Furthering the ‘Bubishi’ Section 1


Ten years ago I began a slight study on the Okinawan Bubishi by comparing the Ken Penland and Patrick McCarthy translations and speculating on the role that work played in the development of Okinawan Karate. That original study discussed on the CyberDojo discussion group led me to worldwide contacts, ever interesting Bubishi resources and even the chance to translate Roland Habsetzer’s book on the Bubishi from French into English for personal research and to share with friends.

I live in New Hampshire in the United States of America. I don’t travel to Okinawa, nor are my instructors Okinawan, leaving me to my own efforts in this study. I don’t teach the Bubishi or require it for my students study. I also don’t read Chinese or Japanese.

That leaves logic as my primary tool in this study. Logic is never truth in itself, but it is a useful tool in analysis. So it’s logic and of course a lot of help from my friends.

The art I practice, Isshinryu, includes the Kempo Gokui, aka ‘the Code of Karate’, which comes from the Bubishi, in Patrick McCarthy’s book it is Article 13. The Eight Precepts of Quanfa. Its use is an active part of many Isshinryu karate-ka’s studies and provided additional incentive to my efforts, for the Bubishi had touched Isshinryu too.

In 1993 when I first saw the Penland translation, and then the McCarthy version, what struck me was this should be of value to students of the Chinese arts foremost. It displayed a range of studies that few today associate with the martial arts, especially the amount of material focused on Chinese medicine and treatment of injuries and illness.

Past that point though, the question was there, how was this work used by instructors of the Okinawan arts? Most of the questions that came to me remain as open today as when I started but I’ve never stopped thinking about them.

About a year ago Patrick McCarthy asked me if I would like to contribute a commentary on the Bubishi for the upcoming publication of a new edition of his translation.

While I’ve never met Patrick, our mutual interests in understanding the Bubishi allowed me to translate Roland Habsetzer’s book ‘BuBiShi, encyclopedie des arts martiaux’ from a copy he shared with me.

That act of translation from skills learnt 40 years before when studying Francais in high school and university is a true study in humility. Not being a translator I even discussed with George Donahue, then of Tuttle Press about the role of the translator in shaping a work into another language.

So when Patrick requested I might contribute to his new edition, it gave me reason to go back through my studies as I prepared my contribution. Doing so also allowed me to take a look at the Bubishi with the insight of all I’ve experienced in the past few years.

I ended up with more than just that contribution. I started seeing a way to consider the Bubishi differently than I had before.

Then a month ago the new edition went on sale. In addition to the original material Patrick has added additional commentary, photographs of the Bubishi, etc. Reading the details of how, who he studied with, where he studied and how he translated was more than just interesting, it provided me some more material in my growing understanding.

I propose to discuss some of these thoughts, share them on my blog and on various discussion groups around the net, and see what discussion may come from this attempt.

Finally on a personal note, there is an additional value in purchasing the new Bubishi edition, it no longer calls itself ‘the Bible of Karate’.

For some background internet reading I would like to suggest the following url’s

Enter the Bubishi - Victor Smith at FightingArts.com
Part 1 http://www.fightingarts.com/reading/article.php?id=200
Part 2 http://www.fightingarts.com/content02/bubishi_enter_2.shtml

Bubishi – my original analysis still on a greatly degraded site

Analysis of the Okinawna Bubishi – Fernando Camara

Mario McKenna – No Mention of the Bubishi Here.
On the development of Tensho

Bubishi – Russ Smith comments

Okinawan Bubishi – Stanic Milos

Furthering the ‘Bubishi’ Section 2

Don’t think of the Bubishi as a book.

When I first started comparing the English editions of the Bubishi I was struck how many differences there were. It was not clear that there were different Bubishi being used.

The chapters were in different order among other changes. It was obvious the Patrick McCarthy Bubishi translation had been restructured to make the book fit a more logical form, but what the contents of the various Bubishi versions represent, the differences as well as the similarities hasn’t been discussed.

Certainly as the work was hand reproduced, some copyists may have dropped material because they weren’t interested, or other factors may have caused the changes (such as spilling one’s milk on a page so it ended up unreadable).

On Page 21 of his new edition Patrick has helped clarify this when he explains, “..the original document I received from the Konishi family was unbound and in random order allegedly as received from Mabuni Kenwa.”

Now I have something to work from, it is likely the Bubishi wasn’t preserved as a book to sit on the shelf, but it was a series of working documents to be used by the author.

In my own studies I have dozens of notebooks around me, with articles I’ve written, notes I’ve taken from studies, notes of technique application studies I’ve made without end, friends articles as well as other articles of interest. Personally I preserve each sheet in a sleeve protector, which allows me to pull various portions of different notebooks out and create new working tools as I require.

