Secret Treasure of Okinawan Karate

The martial arts manual referred to by Okinawan Karate adherents as the Bubishi, and dubbed the Bible of Karate by some, is much more likely to have been copied or or at least inspired by the, “Kenpo (Quanfa, Boxing) found in Mao Yuanyi’s 'Encyclopedia of Military Preparedness' (Wubeizhi, Bubishi) These were (General) Qi Jiguang’s 32 Forms,” according to Stanley Henning the noted sinologist. Nonetheless, the obvious similar of the techniques to modern Goju Ryu make it an interesting and useful reference.

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. Still, I could not find the section used by Miyagi. 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.

The technical 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 the 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.

One interesting 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 fascinating as they are fundamental 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:

"T'un-adhere-the 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. "T'u-exert-to 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 essential in understanding the history and evolution of Okinawan karate. It 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. Still, the Bubishi (or sections of it) was already in Okinawa. Certainly, Gichin Funakoshi quoted from it in his 1922 book "Ryukyu Karate Kempo."

48 Methods of Boxing

This section 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.

Vital Spots

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. It 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. Still, it is interesting to remember the ability shown by the Shorinji Kempo teacher on the 1983 BBC programme The Way of the Warrior 2 to knock out his opponent, with a relatively light blow to a vital spot.

The author(s) 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.