Motobu Chōki: “My Art and Skill of Karate” (1932)

The book “My Art and Skill of Karate” presents the technical knowledge and original accounts imparted by famed Okinawa karate master Motobu Chōki (1870-1944). This translation was created in close cooperation with the author’s grandson, Motobu Naoki sensei. It also includes a congratulatory address by the author’s son, Motobu Chōsei sensei, the current head of the school. Moreover, this year marks the 150th anniversary of Motobu Chōki’s birth. In other words, three generations of the Motobu family were involved in this new translation, connecting the history and tradition of karate from the 19th to 21th century.

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Kindle edition:  US | UK | DE | FR | ES | IT | NL | JP | BR | CA | MX | AU | IN

(Note: The Kindle version does not include the glossary index and only a rudimentary TOC, so navigation is less reader-friendly than in the print version)

In addition to accounts about old-time karate masters in Okinawa, the work features thirty-four photos of Motobu performing Naihanchi Shodan, including written descriptions. Moreover, it includes twenty kumite with pictures and descriptions as well as five pictures of how to use the makiwara.

What makes it even more unique is that the existence of the book was unknown until the 1980s, when the wife of a deceased student sent the book to Motobu Chōki’s son, Chōsei. Until today this edition remains the only known original edition in existence, and it provided the basis for this original translation. This work has to be considered one of the most important sources to assess and interpret karate.

Motobu Chōki: “My Art and Skill of Karate” (2020)

My Art and Skill of Karate (Ryukyu Bugei Book 3), by Choki Motobu (Author), Andreas Quast (Tr./Ed.), Motobu Naoki (Tr.)

  • 5″ x 8″ (12.7 x 20.32 cm)
  • Black & White on white paper
  • 232 pages
  • First Printing: 2020
  • ISBN: 979-8601364751

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Okinawan Samurai — The Instructions of a Royal Official to his Only Son

BookCoverPreviewsmTroubled about the future of his only son and heir, a royal government official of the Ryukyu Kingdom wrote down his ‘Instructions’ as a code of practice for all affairs. Written in flowing, elegant Japanese, he refers to a wide spectrum of artistic accomplishments that the royal government officials were ought to study in those days, such as court etiquette, literature and poetry, music, calligraphy, the tea ceremony and so on.

The author, who achieved a remarkable skill level in wielding both the pen and the sword, also informs us about various martial arts practiced in those days. Translated from Japanese for the first time, from centuries-long puzzling seclusion the state of affairs surrounding an 18th century Okinawan samurai vividly resurrects in what is considered ‘Okinawa’s most distinguished literature.’

Print edition: US | CA | UK | DE | FR | ES | IT | JP

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Table of Contents

Okinawan Samurai — The Instructions of a Royal Official to his Only Son. By Aka/Ōta Pēchin Chokushiki (auth.), Andreas Quast (ed./transl.), Motobu Naoki (transl.).

  • 5″ x 8″ (12.7 x 20.32 cm)
  • Black & White on Cream paper
  • 218 pages
  • First Printing: 2018
  • ISBN-13: 978-1985331037
  • ISBN-10: 1985331039

Translated from Japanese for the first time!

“I think it is epoch-making that Quast sensei decided to translate the ‘Testament of Aka Pēchin Chokushiki,’ and not one of the famous historical or literary works such as the Chūzan Seikan or the Omoro Sōshi. … I believe this translation has significant implications for the future study of karate history and Ryūkyū history abroad. (Motobu Naoki, Shihan of the Motobu-ryū)

“It is one of THE most important primary sources for truly understanding the unabridged history of our arts first hand by a member of the very class of people who spawned Karate in the first place!” (Joe Swift, Karateologist, Tokyo-based)

“I highly recommend this new work by Andi Quast … as a MUST BUY book …” ( Patrick McCarthy, foremost western authority of Okinawan martial arts, modern and antique, anywhere he roams)

“I’m sure I’m going to learn and enjoy this book.” (Itzik Cohen, karate and kobudo man from Israel)

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Oni Oshiro

BookCoverPreviewIn the era of Old Ryukyu, a legendary warrior of Okinawan martial arts appeared on the center stage of the historical theatre. Due to his unique appearance and powerful physique—reminiscent of a wolf or a tiger—the people of that time called him Oni Ōshiro, or «Ōshiro the Demon.»

Also known as Uni Ufugushiku in the Okinawan pronunciation of his name, he had been variously described as the originator of the original Okinawan martial art «Ti» as well as the actual ancestor of a number of famous Okinawan karate masters, such as Mabuni Kenwa and others.

This is his narrative. Gleaned from the few primary sources available, which for the first time are presented here in the English language, the original heroic flavor of the source texts was kept intact.

«I invoke the Gods, To quake heaven and earth, To let the firmament resound, And to rescue the divine woman—Momoto Fumiagari.»

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5″ x 8″ (12.7 x 20.32 cm)
Black & White on Cream paper
94 pages
ISBN-13: 978-1533486219 (CreateSpace-Assigned)
ISBN-10: 1533486212
BISAC: Sports & Recreation / Martial Arts & Self-Defense

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Matsumura Sokon: The Seven Virtues of Martial Arts

by Andreas Quast

This is the true story of the seven virtues of martial arts as described by Matsumura Sokon. Considered the primary source-text of old-style Okinawan martial arts, the “Seven Virtues” are admired for their straightforward advice. Handwritten in the late 19th century by Matsumura, the most celebrated ancestor of karate, they are considered the ethical fountain and technical key to understand what can’t be seen.

This work includes the rare photograph of the original handwritten scroll, approved by the Okinawa Prefectural Museum & Art Museum as well as the owner of the scroll. It also shows the family crest of the Matsumura family, sporting the character of “Bu.”

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Matsumura himself pointed out that the “Seven Virtues of Martial Arts” were praised by a wise man in an ancient manuscript, a manuscript that has remained obscure ever since. Now the ultimate source of this wondrous composition has been discovered and verified. Presented and explained here for the first time, it is not only the source of Matsumura’s “Seven Virtues of Martial Arts”… In fact, it is the original meaning of martial arts per se.

  • 5″ x 8″ (12.7 x 20.32 cm)
  • Black & White on Cream paper
  • 80 pages
  • ISBN-13: 979-8605143611
  • BISAC: Sports & Recreation / Martial Arts & Self-Defense

Matsumura Sokon: The Seven Virtues of Martial Arts. By Andreas Quast, 2020.

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A Stroll Along Ryukyu Martial Arts History

A Stroll Along Ryukyu Martial Arts History Paperback – May 15, 2015

by Andreas Quast (Author)

Paperback edition: available at Amazon US ($14.99), Amazon UK (£9.79), Amazon Germany (EUR 14.97), CreateSpace eStore ($14.99), and at online and offline bookstores and retailers, as well as via public libraries and libraries at other academic institutions.

Kindle edition also availableUSUKDEFRESITNLJPBRCAMXAUIN

Based on his acclaimed previous studies, the author here presents a synopsis of the development of Ryukyu martial arts. The events described herein are all real, that is, they are all historical. Strolling along the chronology of martial arts of Ryukyu provenance, a large number of verified events are not only detailed, but also decorated with dozens of precious illustrations. As such “A Stroll Along Ryukyu Martial Arts History” is for martial arts practitioners as much as it is for aficionados of history and Asia. It simply provides a pristine ground to stand on for the practitioner who wishes to understand the primordial origins of Ryukyu martial arts.

  • For those who read “Karate 1.0”: this new book here is a synopsis of Karate 1.0 plus the “chronology (Part VII)” without significant changes. It is an easier read without all the reasoning and footnotes, but instead with nearly 80 illustrations to make it more suitable for the general public, and not only academic people.

Among the unique information that cannot be found anywhere else are also some of the illustrations. For instance, there is only one picture scroll that shows the Chinese investiture envoys (sapposhi) and their military retinue. Here, for the first time you might see how famous Kusanku actually might have looked like.

Product Details (Paperback edition)

  • Paperback: 180 pages
  • Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform; 1 edition (May 15, 2015)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1512229423
  • ISBN-13: 978-1512229424
  • Product Dimensions: 7.4 x 0.4 x 9.7 inches



Available at Amazon US ($19.99), Amazon UK (£12.79), Amazon Germany (EUR 19,25 ), CreateSpace eStore ($19.99)

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Karate 1.0: Parameter of an Ancient Martial Art


The most comprehensive study on the parameters of primordial Karate, this work intrigues readers with rich detail and insights into these ancient combat traditions, the pride of Okinawa.

KARATE 1.0: Parameter of an Ancient Martial Art. Düsseldorf 2013, by Andreas Quast.

cover (4)

Karate 1.0 front cover

  • Pages: xxvii, 502 pp.
  • Language: English.
  • Hardcover binding in green linen material with gold foil stamping, size 8.25″ x 10.75″ (20.95cm x 27.31cm).
  • Full-color dust jacket in matte finish.
  • Inside: black and white printing on cream archival paper (60# weight). White exterior paper (80# weight).
  • Forewords by Patrick McCarthy, Miguel Da Luz, Cezar Borkowski, Jesse Enkamp, Dr. Julian Braun, Soke Leif Hermansson, and Dr. phil. Heiko Bittmann.
  • All copies ship from the United States.
  • Price: $75.00.

Only the highest quality both in content and production: get it now from!

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Recently, there was a lot of news coverage about Southern Boxing from Fujian Province and its relation to Okinawa Karate. The reporters were martial artists themselves.

I’d like to add an insight by Wen Xinhui, Associate Professor at the Graduate School of Physical Education, Jimei University, China.

To begin with, in 1958, a team of the national martial arts association was dispatched from Beijing to Fujian to establish Fujian Southern Boxing as a competition martial art. However, at the time, a battle broke out between Xiamen (the People’s Republic of China – PRC) and Kinmen Island (the Republic of China – ROC), so the team switched the destination from Fujian to Guangdong. Therefore, the standard form of Southern Boxing in modern Chinese martial arts competition is not from Fujian, but from Guangdong province, and this has changed to a modern style to suit demonstration and competition. Fujian Southern Boxing, on the other hand, retains the old elements and therefore is similar to karate. But were is Fujian Southern Boxing?

Professor Wen notes that Five-Ancestors-Boxing is a representative school of Fujian Southern Boxing. It is generally divided into:

  • 1. Great-Ancestor-Boxing,
  • 2. Bodhidharma Revered Boxing,
  • 3. Arhat Boxing (i.e. Monk Boxing),
  • 4. Ape Boxing, and
  • 5. Crane Boxing.

It is only, Professor Wen adds, “I personally think that the presently popular Five-Ancestors-Boxing lacks the old elements. However, the one school that is rich in old technique and culture is actually Five-Ancestors Crane-Sun Boxing (Wuzu Heyang-quan).”

In other words, in order to find old-style Fujian Southern Boxing, i.e. the roots of karate in China, one would need to look into Five-Ancestors Crane-Sun Boxing. At least according to Professor Wen, it has the old-style elements including that of Crane and Monk Boxing. Just saying.