I save them to use not to sit on a shelf.

It helps understand the Bubishi a little more. It always felt as if was the personal notebook of an instructor or senior student, preserving notes for future use. The details behind the notes were unnecessary their own training was the key.

The Bubishi. a collection of articles that were used.

This is an important key for my new understanding on the Bubishi.

Furthering the ‘Bubishi’ Section 3

Looking at the structure

So we start with a collection of articles about some Chinese system of training that at some indeterminate time in the past came into the hands of several Okinawan karate instructors.

Articles that are indistinct because unless one was trained the same way as the author, they can only lead to conjecture to their meaning and use in that art. On top of that they are written in Chinese with terminology that was localized to a specific set of trainings.

What impact did they have on the continuing development of Okinawan karate?

I believe that is an important question to consider. Whether we can interpret the modern translations to useful studies in our contemporary arts is one thing, but did their existence actually shape the development of Okinawan karate, and if so how?

The Bubishi text contains history, sections on injury and wellness treatment, information on strategy and tactics, codified instructions on how to specifically attack and destroy an opponent from several different methodologies and an analysis of attacks and defensive strategies in the Chinese arts.

There is not enough information contained there in to hand to someone and then have them teach themselves the arts involved. At best the information may be a guideline into study, if we no longer posses the original training behind these notes.

As far as I know, the sad truth is how the Bubishi was used on Okinawa remains closed to most of us. In fact I hope my thoughts will help inspire others to discuss these topics more fully.

What I do know is that the modern translations into Japanese, French and English have led directly to analysis of the martial implications of the 48 self defense technique drawings. This is of course natural and this line of study should be encouraged, if only for the analytic development it spawns to those who undertake that journey.

When looking at the Bubishi, we’re drawn to the illustrations which seem less daunting than the accompanying text. Surely those who possessed this text on Okinawa would have been done the same.

I approached a friend and instructor, Ernest Rothrock from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA, about the nature of the techniques shown. He took the time to show how they compromised the basics of many different Chinese systems. It was very interesting to see them from that perspective too. As his focus is on the Northern Chinese system of Fann Tzi Ying Jow Pai (Northern Eagle Claw) it became clear that this was more than just a Southern Chinese system training document. Many systems contain the same basic studies which are overlaid with their specific systems doctrine. That these techniques are found in Northern Chinese systems and most likely Southern Chinese system, shows their portability. Thereby it is just as logical they would fit within the Okinawan systems movement potential too.

What seems more important to me, today, is that we not look at just the pieces that fit our interests, but at the entire body of knowledge the Bubishi presents.

Yes the author involved kept notes on the history of his art, but Bubishi also contains a great deal of information about Chinese medicine and the use of Herbs in treating medical conditions, It contains information on Striking the Vital point (where not to strike, where and when to strike, vital points by the hour, and the delayed death touch by the hour. It also contains descriptions of the results of fighting by technique analysis, and of course more not simply catalogued.

We have no information if this material came from one author or it was material gathered from numerous sources. That said it is simpler for logical analysis to consider the Bubishi having one author.

Much of the Bubishi is focused on medical treatment, a listing of the herbs being used without the instructions about when to administer them, how to prepare them in detail. It seems to indicate that the author had deep enough training that the how and where wasn’t needed for the notes. Many of those treatments were for very serious attacks described elsewhere in the Bubishi.

It does seem inconsistent that the purpose of the Bubishi was to be used to destroy when there is so much information about how to heal, from that day’s medical knowledge. Does it make sense that one would spend so much time to learn how to heal and at the same time train to destroy?

I suspect the articles on where not to strike, the vital points during 12 hour intervals and the delayed death touch at 12 hour intervals may have been common martial studies across many systems. Their inclusion may have been for medical purposes, the theory that one must know what was done in order to develop a specific remedy.

In fact if you extend that concept of knowledge for defensive medical treatment, if those techniques were common trainings in other systems, that knowledge could form the basis of defensive theory in the martial art too.

Say you understand someone will strike under your right arm between 1am to 3am, knowing what they’re focusing on allows you to construct pre-emptive defensive techniques first. All in all you’re always better if you know before hand what someone else is planning to do.

I am of course skeptical that things were ever this easy, but it may represent a consistent way to look at all of the Bubishi.

For the articles on fighting techniques, such as Grappling and Escapes and of course the 48 Self Defense Diagrams also lend themselves to a text of defensive strategy and techniques, medically and martially.

It is from this analysis that I can suggest an impact on the Okinawan arts.

