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By Graham Noble

Kanryo Higaonna was illiterate – This information comes from the translation by “Sanzinsoo” (Kiyotaka Yamada) of Akio Kinjo’s “Oral History about Kanryo Higaonna handed down by disciples of Seiko Higa”.

Kanryo Higaonna’s supposed training in China – Morio Higaonna, for example, in his “History of Karate. Goju Ryu” describes Higaonna’s training with Ryu Ryu Ko as consisting of the practice of the nine Goju Ryu kata (Sanchin, Sesan, Sanseru, Suparimpei, Seiunchin, Saifa, Shisochin, Sepai and Kyururunfa), plus training on the nigiri kame (weighted jars), chiishi, and ishi sashi – the supplementary training equipment used in Okinawan karate. But how could Morio Higaonna possibly know this? It’s impossible. He is simply taking modern Goju Ryu training and transporting it back over a hundred years to late 19th Century Fuzhou. But he is doing that to demonstrate a central thesis of his book: that his Goju Ryu is a direct and unchanged transmission from RyuRyuKo and Kanryo Higaonna. This is despite a total lack of documentation and not being able to identify Ryu Ryu Ko or the style he practised.

The South Shaolin Temple – As far back as 1969 in “Asian Fighting Arts”, R. W. Smith mentioned this temple, or monastery, as being fictitious, quoting Chinese boxing historian Chou Chi Chun: “C. C. Chou believes that the Fukien claim (to a Shaolin Temple) is based on fictitious works such as ‘Chien Lung Huan Yu Chiang Nan’, (The Visit of Emperor Chien Lung South of the Yangtze River).” This romantic martial arts novel, which is sometimes known as “Everlasting”, or “Evergreen”, is referred to by John Christopher Hamm (chapter 2 of his 2005 study “Paper Swordsmen, Jin Yong and the Modern Chinese Martial Arts Novel”, University of Hawaii Press) as “A major source of material and inspiration for the body of twentieth-century martial arts fiction.” The author is unknown, and Hamm gives the original date of publication as 1893. This book, although fiction, seems to have had a great influence on the supposed histories of many Southern styles of ch’uan fa. Other important sources of South Shaolin “history” are the myths surrounding the foundation of secret societies such as the Tiandihui, (the Heaven and Earth Society).

The “Kung Fu Tea” website, 7 December 2015 includes a summary of a conference on “Religion, Violence and the Asian Martial Arts” held by the Department of East Asian Studies at Tel Aviv University on 23 November, 2015. This included a paper on “The Heaven and Earth Society and the Southern Shaolin Monastery” by Professor Zhou Weiliang. Part of this paper included a survey of three different monasteries in Fujian which claim roots going back to the Shaolin Monastery in Henan Province. Professor Zhou’s conclusion was that none of these is “a real Shaolin.” Furthermore, he stated that some Southern boxing styles “may use false names in order to claim a superior link to Shaolin.” ( ... in-temple/)

Regarding the standing of martial artists in Chinese society – Dr. William C C Hu’s article, “Martial Artists: Their Role and Status in Traditional Chinese Society”, appeared in “Inside Kung Fu” magazine February 1982. The article stated that “Wherever he (the martial arts teacher) placed himself, he was a second class citizen.” Dr. Hu commented that “A general contempt of physical coercion was firmly planted and deeply imbedded in the Confucian teaching which dominated Chinese culture and society. It was commonly believed that the superior man should be able to attain his ends without violence.”

The imperial prohibition of martial arts in the early 18th Century is referred to by Joseph Esherick in his book “The Origins of the Boxer Uprising”, (University of California Press, 1987): “In 1728 the Yung Cheng (Yong-zheng) Emperor issued the ony imperial prohibition of boxing per se that I have seen. He condemned boxing teachers as ‘drifters and idlers who refuse to work at their proper occupations’ who gather with their disciples all day, leading to ‘gambling, drinking and brawls.’ “

This prohibition must be the same as the 1727 edict of Yun Cheng referred to in the book “Rural China. Imperial Control in the Nineteenth Century” (Kung-chuan Hsiao, University of Washington Press, 1960): “When the Imperial Government decided to stop inhabitants of Honan Province from practicing boxing, for fear that the skill thus acquired might encourage them to join subversive religious societies, it instructed local officials to explain to townsfolk and villagers who were present in the lecture meetings the legal provisions concerning such matters.”