This is their Sanchin, which is the first of a large number of kata that are taught:

Among their dozens of boxing routines are the fundamental Sanchin, The Big Set of Sanchin, 5-Tigers-Battle, Cross-shaped Sanchin, 36 Stars of Big Dipper , 72 Stars of Big Dipper, Northern Monk Boxing, Monk Boxing, as well as weapons such as kon, sai, tonfa, hoe, plus all the others.

BTW, Professor Wen also says that

“The roots of each kata of the “Kobayashi-ryū” and “Shōtōkan-ryū” are known. For example, the kata “Bassai” is of Great-Ancestor-Boxing (taizu-quan), Naihanchi is of Dazun-quan (Bodhidharma Revered Boxing), and Jion is of Arhat (Monk) Boxing (Luohan-quan).”


Wen Xinhui (Associate Professor, Graduate School of Physical Education, Jimei University, China): A Study on the History and Culture of Fujian Southern Boxing, as well as its Domestic and Foreign Propagation. On example of “Five-Ancestors-Boxing,” “Southern Shaolin Five-Ancestors Crane-Sun Boxing,” “Shōtōkan-ryū,” and “Gōjū-ryū.” In: Ryūkyū Karate no Rūtsu wo saguru Jigyō – Chōsa Kenkyū Hōkokusho (Research and Study Report – Project to Explore the Roots of Ryūkyū Karate). Urasoe City Board of Education, March 2015. Pp. 94-99.

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A study on the origins of Okinawa Karate and Southern Shaolin Boxing from Quanzhou

Zhou Kunmin (President of the International Southern Shaolin 5-Ancestor-Boxing Association): A study on the origins of Okinawa Karate and Southern Shaolin Boxing from Quanzhou. In: Ryūkyū Karate no Rūtsu wo saguru Jigyō – Chōsa Kenkyū Hōkokusho (Research and Study Report – Project to Explore the Roots of Ryūkyū Karate). Urasoe City Board of Education, March 2015.

Translation: Andreas Quast

The friendship between China and Ryūkyū has a long history. During the Ming and Qing dynasties, Chinese-Ryūkyūan foreign trade once held an important position within the sphere of world trade. In 1370, Quanzhou established the “Overseas Trading Department,” and in 1405, it opened the “Station for Those Coming From Afar” (later transferred to Fuzhou, and known as the Ryūkyūkan). Placed under the jurisdiction of the “Overseas Trading Department,” this station hosted the Ryūkyūan missions and stipulated that Ryūkyū shall only pass through Quanzhou Port. More than a hundred years before the “Overseas Trading Department” moved to Fuzhou, Quanzhou played an important role as a hub for China and Ryūkyū. The Ryūkyūan envoys and visitors who traveled to Quanzhou passed on their culture, regional products, and written language to China, and at the same time, they spread a wide range of Chinese ethnic cultures to Ryūkyū. The exchange spanned a wide range, including commerce, agriculture, science, religion, culture, arts, architecture, and medicine. Influenced by Chinese folk customs, Ryūkyū became a Land of Courtesy (Shurei-no-Kuni), which values courtesy.

In the above field of study, there are also some highly credible research results available. However, in the field of martial arts, researchers have not found any research results, and we have not found any directly related materials when searching local history materials. Until now, historians may not have paid enough attention to the relationship between Chinese martial arts and Japanese karate, which extends to our lives today.

Here, I will summarize the limited materials existing on kenpō (the method of unarmed combat), and I will also briefly describe my personal opinion.


Karate (唐手) is a traditional old martial art that was handed down to Ryūkyū, and its name indicates that it was handed down from China in ancient times. The so-called “tī 手” (of Okinawa) is referred to as “skills of the hand 技手” in Quanzhou, which points to the term “jishou” (pivoting hand, or quick-reacting hand) as found in Okinawa’s Bubishi, and there is no change to this to this day.

In 1929, Keio Private University renamed “karate 唐手” to “karate 空手,” and already before that, in 1924, a “Karate-dō 空手道 Study Group” had been established. The word “karate 空手” can be found as early as 1905, in the book “Karate Kumite.” In Quanzhou, unarmed martial art without weapons is called “kongshou quan 空手拳 (jp. karate ken),” or otherwise “kong-quan 空拳 (jp. kūken),” and this name is the same as in Ryūkyū.

Since the 1970s, karate organizations and martial artists from Japan have visited Quanzhou several dozen times, surveyed the origins of karate, and interacted with the martial arts society in Quanzhou.

In 1990, I was invited by Mr. Wakugawa Kōsei of the Karate-dō Gōjū-ryū Seidōkan. I visited Okinawa with a twenty persons martial arts delegation from Quanzhou. At that time, the Quanzhou City Youth Martial Arts Delegation, invited by the Urasoe City Office, arrived in Okinawa together with us. Both Japanese and Chinese gave performance demonstrations at the community center. More than four-hundred persons from Okinawan dōjō participated in the demonstrations, and Higa Yuchoku, chairman of the Okinawa Karate-dō Federation, also gave a martial arts demonstration himself.

What surprised us was that the karate-dō performed by Okinawan martial artists, or otherwise the Naha-te, Shuri-te, Tomari-te of karate, used techniques from “skills of the hand 技手” (oki. tī 手), stood in horse stance, had method of using the hips, and of breathing, used of hard and soft techniques (gōjū) and offensive techniques, all of which were surprisingly similar to the traditional Southern Shaolin Boxing of Quanzhou. Many of the fist techniques are very similar, such as tiao (to poke), xian (to convulse), qin (to capture), kai (to open), gai (to cover), guan (to close), quan (to box), biao (to target), cha (to pierce), baobai (to hold and split), dan (to shoot) etc., leg kicking methods such as sao (to sweep), deng (to tread on), etc., as well as standing methods, such as zhanma (war horse), jiaoma (wildebeest), sipingma (four equal horses), tama (stepping horse), and quma (bent horse).

Some (of the Okinawan) kata are also very similar to traditional forms of Quanzhou. Among them, Sanzhan (Sanchin) is the most similar, and, as the mother of all boxing, it is the kata to begin with.

There are many types of boxing in Quanzhou Southern Shaolin, and all beginners first learn fist Sanzhan (Sanchin). This is the so-called principle of “to teach a disciple, always teach Sanzhan first.” Sanzhan has been handed down to places other than Quanzhou and is also called “Sanzheng (Three Principles),” and in the Quanzhou dialect, it is also called “Sanjian” (Three Divisions).

Each of the following boxing styles has a Sanzhan, and it is said to “start from Sanzhan and train until you die:” Great Ancestor Boxing (taizu-quan), Bodhidharma Revered Boxing (dazun-quan), Arhat Boxing (luohan-quan), Itinerant Monk Boxing (xingzhe-quan, aka Monkey Boxing), White Crane Boxing (baihe-quan), Flower Boxing (hua-quan), Mysterious Woman Boxing (xuan’nu-quan), Dragon Revered Boxing (longzun-quan), and Tiger Revered Boxing (huzun-quan).

The different boxing styles mentioned above were originally affiliated and influenced each other. Since Sanzhan is a foundational boxing method, and since it is a source from which the boxing schools derived, there are many points of similarity, and they resemble each other closely.

For example, the Gōjū-ryū of Okinawa Karate-dō has been handed down since the late Qing dynasty. Karate is done barefoot when performed on stage, but rolling up one’s trouser cuffs and perform barefoot is no longer known to people of Quanzhou. This (barefoot performance) is verified by the descriptions “four-points fall on the ground like gold (the toes and heel of both feet make four points that are firmly grounded and form a square)” and “five children look skyward (keeping the toes facing upwards, and not on the ground).” To recognize such things reveals clues to the source of boxing arts in both regions.

Since the 1970s, members of the Okinawan karate world have visited places such as Fuzhou and Quanzhou in Fujian to investigate the source. Among those who visited were also martial artists from Tōkyō and Ōsaka. For example, Onishi Eizo, Nakamoto Masahiro, Wakugawa Kōsei, Tokashiki Iken, Kinjō Akio, Miyagi Tokumasa, etc. have repeatedly visited to research.

Inspiringly, the Gōjū-ryū of Okinawa has traveled many times to find its roots in China, and as a result, in September 1989, a master of Higashionna Kanryō was discovered in Fuzhou. This is Xie Zongxiang (aka Ruru), born in 1852 in Changle County Zhanxiang Daoibian Village. The site was confirmed, and a commendation monument erected at Fujian Sports Center.

Earlier, Uechi-ryū surveyed in cooperation with the Fujian Wushu Association. As a result, it was revealed that in 1897, Uechi Kanbun learned martial arts at the school of Zhou Zihe (jp. Shū Shiwa ), a teacher of the Tiger Revered Boxing (huzun-quan) in Fuzhou Nanju Zhiri Village, and after returning to Japan established Uechi-ryū Karate. Therefore, the origin and genealogy of Uechi-ryū became clear. These two kinds of boxing are members of the Fujian Southern Shaolin Boxing, and White-Crane-Boxing (baihe-quan) was born in Yongchun, Quanzhou Prefecture.


Crane Boxing (He-quan), or otherwise White-Crane-Boxing, was also called Yongchun-Boxing (Yongchun-quan) and was handed down in Fuzhou, northern and eastern Fujian Province. After that, it branched into the following schools: Crying-Crane-Boxing (Minghe-quan), Feeding-Crane-Boxing (Shihe-quan), Sleeping-Crane-Boxing (Suhe-quan), Flying-Crane-Boxing (Feihe-quan), and Shaking-Crane-Boxing (Zonghe-quan). Gōjū-ryū had already discovered that Fuzhou Crying-Crane-Boxing (Minghe-quan) is its source, which can be traced back to the time when Fang Qiniang founded Crane Boxing (He-quan) about two-hundred years ago during the years of the Kangxi Emperor (1661-1722) of the Qing dynasty.

Fang Qiniang is said to be from Lishui city in Zhejiang Province in east China, or, in another theory, from Fukuning, Fujian Province. During the years of the Kangxi Emperor (1661-1722), taken by her father, Fang Huishi (aka Fang Zhangong), she arrived in Yongchun in Quanzhou, Fujian, incorporated the movements of cranes into a boxing method, and handed it down.

This was at a time when many people gathered in Quanzhou due to the popularity of Southern Shaolin Boxing. Many practitioners adopted her method, which established itself as a unique and vivid new movement. When new boxing methods appeared, they spread rapidly. Although the status of Yongchun was increased to that of an administrative district in 1735, there was limited land, and the poverty of people in agricultural villages did not change. Many farmers wanted to leave the prefecture and pursue a flourishing development, from which later spawned the proverb that, “Without Yongchun, no commercial port will ever be opened, and without Yongchun, no market will ever be established.”

Among them were masters of boxing who traveled widely in all directions (east, west, north, and south), and with it, the fame of the boxing method of Yongchun (Yongchun-quan) spread naturally. According to the ancient “Register of Traditional Boxing Methods” (Chuan Quan-pu), she taught twenty-eight disciples, and they demonstrated their talents, and they all became masters of boxing and called “outstanding talents” (yingjun), and around the same time, the “Five Tigers” also appeared. These disciples said, “Highly perfected in the methods of boxing, this institution’s reputation spread as by the whispers of the wind, and a large number of followers hastened cheerfully to attend to its study.”

