Treasure of Okinawan Karate
In 1621 Mao
Yuan I published a work on military tactics. Composed of 240 volumes, the
Wu Pei Chih deals with all aspects of Chinese military tactics, and includes
a section on empty hand methods. As I studied the history of the martial arts
I was intrigued to learn that Chojun Miyagi had given the name "Goju Ryu"
(Hard/Soft Style) to his art from a line contained in the Bubishi (Wu Pei
Chih in Chinese). Determined to find out more, I looked at copies of Mao Yuan
I's work in the libraries of Durham University and Cambridge University, but
I could not find the section used by Miyagi. Finally after two years of looking,
the truth finally dawned on me-there must be a different work with the same
name! And of course, there is. The Okinawan Bubishi may have used the name
of the Chinese original for purposes of prestige, but the contents are quite
different. I believe the Okinawan Bubishi is a product of an Okinawan martial
artist (or artists) and reflects a synthesis of knowledge and techniques derived
from South China (mainly Fukien) and Okinawa.
aspects of the work are based on the methods known as Fukien White Crane.
The first chapter of Bubishi is entitled "The Origins of White Crane Boxing,"
and tells us that the White Crane style was founded by a woman, Feng Chi Niang,
who modified a system taught to her by her father, Feng Shih Yu of Fukien.
This method is
widely known in Taiwan and Malaysia, and has also been included in the well-known
Wu Tsu Ch'uan or Five Ancestor Boxing. Interestingly enough both styles employ
a version of Sanchin kata, the central kata of Okinawan Naha-te systems (Goju
Ryu and Uechi Ryu).
The Bubishi has
thirty-two chapters dealing with history of White Crane Boxing, advice and
observations from Master Wang Yo Teng; information on vital spots and how
to attack them; time strikes; grappling arts; six turning hands; 54 steps
of the Black Tiger hand; Sun Tzu's comments on war; and a variety of chapters
dealing with herbal medicine, combat techniques etc. Recently a section of
the Bubishi has been published in Japanese by the Goju master Tadahiko Ohtsuka,
with a forward by the T'ai Chi Ch'uan master Yang Ming-Shih. I have used this
work, the Okinawa Den Bubishi, Kenwa Mabuni's work Karate-Do Kempo, and Okinawan
Karate-Do by Takamiyagi as sources for this article.
aspect of the Bubishi is its widespread use by all Okinawan Karate masters.
Gichin Funakoshi quotes it in his work Karate-Do Kyohan and the section left
untranslated by Tsutomu Ohshima in the English language version comes from
the Bubishi. Chojun Miyagi took the name "Goju" from the third line of the
section "Eight Poems of the Fist", i.e.:
".the way embraces
hard and soft, inhaling and exhaling."
The last two
characters of this line are very interesting as they are key concepts in modern
Fukien White Crane and Five Ancestor Boxing. I quote from an article on Five
Ancestors Boxing published in Real Kung-Fu magazine Vol. 2, #2, 1976:
exertion of force in a flexible manner so that you block or intercept the
opponents blow by directing your force in a circular motion, causing his blow
or strike to slide and miss the target.
strike in such a manner that the opponent feels like being swatted, pushed,
sunk and bounced away."
So, here we have
the same terms being used in Goju Ryu, Fukien White Crane, and Five Ancestors
Boxing as well as being found in the Bubishi. This historical link is important
in understanding the history and evolution of Okinawan karate and explains
the value placed on the Bubishi by Okinawan Karate masters. Tatsuo Shimabuku
the creator of Isshin Ryu actually uses the whole section of "The Eight Precepts
of the Fist" as his Code of Isshin Ryu; this has been published in Official
Karate magazine Sept. 1973, and in Dynamics of Isshin Ryu Karate Vol. 1 by
Harold Long and Allen Wheeler. In both cases the translations leave something
to be desired, but it is quite clear as to the source-the Bubishi.
The source for
the Bubishi is often ascribed to either Kanryo Hiagaonna or Chojun Miyagi;
and it is said to have been brought from China. I think it is possible that
Chojun Miyagi did bring various books from China, but the Bubishi (or sections
of it) was already in Okinawa. Certainly Gichin Funakoshi quoted from it in
his 1922 book Ryukyu Karate Kempo.
The karate style
of Ryuei Ryu was created by Kenri Nakaima, a student of Ryu Ryu Ko (the teacher
of Kanryo Higaonna). When he returned to Okinawa, Nakaima brought a copy of
the Bubishi given to him by his teacher. As he was older than Kanryo Hiagaonna,
his copy of the Bubishi must have entered Okinawa prior to Higaonna's copy.
It is also possible that some of the families of Chinese descent in Kumemura
may have had copies of the Bubishi.
48 Methods of
of the Bubishi is most interesting as it shows the application of various
techniques still taught in various Okinawan styles. For example, in Figure
1 we clearly see mawashi uke (roundhouse block) being applied as in the Goju
kata Seipai or Suparinpei. In Figure 2 the armlock and back elbow techniques
of Kururunfa kata are obvious.
A lot of other
techniques are shown including locks and throws, but what is most striking
is that no defences against weapons are shown. I have always been suspicious
of the story that the Okinawans developed karate in response to rapacious
repression by armed Japanese samurai-if that was true, which I seriously doubt,
why doesn't the Bubishi show defences against swords, and other weapons?
Anyway this question
still needs a lot of research, but these illustrations give us a good picture
of the type of tode (China Hand) practiced on Okinawa perhaps two centuries
or more ago. (Illustrations from Okinawan Karate-Do by Uechi and Takamiyagi.)
The Bubishi includes
charts and diagrams that contain the core secrets of Okinawan karate. Obviously
derived from Chinese Boxing and medical systems, they show the targets and
the times of the day that they are most vulnerable to attack. The theory behind
this is the idea that the body's energy goes through a cyclical rise and fall
and there are times of strength and times of weakness. This is alluded to
in the second of the "Eight Precepts of the Fist" which reads "The pulse of
the body resembles the phases of the sun and the moon."
The energy is
seen to rise and full in a definite sequence, and the chart details the specific
spots to be struck at the appropriate time. The origin of this knowledge lies
in China and is referred to by Robert W. Smith in his work Chinese Boxing:
Masters and Methods (Kodansha 1974) where he says "Shaolin theory holds that
the human body contains 365 vulnerable (soft) spots, 5 more than are used
in acupuncture and moxibustion. Striking has 36 and shutting, 24 major points.
The attack is oriented to twelve time periods of two hours each in the belief
that the blood and neural activity is heaviest at the spots at specified times."1
It is difficult
to be sure how accurate this information is, but it is interesting to remember
the ability shown by the Shorinji Kempo teacher on the 1983 BBC programme
The Way of the Warrior2 to knock out his opponent, with a relatively light
blow to a vital spot.
of the Bubishi also follow Chinese tradition in that they give herbal remedies
to heal the damage caused by the strikes. There is also a section on seven
points which must not be struck as the results are irreversible.
1. Chinese Boxing:
Masters and Methods Robert W. Smith (Kodansha, 1974), 15
2. The Way of
the Warrior: The Paradox of the Martial Arts Howard Reid & Michael (Croucher
Century Publishing, 1983), 207-213.