3 States of Sanchin Kata’s 3 Battles

15 Jun

KANJI SANCHIN-SMALL  The Kanji (Japanese calligraphy) for Sanchin Kata translates as “three battles.” The three battles of Sanchin have been defined in numerous ways. (See Endnote # 1 for my definition). There are those that will argue over which definition of the three battles is correct. Such arguments are frivolous. Within a system of karate-do, the definition is often tied to dogmatic tenets of the system. In reality the three battles of Sanchin are unique to the individual performer. They also vary of time as the performer’s physical, mental and emotional needs change.

I find that the emphasis on defining the three battles obscures an equally important characteristic of Sanchin. This characteristic is the three states of transition in performing Sanchin Kata. Please note that although these states are expressed in terms of Sanchin Kata, they also exist in the performance of every kata.

These states are:

  • Default state (I exemplify this state with water) – the state that you aim to normally exist within;
  • Relaxed state (exemplified by steam) – the state of relaxation;
  • Focused state (exemplified by ice) – the state of focused action;

I describe the attributes of each state as follows:

Water State:
The “Water state” is the default state. It is the state that is desired at all times. Like water, this state is completely flexible and bounded only by the container. As a glass contains water, a river bed contains a steam and the shores contain an ocean, the environment within which you exist at any moment in time is the sole boundary within which you are. As you define your boundary, so you define your limits. The smaller you define your boundary, the more you are limited.
For example, if you define your boundary as the Dojo (or room) your are in, you are more restricted than if you define you boundary as the city the Dojo is in or the State, or the country, or planet or universe. The boundary that defines the confines of your water state is entirely up to you and you alone.

Steam State:
The “Steam state” is a lighter, more adaptable state. As water turns to steam, its boundaries are lessened; steam flows and exists more freely than water. By adapting the steam state, you lighten any physical or psychological burden. As steam, you move easily, and more readily adapt to external stimulus. You also conserve energy to focus it when required.
A burst of steam can drive a steam engine. As such, by lightening your physical and psychological state from the water state to the steam state, you to be able to focus and deliver the force contained within you.

Ice State:
The “Ice state” is a compressed, hard state. As water turns to ice, it compresses and solidifies its molecules. Similarly, the ice state will allow you to contract within yourself to focus and deliver your power. The ice state exists briefly during the moment of impact. Once reduced from a larger state to a smaller state, force can be compartmentalized, focused and delivered from within
If we were to parse each state into intervals of time within the Sanchin Kata, it may be stated as:

  • water state – 50%
  • steam state – 5%
  • ice state – 45%

A typical movement of Sanchin Kata transitions between the states as follows; pre-movement (water state) inhalation (steam state), exhalation with dynamic tension (ice state) preparation for next movement (water state). Repeat.

Within each state, the three battles, or aspects of Sanchin are omnipresent, thus they exist simultaneously in each state.

A more detailed discussion of the three states of Sanchin i s included in my forthcoming book, “Life Is A Kata” available in time for Christmas, 2014.

Until the next submission, I remain,


Sensei John Szmitkowski

          You can learn Sanchin Kata and my whole Kata-Rx for FREE in my online school using this secure link:  https://kata-rx.teachable.com/p/preview-kata-as-moving-meditation


1. For review purposes, I define the three basic aspects are, breathing, bodily movement and state of mind. On a more advanced level, I redefine the aspects as the physical aspect (breathing ad bodily movement), the spiritual aspect (state of mind & emotions) and the environmental aspect (the manner in which Sanchin connect you to your external environment).

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2 Responses to “3 States of Sanchin Kata’s 3 Battles”

  1. Shihan Kenny Zuck June 15, 2014 at 2:10 pm #

    Sanchin can be explained, translated, dissected, interpreted, or described in so many ways. Once you think too heavy on any subject it can become tedious. Not that looking at it and or studying it is a problem, it just that too much time or too much discussion can lead to over reading a basic premise. I came from a fighter’s dojo. Kumite ruled. Kata was there but it was secondary to kumite. Important yes but not the first thing on the Isshinryu menu. Let’s face it – kata is karate and I know that. My Sensei taught me that well before Sho-Dan and moving forward to the present. My focus is self-defense now that I am older and cannot do what I did 30 years ago. When I do kata I think of Ginchin Funakoshi and his 20 precepts. In particular the one that states that karate does not begin with an attack or first strike. What he stated is what I preach exactly: “Self-defense only” !! Back when I started it was part of your training, but again it took a back seat to kumite.This as the dojo I went to was different and by the way it was the 70’s. You fought back then like nothing else mattered. When kata was performed, Sanchin was the staple that meant you were preparing for battle. We did it hard, strong, and with emphasis. Just doing it gets the end result in physically preparing your body for three, six, or 9 battles.

    • Sensei John June 16, 2014 at 11:15 am #

      Hello Shihan Zuck:
      Thank-you for taking a moment and providing your insightful comment.
      My best wishes to you and your Isshin-Ryu Association.
      – – – Sensei John

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