The footprints of these successors can be found from the villages near Yongchun, to downtown Quanzhou, and to the distant “four upper prefectures of Min,” i.e., the western (inland) part of Fujian. Fuzhou, the provincial capital of Fujian, was densely populated and because it had the highest concentration of people, so the footprints of the successors, as well as their boxing method, spread further to Jiangxi province in southeast China, Zhejiang province in east China, and Guangdong province in south China.

Zeng Si, Gu Xi, Wang Daxing, Zheng Li, Zheng Chong, Ye Jinxi, Zheng Bi, Zheng Tong, and others inherited and handed down Yongchun White-Crane-Boxing, and their achievements were great. In particular, Zheng Li’s footprint reached the most far and wide, and his fame was also the highest. In the book, “Order of the Tradition of Descendants of the Art of Boxing (Quan-yi Shichuan-xu),” it is said that in his study it was “especially hard to write with the brush, but the boxing has been handed down from generation to generation.”

I talked with Yu Baoyan of Fuzhou, who is a successor to Xie Zongxiang (aka Ruru, 1852-?) and who accompanied me when our Quanzhou martial arts delegation visited Okinawa in 1990. Yu Baoyan was not only very familiar with the historical background of Crane Boxing (He-quan) having been introduced to the Fuzhou area from Yongchun County in Quanzhou but at that time also said, “after Crane Boxing was introduced to Fuzhou, it split into five groups,” and pointed out, “Crying-Crane-Boxing (Minghe-quan) is one of them.”

While the art of boxing traditionally has stability and a closed-up nature, it is also always subject to the constraints and influences of the unique culture of the region to which it is handed down, and it also changes with the creativity of the disciples, and contingency can also occur. Pan Yuba, the successor of Xie Zongxiang, who was active during the years of the penultimate Qing emperor Guangxu (1875-1908), developed a new style of Yongchun White-Crane-Boxing by continued painstaking tempering in the methods of hardness and softness as well as in breathing techniques. The method of breathing in and breathing out was like the whooping sound of a crane, and so it was called Crying-Crane-Boxing (Minghe-quan). This was a new creation and a breach of tradition.

Other than the five crane styles in the Fuzhou region (crying, feeding, sleeping, flying, and shaking crane), other methods have emerged in other regions, such as the Long-Technique-Crane, Short-Technique-Crane, or the Crane-jumping-on-one-leg. Also, in Guangdong province in south China, a distinction is being made between Yongchun-Crane and Yongchun-Boxing.

However, there is by no means a change in the quality of the kind of boxing, and the underlying theme is still Yongchun-Crane-Boxing. Tokashiki Iken of the Gōjū-ryū Tomari Association preserved a manuscript of the Bubishi, a record of Crying-Crane-Boxing (Minghe-quan) which has been handed down from Xie Zongxiang (aka Ruru, 1852-?) over several generations, and its content, organization and writing characters are the same as in the old boxing records handed down in the southern Fujian region.

Articles such as on the history, principles, and techniques of boxing, prescriptions for knockouts, the “Bronce Man,”  “Instructions for the body parts for the 12 double-hours of the day,” “Six-Rotating-Palms,” “Seven spots not to strike” etc., can be verified in old books such as “Laws for Specialists of White-Crane-Boxing” (Baihe-quan Jia Zhengfa), “The Art of Boxing from Taoyuan” (Taoyuan Quanshu), “The Correct Method of the Immortal Master and Ancestor of White Crane” (Baihe Xianshi-zu Chuanzen-fa), “The Secret Crane Method of the White-Lotus-Temple” (Bailian-si Mizhuan Hefa), “The Secret Book of Striking and Tumbling of the Shaolin-Temple” (Shaolin-si Dieda Mishu), “Prescriptions by the Ancestor of White-Crane” (Baihe-zu Yaofang), and “The Immortal Tradition of White-Crane” (Baihe-xian Zhengzong).

For example, in the “Commentary on White-Crane-Boxing (Baihe-quan Lun), Fang Qiniang is revered as the first teacher and portrays her creation of the boxing method, and the outline of the story is the same in each book. Most in line with the original text is, “I have studied kenpō well from Zheng Sishu in the past,” and “I have taught various families in Yongchun, but the Wang were the best.” Talking about the boxing methods, and about engagement and disengagement, there are phrases like: “Exhale when you push your hand out and inhale when your hand changes direction,” “The inner section (upper arm) is like iron, and outer section (forearm) is like cotton,” “Straighten out to break the side, Sideways can fix straightness, Softness is suitable against hardness, Hardness meets softness well, Know whether to advance or to retreat, breathing in and out is like ebb and flow,” “With every step, grow your roots, no matter how you’re pushed, remain motionless,” “Is the opponent inattentive (doesn’t use force), take the initiative; if the opponent uses power, follow it.”

These are set phrases often heard in the Southern Shaolin Boxing of Quanzhou, which are mostly quoted from the “Classic of the Double-Edged-Sword” (Jianjing) written by Yu Dayou (1503-1579), a person from Quanzhou who was the commander-in-chief of the Ming Dynasty.

From this, it can be estimated that the Bubishi is a compilation of old records of Yongchun in Quanzhou.

Fujian Province, from: Wikipedia


In addition, it is important to note that the “Bubishi” contains the “Explanation of Luohan-quanfa (Arhat Boxing),” as well as the tou-kuang, er-kuang, san-kuang, and si-kuang, which are the (1st to 4th) kata of Luohan-quan (Arhat Boxing). Why is Arhat Boxing included in a record of Crane Boxing? Many people may have been surprised, or think that it was mixed up. In fact, this is not the case, and it is a common phenomenon in the martial arts world, which is often seen in Quanzhou, and referred to as “learn two or more is to know two or more” (=learn several things at the same time).

There are many kinds of boxing in the Southern Shaolin Boxing of Quanzhou, and in the 1980s still twenty types of martial art were discovered and arranged. Although these kinds of boxing belong to different schools, many are rich in beauty of clear or masculine strength, with inhale and exhale like ebb and flow, hardness and softness, well in short-range strikes, excellent for actual combat, and the boxing style is similar, the techniques are similar, and the stances are similar. Besides, the use of the body, the way how to apply strength, and the breathing methods are similar, and it is possible that both have been incorporated and accumulated into a system.

To enrich their own martial arts, those who practiced martial arts often learned several kinds of kenpō. A few learned two or three different types, most learned four or five, and this has taken root over a long time.

Five-Ancestor-Boxing, which unified five boxing schools, was formed after the creation of White-Crane-Boxing. In old records of boxing, there is an ancestral tablet of the first master. In some records, only “Great Ancestor (taizu), Bodhidharma (dazun), and Arhat (luohan)” are written, but in some records is written “1. Great Ancestor (taizu), 2. Bodhidharma (dazun), 3. Arhat (luohan), 4. Itinerant Monk (xingzhe), and 5. White Crane (baihe).” Also, there is a boxing record with the word “Mysterious Woman” (xuan’nu), which clarifies the course of its development. Some people once adopted the boxing style in the past, but it was rare. After the creation of White-Crane-Boxing, it was finally officially incorporated into the five boxing schools.

In other words, there is no doubt that the original author of the Bubishi was experienced in both Crane-Boxing and Arhat Boxing. Moreover, the person was considerably knowledgeable and when he copied and arranged Arhat Boxing into the record, to avoid misunderstandings, he intentionally stated in the beginning that: “A person involved in Arhat Boxing is also (involved) in Crane-Boxing.”

At the same time, it is clear that the person who kept the record did not put the two boxing types together, but it is clear that they coexisted. It is not one but two boxing methods, and this record contains forms one to four of the Arhat Boxing.

The “Record of Five-Ancestor-Boxing” (wuzu-quan pu) from Quanzhou contains the Arhat forms one to five (tou-jie, er-jie, san-jie, si-jie, and wu-jie), so their origin can be seen. At least through Qing Dynasty until the Chinese revolution in 1911, this group of Arhat boxing forms ranged from simple to complex. There have already been changes, but still remains in the martial arts practice of people from different regions.

If speculating further, the Bibishi is a record that was copied selectively. Generally speaking, it seems that Higashionna Kanryō (1853-1915) transcribed it after studying Arhat Boxing from Xie Zongxiang (aka Ruru, 1852-?). Naturally, the content of these training methods and techniques would have merged into his original Gōjū-ryū karate-dō. As Wang Foudeng said (in the Bubishi), “Arhat Boxing is also Crane Boxing,” but at present, it is in an unclear state (like the similarity between vermilion and purple). Also, some kata and techniques of karate are difficult to classify, and it’s hard to say if it’s Crane Boxing, but it’s also hard to say that it’s not Arhat Boxing.

With this, we can further speculate on the relationship between Great-Ancestor-Boxing (taizu-quan) as a part of the Five-Ancestors and karate-dō. Great-Ancestor-Boxing is the oldest boxing method among the Five-Ancestors and dates back to the Northern Song Dynasty (960-1127). It was named by Song Taizu, and was the most popular in the Quanzhou from Ming (1368-1644) and Qing dynasties (1644-1912) until the Chinese Revolution of 1911, with 80 to 90 percent of the martial artists in Quanzhou Prefecture belonging to a faction of the Great-Ancestor-Boxing.

According to the Jixiao Xinshu, there were “32 Gestures of Long-Boxing of Song-Taizu.”

In the “Compilation of Northern Boxing Methods” (Bei-quan Huibian) it is said that, “The Shaolin school is also referred to as the waijia or external school, and Zhao Kuangyin (personal name of Song Taizu) is the ancestor. Zhao Kuangyin had amazing skills, which he kept secret and did not show them to others, but once when drunk he told a large number of his retainers about its secret techniques. He regretted this and couldn’t eat and stopped talking, and at last, he placed the book in the altar of the Shaolin temple. This boxing method is excellent for hard, straight forward attacks.”

The present Quanzhou Great-Ancestor-Boxing is indeed characterized by its “hard, straight forward attacks.” Great-Ancestor-Boxing of Quanzhou is dedicated to Zhao Kuangyin (Song Taizu) as its ancestor, and is based in this source.

At the beginning of the Southern Song Dynasty, Emperor Gaozong moved to the south to Quanzhou. Most of the imperial families under his jurisdiction were descendants of Zhao Kuangyin (Song Taizu), and their number reached as high as several thousand, and it is said that “the city walls were entirely filled with imperial people.” The Great-Ancestor-Boxing handed down by the imperial class gradually spread into the private sector and never declined for hundreds of years. In old records of the Crane Boxing you can also see that Crane Boxing has developed based on Great-Ancestor-Boxing. Whether Fang Qiniang was born in the south of Zhejiang or in Fujian Fukuning, Shaolin Great-Ancestor-Boxing was thriving there.

