byFernando P. Câmara

(Lectured in October 25, 1997)

The Okinawan Bubishi is supposedly a compilation of teachings on the White Crane/Monk Boxing systems, that is, selfdefense techniques where the weapons are the empty hands. Books about selfdefense, exercises, and forms were commom in China in the end of XIX Century as nowadays, and many people, as nowadays, learn about empty hand sefdefense by these books. In the Okinawan Bubishi, the White Crane and Monk Boxing system are melted in an unique improved fight method, and we doesn´t know if it was originally a published book or a handmade manual of some school that were copied by students. We doesn´t also if this text was written or compiled in Southern China or in Okinawa.

The Okinawan Bubishi is an assembly of techniques, kata, strategies, vital points, popular medicine and ethic/moral code for martial artists. This compilation shapes the theory and practice of the Traditional Karate-do (originally “Tode-jutsu”, an Okinawa term for Chinese Kempo).

Chojun Miyagi (founder of Goju-ryu), Kenwa Mabuni (founder of Shito-ryu), Gichin Funakoshi (founder of Shotokan), Gogen Yamaguchi (founder of Japanese Goju-Kai), among others, had a copy of Bubishi and divulged it in popular books of karate. Although many writters especulate that Higaonna, Itosu and other grandfathers of modern karate had copies of Bubishi nothing proves this thesis, and the witness of Mabuni are not confiable due to the tendency of the first masters of modern Age of Karate in surrounding the karate in a mist of legend and myth to hidden his true source, the chinese Quan Fa. On the other hand, with rare exceptions most of the karate´s history was wrote by amateurs without training in historical methodology of research, based on legend, suppositions, and absence of trustly documentation.

Okinawan karate (formely Tode-jutsu) were an informal civilian art of self-defense, health improvement and stamina development adapted to Okinawan culture, that was strongly influenced from chinese literature, arts, medicine, agriculture, religion and trading. In the 1920-1930 years a strong interest on the origins of this empty hand fight art led men like Chojun Miyagi, Kenwa Mabuni, Juhatsu Kyoda, Chomo Hanashiro, Choyu Motobu, and others to begin informal researches about chineses origins of Okinawan karate. These men had a cultural formation more elaborate (most of early masters of karate were illiterate or unlearned men) and were influentiated by sociocultural forces of the japanese educational system of Meiji Restoration. It was precisely in this period that the chinese origins of karate was actively researched, and a chinese master was particularly important in this enterprise: Wu Xiangi or Wu Hsien Kuei, best knowed as GOKENKI, a chinese white crane master living in Naha. Gokenki was a close friend of Miyagi, Mabuni, Kyoda, Matayoshi, Hanashiro, Kana Kinjo, and others future masters, and gave instructions to them. Gokenki was a respectful nickname, a title given by the people that means “great ou very honorable master” (this nickname is equivalent to “Ryuryuko”…).

There is perhaps a significative relation between Gokenki and the Okinawan Bubishi. We know that Miyagi made several trips to China, some of them with Gokenki, that introduces him to some important Quan Fa masters and helped him to find books on chinese martial arts. Goju-ryu is a system developed and organized by Miyagi starting from Higaonna’Sanchin exercise and developed from chinese theories and techniques that he (Miyagi) researched actively, and in this enterprise he was strongly influentiated by Gokenki insights. To’on-ryu of Kyoda is the only style that preserves the insights from Higashionna, but also with strong Gokenki influence, from whom Kyoda obtained and introduced in his system the White Crane kata Nepai (in 1932).

The Okinawan Bubishi, as was said above, is a compilation and not a unique text. So, we can find divergences about, for example, classification of vital points. One classification is based on acupuncture theories without convincent evidences; other is based only on observation and experience, and a third relates effects that we only can accept if produced by spears and not by the hand attacks, no matter how the hand had been training (strong hands cannot to smash a kidney or perfurate a liver or the gut; for this the spears was invented… and make the job easier). On the other hand, the techniques and strategies for unarmed combat teaching in the Okinawan Bubishi are very efficient, a true treasure for the karate masters. Miyagi, for exemple, used this insight from Bubishi to review the Higashionna kata and introduce others kata to complete the Goju-ryu curriculum.

