the slapping, punching and kicking is performed lightly and increases with intensity over time. By the time a student reaches Black Belt level it appears he or she is being beaten. Even though it looks brutal, it is very practical in terms of self-defense.

The testing of Sanchin Kata is also very important for the testing of the mind and it's ability to recover. People who are unaccustomed to being hit tend to 'freeze'' when hit and go into a panic mode. This type of pain is unfamiliar as they have never encountered it before and fear settles into their heart. At this point, their odds of escape are about zero.

Sanchin testing helps alleviate this fear. You learn how it feels to be punched...and you learn that you are okay. Your mind does not become unsettled. Overtime, the physical and mental recovery time is shorter and shorter. Your body and mind becomes accustomed to the contact and it ceases to be a struggle.

Being able to recover swiftly after receiving a blow is important, especially if you are surprised or blindsided with an attack. Quick recovery allows you to 'forget' about the body, stay calm and focus on your immediate purpose...defend (disrupt purpose) and escape (restore harmony).

One of my favorite stories about the effectiveness of Sanchin comes from a friend of mine, Mike Iott. Mike and I rose through the ranks together and he eventually became an MP (military police) in the Army. He related to me a time he had to arrest a soldier and upon trying to restrain him, the soldier punched Mike very hard. The soldier shouted proudly, "I got you!". Mike responded back, "Yes, you did, but the question you have to ask yourself is, 'Did you hurt me?'" After this the soldier went quietly.

So, even though Sanchin is usually taught as an exercise in physical conditioning, which it is also very important, if not more important, to your mental conditioning. The ability to mentally recover, in essence to regain your calm (the first battle) is more easily won by means of Testing.
Shihan Dean would also, during kumite, never allow us to stop fighting after we got hit. He would scream at us this is not a tournament and not point fighting. Never stop upon getting hit. Let it go and stay on your purpose.

Meditate on this and how it also applies to everyday life.

Hands palm to palm,


  1. My... I love the idea of training the mind's stability.

    Is there a simpler substitute for non-Karatean???

  2. Hi Rizal: I can only speak from my own experience...but the best substitute for non-Karateka is lots of Zazen. Having a daily practice and attending sesshins really makes you face yourself.

    Meditation isn't as comfortable and cozy as some people would make it. Zazen can be just as physically brutal as getting kicked in the nuts.
    It will test your mind's stability for sure.

    Thanks for the comment.