According to the “Laws of the White-Craning-Boxing School” (Baihe-quanjia Zhengfa), Fang Qiniang said, “When I was sixteen, I liked the Shaolin boxing skills.” The “Immortal Tradition of White-Crane” (Baihe-xian Zhengzong) says: “When master Fang Zhangzu practiced Great-Ancestor-Boxing, Fang Qiniang learned by secretly watching him.” At the end of the Ming dynasty (1368-1644) and beginning of the Qing dynasty (1644-1912), the first famous master of Five-Ancestor-Boxing, Gan Deyuan, said, “White-Crane has been taught from Great-Ancestor-Boxing for generations, and it remains like that.”

Still today, in Yongchun, the hometown of White-Crane-Boxing, still has a hard style of Crane-Boxing, which some call the Great-Ancestor-faction of Crane-Boxing, during the development of which Great-Ancestor-Boxing served as the foundation. Besides, a school called “Taizu-ized Crane-boxing” (Taizu-hua He-quan) has emerged and is becoming popular in Taiwan. From this, you can now see elements of Great-Ancestor-Boxing in the White-Crane-Boxing, and you can also guess their influence on the karate-dō of the Gōjū-ryū.

Wakugawa Kōsei, the chairman of the Okinawa Gōjū-ryū Karate-dō Preservation Association, has conducted numerous studies of Quanzhou Shaolin Boxing and published a paper titled “Quanzhou Great-Ancestor-Boxing and Okinawa Karate-dō.” The following is written in this text. “I saw young monks perform traditional Great-Ancestor-Boxing at the Chongfu-Temple in Quanzhou. I was quite surprised at the fact that there were many similarities with Okinawa karate-dō, such as the simple, yet heavy fist strike and way to apply strength to the lower back/hips.”

He studied the “Outline of Taizu’s 24 Gestures” (Taizu Ershisi Shi Jianshu) from the “Register of Great-Ancestor-Boxing” (Taizu-Quan Pu) from renowned boxing master Su Zaifu, and after seeing his performance, stated: “Great-Ancestor-Boxing’s strongly protected position while moving forward, and its gaining the initiative by striking first; this is a common point with the basic idea of Okinawa Karate-dō, which is probably one of the pieces of evidence that connects karate to its roots in the Southern Boxing of Quanzhou.”

Mr. Wakugawa concluded that “comparing the kenpō in both Okinawa and Quanzhou with each other, issues that weren’t well understood before or things that never came to mind at all were easily resolved.”


If the roots of Okinawa karate-dō, or otherwise of karate, are found in the middle or late Qing dynasty (1644-1912), there is a long historical gap. Many researchers reported that more than 3,000 persons from the “Thirty-six Clans of Fujian-People” traveled to Ryukyu in 1396 to lead the tribute business and were involved in the spread of martial arts. However, some researchers have questioned this. As for one, there is no solid evidence, and second, it is too many years before the formation of the tī of Ryūkyū.

I believe that the tī of Ryūkyū itself is difficult to date, and besides, it is difficult to infer from the above that “36 Clans” and “3,000 households” lived in Kume Village over two or three hundred years and were only connected with “spreading culture and education.”

It would have been only “trading along the seaways.” According to Mao Yuanyi’s “Wubeizhi” Vol. 14, about “coastal defense,” at that time in Fujian “Anyone who knows the seaways well, and can maneuver a boat well, is a man from Zhangzhou (in Fujian), Quanzhou (in Fujian), Fuzhou (in Fujian), or Ningbo (in Zhejiang )…  The captain, the person who arranged the seaways, and the pilot all came from there.”

From among the 36 Clans, many of which came from the coastal ports of Quanzhou, were selected those who could skillfully manouvre and fight with boats. They were good at martial arts and familiar with overseas traffic routes. At that time, the relationship between Ryūkyū and the Ming Dynasty was so close that Ryūkyū frequently visited, sometimes several times a year.

During the voyage, looting and riots always occurred, and therefore, a large number of weapons and protective guards were needed during the trip. Chen Ruifang from Quanzhou, successful candidate of the highest imperial military service examination, who served in Min’anzhen, was appointed commander-in-chief (Dusi) for the protection of the Imperial investiture mission (sappōshi) in 1800 and captured two-hundred pirates at sea. As armaments, he carried armor and helmet and weapons, but he died of illness in Ryukyu.

The first of the 36  Clans was the Cai (jp. Sai) family, whose ancestors came from both distinguished civil and military families in Nan’an County, Quanzhou. In their genealogy, it is recorded that “they were the most esteemed and heavily busy, and produced many talents afterward.”

According to Japanese media reports, the Cai family (jp. Sai) as well as the Zheng family (jp. Tei), also a member of the 36 Clans, handed two kinds of boxing methods, namely the Cai-Family-Boxing and the Zheng-Family-Boxing.

And there is an important relationship between the Cai family of Nan’an county in Quanzhou, Fujian and the transmission of Southern Shaolin Boxing martial arts. According to the Journal of the Westen Mountains (Nishiyama Zasshi) compiled by Cai Yongjian in the years of the Jiaqing Emperor (1760-1820), Cai Yangeng inherited a martial art of the Shaolin faction. The Cai family, under the political rule of the Zheng family of the Southern Ming Dynasty (1644-1661), had more than sixty people worshipping them, giving them the status of generals, and extending their influence south. In addition, he said, “I abandon the way of culture and engage in voyages instead, Jump in, sail, and live in the sea!” Cai Qian said, “I have learned the martial arts from a monk in a temple. Let’s leap into the blue sea and sail.”

It is worth considering were Cai-Family-Boxing, and Zheng-Family-Boxing came from and continues to this day. When Investiture missions from the Ming and Qing departed to Ryūkyū, he was allowed to choose himself, from various personnel to masters of the martial arts.

During their stay in Ryūkyū, the investiture envoys, retainers and servants interacted with the people on each level, and it was their mission to communicate with them, and of course, including Chinese culture and martial arts. Therefore, in the book “Secrets of Japanese Karate-dō,” the beginning of Okinawa’s karate is thought to be at the beginning of the Ming dynasty (China, 1368-1644). It says that “the envoys’ delegation departed from Beijing, crossed the sea to Ryūkyū, and Chinese kenpō was transmitted accordingly.”

The oldest book on karate, the Ōshima Hikki, mentions something related to Kūsankū, who took a lot of his disciples to Okinawa and taught a kind of kenpō.

In 1479, during the Ming Dynasty, Ryūkyū also dispatched people to Fujian and Taiwan to study Shaolin kenpō. These examples are numerous and took place over a long time. The material does not explain the events in detail, but they are fully verified.

The reason why I do not eliminate the history of Chinese-Ryūkyūan martial arts exchange during the Ming Dynasty is that it was a mature period of Chinese martial arts development. In the wake of the “Collection of the Most Important Military Techniques” (Wujing Zongyao, 1044) compiled by the Zeng Gongliang of the Northern Song Dynasty, Yu Dayo (1503-1579) of Quanzhou compiled the “Continued Wujing Zongyao.” He also published the 67 volume edition of the “Classic of the Double-Edged-Sword” (Jianjing), which includes a collection on the essence of the Chinese cudgel and rake and which summarizes the theory of kenpō. The “Classic of the Double-Edged-Sword” (Jianjing) is China’s first specialized martial arts textbook and provides an excellent discussion.

For example, it says “Hardness before him, softness after him” (use hardness when he is not ready, receive him with softness after he has come to power), “Move after he sets out, but arrive before him,” “Pass by his old strength before his new strength arrives,” “If have to strike a person, do not injure her,” “deliver to others, but don’t take from others,” and so on. Until now, the various boxing schools of the North and South have served as the holy books (of boxing), and the Great-Ancestor-Boxing (taizu-quan) mentioned above, White-Crane-Boxing (baihe-quan), and Arhat Boxing (luohan-quanfa) are no exceptions, and their influence extends to karate-dō.

I believe that if one seeks the origins of Okinawa karate-dō and Quanzhou Southern Shaolin Boxing in one single era, it should be based on sufficient historical background data as well as cultural factors.

December 20, 2014, in Quanzhou

Posted in Book Reviews | Comments Off on A study on the origins of Okinawa Karate and Southern Shaolin Boxing from Quanzhou

A study of the kata Sanchin in Goju-ryu, Uechi-ryu, Baihe-quan (White-Crane-Boxing), and Wuzu-quan (5-Ancestors-Boxing)

By Kadekaru Tooru. In: Ryūkyū Karate no Rūtsu o saguru Jigyō – Chōsa Kenkyū Hōkokusho (Research and Study Report – Project to Explore the Roots of Ryūkyū Karate). Urasoe City Board of Education, March 2015. Pp 69-80.

Translation: Andreas Quast

1. Introduction

The kenpō handed down in Fujian Province in China is referred to as the Southern School of Shaolin Boxing (from now on referred to as Southern Shaolin Boxing), in contrast to the Northern School of Shaolin Boxing of the Shaolin Temple on Mt. Songshan, Henan Province. In Southern Shaolin Boxing, “Sanchin” is positioned as the most important basic kata, as can be seen from the sayings “to teach a disciple, always teach Sanchin first,” and “start from Sanchin and train in until you die.”

According to the founder legend, White-Crane-Boxing (baihe-quan) from Yongchun County in western Quanzhou city (of southern Fujian province) was allegedly created during the Kangxi Years (1662-1722) of the Qing Dynasty by Fang Qiniang, daughter of Fang Huishi, a monk of Southern Shaolin Temple in Fujian and a practitioner of the “Boxing of the Eighteen Arhat of the Shaolin” (Shaolin shiba luohan-quan).

Also, Five-Ancestors-Boxing of the Southern Shaolin Temple in Quanzhou was created by integrating five types of boxing, namely Great Ancestor Boxing (taizu-quan), Arhat Boxing (luohan-quan), Bodhidharma Boxing (damo-quan, aka dazun-quan), Monkey Boxing (hou-quan, aka xingzhe-quan or Itinerant Monk Boxing), and White-Crane-Boxing(baihe-quan). It has a long history of more than a thousand years and has spread mainly from the Southern Fujian to various regions.

Gōjū-ryū and Uechi-ryū, karate schools that originated in Okinawa, are karate schools created by Okinawans who have learned from Southern Shaolin Boxing, and after returning to Japan, systematized new kata and built a philosophy. Gōjū-ryū was established around 1930 by Miyagi Chōjun (1888-1953), who studied under Higashionna Kanryō (1853-1915), and Uechi-ryū, originally opened in 1932 as “Pangainūn-ryū Karate-jutsu Kenkyūsho” by Uechi Kanbun (1877-1948), was re-established (as Uechi-ryū) in 1940.

Both Higashionna and Uechi trained in Southern Shaolin Boxing in Fuzhou during the late 1800s.