The medicine section of Okinawan Bubishi is confuse and supersticious, for example, the childish theory about “sichen”, that is derived from astrological theories. Sketches on acupuncture meridians are presented without practical directions and vital points are presented together herbal medicine references (moxa?). Nowadays this section of Bubishi has perhaps an interest for folkloric and historical researches on popular chinese medicine, but IT IS VERY DANGEROUS AND AN IRRESPONSABLE ACT TO TRY USE IT. Karate instructors need to learn First Aids and reanimation techniques on medical/nursery supervision to apply them in his dojos and competitions.

Sanchin and Paipuren

Okinawan Bubishi is a system based on a martial Qi Gong, but when we read the description of the basic moviments of this exercise we realize that the anonimous author refers to Sanchin exercise with the name Paipuren, but this kata is not the Shito-ryu or Whooping Crane´s Paipuren kata currently knowed in Hakutsuru Kempo circles. George Alexander and Ken Penland in their translation of Bubisih detected this fact and uses the word Sanchin instead Paipuren, and it is possible that the old name of Sanchin of the Bubishi´s school was Paipuren. However, both Sanchin and Paipuren are basic form (hsing) destinated to body development and control of Ki that can be different kata in different schools.

Sanchin, Paipuren, and other tension/breath kata allows the student to concentrate his energy without any wasting and direct it to any part of the body to strike or for healing. The “martial” Qi (or Jin) is acumulated in the tanden (dan tien) when it is symbolised by a Tiger; from there it can be to all hsueh (kyusho)points of the body, and in this movement it is symbolised in a Crane; finally, it is spit out in an energic action, being symbolised in a Dragon.

Paipuren is translated as “sequence of eight steps”, and this term belongs to the chinese esoterism and is related to mutations (a dynamic symbol for represents the eternal cyclic changes of the Nature, that with the heavens and man forms an unity) represented in the eight trigrams (Be Gua). We can realize that Paipuren kata is linked with this wisdom and its practice involves a deep meaning.

In his practical aspects, Sanchin or Paipuren develops the principles that are uniques in the Quan Fa. These principles can be resumed in the following elements:

  1. The kata is a training for learning the correct mode of breathing (with tanden). Incorrect mode of breathing (toracic breathing) is a factor for predisposition for many diseases and wasting of vital energy;
  2. The kata is also a training for correct the posture (back straight but without tension, in a natural mode) that is necessary for efficacy of martial techniques. On the other hand, incorrect posture of vertebral spine is also cause of backaches, headaches, and difficult of mental concentration;
  3. The kata teaching the correct basis for martial work: feet become rooted in the soil and the energy become naturally concentrated in the center of the body (tan tien), so, it can burst out in an powerful action (a strike, a punch, a block);
  4. Tha kata teach the essential kamae: martial artist can strikes the center of the body and at the same time protect the center of his body.

Further development of techniques, strategies, etc, are codified in advanced kata. Bubishi describe these kata but there are not figures about them. These are Hakutsuru (Hakaku), Useishi (Gojushiho), Niseishi (Nijushiho), Nepai (Nipaipo), and four kata from Rakkan Ken (Lohan Quan) system. In the Mabuni´s Bubishi there is a kata represented only in 34 figures without legends or description.

Tensho and Rokishu

Many authors refer the Rokishu (six hand techniques) of the Okinawan Bubishi as the source of Miyagi’s Tensho kata, but there is no correlation between Tensho movements and the Rokishu shown in the current versions of Okinawa Bubishi, neither there is similarity to correlate Rokishu to Happoren kata as intended by some authors. However, the similarity between Tensho techniques and the Kakufa kata is very close, and it is probable that Tensho be a personal adaptation of Kakufa, a kata that Miyagi knew and taught before the 40 years.