The video “Fujian Nan Quan” – This was probably made in the 1980s. It lasts an hour and a half and shows excerpts of many forms, among the picturesque scenery and old buildings of Fujian. Aside from the various empty hand forms there are clips of pushing-hand type exercises, equipment training and weapons forms including rattan shield and sword, staff, guan dao, trident, two handed hammer; the bench, and butterfly swords. The weapons also include Chinese versions of the sai and tonfa and demonstrations of sai and tonfa against staff.

Re Miyagi’s visits to China – In the late 1970s I used to correspond with Steve Bellamy, who was a senior at Morio Higaonna’s well-known Yoyogi dojo in Tokyo. (Steve appears with Higaonna in a couple of photos at the back of Eichi Miyazato’s 1978 “Okinawa Den Goju Ryu”). For the record, in one letter he wrote that “I’ve just translated an old letter written by Miyagi regarding training in China, (he didn’t think much of it). He went looking for Higaonna’s teacher and found the village completely razed and to the ground. So he gave up and came home (as you would).” I don’t know anything more about this; it’s always puzzled me that such a letter has never been mentioned by any of the Jundokan people, for example.

Miyagi’s “Karate (Do) Gaisetsu” – Morio Higaonna states that this was delivered as a lecture at the Meiji Shoten in Osaka in 1936. Pat McCarthy gave me photocopies of two scripts of this essay (one handwritten) and the date on the first page of each is Showa 7, or 1934, so actually the first draft was written a couple of years earlier. On both texts “Karate” is written with the characters for “Chinese Hand”. The first translation of Miyagi’s text into English (as “Karate Do Gairyaku”) was probably by Toshio Tamano in “Black Belt” magazine, March 1985. Pat Mccarthy produced a translation in a nice booklet in 1993: “An Outline of Karate-doh”, published by the International Rukyu Karate Research Society, Japan, and Morio Higaonna also included a translation in his “History of Karate. Okinawan Goju Ryu”, 1995.

Mao Yuan-I and the “Wu Pei Chih”, the Bubishi – The copy I looked at is held at Cambridge University Library. Apparently this is a Japanese edition, published in Kyoto in 1644; there is also an incomplete copy of the original Chinese edition of 1621 in the British Library, Department of Oriental Books: the catalogue listing is Woo-pe-che, The Art of war, by Mao Yuan-I, 1621 edition. The library also has three other imperfect copies.

The whole work contains 240 chapters and covers all aspects of military skills and techniques. Chapters 88 and 89 of this work are a reprint of Cheng Chung-tou’s work on Shaolin staff. Chapter 87 on the spear and chapter 91 (?) on boxing are both from an earlier work, Chi Chi-kuang’s “Chi Hsiao Shin Shu”.

Miyagi may, or may not, have been aware that the Bubishi’s section on boxing was taken from the 1561 “Chi Hsiao Shin Shu” (by General Chi Chi-kuang. The fourteenth chapter of Chi’s book is entitled “Ch’uan Ching Chieh Yao P’ien”, or “Essentials of Training from the Boxing Classics”. Thirty two postures are shown. The work also includes chapters on the use of weapons, such as the staff, sword and spear.

General Chi took a very down to earth and unromantic view of kempo (ch’uan-fa), writing that it was “an accomplishment of no real value in serious warfare,” (was Miyagi aware of these words?), but that he was including it in his book for the sake of completeness because it developed flexibility of the arms and legs, and involved bodily activity: “Boxing seems to be an accomplishment of no real value in serious warfare. At the same time, inasmuch as a study of this art in its elementary stages involves flexibility of the arms and legs, together with activity of the body, I have included it for the sake of completeness.” (Translation by H A Giles in an article “The Home of Jiu Jitsu” published in “Adversaria Sinica”, 1914.))

Re the puzzle of Kanryo Higaonna’s Te (or Kempo) - Pat McCarthy, in “Fighting Arts International” magazine No. 86 (1996), commented that “One of my biggest shocks in researching karate’s evolution is just how little the masters in Okinawa and on Japan’s mainland actually knew about their lineage. Having said that, I can’t remember which came as more of a surprise: the masters who knew practically nothing about the lineage of their tradition or those who have fabricated a seemingly believable genealogy.”

On the connection between Fujian styles and Okinawan karate, Pat wrote that on his various visits to Fujian he had never seen any kata that looked just like Goju (or Uechi) kata, though he had seen similar training and conditioning methods.

The 1867 Ochayagoten Demonstration – According to Ansdreas Quast, (“Karate 1.0”) this was a Festival of School Arts and Various Other Arts of Kumemura, and the Beating of the Flower Drums. Following the investiture ceremonies for King ShoTai, a festival of various arts was hosted by the Kumemura Meirindo school, (the first officlal school in Ryukyu, apparently, dating back to 1718.) The venue was the royal tea villa in Shuri Sakiyama, and the performances were held in front of the imperial envoys and other high ranking persons. There were forty seven items on the programme, ten of which related to martial arts. The term Tode (Chinese Hand) was used for the first time in this programme.

