Sanchin & Tenshow

   By: Sensei Patrick Leung, Secretary General of APSKF

Sanchin and Tenshow are two basic katas originated from the school of Naha-te. They are two sets of prescribed movements in slow motion that can be categorized as a kind of Qi-gong in Karatedo. The practice of Sanchin and Tenshow requires the correct conception of the katas and their movements, together with concentration of mind and regulation of breathing of the practitioners. As the practice helps practitioners to generate a steady flow of Qi in human body, it is of great benefit to their body mechanism and constitution. Naturally, Karatekas regard Sanchin and Tenshow as invaluable treasures of Karatedo.

Yi, Qi, Jin
The performance of Sanchin and Tenshow is not a mere set of passive manoeuvre of body parts; it has to be directed by two key elements: the Yi and the Qi. As some masters said, “Where the Yi goes, the Qi goes; and where the Qi goes, the Jin follows”, which means that where the mental intent goes, the vital energy goes; and where the vital energy goes, the intrinsic strength follows. It goes without saying that Yi, Qi and Jin are closely interrelated.
Yi is, briefly speaking, the state of mental intent, or mind. It is the process of perception and apprehension in our brains. In practising Sanchin and Tenshow, we are not only moving our bodies physically, but we should also understand what each movement means and how it should be performed before we actually deliver the physical actions of the katas, i.e. use the mind to move the body. As a consequence, the concerned body muscles will be duly contracted to develop strength. In the practice of these katas, we can create a scenario in our minds where an imaginary opponent exists: imagine we are effectively attacking the opponent or blocking the opponent’s attack, then we transform this mental process into physical actions. During this transformation, we will realize how we physically descend our lower body to support the actions of our upper body firmly. This is the actual realization of the katas and only in this way can Jin be released steadily from our bodies; thus producing mentally sound movements.
Qi is a kind of vital energy of human body that commands our lives; it is however not referring to the air that we breathe. Qi is the feeling of a flowing stream of air that runs inside the body along a network of channels linking internal organs and carrying messages of physiological and pathological functions of the body. Qi can only be elicited by Yi and is transformed as Jin when it is explicitly brought out through body movements. Only when Qi is flowing with the body movements, the movements will become smooth and full of intrinsic strength. Beginners may find it difficult to understand the existence and exercising of Qi. However, they could try to experience their Qi through simple actions and movements. For example, by practising Nukite, firstly we rest our palms gently at our waist positions, then we slowly extend our arms forward; by using the correct mind, our palms and fingers are slowly directed to move forward as if they are attacking an opponent. Meanwhile, it seems that a “stream of air” is ejecting from our arms towards the fingertips. If practised correctly, we should be able to feel the intrinsic strength brought to the fingers which would then become hard to bend. If practised constantly, one can make good use of Qi in the attacking and blocking techniques of Karatedo.
Jin can be regarded as the intrinsic strength which is the result of combining Yi and Qi. It must not be mistaken that Jin is the body power produced by contraction of muscle fibres. Briefly speaking, Jin is generated from the inside through Yi and Qi, and transformed eventually as driving energy; while body power is just a superficial manifestation of dynamic force. The length of time to apply Jin is relatively long, yet the strength produced is light and sharp. On the contrary, body power is heavy, stiff and blunt, yet it takes shorter time to discharge the energy. If Sanchin and Tenshow are practised correctly, Jin, which is characterized by its suppleness and litheness, will be released steadily and naturally. When Jin is combined with body power in an attack or block, it will become as strong as steel – invulnerable and invincible.