The section on Rokkishu in the knowed Okinawan Bubishi is a representation of six open hand techniques. These hand techniques are elementar techniques without special importance. In my opinoon, this text is a spurious insertion put in place of the true Rokkishu or perhaps may be a key to remember the basic techniques found in some Rokkishu not illustred or described in the book.

The original Miyagi’s Tensho developed movements of hands like rolling ball and influenced the performance of goju kata and is typical of White Crane kata, but modern Goju tend to forgot this style when approach to sportive performance and competitions. Present Tensho is different from old Tensho because it became a “hard” kata. The principal reason that led the first goju masters to modify this kata was, perhaps, because it were very soft and looked feminine (Miyagi were moked as “feminine” when performed thisa kata), and the machism cultived among the young male japanese did not aprove this kata. As result, modifications were introduced in the kata that finished it in exercises for the wrist.

The 48 techniques of Quan

Masters like Mabuni and Yamaguchi Gogen gave great importance to the most treasured teaching of the Bubishi: the 48 illustrated kata techniques (article #29) showed two persons fighting (Mabuni reproduced only 28 figures in his book of 1934, perhaps because he realized that these techniques were the most important of all). These techniques resume the essential of the system and most of secret bunkai of the Koryu Kata. Understanding and training these techniques are the knowledge that all true masters of karate could have.

There are many controversies about the true interpretation of these figures, however, some of them are obvious to whom knows the principles of practical Ju-jutsu, and may be a clue to the chinese origins of Japanese Ju-jutsu (figures 3, 4, 5, 7, 9, 11, 12, 18, 21, 22, 24, 29, and 38). On the other hand, many of these techniques can be easily identified in the chinese kata used by Miyagi to establish the foundation of the Goju-ryu system and also in other old Okinawan kata. This show the importance that the Bubishi has in the development of Goju-ryu system. We can, for example, easily identify in many figures bunkai of Goju kata and some old traditional Okinawan kata (my reference is the Alexander/Penland translation, because the figures are the originals):

  • Seipai movements are very evident in figures 11, 13, 20, 40, and 43.
  • Figure 26 is characteristic in the Goju Seisan, and figure 27 can be easily identified as a typical movement of the Pangainoon Seisan.
  • Figure 34 shows clearly the first movement of Niseishi.
  • Figure 39 is an unique technique of Kururunfa.
  • Figure 18 shows a throwing known in Tode-jutsu and that can be found in Wanduan, Kururunfa, Niseishi, and Sanseru.
  • Figure 42 is a typical technique found in Shisochin kata.
  • Figure 46 is a typical technique used in Seiyunchin and Suparimpei.
  • The last movement of Suparimpei can be seen in figure 16.
  • Figure 10 is a variant technique of Saifa kata.
  • Figure 48 is clearly the first movement of the White Crane kata Hakucho, Hakaku, Kakufa.
  • In figure 14 we can see a typical technique of Kusanku, and in figure 8 the opening movement of the old Takemura´s Kusanku (sometimes refered as Azato-no-Kusanku).

Elements of the Quan Fa method that arise from Bubishi can be seen when we examine carefully this 48 figures.

Figures 25 (mawashi-uke tora-guchi), 32 (crane fist chudan soto-uke), and 37 (closed fist chudan uchi-uke) seem to exist only to remember the basic blocks used by the school represented in the Bubishi. The jodan-uke block occurs in figures and is performed with both hands (augmented or as X-block). Here it is used to defend a strike above the head or a hair grab. This block is naturally completed with a front kick in the groin of the adversary.

Hand strikes used along the 48 figures are performed with four fingers (nukite), one finger (ippon-nukite), crane bunched fingers (kakushiken), palm hand (teisho ate), punch (seiken or hiraken?), hammerfist (kentsui), elbow (ushiro hijiate), chokes with fingers and squeeze of testicles and biceps with the fingers. Training of the fingers should be encouraged in that system. Front kick is the only kick showed and the kicker always loose (figures 5, 12, 21, 26. NOTE: figures 21 repeat figure 12). This show us that KICKS WERE NOT CONSIDERED GOOD TECHNIQUE in that school, and perhaps it were used only as a complement of some defense techniques.