In this paper, based on the results of a visit to Quanzhou City in Fujian Province within the “Project for Exploring the Roots of Ryukyu Karate” (Urasoe City Board of Education) conducted in 2013, I will compare the kata Sanchin common to four types of boxing: Quanzhou Southern Shaolin Boxing Five-Ancestors-Boxing (hereafter Five-Ancestors-Boxing), White-Crane-Boxing (baihe-quan) from Yongchun County in western Quanzhou city (of southern Fujian province) (hereafter White-Crane-Boxing), Gōjū-ryū, and Uechi-ryū. Southern Shaolin Boxing was handed down to Ryūkyū / Okinawa, and since the modern era, the Okinawans promoted the creation, definition, and reconstruction of new kata, as well as reaching certain goals, and building a training system. The purpose of this study is to examine the similarities and differences between Sanchin in the creation of karate and find out the issues necessary for future research.

2. About the definition of Sanchin in Gōjū-ryū and Uechi-ryū

Sanchin of Gōjū-ryū was defined in 1932 by the founder Miyagi as follows: Sanchin is, “The basic kata of Karate, the purpose of which is to take a fixed posture with the body, harmonize inhaling and exhaling with physical strength, and develop a strong physique and martial spirit.” Sanchin aims to raise a “strong physique” and “martial spirit,” that is, both the physical aspects and the spirit of martial arts.

Moreover, according to Mabuni Kenwa (1889-1952), “From the view of physical education, first, you can train your muscles, maintain a resolute strength, and develop a strong physique and martial spirit. Second, it harmonizes inhaling and exhaling with physical strength and develops a strong physique and martial spirit, and third, it has a good effect on building endurance.” “From a mental point of view, it is possible to train the vigor of the mind, and therefore, the powers of observation, judgment, and the ability to think, and it is also possible to train humans who are weighty. Therefore, the first training is the most necessary and important for the practitioner. You must practice quietly and calmly. The reason is that if the posture movement is poor, it becomes a habit that is difficult to correct, so the purpose of Sanchin is defined as both physical education and mental development.”

Mabuni explained the two goals advocated by Miyagi in more detail, and as the “physical aspects,” he raised three: The first is to train the “martial spirit” while maintaining resolute muscle strength. The second is to have them investigate breathing techniques and the use of force. The third is to train endurance. From the “mental side,” the vigor of the mind helps to train the powers of observation, judgment, and the ability to think, and it also possible to train humans who are weighty, and so it emphasizes “posture movement.” This was when Mabuni still referred to his art as “Gōjū-ryū Kenpō,” but he later found his part and started Shitō-ryū.

It is important to note that the “physical education” and “martial arts (budō)” advocated by Miyagi and Mabuni followed the guiding principles of school physical education in the prewar period. When the “Teaching Syllabus for Physical Exercises at School” (Gakkō Taisō Kyōju Yōmoku) was revised in 1936, “From the necessity of responding to the international situation at the time, the emphasis shall be placed on training the body together with cultivating the personality, practicing the mind/attitude, and regulated group practice.” Then, when the “National School Ordinance and the Enforcement Regulations” was promulgated in 1941, the designation “gymnastics course” (taisō-ka) was changed to “physical disciplining course” (tairen-ka). With that, the proportion of martial arts (budō) increased remarkably, and “from the standpoint of disciplining the imperial citizens, physical education with an emphasis on mental aspects shall be thoroughly implemented.” In other words, this infers that, in response to the social situation at the time, the purpose of the Gōjū-ryū Sanchin was to focus on building bodies to be soldiers and training spirits to be imperial citizens.

On the other hand, Southern Shaolin Boxing brought to Okinawa by Uechi Kanbun (1877-1948) was introduced as “Pangainūn-ryū,” and four new kata were created by his son Uechi Kanei (1911-1991) in the 1950s after the war. At the same time, the techniques were systematized, and based on the historical history of the Sanchin tradition, their philosophy and purpose were clarified and defined.

Sanchin of Uechi-ryū was defined in a book published in 1977 after the return to Japan (1972) as follows: It plays a very important function in each of the three dimensions of mind, technique, and body, and has three purposes. First, to train the willpower to withstand severe physical training and practice of techniques. Second, the basic posture of various techniques is based on Sanchin. Third, basic health and physical strength are acquired automatically in the process of learning Sanchin. All the above are summarized by breathing and training methods that build a body unique to Uechi-ryū.

Furthermore, in recent years, the division from style to associations has occurred, and Sanchin of both (Gōjū-ryū, and Uechi-ryū) are described as follows.

The Sanchin of the Gōjū-ryū-system was initially performed with three steps forward, turn, three steps backward, turn, one step forward, and one step backward, and the breathing techniques, as well as the open-handed spear-hand (nukite), were all done fast. In the early Shōwa era (1926-1989), Miyagi developed a performing method of three steps forward and three steps backward, which became popular as Sanchin Dai Ichi, and he began teaching Higaonna Kanryō’s Sanchin as Sanchin Dai Ni. By the time Miyagi used the name Gōjū-ryū, after changing various positions from open-hands to closed fists, he had changed all moves to be performed with slow abdominal breathing, and the behavior was such that inhaling and exhaling overlapped with the techniques, and this became the unified method of martial performance and demonstration. At the time of the martial performance, the locations to concentrate upon were mainly three: the lower abdomen, the back of the head, and the buttocks. These are “collecting strength in the lower abdomen,” “collecting strength in the back of the head,” and “collecting strength in the buttocks,” and they are performed by pulling in the chin, raising the back of the head, dropping the solar plexus, storing power in the lower belly, and tightening the buttocks.

Sanchin of the Uechi-ryū-system is the basic kata of comprehensive training of mind, technique, and body. (1) Cultivating the power of observation, (2) Learning the breathing method, (3) Training the powers of concentration, (4) Establishing the basic posture, and (5) Develop a strong physique. Technically, it is to master the open-handed mawashi-uke and the boshiken-zuki (thumb thrust), which are frequently used in the kata of Uechi-ryū. Also, this Sanchin uses open hands, and does not include the concepts of “killing with one strike” (ichigeki hissatsu) and “perfect self-protection.”

In both schools, Sanchin is still defined as an important basic kata, but although its aims were clearly defined (by the founders), the technique and performing methods are changing.

3. About the characteristics of the four kinds of Sanchin

I have organized the characteristics of Sanchin kata into eight main similarities and differences:

(1) order of moves, (2) performance time, (3) stances, (4) footwork, (5) breathing method, (6) upper and lower limb techniques, (7) route of martial arts performance, (8) toughening method (paired toughening).

1. Sanchin of the Gōjū-ryū system (see Fig. 1)

There are altogether thirty-two moves in the following order: 1. standing bow, 2. position, 3. posture of immovability 4. right Sanchin-dachi, 5. both-handed posture (morote-uke), 6. left middle-level thrust (hidari chūdan-zuki), 7. left middle-level defense (hidari chūdan-uke), 8. one step forward, left Sanchin-dachi, 9. right middle-level thrust, 10. right middle-level defense, 11. one step forward, right Sanchin-dachi, 12. left middle-level thrust, 13. left middle-level defense, 14. right middle-level thrust, 15. right middle-level defense, 16. left middle-level thrust, 17. left middle-level defense, 18. right middle-level thrust, 19. right middle-level defense, 20. left middle-level thrust, 21. both-handed spear-hand thrust (morote nukite), 22. both-handed seize-and-pull, 23. both-handed spear-hand thrust, 24. both-handed seize-and-pull, 25. both-handed spear-hand thrust, 26. both-handed seize-and-pull, 27. both-handed spear-hand thrust, 28. one step backward, left Sanchin-dachi, 29. both-handed palm-heel thrust (shōtei-zuki), 30. one step backward, right Sanchin-dachi, 31. both-handed palm-heel thrust, 32. posture (kamae), 32. bow (rei).

Fig. 1: The Sanchin of the Gōjū-ryū system (martial performer: Kikugawa Masanari)

  • The performance time is about 95 seconds.
  • The stance is Sanchin-dachi throughout all moves.
  • The footwork is done with the feet never leaving the ground throughout all movements.
  • The breathing method is so that inhaling and exhaling are performed simultaneously with the techniques. It is an abdominal tanden-breathing method with vocalization, with long inhalation and long exhalation, and breathing sounds come out.
  • What is noteworthy about the technique is that both closed fists and open hands are used and that no kicking is included.
  • The performance line is I-shaped and moves forward and backward three steps.
  • In the tempering method (tanren-hō), it is essential for the performer 1 to gaze at the front with the eyes steadily, 2 to pull in the chin, 3 to lower both shoulders, 4 to throw out one’s chest, and tighten one’s abdominal muscles, 5 to straighten the spine, 6 to tighten the muscles of the back, such as the latissimus dorsi muscles and the teres major muscles, 7 to pull both elbows to the sides of the body, and that the fists are in the same height, 8 to twist your forearms outward and squeeze your fist as hard as you can, 9 to tighten the anus sphincter, 10 to tighten the gluteus maximus muscles and adductor muscles inward, 11 to bend and tighten both elbows inward, and tighten the gluteus maximus muscles inward, 12 to unroll your toes and make sure that your toes and soles firmly adhere to the ground like a leech. The instructor follows the flow of the technique by directly touching the body of the performer to make them aware of individual tasks, then tighten the muscles, and gradually unify the awareness of each of them, and knock down on their shoulders almost vertically, etc.

2. System of the Uechi-ryū-system (see Fig. 2)

There are altogether thirty-seven moves in the following order: 1. posture of immovability, 2. bow, 3. posture of immovability, 4. standing upright, 5. both-handed lower-level spear-hand thrust (gedan morote nuki), 6. Sanchin-dachi, 7. Sanchin middle-level spear-hand thrust (chūdan-nuki), 8. Sanchin forward step, middle-level spear-hand thrust (sanchin zenshin, chūdan-nuki), 9. Sanchin middle-level spear-hand thrust, 10. Sanchin middle-level spear-hand thrust, 11. sanchin forward step, middle-level spear-hand thrust, 12. sanchin turning around, 13. sanchin middle-level spear-hand thrust, 14. sanchin forward step, middle-level spear-hand thrust, 15. sanchin forward step, middle-level spear-hand thrust (sanchin zenshin, chūdan-nuki), 16. sanchin forward step, middle-level spear-hand thrust (sanchin zenshin, chūdan-nuki), 17. sanchin turning around, 18. sanchin middle-level spear-hand thrust, 19. sanchin forward step, middle-level spear-hand thrust (sanchin zenshin, chūdan-nuki), 20. sanchin forward step, middle-level spear-hand thrust (sanchin zenshin, chūdan-nuki), 21. sanchin forward step, middle-level spear-hand thrust (sanchin zenshin, chūdan-nuki), 22. both-handed middle-level spear-hand thrust, 23. both-handed middle-level spear-hand thrust, 24. both-handed middle-level spear-hand thrust, 25. turnover (tenshin), 26. circle defense (wa-uke), 27. both-handed thumb-fist thrust, 28. turnover (tenshin), 29. circle defense (wa-uke), 30. both-handed thumb-fist thrust, 31. turnover (tenshin), 32 Circle defense (wa-uke), 33. both-handed thumb-fist thrust, 34. posture of bow towards Buddha, 35. posture of immovability, 36. bow (rei), 37. posture of immovability.

