The Bubishi is one of the most valuable books a Karateka can possess. It is also of tremendous value to practitioners of Wing Chun, Hung Gar and White Crane.
The book “The Bubishi” is sometimes called The Bible of Karate. It is to Karate what the “Book of Five Rings” is to the Samurai.
Like the Bible, the Bubishi is an anthology of older stories pieced together and edited on one theme to act as a guide.
Most old Karate masters valued it, including masters Funakoshi, Miyagi and Mabuni, the founders of the three biggest schools, Shotokan, Goju Ryu and Shito Ryu.
Bubishi comprised some of the traditions of the original styles that influenced Karate including White Crane, Black Tiger and Monk Fist boxing.
The Bubishi contains anatomical diagrams, philosophical essays, defensive tactical strategies, and poetry.
The first chapter of Bubishi is entitled “The Origins of White Crane Boxing,” and tells us that the White Crane style was founded by a woman, Feng Chi Niang who seems to be the same character as the woman who created Wing Chun, Fong Chut-Neung and her successor would seem to be identical with the man who created Hung Gar a form of Tiger boxing) – I have discussed these two characters in previous blogs.
The Bubishi therefore demonstrates that Karate, White Crane, Wing Chun and Tiger Boxing have a common origin.
The Bubishi has thirty-two chapters dealing with history of White Crane Boxing, advice and observations from Master Wang Yo Teng; information on vital spots and how to attack them; time strikes; grappling arts; six turning hands; 54 steps of the Black Tiger hand; Sun Tzu’s comments on war; and a variety of chapters dealing with herbal medicine, combat techniques.
In 1922 Funakoshi published the first book on karate in Japan, “Ryukyu Kenpo Toudi.” Four chapters from the bubishi were included at the end of the book, but the bubishi itself was not named.
In 1934 when Kenwa Mabuni published “Seipai No Kenkyu” (Study of Seipai) the bubishi was named. Mabuni included the drawings from five chapters from Anko Itosu’s copy of the Bubishi.
The Bubishi was translated into Japanese by the Goju master Tadahiko Ohtsuka and English translations made by George Alexander, and later and much more comprehensively by Patrick McCarthy.
In Hanshi McCarthy’s copy of the Bubishi there are at least ten different theories as to how the Bubishi arrived in Okinawa. Tode Sakugawa, Sokon Matsumura, Yasutsune Itosu and Higaonna Kanryo are all candidates for its introduction.
Kenwa Mabuni had a copy given to him by Itosu so this would seem to indicate it had been in Okinawa a long time.
But other outside possibilities are that it was introduced to Okinawa in the early 20th century by either White Crane master Gokenki or Tiger Boxing master Tang Daiji (To Daiki).
Another possibility is that it came to Okinawa via the Feeding Crane lineage now headquartered in Taiwan.
I have had a full copy of the Bubishi since 1996 and in the years since I have studied it, I have found it to be of tremendous value. Of almost equal value are Hanshi McCarthy’s citations, commentaries and references which are valuable in themselves.
As we try to decipher the origins of Toshu Jutsu and Karate by examining Chuan Fa, Muay Boran, Tiger Fist, Lion Boxing, Crane fist and so on, the Bubishi is a tangible look a the the world’s first Karate syllabus.