We have also figures where the purpose is to call the attention for specific painful points and how it should be manipulated. These are showed figures 14 (insertion of triceps above the elbows), 16 (armpits), 30 (side of the thorax), and 40 (intercostal space below niples). Vital points showed along the 48 figures are testicles, throat, eyes, jaws (side), and carotids (see figure 31). There are not strikes to back, legs, or arms in the 48 figures. This is an example that “36 kyusho” or “sichen” doctrines were not important, WHAT IS IMPORTANT IS IF THE TECHNIQUE WORKS OR NOT.

Finally, the most dangerous technique showed in the Bubishi´s 48 figures is as is easy to break the neck of someone in a close fight (figure 4 and 7, the later is a repetition of the first).

What are the Quan styles of Bubishi?

The Okinawa Bubishi is considered as a text on White Crane Kenpo, however, in the opening of the book we are informed that this system of boxing was created by a woman and incorpored in the Tiger Boxing by a strong and skilful man fighter, Zeng Cishu. So, the system is apropriately a Tiger/Crane system. In fact, a picture (article #28) illustrates this principle: first, the image of a woman, of the possible creator of White Crane, in a classical Hakutsuru-No-Kamae and at the side the image of a man in the tiger posture of the opening of the Gojushiho kata. Both figures are preceeded by other (article #27) the opening posture of the Niseishi kata, belonging to the White Monkey Boxing. On the other hand, the Monk Boxing style is explicity cited and described along the text. So, Okinawa Bubishi could be an amalgam of at least four style: White Crane Boxing, Monk Boxing, White Monkey Boxing, and Tiger Boxing. However, we probably need to add more one style to satisfy the esoteric chinese numerology (Five Ancestor/Elders mythology), and so, we could have added the Druken Boxing that also is cited in the text as a very efficient style.

Perhaps may possible that the Bubishi be a system based in a synthesis of five great Shaolin styles, such as the Five Ancestors Boxing, that was created from these five system but having the White Crane as its cornerstone.

The female archetype

It is common in the chinese martial arts legends about a woman as founder or improver of a martial art style. The Bubishi celebrates a woman as the creator of White Crane Boxing, Fang Jiniang. She was a girl with basic martial skills received from her father Fang Siushu, a master of Monk Boxing, but he was betrayed and murdered in a dispute for control of Yongchun village, and Fang Jiniang was obseded thenceforth to revenge her father. However, she was a fragile woman and knew that she needed a strong and skilfull man to complete her plane. She associated to a famous Tiger Boxing fighter, Zheng Chisu, and proves to him that the body changes, feintes, poking vital points, etc, could transform his style in a invencible boxing system. The Tiger Boxing fighter was convinced of superiority of White Crane method when constated that he did not obtain hit Fang Jiniang. However, she have not sufficient force to break him. So, he joining the Hard principle (Yang, Go) of tiger to the Soft principle (Yin, Ju) of crane arising an improved Quan Fa. This was the union of Yang/Yin principles, that is symbolised also as an Alchemical Wedding.

In the Bubishi Quan Fa system, this union or “marriage” is embodied in Paipuren or Sanchin (its other name). It is told that Zeng Cishu training during three years Paipuren/Sanchin and became an invencible master.

This beautiful history teach us nothing more that be only Yin or only Yang was not good and made any martial arts imperfect and full of weak points. Power and force are not sufficient to be a good fighter, is necessary to add body changes, feints, circular movements, to become a complete fighter, a true martial artist. These principles are very rooted in the chinese culture, medicine and philosophy. Fang Jiniang is the Yin principle that generate internal powerful energy to Yang principle or brute, external force, symbolized in Zeng Cishu. Yin is also the circular, body-changing, feints techniques, that is, the soft principle; Yang is the force, the hard principle. Both principles need to be balanced to art become perfect.

