The following article is an interesting analysis of the Bubishi by Fernando P. Câmara from Brazil. Fernando is a 6th dan in Shikan-ryu Karate-do. This style was named after master Seiichi Yoshitaka Akamine (1920-1995), also known as "Shikan" Akamine. Master Akamine moved to Brazil in 1957 and stayed there until his death. Akamine was a Goju-ryu expert from the Higa Seiko lineage (direct disciple of Kanryo Higaonna and an assistant of Chojun Miyagi). He also was a expert in Takemura's Shuri-te style of karate, which he learned from Seitoku Higa and Seiken Shukomine. Shikan-ryu is very similar to traditional Okinawa Goju-ryu, although it is softer and has a different kata syllabus. 

The following article and his site can be found through the following link:
Shoreijikan - Hakutsuru Kempo Karate Brazil (Fernando P. Câmara)

I think it is a well done article and that it will give many people some new insights in what Patrick McCarthy named: "The Bubishi: The Bible of Karate".

Henk Goslinga (webmaster)


by Fernando 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, self-defense techniques where the weapons are the empty hands. Books about self-defense, exercises, and forms were common in China in the end of XIX Century as nowadays, and many people, as nowadays, learned about empty hand self-defense by these books. In the Okinawan Bubishi, the White Crane and Monk Boxing system are melted in an unique improved fighting method, and we don't know if it was originally a published book or a handmade manual of some school that were copied by students. We don't also know 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 Traditional Karate-do (originally called "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 writers speculate that Higaonna, Itosu and other grandfathers of modern karate had copies of Bubishi nothing proves this thesis, and the witness of Mabuni is not convincing 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 its true source, the Chinese Quan Fa. On the other hand, with rare exceptions, most of karate history was written by amateurs without training in historical methodology of research, was based on legend, suppositions, and absence of trustily documentation.

Okinawan karate (formerly Tode-jutsu) was an informal civilian art of self-defense, health improvement and stamina development adapted to Okinawan culture and was strongly influenced by Chinese literature, arts, medicine, agriculture, religion and trading. In the years 1920-1930 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 Chinese 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 influenced by socio-cultural 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 one Chinese master was particularly important in this enterprise: Wu Xiangi or Wu Hsien Kuei, best known 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 or very honorable master" (this nickname is equivalent to "Ryuryuko"...).

Gokenki and Kenwa Mubuni

There is perhaps a significant 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’s Sanchin exercise and developed from Chinese theories and techniques that he (Miyagi) researched actively, and in this enterprise he was strongly influenced by Gokenki's insights. To’on-ryu of Kyoda is the only style that preserves the insights from Higaonna, 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 said above, is a compilation and not a unique text. So, we can find differences in, par example, classification of vital points. One classification is based on acupuncture theories without convincing evidences; another is based only on observation and experience, and a third relates effects that we only can accept if produced by spears and not by hand attacks, no matter how the hand had been trained (strong hands cannot smash a kidney or perforate a liver or the gut; for this the spear was invented to make the job easier). On the other hand, the techniques and strategies for unarmed combat teached in the Okinawan Bubishi are very efficient, a true treasure for the karate masters. Miyagi, par example, used his insight from the Bubishi to review the Higaonna kata and introduce other kata to complete the Goju-ryu curriculum.

The medicine section of the Okinawan Bubishi is confusing and superstitious, par 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 with herbal medicine references (moxa?). Nowadays this section of Bubishi is perhaps interesting for folkloric and historical researchers on popular Chinese medicine, but IT IS VERY DANGEROUS AND AN IRRESPONSIBLE ACT TO TRY AND USE IT. Karate instructors need to learn First Aids and reanimation techniques on medical/nursery supervision to apply them in their dojo 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 movements of this exercise we realize that the anonymous author refers to Sanchin exercise with the name Paipuren. This kata is not the Shito-ryu or Whooping Crane's Paipuren kata currently known in Hakutsuru Kempo circles. George Alexander and Ken Penland in their translation of Bubishi detected this fact and used the word Sanchin instead of Paipuren, and it is possible that the old name of Sanchin of the Bubishi school was Paipuren. However, both Sanchin and Paipuren are basic forms (hsing) designated to body development and control of Ki and can be different kata in different schools.

Sanchin, Paipuren, and other tension/breath kata allow the student to concentrate his energy without any wasting and direct it to any part of the body for striking or for healing. The "martial" Qi (or Jin) is accumulated in the tanden (dan tien) where it is symbolized by a Tiger; from there it can flow to all hsueh (kyusho) points of the body, and in this movement it is symbolized as a Crane; finally, it is spit out in an energic action, being symbolized as a Dragon.

Paipuren is translated as "sequence of eight steps", and this term belongs to Chinese esoteric and is related to mutations (a dynamic symbol which represents the eternal cyclic changes of Nature, that with heaven and man forms an unity) represented in the eight trigrams (Be Gua). We can understand that Paipuren kata is linked with this wisdom and its practice involves a deep meaning.

