Styles of Karate.

Discussion in 'Karate' started by Andy Murray, Jul 11, 2002.

  1. Mike Flanagan

    Mike Flanagan Valued Member

    Hi Paul

    Do you some literature reference to say that Sanchin is the oldest kata? I've heard the claim of Seisan and of Naihanchi, but not of Sanchin. I understand that Kanryo Higaonna learnt Sanchin (or its predecessor) in China in the 1870's. Certainly it couldn't have been much earlier as Higaonna was only born in 1853 or therabouts. So Sanchin only entered the Okinawan traditions in the late 19th century. Surely there are older extant kata than that? I have reason to believe that several of the Shorin kata pre-date this.

  2. paul paterson

    paul paterson Valued Member


    Hello, Mike.

    Having been lucky enough to have come through certain karate schools like yourself the history has been passed on from the founder of those schools plus there are some very well know publications out there that do claim that Sanchin is the oldest. Each school will say this and that but to find the answer you will have to go back into the depths of the Chinese arts. But then I am no scholar in martial arts history, the way is the art and the art is life...

    Paul Paterson.
  3. Goju

    Goju Yellow Belt

    Kata Tensho is (i think) about 10 times easier to learn and demonstrate than kata sanchin with it's dynamic tension movements and black belts punching and kicking u while you're performing, I'm only an orange belt and tensho is a blue belt kata but I know it better than sanchin already
  4. Mike Flanagan

    Mike Flanagan Valued Member

    Hi Paul

    I'm far more familiar with the history of the Shorin systems rather than the Shorei systems. Could you point me in the direction of the publications you mention above?

    Also, are you saying that Sanchin as an Okinawan training tool is the oldest? Or are you saying that Sanchin has a long history in Chinese traditions (ie. before Higaonna learnt it)?

  5. Mike Flanagan

    Mike Flanagan Valued Member

    Hi Andy

    I've never learnt Siu Nim Tao, so I can't really comment from the point of view of a practitioner of that form. However, some things seem obvious. Both forms emphasise the use of what I would call an 'inner circular stance', with the feet pigeon toed. The way the legs are tensed in Sanchin is of great importance. I couldn't comment on the comparison of the stance used in Siu Nim Tao. As Yoda pointed out, there seem to be more similarities between the WC form and the karate kata Tensho. Tensho uses the same inner circular stance as Sanchin but the hand techniques are more similar, at least at a first glance, to those of Siu Nim Tao.

    I'm not very knowledgeable on the history of Naha-te Karate, the tradition to which these kata belong, but I can give you some info from Mark Bishop's 'Okinawan Karate' a widely consulted and recognised text. The following information is all drawn from this text.

    Kanryo Higaonna (1853-1917) studied at the school of Ryu Ryu Ko in Fuchou. He learnt Sanchin (or at least a predecessor of it) at this school, as well as the principles of Hsing-i from Ryu Ryu Ko's assistant, Wan Shin Zan.

    Chojun Miyagi (1888-1953) studied with Higaonna. His karate was also influenced by a Chinese practitioner of southern White Crane, known as Gokenki. He devised Tensho kata, supposedly developing it from a White Crane form known as Rokkishu.

    Did Higaonna create the Sanchin we know today from scratch? Or rather how close was it to the form he learnt in Fuchou. Well, in another branch of Naha-te, known as Ryuei-ryu, Sanchin is also practiced. But this Sanchin supposedly comes from Ryu Ryu Ko by a totally different route (via the Okinawan Norisato Nakaima). This Sanchin is apparently very similar to Higaonna's. A further branch, Uechi Ryu also has a (not quite as similar) Sanchin. This system was founded by Kanbun Uechi (1877- 1948) after studying Pangai-noon (Pan Ying Jen or Pan Ying Gut), also in Fuchou.

    So from this it does seem that Sanchin originated in China. On the other hand I have heard the same claim for the katas Naihanchi and Seisan. To date though I have never seen a Chinese version of any of these kata. So my suspicion is that any forms underwent considerable change in going from China to Okinawa, and that similarities between different Okinawan versions are most likely due to cross-fertilisation in Okinawa itself.

    Unfortunately there is very little documentary evidence and a great deal of handed down information that is impossible to independently verify. It is very difficult to see direct connections between speficic Chinese and Okinawans arts.