Miyagi’s study with Kanryo Higaonna – There is a curious exchange in the round-table discussion between Sadao Sakai, Meitoku Yagi and Gogen Yamaguchi contained in the booklet commemorating the 25th anniversary of Choun Miyagi’s death:

Sakai: Could you please tell us about Miyagi Sensei’s brief background? I assume that Miyagi Sensei began studying Karate when he was a child.

Yagi: I heard that Miyagi Sensei began studying Karate when he was around fourteen years old. Sensei was born in Meiji 21 (1888). According to the record, Miyagi Sensei studied under Kanryo Higaonna Sensei for two and a half years, from November of Taisho 4 (1915) to Taisho 6 (1917). Then, he went to China to study. He returned home after his training in China.

These dates are so out of line with everyone else that I can only assume that something went wrong in the transcription of the conversation. The consensus is that Miyagi did start karate training at fourteen (1902) – with Higaonna - and continued for most of the time up to Higaonna’s death, which is almost always taken to have been in 1915, although a date of 1917 was also given by Eichi Miyazato in his “Okinawa-den Goju Ryu”. A duration of two and a half years study with Higaonna, (who would moreover have then been towards the end of his life) is not given anywhere else, including publications or articles from Yagi’s own Meibukan school.

In his “Okinawa Karatedo Old Grandmaster Stories”, (1964), Eizo Shimabuku told the usual history about there being two Higaonna’s in Naha at that time, Higashi (East) no Higaonna and Nishi (West) no Higaonna. Shimabuko wrote that Chojun Miyagi became a student of Nishi no Higaonna “after he passed the age of twenty”. That would give a date of 1908 for the beginning of Miyagi’s study, again out of line with the generally accepted date of 1902. Shimabuku does not give a source for the 1908 date.

Regarding the name “Goju”, “Hard-Soft”, and the Bubishi – It’s accepted that Miyagi took the name of his style from a line in this old manuscript.

The Bubishi was first shown in Kenwa Mabuni’s 1934 book “Sepai no Kenkyu”, and Mabuni wrote that he had made his copy from another copy owned by his teacher Ankoh Itsou. Others knew about it though, because Funakoshi included part of the text in his 1922 “Ryukyu Kempo Karate” and subsequent books, including the 1935 “Karate Do Kyohan”. Possibly Funakoshi – and Miyagi - got their knowledge of the Bubishi from Mabuni, we don’t know.

The line which Miyagi is said to have used comes in the short section “Eight Important Phrases of the Fist”. This is made up of eight short lines of just five characters each, and so in the literature they are sometimes called the “Eight Poems of kempo”, “The Eight Precepts of the Fist” etc. The third line contains the reference to Go-Ju, or “Hard-soft”, and Miyagi actually used this five (Chinese) character line as the title for the 1942 article he wote for “Bunka Okinawa” magazine. The line reads: “Method (Fa) Hard (Gong) Soft (Ru) Swallow (Tun) Spit (Tu)”, an apparently meaningless collection of words.

Tatsuo Shimabuku the creator of Isshin Ryu called the eight lines “Kempo Gokui” and like many Okinawan masters he valued them as an important teaching. He gave copies of the text to his early students, and since many American servicemen trained with him from the 1950s, the material was translated into English, and reportedly given to all the U.S. servicemen black belts who had finished their tour of duty on Okinawa. I don’t know when the translation was first published, but I do recall seeing it in an article in “Official Karate” magazine (September 1973), where that important third line was rendered as “The manner of drinking and spitting is either hard or soft” – which, as no explanation was given, seemed to make no sense whatsoever. Tsutomu Ohshima, in his 1973 translation of Funakoshi’s “Kyohan” gave the line as “The law includes hardness and softness”, thus omitting entirely the problematic characters “swallow” and “spit”. John Teramoto (in his translation of Gichin Funakoshi’s 1925 “Rentan Goshin Karate Jutsu “) had: “The law includes hardness and softness, ingesting and expressing”, which seems like an honest attempt but is also incomprehensible. Other English versions have bypassed the problems of “swallow-spit” and have translated the characters instead as “inhale-exhale” and so they all come out in a similar way: "The way embraces hard and soft, inhaling and exhaling"; “The way of inhaling and exhaling is hardness and softness”; “The method of inhaling and exhaling is hard and soft”; “The principle lies in firmness and gentleness, inhaling and exhaling”; “The art requires hardness with softness in one breath”; “Inhaling represents softness while exhaling characterizes hardness”; “Breathing in and breathing out in accordance with hard and soft.” These translations make a little more sense, kind of, but it’s still not clear what it all means in practice; maybe such translations are a retrospective attempt to link the the breathing of the modern Goju Ryu Sanchin with the old Chinese text.