The way of breathing for Sanchin and Tenshow is different from the chest breathing that we usually do. We breathe with the abdomen for the katas. In the abdominal breathing, the diaphragm rises and lowers deliberately to a greater extent, so that the vital capacity of the breathing taken will increase correspondingly. When inhaling, the pressure inside the lower abdomen will increase and the abdomen will expand to form a round shape; thus the diaphragm will rise and the muscles of the abdomen will be relaxed. Instantly, we would feel that the intake of air is directed down to the Dan-tian at the lower abdomen. At this moment, our internal energy will be reserved for discharge. When exhaling, the pressure inside the lower abdomen will decrease and the abdomen will contract; thus the diaphragm will be lowered down and the muscles of the abdomen will be tightened. Instantly, it seems that another “stream of air” is directed down to the Dan-tian. At this moment, the reserved energy can be discharged. Beginners may find it difficult to master the technique of abdominal breathing. In this situation, it would be easier for them to exercise abdominal breathing if they lie down comfortably on a bed, relax their bodies, and try to feel the way of abdominal breathing again.
The correct way of breathing has to be coordinated with the pace and rhythm of body movements. As some masters said, “Exhaling is substantial, inhaling is insubstantial.” The effects of substantiality and insubstantiality are the natural feelings of our bodies and they are the outcomes of breathing governed by our mind. The basic principles of applications are: inhaling when reserving energy, pulling hands, opening arms and raising bodies; exhaling when discharging energy, pushing hands, closing arms and lowering bodies. This is what some masters call “breathing accords with patterns of movements”.
In the practice of Sanchin and Tenshow, we should breathe in with our noses and breathe out with our mouths; we could also breathe out with our noses, but never breathe in with our mouths. The breathing should be made longer and deeper than the usual one. The pace of breathing should be slow, even and smooth to achieve calmness and gentleness. However, we should never unduly hold our breathing in the process. Moreover, in every breathing cycle, always breathe out all the air in our lungs and breathe in fresh air thoroughly. After a long time of practice, the vital capacity of our lungs will be increased and the cycle time of our breathings will be lengthened. At this stage, the movements of the katas performed will become smooth, gentle and yet full of Jin.

Sanchin Dachi is the main stance applied in Sanchin and Tenshow. The firmer the stance, the easier for practitioner to generate Jin through Yi and Qi. When standing in Sanchin Dachi, the body should be straight, knees bent, weight sunk and centred, and toes grasping on the ground as if they were rooted into the floor. The lower body should provide a correct and effective support to the upper body by contracting the muscles of the legs in accordance with the purposes of the upper body movements. For example, when executing Chudan Tsuki, we should imagine that we punch hard into the opponent. With such a scenario in mind, the stance will naturally react by contracting the muscles of the legs in order to give support to the punch. The degree of contraction is higher in the rear leg than in the front leg as the support provided by the rear leg is more effective in this case. Never contract the muscles excessively, as the stance will become hard and rigid. This is the correct way of manipulating Yi to bring out the correct muscle contraction for execution of techniques. Beginners could practise their stances by standing in front of a wall in Sanchin Dachi, place their hands on the wall and push gently against it. By doing so, they should be able to feel the support rising from their legs and the different degrees of muscle contractions between the rear leg and the front leg. In doing this exercise, the body should be centred, sunk, relaxed and remains vertical to the ground; never try to lean forward to offset the pushing force.
When moving with Sanchin Dachi, the movement should be agile and stable, while the head should be kept moving along a level plane. In the forward movement, the body weight should be shifted gradually to the front leg first. Then the rear leg follows by moving forward gently along an oval path with the foot kept as close to the ground as possible. Finally, rest the body weight to the centre of the feet. The transition of body weight in stance movements is what some masters call “discriminating between substantial and insubstantial”. Smoothness and continuity are two key elements in stance movements. This theory of forward movement also applies to backward movement and turning.

In the practice of Sanchin and Tenshow, we should keep our heads straight, and relax our shoulders and elbows. With the aid of concentration of Yi and flowing of Qi, we should be able to coordinate precisely our body movements with abdominal breathing. We should purposefully control the muscles of our arms and hands, and let them move gently and smoothly along the correct paths. Never exert undue strain to our muscles to generate excessive body power as this will result in undesirable body shaking. In addition, all movements should begin and end gradually, the speed of movements should be uniform, and the line of movements should be smooth.
The practice of body movements in slow motion gives time for practitioners to pay attention to even the smallest of the details; thus the stances will become firmer, the movements will become more stable and the sense of coordination will be improved. Coupling with the exercises of Yi and Qi, the smallest of the muscle fibres will be strengthened; thus Jin will gradually be generated. After constant practice for a long time, we can make use of the vital energy developed from Sanchin or Tenshow to generate stronger and penetrating power in both fast and slow moving Karatedo techniques.