  6. SoKKlab

    SoKKlab The Cwtch of Death!

    Once again Gentlemen I point you towards Joseph Cho's book 5 Ancestors (Ngo Chor Kun) on the 5 Ancestors style of Chinese Boxing and video series of the same title (Unique). There is a direct comparison section between the Sanchien/ Sanchin katas as found in 5 Ancestors and as found in Goju-ryu. They are virtually the same, except some of the Goju-ryu movements are bigger and you can Clearly see that the Goju kata came from the 5 Ancestors.

    Also get hold of back issues of Terry O'Neill's 'Fighting Arts International', loads of stuff in their over the years about systems that had an 'influence' over Okinawan Karate, including Gan Ro Chuan/ Tai Chor/ Yung Chun/ White Crane etc. Well worth reading and keeping for research.
  7. PhilS

    PhilS New Member


    I go along with the above by SoKKlab regarding the origins of Sanchin/Sanchien/Saamchien being of Southern Chinese Origin. A majority of the influences of Okinawan Karate came from the Fukien/Fuchou area with people such as Kanryu Higashionna [a student of Ryuruko] and Gokenki either introducing or as in the case of Gokenki, re-introducing these chinese forms to the Ryukyus.

    Ruryu Ko is known to have taught 5 quan (kata): Happoren, Nepai, Doonquan, Roujin, and Qijing. Happoren is in fact Sanchin as its meaning of eight steps relates directly to this Kata.

    Whether sanchin is in fact the oldest karate kata is debateable as other kata to consier might be those above as they are all from the same system of what is essentially White Crane [Hakutsuru] boxing from Southern China. Kanryu Higashionna [Higaonna] however did not begin his apprenticeship with him until around 1874 so he would not have learnt what is now taught as Sanchin in its various form until after this period.

    Sokon Matsumura pre-dates Higashionnas involvement into the development of karate kata by some 50 years at least [having been born in 1797 and having started training under Tode Sakugawa at a very early age]. We can look to some of the Matsumura versions of kata as being reflective of some of the oldest for this reason. Matsumura himself studied under both Takahara Peichin [1683 - 1760] and after that also with the Chinese Envoy, Koshokun [Kushanku]. Kata such as Matsumura Kosokun are therefore very early forms of Karate kata that may pre-date the modern form of Sanchin as we now now it.

    Sakugawa also travelled to China to study Kempo under Koshokun and returned to Okinawa in 1762 to begin teaching what he had learnt.

    Prior to even this, Chatan Yara [1668 - 1756] travelled to Fukien\China in order to learn Chinese Kempo and weaponry and stayed there for 20 years. His teacher was Wong Chung-Yoh.

    Interestingly, most of these early pioneers of Karate have both Karate forms and also weapons forms named after them. Kobujutsu is known to have been developed in its current form about 400 years ago which correlates to the same development of early karate. Kata such as Chatan Yara no Sai immediately spring to mind and must,by definition be of this vintage. Chatan Yara Kosokun [Kushanku] may be attributed to Chatan Yara and is probably one of the earliest if not THE earliest Okinawan Karate Kata.

    Sanchin is common to 5 Ancestors [late 19thC], White Crane [c1700], and Tiger-crane Paired form. The Okinawan connection with sanchin is that of the White Crane route already mentioned.


    Phil S
    Last edited: Jun 22, 2006
  8. Kishu

    Kishu New Member

    Recomended Reading

    Karate-do, My wary of Life by Gichin Funakoshi
    (ISBN 0-87011-241-4 Kodansha).
    It's an autobiography of Funakoshi and contains some historical information.

    Unante, the secret of karate by John Sells
    (H.M. Hawley, 822 Gould Avenue, Holliwood, CA 90046).
    Contains history about Okinawa karate.
  9. Karakara

    Karakara New Member

    And also, one should be careful about the word 'systems', because even Shotokan, for example, keeps changing and evolving; if you look at Funakoshi's Karate-do Kyohan, you will see that on the pictures, such stances as kokutsu, for example, are very narrow, but in the second edition the photos (not the pictures) show very deep stances; also the idea of making low blocks in han-mi, the emphasis on hip rotation, etc., is not a part of all Shotokan 'substyles' necessarily. But of course, there are some distinct features of each style, such as heavy linear techniques in Shotokan, for example.

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