In an Jungian perspective Fang Jiniang is the Anima archetype. The source of collective unconscious, or the source of ancestral knowledge mediated by this archetype, that can appear in an intense, mystical or “psychoid” experience (for example, the dream that Shimabukuro Tatsuo, the founder of Isshinryu Karate, that give to him an insight about a godess between water and fire. I believe that this experience is the only initiation to become “by natural right” a true Grandmaster). It is possible that Bubishi celebrates in its pages this experience from some Shaolin master. The anima can be also shared for several individuals engaged in a same spiritual quest, and can manifest itself in many equivalent symbols, for example, a White Crane.

Miyagi’s Goju-ryu and the Okinawan Bubishi

The occurrence of these 48 figures in chinese kata found in Goju and Uechi systems point us to a specific school of Quan Fa in Okinawa, more specifically in Naha. Miyagi in his 1934 panflet “Karate-do Gaisetsu” (see translation in P. McCarthy, Ancient Okinawan Martial Arts, vol 2, Tuttle, 1999) tells us that the Goju-ryu system was originated from a Chinese Kempo school that stablished in Naha around 1828. He doesn´t refer to his master, Higaonna Kanryo, as the originator of Goju-ryu, but a Chinese school stablished in Naha since 1828. We know some prominent masters of this school: Sakiyama, Aragaki Seisho, Kojo Taitei, Nakaima, and Higaonna, among others unknown masters. The misterious Ryu Ryu Ko (or Torin Ryu Ko) could be one of the advisers of this school, along with Iwah, Wai Shin Zan, and others.

Thus, Higaonna is not the source of all Goju-ryu kata, but the Quan Fa school of Naha where Miyagi researched and collected most of the Goju kata (Kyoda Juhatsu, direct disciple of Higaonna, told that this master taught only Sanchin, Seisan, Sanseru, and Bechurin). In the famous 1936 meeting of Okinawan karate masters (see translation in P. McCarthy, Ancient Okinawan Martial Arts, vol 2, Tuttle, 1999) Ota Chofu says: “We have heard that local masters have not studied in China”, and Miyagi answer to him with these words: “I heard that Matsumura studied in China”. These words are very eloquent because he not mentioned his master, Higaonna, and we conclude that surely this master did not learn karate in China, but in Naha and probably with Aragaki Seisho and Kojo Taitei.

I believe that Miyagi knew the Bubishi origins and that he gave us clues that this book resumed the mysterious Quan Fa school that established in Naha around 1828, according the above mentioned panflet. This can explain his veneration by this book and the importance of the master Gokenki in his researches. This can explain also why Kyoda Juhatsu completed the Higaonna system with the introduction of kata Nepai (learned from Gokenki) and also why Mabuni introduced Nipaipo (his revised version of Gokenki’s Nepai), Hakucho and Paipuren (all from Gokenki) in his system. These kata link the karate of these masters to the Bubishi.

Comments of the Bubishi’s editions used in this article

  1. Bubishi’s translation of George Alexander and Ken Penland is more realistic when compared to the original text (Bubishi, Yamazato Pub, 1993). The McCarthy´s translation is adapted to the researches made by this karate expert and historian (The Bible of Karate – Bubishi, Tuttle, 1995).
  2. Other important versions of Bubishi (only in japanese) are the Tokashiki Iken’s version and the Ohtsuka Tadahiko’s version. Ohtsuka interpretations of 48 figures was redrawn in a modern fashion by Roland Habersetzer (Bubishi, Éd. Amphora, Paris, 1995).
  3. Figures of Mabuni´s Bubishi are the same of the Alexander/Penland version, however, the order of 28 figures in the Mabuni´s reproduction is different. Mabuni´s reproduction appeared in the second volume of his “Goshin-jutsu Karate Kempo”, Tokyo, October 1934 (the first volume was published in March 1934). There is no translation of these very important books.


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