Furthering the ‘Bubishi’ Section 4

Another vision

The Okinawan arts are much more than just a practiced set of techniques. The kata which preserve the techniques and show some of the methods to connect their use to movement don’t define the Okinawan arts either. In my opinion it is something less noticed, less frequently discussed, the concept of strategy and tactics behind the arts usage.

With this small collection of articles the Okinawan seniors saw another art documented in ways the Okinawan’s didn’t use. I don’t doubt senior students were instructed in their instructors strategy and tactics about using their art. Okinawan karate, however, was using a not-literate verbal form of transmission. That they could possess, share and even discuss these outside theories likely opened some of the new doors karate was to take.

For one thing the Bubishi paved the way for the Karate text.

[Note Hokama Tetsuhiro in his ‘Timeline of KarateHistory’ lists Okinawan articles published about Karate prior to Funakoshi Ginchin’s first book. I haven’t read them but it would seem they were discussing the Okinawan arts with an Okinawan population who had some idea of Karate’s existence. I’m using his timeline as a source for some of the following information and dates.]

Funakoshi Ginchin took the lead in 1922 with his ‘Ryukyu Karate Jutsu’ (republished in 1925 as ‘Rentan Goshin Karate Jutsu’. He did more than prepare a text for his students, he openly shared a portion of his Karate with the world (in those eyes Japan). He also included sections from the Bubishi: “Eight Important Phrases of Karate”, “Treatise on the Ancient Law of Great Strength” and “Methods of Escape” and left them in their original Chinese without offering translation.

Then Mobobu Chokoi published ‘Okinawa Kempo Karate-jutsu’ in 1926.

In 1930 Kyan Chotoku wrote an essay on training.

In 1934 Miyagi Chojun wrote ‘Karate-do Gaisetsu’. It was a very good year for Mabuni Kenwas published two books ‘Goshin Karate Kempo’ and ‘Seipai No Kenkyu’. The Seipai book includes a number of articles in Chinese from Itosu Anko’s copy of the Bubishi, including 28 of the 48 self defense techniques from the Bubishi. There is no question the cat is out of the bag about the Bubishi’s secret existence.

The publishing floodgate was open.

In 1935 Motobu Chokoi published ‘Watashi no Karate-Jutsu’.

That same year Funakoshi Ginchin published his ‘Karate-do Koyan’, an expansion of his earlier works, still including his Bubishi sections in Chinese, an interesting contrast with his support of re-naming Karate from Chinese fist to Empty Hand kanjin.

In Patrick McCarthy’s recent edition of the Bubishi he goes into some detail about how other portions of that work were incorporated into the Karate-do Koyan too.

I think it may be fairly claimed the existence of the collection of articles on an obscure Chinese art may have spawned Okinawan karate-ka to do the same with their arts.

But more than just the books, specific articles by Motobu Chokoi, by Kyan Chotoku and others on strategy and tactics in using karate most definitely are links to similar articles in the Bubishi.

When Karate moves beyond exercise, when Karate moves beyond Do, when Karate moves beyond Jutsu and into the force of one’s life, are how we consider it’s use with our personal strategy and tactical thinking not the way?

To go from the unknown author of the Bubishi, “If an adversary bites you, attack his throat right away”, to Kyan’s “When facing an opponent, take care not to play into his strategy. Some use their feet while punching, or pretend to grab a hand. Others use fists while pretending to throw a foot attack. React according to voice and noise. Never relax”, back to the Bubishi “The ears listen well in all directions” to Motobu, “One must develop the ablity to read, ‘at a single glance’ how much striking power any one person has.” To an instructor who had been a Marine, “When you’re knocked down by surprise when you get up, take them apart and then run before the Shore Patrol arrives.”

This is where I think I can see the effect of the Bubishi moving to Okinawa had on part of the development of Okinawan Karate.

I write this surrounded by many texts. If this was an article I’d footnote everything to make it easier for those interested. But I have no obligation in this forum to do so. I’ve drawn on the following books to prepare this.

Bubishi – The Classical Manual of Combat – translated by McCarthy Patrick
Bubishi – Martial Art Spirit – Translated by Penland Kenneth
Funakoshi Gichin
Karate Jutsu – translated by Teramoto John
Karate-do Koyan – translated by Ohshima Tsutomu
Hokama Tetsuhiro
Timeline of Karate History – translated by Swift Joseph
Motobu Chokoi
Karate My Art – translated by McCarthy Patrick and McCarthy Yuriko
Collection of Sayings by Motobu Chokoi – translated by Swift Joseph
Shotokan Karte
A Precise History by Harry Cook
Kyan’s ideas on training and actual fighting from Miki Nisaburo’s
“Kempo Gaisetsu”
victor smith bushi no te isshinryu offering free instruction for 30 years