Sanchin and Tenshow are easy to learn but hard to master, yet the practice of these katas in the correct way is extremely helpful in building the foundation of attacking and blocking techniques in Karatedo, and is of great benefit to the constitution of the practitioners. Therefore after learning the basic movements and breathing method of Sanchin and Tenshow, we have to practise the katas unremittingly in order to achieve these ultimate goals. It is true to say that: the more we practise, the more we gain.
Karatedo training always consists of a lot of hard and tense kumite and kata practice. If this manner of practice endures, an imbalance of mind and body development would likely be resulted. For example, nervousness can be attributed to prolonged mental stress, and hard training can cause undesirable muscle strain and shaking. The practice of Sanchin and Tenshow can help practitioners to relieve these imbalances. So it is important to practise the katas daily or at least every other day in order to achieve a balance of both mind and body development in Karatedo. For each of the katas, practitioners should at least practise it three to five times for each training session. The first two times are for warming up of the body, while the rest of the practice will lead to real training of the mind and body.
In the practice of Sanchin and Tenshow, it is important to concentrate our mind, refrain from distracting thoughts, and maintain a non-aggressive, calm and relaxed mental attitude. Beginners should start with learning the basic stance, body postures and movements of the katas. After grasping these general ideas of the katas, they should then move on to the breathing techniques and realize the correct meanings of all the movements. At this stage of learning, they should relax their bodies and avoid exerting undue strain to their muscles. In the learning process, the ways of practice should be reviewed from time to time and any mistakes made should be corrected promptly. Through the gradual process of learning, they will gradually build up the correct pattern of executing the movements of the katas. After practising constantly with Yi and Qi, Jin will be developed in the movements of the katas.
As some masters said, “Body power is generated from skin, muscles, sinews and bones, while Qi is flowing through network channels linking internal organs.” Practising Sanchin and Tenshow helps practitioners to induce the active flow of Qi; thus enhancing their metabolism and replenishing their constitution. Nonetheless, as the network channels of beginners are not yet mature, when they first learn the abdominal breathing of Sanchin and Tenshow, signs of discomfort in their heads or even symptoms of faintness may be experienced. In this situation, just relax and take in a few natural breaths; the natural composure will be restored.
Thus, beginners may first adopt natural breathing in the practice of Sanchin and Tenshow. When they are familiar with the movements of the katas and the exercises of their minds, then they should gradually adopt the abdominal breathing. After constant practice of the katas, their network channels will become mature and they will find abdominal breathing much comfortable to practise. At this stage, practitioners will find practising Sanchin and Tenshow most gratifying and refreshing.

Dan-tian is a small area of the human body just below the navel. It generates and reserves vital energy that is considered to be the root of human life. Some old Chinese masters described Dan-tian as the pool for nourishment and nestling. The coordinated action of mind, breathing and movements in the practice of Sanchin and Tenshow will activate the Dan-tian; thus revitalizes the body strength and spiritual strength, and fortify the ability to cure diseases and maintain good health. Slow and gentle breathing will strengthen the respiratory system, improve the functions of lungs and enhance metabolism. Moreover, practising Sanchin and Tenshow will activate the modulating function of our central nervous system, thus elevate our overall coordinating ability for our mental and physical wellbeing. Apart from these advantages, the rise and fall movements of the diaphragm result in a gentle massaging effect to the organs in the abdomen. Hence, it will improve blood circulation, enhance the efficiency of digestive system and maximize the functions of the organs. These are the benefits on health preservation that would be brought about by the practice of Sanchin and Tenshow.
Apart from these advantages, the practice of Sanchin and Tenshow also refine the spiritual constitution. It is because through constant training in slow motion with mind concentration, practitioners will be able to bring about relaxation and calmness. It thus helps practitioners to pacify their minds, improve their mental attitude, cultivate their spiritual status, elevate their sense of self-motivation, and develop their ability of self-control.