Fig.2: Performance of Sanchin of the Uechi-ryū-system (performer of martial art: Uechi Kanei)

  • The performance time is about 60 seconds.
  • The stance is Sanchin-dachi throughout all moves.
  • The footwork is done with the feet never leaving the ground throughout all movements.
  • The breathing method is to exhale short and consciously sharp, and the inhalation is performed as an abdominal inhalation as a counteraction of exhalation and is carried out through the nasal cavity naturally without any particular consciousness. This is an abdominal breathing technique with a sighing sound.
  • What is noteworthy about the technique is that both spear-hand (nukite) and thumb-fist (boshiken) are used and that no kicking is included.
  • The performance line is T-shaped, with three steps forward, three steps backward, three steps forward, and three turns.
  • In the tempering method (tanren-hō), the performer needs to do it lightly with ease at the beginning of the training. Try to learn the outline of the steps, hand positions, how to reach out and pull back the hand, how back and front should be, how to lower the shoulders, how to stretch the chest, how to breathe, etc. From around 4 to 5 months after the introduction, the instructor, depending on an individual’s physical strength and the development of muscle strength, applies strikes to the abdominal muscles, and kicks three or four inches below the knee joint from behind.

In the following cases of Five-Ancestors-Boxing (wuzu-quan) and White-Crane-Boxing (baihe-quan), the images were created from videos. Five-Ancestors-Boxing is performed by Chang Ding, abbot of the Quanzhou Shaolin Temple, and White-Crane-Boxing is performed by Su Yinghan, vice president of the Quanzhou City Martial Arts Association. The designations and interpretations of each of the moves shown here were adopted.

3. The Sanzhan (Sanchin) of Five-Ancestors-Boxing (see Fig. 3)

There are altogether thirty-eight moves in the following order:  1 stand straight, 2 peaceful horse sets out, 3 cross left, (pull back) elbows, 4 peaceful horse, double guillotine chop 5 cross right, (pull back) elbows 6 peaceful horse, double pricker 7 peaceful horse, double spread 8 cross right, (pull back) elbows, take in granule 9 peaceful horse breathes out, brings out fists 10 double opening 11 cross right, (pull back) elbows, take in 12 peaceful horse spits out and sets up joints 13 right forward step, hand pierce 14 set up joints 15 swallow and spit out 16 whispering horse, double pierce 17 set up joints 18 swallow and spit out 19 whispering horse, double pierce 20 set up joints 21 swallow and spit out 22 withdrawing horse, double pierce 23 set up joints 24 swallow and spit out 25 withdrawing horse, double pierce 26 set up joints 27 swallow and spit out 28 withdrawing horse, double pierce 29 set up joints 30 swallow and spit out 31 withdrawing horse, double barrier 32 retaining horse props up right leg, double unlatch 33 whispering horse, elbow strike 34 peeling with the knife hand 35 left hand slice 36 right hand wipes off 37 withdrawing horse props up right leg, spreads out embraced child 38 putting away the fists.

Fig.3: The course of Sanzhan (Sanchin) of Five-Ancestors-Boxing (martial performer: Chang Ding)

  • The performance time is about 90 seconds.
  • Regarding stances, there are the cat-foot-stance (neko-ashi-dachi) at the beginning and end, the forward stance (zenkutsu-dachi) to the left and right, the wide parallel stance (heikō-dachi), and Sanchin-dachi with the front toes pointing slightly inward. In the three battles, the front foot is slightly inward, and the rear foot is parallel to the front one. Weight distribution seems to be equal on both legs.
  • Footwork is done in the natural way of walking. The right foot is always in front, and in forward movement, the right foot moves forward first, and the left foot follows behind. In moving backward, the left foot moves first, and the right foot follows. The moving foot draws a semicircle from inside to outside.
  • The breathing method is performed with abdominal breathing and respiratory sounds.
  • The most notable point of the technique is that spear-hands (nukite) and closed fists are both used, and the both-handed spear-hand (nukite) is often used. Kicking techniques are not included.
  • The performance line is I-shaped, with three steps forward and three steps backward.
  • I couldn’t watch the tempering methods (tanren-hō) this time, but during the exchange of opinions, it was explained that the methods applied to the body are similar to those of the Goju-ryu or Uechi-ryu systems.

4. The Sanzhan (Sanchin) of White-Crane-Boxing (baihe-quan) (see Fig. 4)

There are altogether thirty moves in the following order:  1. form of getting ready, 2. starting form of bringing out fists, 3. half-moon drops into river, 4. child holds flower, 5. two boughs open brightly, 6. two dragons search the ocean, 7. two boughs open brightly, 8. two dragons search the ocean, 9. two boughs open brightly, 10. two dragons search the ocean, 11. two boughs open brightly, 12. two dragons search the ocean, 13. two boughs open brightly, 14. two dragons search the ocean, 15. two boughs open brightly, 16. two dragons search the ocean, 17. two boughs open brightly, 18. two dragons search the ocean, 19. two boughs open brightly, 20. Azure Dragon appears from the water, 21. Azure Dragon appears from the water, 22. one bough, plum blossom, 23. general releases arrow, 24. general releases arrow, 25. supreme ruler pulls bow, 26. general releases arrow, 27. fighting while holding child, 28. end form of fists brought out, 29. half-moon drops into river, 30. end form.

Fig. 4: Route of White-Crane-Boxing Seven-Step Sanzhan (Sanchin) (martial performer: Su Yinghan)

  • The performance time is about 60 seconds.
  • Regarding the way of standing, there is the parallel stance (heikō-dachi) with shoulders width and the cat-foot-stance (neko-ashi-dachi), as seen in the first and last movements. In the forward stance (zenkutsu-dachi), the front foot is straight, and the rear foot is opened to about 45 degrees. There are many half-sitting postures, but all seem to have the weight distributed equally on both legs.
  • Regarding footwork, it is a unique walking method like striding in fumi-ashi. In moving forward, the right foot moves forward, and the left foot chases after. In moving backward, when the moving foot lands beyond the rear foot, the front foot moves backward together with it.
  • The breathing method is performed with abdominal breathing and relatively little respiratory sounds.
  • The most notable point of the technique is that spear-hands (nukite) and closed fists are both used, and the both-handed spear-hand (nukite) is often used. Kicking techniques are not included.
  • The performance line is I-shaped, with three steps forward and three steps backward.
  • As regards tempering methods (tanren-hō), offense and defense using the upper body, the forearms, elbows, and kicks are assumed to exist.

4. From the comparison of the characteristics of the four Sanchin

Here I arranged and compared the similarities and differences between the Sanchin of the four martial arts systems described above (see Fig. 5).

  • The order of moves (behaviors) showed a total of 33 moves in the Gōjū-ryū-lineage, a total of 37 moves in the Uechi-ryū-lineage, a total of 38 moves in Five-Ancestors-Boxing, and a total of 30 moves in White-Crane-Boxing. Regarding the terminology used for the moves (behaviors), Gōjū-ryū and Uechi-ryū lineages capture and represent the characteristics of a move by a combination of a descriptive technique name and the name of the body part that performs the attack or defense. In Five-Ancestors-Boxing and White-Crane-Boxing, moves (behaviors) are classified by “type” and “stage,” and one move (behavior) does not necessarily represent one technique. In particular, in the explanations and commentaries of Five-Ancestors-Boxing and White-Crane-Boxing, the moves or behaviors (types) are given symbolic names are given to a series of techniques and often include multiple techniques. This point of difference is an important task in capturing the techniques of karate and Chinese kenpō.

Fig. 5: Table of Comparison of Sanchin in the Gōjū-ryū-lineage, Uechi-ryū-lineage, Five-Ancestors-Boxing, and White-Crane-Boxing

  • The martial performance time is within the range of 1 to 1.5 minutes, with Gōjū-ryū-lineage being the longest with about 95 seconds, followed by Five-Ancestors-Boxing with about 90 seconds, and Uechi-ryū-lineage and White-Crane-Boxing with about 60 seconds. It can be said that all four types are short. The greater length of the Gōjū-ryū-lineage version is based on the breathing method of inhaling and slowly exhaling as long as possible.
  • In the lineages of Gōjū-ryū and Uechi-ryū, the basic stance is Sanchin-dachi, with the legs opened to about the shoulder-width, the front foot points slightly inward, and the rear foot points straight to the front. However, in the beginning and end, there are the “posture of immovability” and the “posture of bow towards Buddha.” The stances in both Five-Ancestors-Boxing and White Crane Boxing appeared to be tilted slightly forward during the performance, and the hip joints seemed to be always loose. Five-Ancestors-Boxing has what in karate is called cat-foot-stance (neko-ashi-dachi), left and right lunge stance (zenkutsu-dachi), and a wide parallel stance (heikō-dachi; shiko-dachi), and Sanchin-dachi with the front foot pointing inward, and parallel stance in White Crane Boxing slightly wider than shoulder-width, and cat-foot-stance with equal weight on both legs.
  • Regarding footwork, while both the systems of Gōjū-ryū and Uechi-ryū move the legs forward with the feet never leaving the ground (suri-ashi), in Gōjū-ryū the body is tightened, and the feet and toes grip the floor, while the Uechi-ryū lineage slides quickly and natural in Sanchin-dachi. There is the difference of performing barefoot or while wearing shoes, but there is also a difference in the stepping method of striding over in fumi-ashi in White-Crane-Boxing. Five-Ancestors-Boxing always has the right foot in front, either when moving or backward.
  • Regarding the breathing method, the Gōjū-ryū-system aligns inspiration and expiration with the technique (move, behavior), and with breathing sounds. The Uechi-ryū system exhales briefly and sharply, with abdominal inhalation being performed as a reaction to expiration, and carried out through the nasal passages, without having to be particularly conscious, and breathing sounds appear. Five-Ancestors-Boxing and White-Crane-Boxing also use breathing methods that include sounds, but there are differences between each of them, and it is difficult to say if it is the same breathing method. The reason is that although the comparison between the same boxing types (kata) showed commonalities, they also seemed to be different.
  • As for the techniques of upper and lower limbs, as a general characteristic, Five-Ancestors-Boxing, White-Crane-Boxing, and the Uechi-ryū lineage often use both-handed techniques. In the Goju-ryu system simultaneous moves can also be seen, but only in the initial posture, and the open-handed spear-hand (nukite) and palm-heel during the latter part of the kata. A common feature of all four martial methods is that no kicking techniques appear. The footwork of Five-Ancestors-Boxing and White-Crane-Boxing also includes foot techniques such as “hooking foot,” “pulling foot,” and “stomping foot” when performing steps. The Sanchin footwork of the Gōjū-ryū and Uechi-ryū systems, the emphasis is placed on Sanchin-dachi to establish the body to express posture and technique, and although it is a defensive practice, it does not include attacks.
  • The route of martial arts performance in Gōjū-ryū, Five-Ancestors-Boxing, and White-Crane-Boxing is I-shaped with a forward and backward movement. In the Uechi-ryū system, it is T-shaped because it has a turn to the left and right.
  • Concerning the toughening method (paired toughening), the Gōjū-ryū system allows the instructor to directly touch the body of the performer in accordance with the progression of the techniques, making the performer aware of individual tasks, and tighten the muscles. The goal is to unify awareness for the individual parts gradually, but in some cases, to see the degree of harmonization, shoulders, and thighs are struck simultaneously with expiration.

