Kyushojutsu: Historical Development
By Joe Swift (Mushinkan Dojo, Kanazawa, Japan)
In recent years, karateka all over the world have
begun to reexamine the classical kata of this ancient
Okinawan self-defense system. Practical applications
seem to be the order of the day in the research of
many practitioners, and one of the key components
of applications is the use of well-placed blows to
vital areas, called kyusho in Japanese. Although there
are some that seem to think that kyushojutsu is the
be all and end all of all karate techniques, it is
merely one part of a larger whole.
Let us now take a brief look at the historical development
of this art. Some sources (McCarthy, 1995; Sato, 1996)
give credit to China for developing the use of the
vital points in the martial arts, but others such
as Zarrilli (1992) intimate that India is actually
the source for such practices, and even Sanskrit medical
references make allusions to the vital points. According
to Zarrilli (1992), in the Indian martial traditions
"knowledge of the vital spots was historically the
most important part of a practitioner's training since
one's life as well as livelihood depended on gaining
the practical ability to attack the vital spots in
order to kill, stun, and/or disarm an opponent, to
defend one's own vital spots, and to heal injuries
to the vital spots affecting the circulation of the
wind humor." (author's note: I believe this "wind
humor" may be equivalent to the concept of ki or qi.)
(1992) also goes on to describe detailed "palm-leaf"
texts that describe such aspects as mythological history
of the art, rituals, sacred formulae, technical instructions,
location of the vital spots, and treatment of injuries.
This can perhaps be equated with the Fujian Bubishi
that made its way to Okinawa (see McCarthy, 1995).
Turning our focus to China, Sato (1996) states that
the first reference to vital points in martial terms
in Chinese literature can be found in the voluminous
Shiji (Annals) written in the Han Dynasty. This over
1,000 year old text makes specific reference to an
assassination utilizing a strike to the throat, which
Sato then goes on to show, through various other linguistic
references, can only be referring to a vital point
strike to Renying-xue or St-9.
Jin (1928) gives several examples of famous Chinese
martial artists who specialized in attacking the vital
points, such as Zhang Sanfeng, and "Eagle Claw" Wang,
who apparently had 108 striking and seizing techniques
for attacking the vital areas. Several other notable
Chinese martial artists who utilized the vital points
in their quanfa are also mentioned by Jin.
Over the years, the art of striking, seizing, or otherwise
traumatizing the vital areas became obscure. This
may have been through a lack of understanding on the
part of teachers and students alike, or perhaps even
deliberate misinformation (i.e. to keep the secrets
out of one's enemy's hands).
These methods eventually worked their way to Japan,
through various sources, not the least of which is
Chen Yuanbin (Chin Genpin in Japanese, 1587-1671)
of Hangzhou, who traveled to Nagasaki and later became
a retainer in the service of the Owari Daimyo in the
Nagoya area (McCarthy, 1995; Muromoto, 1998). Although
there is controversy as to whether or not Chen was
a martial artist (Muromoto, 1998), oral tradition
maintains that he taught quanfa and its associated
art qinna to three people, Fukuno Shichiroemon, Miura
Yojiemon, and Isogai Jirozaemon, who in turn developed
their own systems of jujutsu, replete with atemi-waza
or strikes to vital areas.
In Okinawa, the Bubishi, commonly referred to as the
"Bible of Karate" (McCarthy, 1995), seems to be one
major factor in the transmission of vital point fighting.
According to Tokashiki (1995), the Bubishi references
both specific vital points as well as general areas
that are vulnerable to trauma.
A lack of written records in Okinawa karate leave
us to believe that such transmission was most likely
through oral and hands-on training, rather than through
documentation. In the mokuroku (scrolls) of the Japanese
fighting traditions, there are often vital point charts
showing the location of the points the founder of
said ryuha found to be effective. Of course initiation
into the actual use of these points requires hands
on instruction. However, according to a recent article
in a special edition of Gekkan Karatedo (1999) outside
of the Bubishi there seems to be no other examples
of pressure point charts in Okinawa karate.
Even Funakoshi's chart in his 1935 publication Karatedo
Kyohan, does not seem to be Okinawan in origin. The
same article in Gekkan Karatedo (1999) clearly states
that this chart, along with the explanation of the
effects, came to Funakoshi by way of his student Otsuka
Hironori, 4th generation Shindo Yoshinryu Jujutsu
and founder of Wadoryu Karatedo. This chart seems
to be the same chart utilized in the Shindo Yoshinryu
jujutsu tradition, and was a gift to Funakoshi in
commemoration of the publication of this landmark
The study of kyushojutsu has seen an upsurge as martial
artists struggle to find the true meaning behind kata.
The next portion of this article will deal with some
of the theory behind vital point striking.
Funakoshi Gichin. (1935) Karatedo Kyohan. Tokyo,
Gekkan Karatedo ed. (1999) "Kyusho no Himitsu
(The Secrets of Vital Points)." Gekkan Karatedo
(Karatedo Monthly Magazine) Special Edition.
McCarthy, P. (1995) Bubishi: The Bible of Karate.
Tokyo: C.E. Tuttle.
Muromoto, W. (1998). "The Legacy of Chin Genpin."
Furyu: The Budo Journal, #8.
Jin Yiming (1928). Secrets of Wudang Boxing.
Translation of section on Vital Points, tr. Patrick
Sato K. (1996). Seiden Jissen Tenketsu-jutsu.
(Orthodox Dim Xue for Real Fighting) Tokyo: Baseball
Tokashiki I. (1995) Okinawa Karate Hiden Bubishi
Shinshaku. (Okinawa Karate Secrets: A New Interpretation
of the Bubishi). Naha, Privately Published.
Zarrilli, P. (1992) "To heal and/or harm: The
vital spots (marmmam/varmam) in two south Indian
martial traditions." Journal of Asian Martial
Arts. Vol. 1:1 and 1:2.
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