Sanchin in Chinese martial arts

Further to my article: "The naming of sanchin"...

I have heard it said in crane circles that there is a different sanchin for every student, or words to that effect. I don't know if that is true, but every variant of crane seems to have a sanjan/sanzhan/saamchien.

Ngo cho kun (5 ancestor fist) is based on 5 shaolin styles of which crane is one, hence they have sanchin.

While Kanbun Uechi's art seems to have been a compilation of his all his various studies, I think it was most heavily influenced by white crane. Uechi certainly looks a lot like Fujian white crane (in my view much more than goju).

For downloadable videos check out my friend Martin Watt's site: He does Yong Chun white crane. His site has links to his Chinese school's site (which has more videos).

Also have a look at Eric Ling's sanjin on (Fuzhou Ancestral Crane - said to be the crane form that lead to all the crane variants - calling crane, flying crane etc.). Eric also has a version of happoren/paipuren/baibulan (a kata said by some to have formed the basis of tensho). It has the same name as happoren (ie. same Chinese characters) but to my eye looks completely different.

For uechi ryu sanchin, see:

Of course, Youtube is full of relevant videos.

Pat McCarthy tells me that dog, monk, tiger and lion all have sam chien / sanzhan (sanchin). This makes me wonder whether these arts are “crane derived” or whether sanzhan predates crane. Given the importance of the number “3” in sanzhan (3 battles, etc.) it is possible that sanzhan is a Arhat/monk fist derivation with Buddhist significance (I’m told that the number 3 is of some importance in Ch’an Buddhism, hence the repetition of sequences 3 times in southern Shaolin forms and in karate - see the opening sequence of sanchin, seisan, sanseiru and suparinpei, for example).

However I have also seem to recall that the stance used in xingyiquan's "san ti" posture was referred to as "zhan bu" or "battle step" by Hong Yi Xiang in Taipei. I'm starting to feel more and more certain about my theory that sanchin stems from xingyi...

Copyright © 2008 Dejan Djurdjevic


  1. Good article, but sanzhan is a bigger part of Wuzuquan than you think. Of the five styles that make up Wuzu; four of them are sanzhan-based systems. Fully-trained wuzu practitioners (i.e: those who know all 90+ forms of the complete system) have five different versions of sanzhan; crane sanzhan, monkey sanzhan, Lohan sanzhan, Taizu sanzhan and a combined wuzu sanzhan (which is the main one that everyone learns). Wuzu founder Cai Yi Ming had a sign in his school that read "Gentlemen, let us study the way of sanzhan..."

  2. I know I am commenting on an old post but it would be interesting to see what your thoughts on San Zhan are now? After 10 years of posting this :)

    From my experience, San zhan seems to be its own method and exercise that whole styles were built upon. Many inherited San zhan as their kung fu engine. (using your body, mind and spirit according to the ancient Chinese principles) I say this because many different styles across different time periods include San zhan. And knowing how rich and deep a kung fu style is, it tells me it didn't spring up instantly across the land including all the isolated areas. The history of the styles don't match in oral history, but the kung fu itself is like a time capsule.

    The number 3 also represents the battle of our physical, breath and mental and the Man / Heaven / Earth principle, very Daoist. I think San zhan is a mix of Daoist and Buddhist principles.

    I believe San Zhan came first (my guess being a Shaolin invention) and then different refinements of the styles manifested (what if i added former teachers' monkey hand instead!?) etc.. And developed further on from there according to the region.

    I have seen San Zhan for old Hung Kuen village styles, for Lion, Dog, Lohan, Taizu, Monkey, Crane. Japanese systems too. Each having their own focus.
    As different lineages focus on different aspects. Some see it as just a power generation method, some relegated it as a dynamic tension set, some use it as a completely soft esoteric art. There is no one gospel on San zhan. (But I guess - who uses it the best!?)
    If you have ever been exposed to a high level practitioner of San zhan and tried to touch hands with them you can feel the multiple skills and refined power in them.

    Definitely my fave form and exercise :)


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