In the Uechi-ryū system, the instructor, depending on an individual’s physical strength and the development of muscle strength, applies strikes to the abdominal muscles, and kicks three or four inches below the knee joint from behind.

In Five-Ancestors-Boxing, there are similar disciplining methods (tanren-hō) as in the Gōjū-ryū and Uechi-ryū systems.

White-Crane-Boxing strikes upper body, forearms, and elbows against each other’s, and regarding defensive and offensive kicks, strikes, and receptions are performed.

In this paper, we compared the eight main similarities and differences regarding the characteristics of each of the four martial art methods. However, it must be said that this study remains only an outline.

This is because it has not been possible to analyze how these features differ or are common in the nature of the technique. To give an example, the results of this survey were used to determine what kind of breathing methods and upper and lower limb techniques are used, but it is difficult to understand and judge advanced techniques from interviews, performances, and videos. It is also important to note that this is an issue related to the issue of how to analyze and describe techniques (putting techniques into words).

Furthermore, the comparison of similarities and differences is also a complex issue. For example, even if we only consider the Gōjū-ryū and Uechi-ryū systems, the definition of the kata and the kata itself have been changed as described earlier. Moreover, the schools are divided into factions and associations, and differences in the interpretation of kata, as well as the system of practice set by the instructor, also influence the way that techniques are performed.

In his keynote speech at the symposium, Zhou Kunmin (President of the International Southern Shaolin 5-Ancestors-Fist Association) said, “Naha-te, Shuri-te, and Tomari-te, uses techniques ranging from ‘skills of the hand’ (tī), footwork, using the body and the hips, breathing, to hard and soft techniques (gōjū) and offensive techniques, all of which are surprisingly similar to the traditional Southern Shaolin Boxing of Quanzhou,” and as regards Sanchin, “Since Sanchin is a foundational boxing method and since it is the source from which various boxing styles (of Quanzhou) derived, there are many points of similarity, and they resemble each other closely.” It clearly outlines the historical development of the Southern Shaolin Boxing in Quanzhou City. In particular, this also suggested that there is a close connection between the systems of Gōjū-ryū and Uechi-ryū, which are based on Sanchin.

However, not only the styles, associations, and factions of the Gōjū-ryū and Uechi-ryū systems do change, but karate and Chinese kenpō are changing depending on the social situation of the time and the purpose. One example is the issue of competition-ization. Both karate and Chinese kenpō are becoming more competitive, and competition is very effective in increasing interest and motivation among large numbers of enthusiasts. On the other hand, however, the techniques are defined in the rules, and rules itself can be changed in short periods. In the case of kata that have been handed down for a long time, it is necessary to clarify their perspectives and conduct specific analyses. This suggests that it is necessary to consider the process of karate’s formation from a more diverse viewpoint going back to early modern Okinawa and Ryūkyū.

Comparing and studying karate kata can provide the key to their source, but to clarify techniques, the nature of the original “martial arts” (how to kill an opponent efficiently) must be considered. Nowadays, often considered topics are the transformation through modern “competition” (how do I score points according to the rules?) and the pursuit of “martial arts” (aiming for mental training through the acquisition of techniques). The content and direction of the discussion will vary depending on how the focus is set. This is because it is necessary to clarify what “martial art (bujutsu),” “competition,” and “martial arts (budō)” mean, based on era and purpose.

Furthermore, in Japan’s school education, military arts (budō) have been compulsory in junior high school physical education since 2008. Karate-dō is also treated as a part of the area of martial arts (budō). The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology has stated in their curriculum guidelines that “The martial arts (budō) are a unique culture of Japan that arises from martial skills (bugi), martial art (bujutsu), etc. By learning the basic movements and basic techniques according to the opponent’s movements, and by attacking the opponent’s movements and defending the opponent’s techniques, it is an exercise where you can taste the joy to compete for victory and defeat.” “In addition, by actively engaging in martial arts (budō), it is an exercise that emphasizes understanding the traditional mindset of martial arts (budō) and respect for others and allows to practice and compete.” It does not include the aspect of “martial arts (bujutsu)” aimed at killing an opponent. As indicated in the Budō Charta (budō kenshō), which lays down the guiding principles of Japanese martial arts (budō), in the definition “The martial arts (budō) are a traditional culture that has evolved from technique to a moral path,” bujutsu is positioned as a thing of the past.

5. Future challenges

“Exploring the roots of karate” first asks, what is the basis for discussing the transmission of Chinese kenpō to Ryūkyū and Okinawa, and from what point of view should it be discussed?

Considering karate as a culture nurtured in the small region called Ryūkyū, or Okinawa, it is not limited to Gōjū-ryū and Uechi-ryū systems but includes other schools as well as Chinese kenpō, which is the source of karate. However, it is necessary to consider the purpose of karate in each era, and it is necessary to ask how kata-centered techniques have changed. In the 1930s, the concepts of “physical education” and “martial arts,” which were the goals of Sanchin when Miyagi and Mabuni created karate, are different from the goals of modern school physical education and the martial arts (budō) as described in the Budō Charta (budō kenshō) enacted by the Japanese Budō Association (Nippon Budō Kyōgikai). The Fujian region, which nurtured Southern Shaolin Boxing, is also part of the history of China, and it seems that Southern Shaolin Boxing has changed under the influence.

In addition, kata, which is the core of karate’s techniques, raises the problem of what kind of physical operation are you trying to learn through one specific kata. This is because, as mentioned earlier, one behavior of the Gōjū-ryū or Uechi-ryū systems mainly represents one technique or movement, whereas one behavior (type) of Five-Ancestors-Boxing or White-Crane-Boxing is given a symbolic name any means a series of techniques. This leads to the question of how to capture this difference.

“Exploring the roots of karate” is a study based on examining kata as a unit of techniques based on the historical situation and relations between Ryūkyū / Okinawa and China. It suggests that it is necessary to analyze kata from various viewpoints and compare and consider the research results between Japan and China.

Lastly, the four kinds of Sanchin are comparisons of performance kata, i.e., kata performed on the assumption of spectators (an audience). In everyday practice, no kata is bound to the performance kata type, but practice is carried out in various ways depending on training task and skill level. However, there is the similarity that all the mentioned martial arts also have one kind of performance kata. The Gōjū-ryū and Uechi-ryū were created in modern Okinawa. In the process of their formation, for example, the systems were structured based on the influence of Japanese martial arts (budō) such as jūdō and kendō, as well as the respect (courtesy) at start and end. As an extension of this, the issues of “competition” and “military arts (budō)” has arisen. It is in this process that performance kata have been established in the consciousness of the spectators. Then, how have performance-style kata and the “competition” method formed Five-Ancestors-Boxing and White-Crane-Boxing? In the historical course of Japan, China, and Okinawa since the early modern period, it is also an issue whether Chinese kenpō has received any influence from karate and Japanese military arts (budō).

Note: * In the text, the translation from Chinese to Japanese in the commentary on Five-Ancestors-Boxing and White-Crane-Boxing was supported by Space China Co., Ltd. Thank you very much.

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OKKJ, Part 1: Karate. Chapter 1 – Definition and Categories of Karate. 2. The Classification of Karate. (4) Dance karate (buyō karate).

Translated from: Takamiyagi Shigeru, in: Okinawa Karate Kobudō Jiten, 2008, p. 84 – 85.

Historically speaking, martial arts (bujutsu) intended to kill during the warring states period, became martial arts (bugei) during the peaceful Tokugawa period, by adding to it the character of an artistic skill and performance. Ultimately, since the Meiji era, with the objective of fostering humanity, the bugei were sublimated into the martial arts (budō) meant as a mechanism to realize the path of humanity.

In Okinawa, karate as a martial art (bugei) has recently become fashionable among female dancers. The three elements of this unique Okinawan dance karate (buyō karate) are the actor, the stage, and the audience. In recent years, martial dance (bu no mai) has become an indispensable part in the repertoire of Ryūkyūan dance performances. It is a choreography of karate in which slow and fast karate techniques are performed to and matching with the constant rhythm of sanshin and singing. It is an “art of moving” in which the expression of dynamic strength, elegant body movement, graceful dress, and splendid movements of hands and feet have become the overall rhythm.

There is something about karate itself that feels like dance-like beauty. The self-defense dance (goshin no mai) can be said to be a dance close to karate itself. Carefully dressed in young man’s appearance, she dances the Shinkacchin-bushi and the Agarizato-bushi, and in the latter half she takes off her upper body kimono and rotates in a martial performance of karate techniques. It is a dance that brings the blood of an Okinawan man to the boil.

As the dancers socially rejuvenate karate as a martial art (bugei), such self-defense dances (dance karate, buyō karate) performed to song and dance are unique to Okinawa.

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OKKJ, Part 1: Karate. Chapter 1 – Definition and Categories of Karate. 2. The Classification of Karate. (3) Health karate (kenkō karate).

Translated from: Takamiyagi Shigeru, in: Okinawa Karate Kobudō Jiten, 2008, p. 84.

As mentioned earlier, Okinawan karate has historically been proud about its traditional traits based on the three methods of moral practice, self-defense, self-defense, and physical education.  This tradition has changed in recent years.

Health karate became noticeable as a method of physical education and preservation of health. It literally keeps people healthy through karate, aims to promote health, and keep mind and body young. Both long life and health mutual characteristic qualities that never ceased to fascinate people.

Recently, middle-aged and elderly people regardless of gender are increasing in Okinawan karate dōjō. Karate is an exercise that trains the whole body from head to toe. Middle-aged and elderly people started hitting the dōjō gates in search of it. Health awareness is growing. Unlike young people, they [the elderly] choose karate as a means of promoting health, eliminating social stress, and doing karate to enjoy the mood. In this way, we think of it as having a vibrant way of life. This mental and physical rejuvenation and invigoration is what people aspiring to health karate seek. The yield rate of middle-aged and elderly people who personally experience its “perfect sustainment of strength” is extremely high.

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OKKJ, Part 1: Karate. Chapter 1 – Definition and Categories of Karate. 2. The Classification of Karate. (2) Competition (sport) karate (kyōgi karate).

Translated from: Takamiyagi Shigeru, in: Okinawa Karate Kobudō Jiten, 2008, p. 81 – 84.

Karate became a discipline of the National Athletic Meet in 1981, at the Shiga National Athletic Meet. In Okinawa, competition karate (kyōgi karate) has received attention since the National Athletic Meet held in Okinawa in 1987. Until that time, the karate of Okinawa was strongly considered along with the conception of martial arts karate (budō karate). In 1981, the Okinawa karate circles were shaken by discussing the pros and cons of participating in the National Athletic Meet. An intense discussion erupted. Even though more than 20 years have passed since then, the after-effects of the above about the form and nature of Okinawa karate still continue.