Chinese Qi-gong has been developed for thousands of years. It is regarded as an invaluable treasure of health preservation in Chinese medicine. The principles of Qi-gong are very broad and profound. Though there are many different forms and styles of Qi-gong, their essence generally lies in the proper coordination of mind, breath and movements through specific exercises. In fact, Sanchin and Tenshow are katas derived from the traditional Chinese Qi-gong (please refer to the next articles), therefore there exists some similarities between them.
The training objectives of Chinese Qi-gong and those of Sanchin and Tenshow are similar; they both place great emphases on the enhancement of body mechanism and pacification of spiritual constitution. When practicing, practitioners will use their minds to move their bodies, and at the same time develop calmness and awareness. Moreover, their stances will be firm and stable, and their legs clearly discriminated as substantial and insubstantial. In addition, their breathings will be slow and gentle, and accord with the patterns of simple body movements in slow motion. Their upper bodies will be natural and flexible, and move with their Yi rather than their body power; thus help them to generate a smooth flow of Qi, which is then directed down to their Dan-tians, and achieving the level of “Yi generates Qi which in turn strengthens body movements”. These are the essences of training Chinese Qi-gong as well as Sanchin and Tenshow. Since Sanchin and Tenshow were derived from the same theory of Chinese Qi-gong, so we believe that if we follow the abovementioned guidelines to practise the two katas, eventually our bodies will be strengthened, our mental attitude enhanced and our health preserved.

Sanchin was brought to Japan by Sensei Kanryo Higaonna, who was the teacher of Sensei Kenwa Mabuni – the founder of Shitoryu Karatedo. Sensei Kanryo Higaonna learnt Sanchin during his stay in China in quest of the ways of Chinese Kung-fu.
Sanchin, also known as “San-shin”, means the movements begin and progress with advancing three steps forward. Since Sanchin Dachi is the main stance adopted for the kata, so the kata is also called “Sanchin”, and “Sanchin” is widely-received as the title of this kata nowadays.
The basic constituent attacking and blocking techniques adopted in Sanchin are Chudan Tsuki and Yoko Uke. Apart from these, Wa Uke and Mawashi Uke are also included in the kata. The purpose of incorporating these techniques in the kata is to enable practitioners to apprehend the theory of “Yi generates Qi which in turn strengthens body movements” more easily through constant practice with the simplest and basic techniques of Karatedo. It may sound easy to understand. However, only through correct and unremitting practice that the practitioners can be benefited both mentally and physically.
Apart from the mental and physical benefits mentioned above, practising Sanchin also functions to elevate the speed of delivering Tsuki and Uke and enhance their power. This is because in the practice of Sanchin, we always make use of mind concentration and abdominal breathing in kata movements. By this method of exercise, we will naturally relax our shoulders and elbows so as to reserve our internal energy in a calm and flexible manner. This helps us to increase the speed of delivering the techniques. When Qi is activated through the application of Yi, Jin will be generated. The correct combination of Jin and body power will produce substantial, penetrating and even destructive power.

Tenshow is another kata brought to Japan by Sensei Kanryo Higaonna, who was the teacher of Sensei Kenwa Mabuni – the founder of Shitoryu Karatedo. Sensei Kanryo Higaonna learnt Tenshow during his stay in China in quest of the ways of Chinese Kung-fu. The origin of Tenshow can be traced back to a Shaolin Kung-fu – Liu-qi-shou; and Tenshow was later further modified.
Tenshow was initially referred to as “Liu-qi-shod’. As the progression of the kata mainly comprises forms and movements of open-hand and rotation of palms, it was gradually titled as Tenshow, which means, “rotating palms”.
The major techniques contained in Tenshow include Shoutei Tsuki, Shoutei Uke, Soto Kakete, Uchi Kakete, Yoko Uke, Ko Uke, Sukui Uke, Wa Uke and Mawashi Uke. In the kata, various forms of open-hand techniques for attacking and blocking will be performed using skillful and precise bending and rotation of the wrists and palms. The training will improve the movements of the open-hand techniques; thus enhance the suppleness of the wrists and arms. After constant practice of Tenshow, Jin could be effectively generated along the correct paths of movements in the applications of open-hand techniques.
The practice of Tenshow not only benefits our body health, but also enhances the instant power produced by the movements of open-hand techniques. This is because the bending and rotating of the wrists will help practitioners to generate powerful and speedy swirling force. The combination of this swirling force and Jin will produce enormous power even with short driving distance of the movement. Moreover, by bending and rotating the wrists swiftly in a set of movements, individual movements will be coordinated and their continuity will be improved; thus their application time will be shortened.