In its practical aspects, Sanchin or Paipuren develops the principles that are unique in 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 (thoracic breathing) is a factor of predisposition for many diseases and wasting of vital energy;
  2. The kata is also a training for correct posture (back straight without tension, in a natural mode) that is necessary for efficiency of martial techniques. On the other hand, incorrect posture of vertebral spine is also a cause for backaches, headaches, and difficulties in mental concentration;
  3. The kata teaches the correct basis for martial work: feet become rooted in the soil and the energy becomes naturally concentrated in the center of the body (tan tien), so that it can burst out in a powerful action (a strike, a punch, a block);
  4. The kata teaches the essential kamae: a martial artist can strike the center of another persons body and at the same time protect the center of his own body.
Further development of techniques, strategies, etc, are codified in advanced kata. The Bubishi describes these kata, but there are no figures about them. These are Hakutsuru (Hakaku), Useishi (Gojushiho), Niseishi (Nijushiho), Nepai (Nipaipo), and four kata from the Rakkan Ken (Lohan Quan) system. In Mabuni´s Bubishi there is a kata represented only in 34 figures without legends or description.

Tensho and Rokishu

Many authors refer to 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 is a personal adaptation of Kakufa, a kata that Miyagi knew and taught before the nineteen-fourties.

The section on Rokkishu in the known Okinawan Bubishi is a representation of six open hand techniques. These hand techniques are elementary techniques without special importance. In my opinion, 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 illustrated 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 approached 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 was very soft and looked feminine (Miyagi was mocked as "feminine" when performing this kata), and the machismo cultivated among the young male Japanese did not approve 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 Kenwa and Yamaguchi Gogen gave great importance to the most treasured teaching of the Bubishi: the 48 illustrated kata techniques (article #29) showing 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 secret bunkai of the Koryu Kata. Understanding and training these techniques is knowledge that all true masters of karate should have.

There are many controversies about the true interpretation of these figures, however, some of them are obvious to whom who 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, par 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 in it are the originals):

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?), hammer fist (kentsui), elbow (ushiro hijiate), chokes with fingers and squeeze of testicles and biceps with the fingers. Training of the fingers should be encouraged in this 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 this school, and perhaps kicks 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 the shown figures #14 (insertion of triceps above the elbows), 16 (armpits), 30 (side of the thorax), and 40 (intercostal space below nipples). Vital points shown along the 48 figures are testicles, throat, eyes, jaws (side), and carotids (see figure 31). There are no 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 shown in the Bubishi´s 48 figures is as easy it is 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 incorporated in the Tiger Boxing by a strong and skilful man fighter, Zeng Cishu. So, the system is appropriately 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 preceded 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 explicitly cited and described along the text. So, Okinawa Bubishi could be an amalgam of at least four styles: White Crane Boxing, Monk Boxing, White Monkey Boxing, and Tiger Boxing. However, we probably need to add another style to satisfy the esoteric Chinese numerology (Five Ancestor/Elders mythology), and so, we could have added the Drunken Boxing that also is cited in the text as a very efficient style.

Perhaps it may be possible that the Bubishi is a system based on a synthesis of five great Shaolin styles, such as the Five Ancestors Boxing; that it was created from these five systems and that it has the White Crane as its cornerstone.

The female archetype

It is common in the Chinese martial arts legends having 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, who was betrayed and murdered in a dispute for control of Yongchun village. Fang Jiniang was obeyed therefore to revenge her father. However, she was a fragile woman and knew that she needed a strong and skilful man to complete her plan. She associated with a famous Tiger Boxing fighter, Zheng Chisu, and proves to him that the body changes, feints, poking vital points, etc, could transform his style in a invincible boxing system. The Tiger Boxing fighter was convinced of the superiority of the White Crane method when in contact he could not hit Fang Jiniang. However, she did have not sufficient force to break him. So, he combined 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 symbolized 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 trained for three years Paipuren/Sanchin and became an invincible master.

This beautiful history teaches us nothing more than that 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, it is necessary to add body changes, feints, circular movements, to become a complete fighter, a true martial artist. These principles are rooted in the Chinese culture, medicine and philosophy. Fang Jiniang is the Yin principle that generates internal powerful energy to the 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 one art to 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 "psychosis" experience (par example, the dream that Shimabukuro Tatsuo had, the founder of Isshinryu Karate, that give to him an insight about a goddess 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 the Bubishi celebrates in its pages such experience from some Shaolin master. The anima can also be shared by 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 pamphlet "Karate-do Gaisetsu" (see translation in P. McCarthy, Ancient Okinawan Martial Arts, vol 2, Tuttle, 1999) tells us that the Goju-ryu system has originated from a Chinese Kempo school that established in Naha around 1828. He doesn't refer to his master, Higaonna Kanryo, as the originator of Goju-ryu, but to a Chinese school established in Naha since 1828. We know some prominent masters of this school: Sakiyama, Aragaki Seisho, Kojo Taitei, Nakaima, and Higaonna, among other unknown masters. The mysterious 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 did not mention 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's 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 pamphlet. 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 on 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. Others 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.