Enter The bubishi
Part 2- The Text & Its Impact On Okinawa
By Victor Smith and Christopher Caile
Editor's Note: This is the second
article in a three part series on the bubishi. Part
1 discussed the book's origin and introduction through
the writings of many early 20th century karate masters. Part 3 will
discuss the availability of translations of the text in English, the
text's impact on karate today and the current status of research on
The bubishi has over 30 chapters (depending on the edition) that focus
on a wide variety of topics, including martial history, fighting strategy,
vital point striking, hand positions, essential fighting techniques,
grappling and escapes, herbal medicine treatment, forms and techniques
and martial code. It also offers some history on the White Crane and
the Monk Fist Kung Fu arts.
Patrick McCarthy in his translation of the text ("bubishi: The
Bible Of Karate") has organized the book's information into four
general categories, or parts. He also includes an Introduction and historical
perspective. These parts include:
Part 1- Articles on history, concepts, strategy and philosophy including
White Crane and Monk Fist Kung Fu.
Part 2- Articles, examples, definitions, diagrams and recipes for
Chinese medicine, specific remedies and herbal pharmacology, including
the concept of 12 hours chi (energy) flow (shichen cycle).
Part 3- Vital points including types, locations, diagrams, periods
for attack, restricted locations, and delayed death touch.
Part 4- Fighting techniques, a list of kata moves, eight principles,
maims, principles, six open hand positions, 48 self-defense diagrams,
and Shoalin hand and foot, muscle and bone training postures.
While many topics are discussed, most of the information is presented
in outline form and thus for most readers will seem incomplete. For
this reason many of the topics can not be fully understood from the
limited information presented. For example, while the bubishi offers
many illustrations of vulnerable points, it does not explain how to
strike them, or what technique to use. Thus many important details behind
these practices are missing.
This lack of detail lends some credence to the theory that the bubishi
may have been a personal notebook rather than a textbook. If the author
had been in a martial training program, the notes taken would have been
cryptic, something designed to work as a mnemonic device for future
But the reader should not be discouraged, for there are some fascinating
chapters. For example, the bubishi presents the principle of striking
vital points according to the Shichen theory of Traditional Chinese
Medicine. The theory states that body energy (chi in Chinese or ki in
Japanese) flows in natural cycles or tides through the body and its
organ systems, with each 24 hour cycle being divided into 12 two hour
periods. Based on this theory, certain points are more active and more
deadly during certain two hour periods. Thus knowledge of where the
Chi flow is during a particular Shichen cycle allows the martial artist
to locate the most vulnerable points which could be struck. Both the
points and the optimum time for striking them are illustrated. The text
often suggests death as the outcome, immediately or after differing
periods of time after being struck. (1)
In a different light, certain sections
of the bubishi could be seen as a medical text. The charts showing
where to strike vital points, the charts showing the vulnerability
of those points during specific Shichen, as well as the "correct"
treatment for those injuries might suggest the points are shown
only for medical treatment purposes.
Another section purportedly shows
secret points that can be struck that will have a killing effect
one-half or one year later. In some Chinese arts this is known
as the "Death Touch," or "Dim Mak."
The bubishi also contains considerable information relating to fighting.
It contains lyrical descriptions of forms: some versions of the bubishi
show a diagram of techniques, possibly from a form (kata). There are
also discussions of combat principles and a lengthy discussion on grappling
Another interesting segment includes
48 Self Defense Diagrams. In each case the outcome of an encounter
is shown. Both the winning and losing technique are listed along
with a short synopsis of the strategy that led to victory. Here
again, however, there is minimal discussion about how techniques
can be applied.
Some authorities suggest that the practice of Okinawan Karate may
have been influenced by these 48 diagrams. Many similar techniques can
be found in many Okinawan karate kata as well as part of self-defense
exercise sets. (2)
There are also chapters explaining herbal treatment for illness and
injuries. Except for anecdotal evidence it is not known if these practices
work or not. In addition some translators have noted that mistakes have
crept into copies of the text, probably as a result of people copying
by hand information which they are not familiar. (3)
I would suggest that these herbal formulas should be carefully examined
and not be experimented with, except under the supervision of a trained
expert in Traditional Chinese Medicine knowledgeable in herbal formulations.
The Impact Of The bubishi On Okinawa
We know the bubishi existed, but how do we track the actual influence
it had on the development of the Okinawan arts?
We know that some important karate masters in the past possessed copies
of the bubishi, but there are no published notes, direct studies, or
even oral history on the text's influence available for our review.
Also, exactly who and how many people possessed copies of the text is
open to which "legends" one wishes to listen to.
Thus many questions arise:
Was the bubishi truly kept private for the select few?
Were those who possessed the bubishi sufficiently literate to read
and understand the text which was written in an older style Chinese
dialect? And if they could read the text, did they possess enough knowledge
of Traditional Chinese Medical theory to use and apply the information?
Was the bubishi used to design training, such as teaching the defensive
theories directly to the students? Or was the bubishi little more than
a learned curiosity, something valued but not understood, something
to be placed on the shelf to be revered but not actually used?
Without historical proof, it is very difficult to know the truth. We
know that Mabuni, Funakoshi and Yamaguchi felt the bubishi was important
enough to "announce" its existence by including portions of
the text in their own works. Others famous masters, such as Higaonna,
Itosu, Nakamura and others also had the text and passed it on to their
most trusted students.
