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A Summary of the Bubishi: the Bible of Karate

By Edited Nov 13, 2013 0 0

Wubei Zhi

Account of Military Arts and Science

 According to Patrick McCarthy in his translation of the Bubishi, there are actually two Bubishi, both of Chinese origin and from Fuzhou. Mao Yuanyi’s text deals with military related subjects and the art of war, whereas the Okinawan text is an anthology of Chinese gongfu, its history, philosophy and application. It is my understanding that the Okinawan version of the Bubishi is the one that Patrick McCarthy translated.


The Bubishi is a once secret Chinese book on kempo. It is a document that has been handed down from master to disciple in Okinawa for generations. As the title translates, it is a manual of military preparation. It is mainly focused on Monk Fist Boxing and White Crane gongfu however within the context of this book there is immensely valuable information for anyone studying the martial arts. The exact date of publication and author remain a mystery. The Bubishi offers deep insights into karate-do, its history, philosophy and application and thus a number of the most recognizable figures in karate-do have used it as a reference. Sensei Gichin Funakoshi took a significant portion of the Bubishi and used it in his book, Karate-Do Kyohan, Sensei Chojun Miyagi selected the name Goju Ryu from this text, and Sensei Gogen Yamaguchi referred to it as his “most treasured text.” The contents of the thirty-two articles include White Crane gongfu history, moral philosophy, advice on etiquette, comparisons of styles, defensive applications, herbal medicines, training mechanics, and Monk Fist Boxing.


In Patrick McCarthy’s translation of the Bubishi, it is split into four parts. The first part, history and philosophy, includes the many theories on the transmission of the Bubishi as well as the history of Karate-Do. Also included in part one are the first five out of thirty-two articles. I found these articles the most interesting probably because they were the easiest to understand. These articles include the origins of White Crane gongfu, as well as the principles of movement, balance, etiquette, philosophy and how to develop inner strength through the quan (kata) among others. This section contains a lot of information on the true meaning of bu, it lies not in victory or defeat but rather in patience, sincerity, honesty and benevolence. I feel that there is still much for me to learn from this section as I look over it a second time.


The second part, Chinese Medicine and Herbal Pharmacology, includes information on zhong yao which is Chinese herbal therapy. It has information on the history and traditions of herbal medicines, examples of herbal medicines and their effects. The part I found most interesting was the section on the Meridian Channels of Chinese medicine. The Meridian flow theory says that the respiratory and circulatory systems behave within the body in the same way as the earth rotated the sky, and thus the vital points change over time. Through this theory ways of utilizing herbs to correct dysfunctional organs and correct the flow of energy in the body were developed. Articles 10, 11, 12, 19, 30, and 31 contain ingredient on many powerful medicines, however, it contains no information on how to use these medicines, whether to drink them, or apply them externally.


The third part, the vital points, has information on the vital points of the human body, how and where to attack them, and at what times they are most vulnerable. This section includes the bronze man statue, the thirty six vital points, forbidden vital point, the secrets of Wudang Boxing and is complete with many pictures and diagrams. It is interesting to see that there are so many vital points on the human body. This section also includes the famous “death touch.” The vital points also follow the meridian flow theory, and thus attacking these vital points must be done at the correct time to achieve the correct results.


The fourth part, fighting techniques, includes strategy and technique. Within the section there are articles on fighting techniques and the techniques of several quan of Monk Fist Boxing and quanfa strategies. The articles on fighting techniques include the maxims of Sun Zi, grappling and escapes, six ji hands of the Shaolin style, twenty four iron hand applications, and forty eight self defense diagrams. It was interesting to see that among these forty eight self defense diagrams some were familiar. For example, breaking loose of a bear hug with an elbow and the stepping forward to break the attackers balance, or even the chudan uke blocking a straight attack to the middle area. An important concept I got from this section is the linear attacks are neutralized from the angle, and angular attacks are repelled in a straight line.


Overall I have learned much from this book and I continue to learn from it. The Bubishi is a text just like Mushashi’s book of five rings where the essence of the book is very difficult to grasp and the more one reads it the more information one gets from it. Not only is this a book that will help me in physical aspects of training but it assists in all challenges of life including psychological and spiritual challenges. As Patrick McCarthy says “the Bubishi is a key that opens the door to a new dimension of karate training and to understanding the universe and ones place in it.” My final remarks are that this book is a must for anyone studying the martial arts of any kind, especially karate.


You can purchase the book here



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