“Swallow-spit” makes no sense at all - except in the context of Fujian boxing styles, where it is an important technical concept. Although in some commentaries it is linked with breathing, the principle meaning seems to be that you swallow – absorb or neutralise - the opponent’s attack, and then spit out – counter and strike or throw him away; and in the Okinawan Bubishi this is seen as a combination of hard and soft. Swallow and spit are usually linked with two other principles, “float” and “sink”, and this group of words is found throughout Fujian styles such as Crane and Five Ancestors, as well as in other Southern systems such as Pak Mei (White Eyebrow) and Southern Praying Mantis. The 1986 book “Southern Shaolin Five Ancestors Fist” (Fujian Peoples Publishing House) states that “To be proficient in the simple use of the hand movements of South Shaolin Five Ancestors Boxing one has to have some knowledge of the swallowing and spiitting, the sinking and floating, and the bringing forth and containing of effort. These stages of training the basic ways and basic forms or postures are called the training of the bodily form.” The text continues later: “(The practitioner) can then awaken to the marvellous changes of the swallowing and the spiitting out, of the sinking and floating, together with the fusing and concentrating of these changes in each of the methods of fist, palm, bridge, body, leg, stepping and so on. It is then possible to greatly improve the efficacy and use of the skill of defending and the skill of attacking. It is then that one gains a knowledge of Sanchin Fists and how to move the effort and concentrating the strength in the marvellous twisting and turning. This causes the sphere of knowledge about attacking and defending to be reached where the hard changes to the soft and in the hard is carried the soft. This called the practising of the method.” (Translation by George Chaplin).

The swallow – spit – float –sink concepts have also been referred to in various English language magazines, for example: “An Ancient System Comes of Age, Ngo Cho Kung Fu” by Jose G Paman (“Karate Kung Fu Illustrated”, December 1987); “18 Hand Skills of Southern Mantis” by Roger D Hagood, (“Inside Kung Fu”, January 2000); “The Fighting Principles of Ngo Cho Kun” by Alexander L Co (”Inside Kung Fu”, December 2000); “A Closer Look at the Five Ancestors” by Jose Paman (“Kung Fu”, October 2001); “White Crane’s Fighting Principles” by Lorne Bernard, (“Inside Kung Fu”, September 2005); and “Eat ‘em Up and Spit ‘em Out, The 4 Dynamic Forces of Southern Short Range Systems”, by Willy Pang, (“Kung Fu Tai Chi”, October 2010). That last article by Willy Pang includes a couple of the most comprehensive explanations:

“Tan (sic) – literally meaning to swallow, represents the idea of ingesting the force of an enemy’s attack in a manner that neutralises the threat and compromises his stability. When the practitioner redirects the power of an adversary’s punch, dissipates the energy of an incoming kick, resists attempts at joint manipulation, or withstands the effort to be thrown, tan is the principle that enables these actions to take place. The inward action of swallowing directs the energy of an attack towards the practitioner’s foundation and into the ground to hinder the technique and unbalance the opponent.

Tou – to spit conveys to the practitioner that techniques must surge outward both lively and instinctually. As the combative complement to tan, tou is the discharging state of techniques. The energy of all the individual’s movements originates from a stable stance, amplifies as it transfers through the body’s core, and is refined through the different sections of the upper extremities – the shoulders, elbows, and hands – enabling the body to act as a unit for short concentrated power. While the opponent recovers from being drawn in by the vigor of the swallowing dynamic, the practitioner’s counter capitalizes on the weakened stage of the opponent’s engagaement.”

Anyway . . . “Swallow” and “Spit” are basic technical principles in Fujian boxing, and yet despite the claims of a direct transmission from Fujian, there is no evidence that these principles, or concepts, were ever taught by Miyagi, or Kyoda, or Kanryo HIgaonna probably, (or Kanbum Uechi, for that matter), and hence the incomprehension which surrounded those lines in the Bubishi. That ignorance of Fujian styles and their technique seemed to have existed for a long time, right up to the 1980s when Okinawan karateka began visiting Fujian to study its traditional styles of boxing . . . So it makes you think that the original transmission from Fujian to Okinawa was incomplete, or became lost somewhere down the line.

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- John Adams
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