Miyagi Chojun also felt so strongly about the bubishi that he reportedly
took the term "Goju" from it as the name for his system of
training. According to Patrick McCarthy (The Bible Of Karate: bubishi),
Miyagi took the name Goju from a section of the bubishi titled, "The
Eight Precepts of Quanfa" which speaks of inhaling as representing
softness ("Ju" of Goju) and exhaling as characteristic of
hardness ("Go" of Goju). (4)
Others suggest, however, that while Miyagi was influenced by the bubishi,
he took his style name from other sources. (5)
Material in the bubishi may also have provided Miyagi with inspiration
for developing his famous Tensho (Rolling Hands) kata.
Tatsuo Shimabuku (the founder of Isshinryu) chose the eight poems of
the fist (Chapter 13) of the bubishi to be the Isshinryu Code of Karate.
But not everyone considers the bubishi to be influential. Miyazato
Eiichi, a long time student of Miyagi and one of the principal inheritors
of his system, believed the bubishi was not important. He did not have
a private copy, however, and said that he had only seen it a few times.
As to the impact of the bubishi's sections pertaining to chi meridian
theory, there is no evidence that they were used in the historical development
of Okinawan karate. Certainly there existed knowledge of vital points
and methods to strike them which relate to acupuncture points. But,
there is no evidence that this knowledge was taken to a much more complicated
level which involved understanding not only concepts of energy flow,
but also related timing patterns. From what I've heard, there is no
evidence that the Okinawans ever referred to the Meridian charts."
There have been many explanatory books and commentaries written on
the bubishi in Japan, none of which are available in English. I also
strongly suspect there are many instructors who have prepared extensive
analyses concerning the bubishi, but this information is not readily
available to the martial arts community. A great deal of time is likely
being spent following the same lines of thought over and over again
due to the unavailability of research and analysis of the texts contents
This article was initially authored by Victor Smith, but was edited with contributions of commentary, images and photo captions by Christopher Caile.
(1) Christopher Caile in a communication with
this author has noted that in addition to the 24 hour cycle of Chi,
what is also important but unstated in the bubishi, is that chi theory
(in Traditonal Chinese Medicine) also includes a larger yearly cycle
that greatly influences the daily cycle. Thus a technique based on the
daily cycle will be much more effective when done at a certain period
of the year. This, however, is not discussed within the bubishi.
(2) Conversation with George Donahue, a member
of the Kishaba Juku organization, related the following observation
about the bubishi to Christopher Caile: His organization has passed
down the work for five generations, having made hand copies of the manuscript
along with many notes. Donahue believes, however, that the most useful
information is contained within the notes (overlays of onion skin with
notes) themselves. Included are critiques of information within the
bubishi including what works and what doesn't. Thus, while the bubishi
is considered important in itself, it did not significantly influence
his organization or its teachings. One of the bubishi copies, Donahu
noted, was originally from Nakamura sensei. Another one passed down
is from the late Kishaba sensei. Donahue's teacher and head of the organization,
Shinsato sensei, has collected, annotated and bound a lot of information
on the bubishi and other texts.
(3) Miyagi was well aware of the bubishi and
even quoted from the book in an August 1942 essay that appeared in "Bunka
Okinawa" that was titled "Breathing In And Breathing Out In
Accordance With "Go" And "Ju": A Miscellaneous Essay
On Karate." Notice the similarity of the essay's name with the
section from the bubishi after which Miyagi is reputed to have named
his style. It is perhaps this similarity that led some to suggest that
"Goju" as the name for Miyagi's style came from this source.
(4) A more likely derivation for Goju karate's
name lies elsewhere. Representing Miyagi at a 1930 All Japan Martial
Arts Exhibition was his senior student Jinan Shinzato who was asked
the name of his ryuha (school). Shinzato. The style having no formal
name at the time other than association with its Nahate, Surite and
Tomorite lineage, and Shinzato replied to the question, "Goju"
(meaning hard/soft). This was later related to Miyagi, who adopted the
name. Others, however, suggest that Shinzato never gave an answer to
the question about the name of his ryuha and that Miyagi later coined
the name after thinking the problem over.
(5) Information supplied by Christopher Caile.
In 1992 Caile had a private
translation made of the 39 pages from the bubishi that appeared in Yamaguchi's
book, "Karate-Goju-Rui By The Cat." The translator, who is
well versed in Chinese herbal medicine, noted numerous inconsistencies
, possible errors, as well as the names of herbs not generally recognized.
It was suggested that these unknown herbs might have been local herbs,
or local names for well-known herbs. Furthermore some methods ofpreparation
are not fully explained.
(6) From a private interview of Miyazato by Christopher Caile held in
Naha, Okinawa, while Mr. Caile was studying in Miyazato's dojo in December,
About The Author:
Victor Smith is a respected teacher of Isshinryu karate (6th degree
black belt) and tai chi chuan with over 26 years of training in Japanese,
Korean and Chinese martial arts. His training also includes aikido,
kobudo, tae kwon do, tang so do moo duk kwan, goju ryu, uechi ryu,
sutrisno shotokan, tjimande, goshin jutsu, shorin ryu honda katsu,
sil lum (northern Shaolin), tai tong long (northern mantis), pai lum
(white dragon), and ying jow pai (eagle claw). Over the last few years
he has begun writing on, researching and documenting his studies and
experiences. He is the founder of the martial arts website FunkyDragon.com/bushi
and is Associate Editor of FightingArts.com. Professionally he is
a business analyst, but also enjoys writing ficton for the Destroyer
Christopher Caile is Editor and founder of FightingArts.com. He is a long time researcher into the Bubishi. In 1990 he commissioned a private translation of the text by a Chinese translator who was conversant in both Chinese martial arts and medicine. He has also worked with other translators to provide accurate translations of portions of the text. In addition to his martial arts experience Caile is also a teacher and practitioner of a branch of traditional Chinese medicine about which he has written extensively: Qigong