"Three Battles or Conflicts"
Sanchin translates as "Three Battles" or "Three Conflicts". This has many meanings. First it refers to the struggle to control the body under physical fatigue. With fatigue the mind begins to lose focus and thus the spirit begins to diminish as well. Therefore Sanchin develops discipline, determination, focus, perserverance and other mental attributes. The Chinese refer to this as Shen (spirit), Shin (mind) and Li (body).
Sanchin is probably the most misunderstood Kata in all of Karate. In contrast, it is probably the single most valuable training exercise in Goju-Ryu. Like the other Kata of Goju-Ryu, Sanchin can be found in several Chinese arts, particulary the southern styles including four styles of Crane Boxing, Dragon Boxing, Tiger Boxing, Lion Boxing, Dog or Ground Boxing and Monk Fist. Sanchin has such aspects as deep, diaphramatic breathing found in many internal arts as well as external attributes like mechanical alignment and muscular strength.
The original Sanchin that Higaonna Sensei learned from RuRuKo (1852-1930) was performed with open hands and with less emphasis on muscle contraction and "energetic" breathing. With the changes brought about by Emperor Meiji (Meiji Restoration Period 1888-1912), Higaonna Sensei changed the open hands to closed fists as the martial meaning was no longer emphasized.