The karate-dō of Okinawa has historically been proud of its existence with emphasis on the traditional traits as a “method of moral practice,” a “method of self-defense,” and a “method of physical education.” The foundation of its existence is its martial arts nature in itself. Competition, on the other hand, came into being as a new era element only long after the war. Therefore, it has lagged far behind other martial arts (budō) in incorporating one of the requirements of all modern martial arts, that is, the “method of competition.” However, as historical martial art karate (budō karate) backed by a strong tradition, this was unavoidable.

The techniques and their designations all have the character of “competing,” regardless of it being from craft, music, dance, or martial arts. In particular, as the history of arts and crafts shows, this tendency has been increasing since the early modern period. As long as karate is a martial art that possesses the qualities of an art or craft, “competing” as a “method of competition” is inevitable, and it is one of the processes that must be assessed historically. But, even so, it must not violate the fundamental martial disposition nor its methods of physical education and moral practice. For that reason, careful consideration is necessary. In other words, it has to be considered how to organically combine tradition (martial arts character) and modernity (competitiveness), and make them harmonious. In other words, karate equipped with the genetic correlation between kata and kumite is the so-called traditional martial arts karate (budō karate), and karate should not be used in a way that contradicts the traditional laws. Also, pursuing only the characteristic of “competitiveness” in a biased manner cannot fulfill the responsibility as heirs to the traditional culture.

Next, I would like to compare the characteristics of martial arts karate (budō karate) and competition karate (kyōgi karate) from the viewpoint of martial arts (budō) and sports.

Conceptual foundations

martial arts (budō) sport
1. Doctrine centered on the ideal of the “way.” 1. Anthropocentrism
2. The method of competition is “life and death.” 2. The method of competition is not “life and death.”
3. Techniques that certainly kill (hissatsu) cannot be performed in actual practice. 3. Techniques that certainly bring victory (hisshō) can be performed in actual practice.
4. Techniques spawn a sublime spirit. 4. It is difficult to enter the area of sublime spirit by the technique
5. Closely related to religious beliefs (Zen Buddhism). 5. Unrelated to religious beliefs.
6. Fully concentrated instruction and practice (shūren). 6. Take pleasure, enjoying watching or training, workout (renshū).
7. It has the sustainability of a life-long martial art (budō) regardless of age. 7. It has a time limitation to specific age groups, continuation is impossible.
8. System of techniques with the individual at its center. 8. System of techniques with the organization at its center.
9. Does not require an audience. 9. Does require an audience.
10. Classification: Title and rank system (throughout one’s lifetime). 10. Classification: rankings and standings (varies according to the match results).
11. Dōjō, keiko-ba, keiko-sho. 11. Practice ground (renshū-jō), sports ground (undō-jō), gym (taiikukan).

Those who establish themselves in the world of martial arts (budō) continually boil at the crossroads between life and death. This is because of its direct link to the martial philosophies of killing with one strike (ichigeki hissatsu) and complete self-protection (kanzen bōgyo) as a manifestation of the concept of life and death. Finding themselves in the absolute mental state of life or death, they practice severely. You have to be prepared for a fight for life and death in which taking one wrong step means to die.

Accumulating such desperate training, when reaching the high level of having the power over life or death, the practitioner can no longer use such a technique against another person. When a person feels terrified by the lethal skills he has learned, he or she feels unable to use that technique. At that point, the practitioner avoids any fight and conflict and becomes a practitioner of the logic referred to as “the wise man keeps away from danger” (kunshi ayauki ni chikayorazu). Thinking that the symbiosis of both oneself and others, coexistence and co-prosperity are what humans should seek as ideals, to become the embodiment of such an ideal, one needs to become a “truth-seeking demon.” In the end, one will enter the sublime spiritual sphere of human enlightenment.

In contrast to this, sport is based on a higher-points-philosophy to win a game. In training the techniques, it is pursuing victory or defeat, and not life or death. Use a sophisticated lethal move against your opponent. The logic to win requires a lethal move.

Also, sports, while displaying a high-level spirit of cooperation, does do not allow entering a high spiritual domain through the practice of techniques, and there is no ideological depth of learning the ultimate path of humanity through physical and mental training. There is no concept of a “path of the study of mind and body.”

Technical foundation

martial arts (budō) sport
1. The absolutism of one technique, one method. 1. Relativism between one or two or more techniques.
2. Principle of killing with one strike (ichigeki hissatsu). 2. Principle of winning with one strike (ichigeki hisshō).
3. Commences from the technical system of defense (uke). 3. Commences from the technical system of offense (seme).
4. The relativism of the first move vs. the second move (the phenomenon that the one who draws second always wins, as known from the Japanese board games of Go and Shōgi). 4. The principle that first move brings victory.

In the techniques of martial arts (budō), there are no second moves. It is a one-move absolutism that follows the strict law that you cannot make a mistake, whether attacking or defending. It is like with the sword fencing principle of the Jigen-ryū Kenpō (sword methods) of Satsuma, which goes, “Do no doubt the first sword technique; the second sword technique means defeat.” This is the ultimate nature of the tremendous technique of defeating an opponent with one strike. Martial arts (budō) is something absolute that does not tolerate a retry or a replay of a technique.

Sport, on the other hand, is a repetitive technique, with two or three moves. You can start over as often as you want. It is relative.

Next, let us consider for a moment the qualitative similarity shared by the two skilled crafts of martial arts (budō) and performing arts (geinō). Before that, I would like to mention the following.

In Japan, during the early modern period, martial arts (budō and bugei) have been equipped with unique characteristics and have been completed as a craft. It is naturally different from Western sports for entertainment, relaxation, and recreation, and has focused on training the body and mind, especially on forging the spirit in the process of practicing martial techniques. The performing arts (geinō) are close to this line.

Performing arts are technical skills, talents, and accomplishments in which humans express inner feelings (emotions) by using their bodies. Japanese calligraphy, painting, nō drama, music, dance, etc. are all characterized by acting using the body.

From this, it can be understood that characteristics common to both martial and performing arts are that they are all fundamentally based on the use of the human body and that they both have normative and aesthetic characteristics. If you see the impressive performances of kata in martial art (bugei), gymnastics competition, and dance, it should be readily understood that these three share the same artistic qualities.

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OKKJ, Part 1: Karate. Chapter 1 – Definition and Categories of Karate. 2. The Classification of Karate. (1) Martial arts karate (budō karate).

Translated from: Takamiyagi Shigeru, in: Okinawa Karate Kobudō Jiten, 2008, p. 79 – 81.

Based on the characteristics supported by both its history and tradition, Okinawan karate can be divided into four types: martial arts karate (budō karate 武道空手), competition karate (kyōgi karate 競技空手), health karate (kenkō karate 健康空手), and dance karate (buyō karate 舞踊空手). I want to explain each of them briefly and use them to show the complete picture.

(1) Martial arts karate (budō karate)

Okinawan karate has traditionally been created based on martial arts (budō). Technically, karate is a martial art that regards “to kill with one strike (ichigeki hissatsu)” and “complete self-protection” as absolute truths, and Okinawan karate is a bujutsu and a budō that embraces these concepts as something traditional. It has a considerable potential to wound and kill unimaginable in modern sports karate, but at the same time has the quality of a superb life-giving nature. It is said that it can kill people and that it also can bring people to life. Literally, it is a martial art with the ability of life or death.

Over the past 500 years, it has been polished through the eras and over generations, deepening the degree of its sophistication, refining it in style into a vibrant martial art (bugei). While cherishing the traditional qualities of martial arts (bujutsu), it has been revitalized in the modern era, has been enhanced into a path of human ethics, and has solidified its position as a martial art (budō). This is karate-dō of Okinawa.

Martial arts karate (budō karate) is the thorough training of kata, forming a complementary relationship with free sparring (jijū kumite) as its applied technique, enabling synergistic operation.

The free sparring here is different from that of competition karate (kyōgi karate) performed under “various rules” and based on the principle of “stopping an attack just before the target (sun dome),” and it is premised on the full use of the fierce technique of “killing with one strike (ichigeki hissatsu).” There are no physical or technical restrictions. The entire body is the target of the attack. Therefore, it is necessary to train the techniques of complete self-protection (kanzen bōgyo). It is dangerous due to violent techniques and colliding techniques. A desperate situation unfolds of basically putting one’s life at stake.

Also, the technique of “killing with one strike” (ichigeki hissatsu) and complete self-protection (kanzen bōgyo) are embodied by the inseparable integration of defense (uke-waza) and attacking techniques (seme-waza). Morphologically, this so-called practice of “reason first, action second” is the route of training.

However, this “reason” is not just a notion, but the art and technique of bodily sensibility that matures with experience. The body teaches you to handle techniques unconsciously. The embodied techniques of defense (uke-waza) and offense (seme-waza) appear as flexible body movements adapted to the requirements of the moment without being conscious. It is the so-called mind-body unity (shinshin ichinyo). Needless to say, it takes a thorough and rigorous form of training to reach this dimension.

It seems I am repeating myself, but the seemingly contradictory techniques of receiving (defense) and attacking are inseparable and simultaneous execution is not a double count of defense and counter-attack, but they are one single count. That is, there must be no stationary break between the techniques of defense (uke) and offense (seme). Until the time this dimension is reached and the two explode together as one, the skills of kata must have been highly mastered. The simultaneous application of defense and offense and the acquisition of skills through practicing kata are directly proportional. If the kata are highly developed, the level of chaining techniques of defense (uke) and offense (seme) should also be high.

 Besides, there are some receiving techniques (uke-waza) that go beyond this dimension of “receiving and attacking in one count.” There is also a method of forcing the opponent into submission both technically and psychologically only by “receiving.” This is the essence of martial arts karate (budō karate). In other words, the absolute functionality of the category of the receiving techniques (uke-waza) is to entrap the opponent’s movement and to leave him neutralized. Emeritus professor Shinzato Katsuhiko of Okinawa International University discusses this as follows.

“It’s not only the attacking techniques (seme-waza) that control the opponent, but also the receiving techniques (uke-waza). A thorough containment of the opponent’s techniques is also a means to control the opponent. For that purpose, to prevent the opponent’s attacking techniques (seme-waza), it is indispensable to use a perfect receiving technique (uke-waza). There, at that point, is the martial arts character of karate.

The martial arts character of karate should not be discussed notionally. But the fundamental martial nature of karate should be talked about. For example, the expressions “life-taking fist (satsujin-ken)” and “life-giving fist (katsujin-ken)” are used carelessly.

In martial arts, training with an emphasis on “attacking techniques” has ended in learning the “life-taking fist.” Because it has no method of letting the opponent live. In other words, if only “offensive technique” can be used to control the opponent effectively, it will be the sole outcome. That’s because you can’t afford to miss the opponent’s technique, only attack is on your mind. Therefore, it can be said that its martial arts skill level is low.

Only those who have fully acquired the “uke-waza” can let the opponent live. If the opponent’s technique is closed off and controlled by receiving techniques (uke-waza), neither the opponent nor you will be injured. As regards life-giving fist (katsujin-ken 活人拳), it is the receiving techniques (uke-waza) that can lead to this skill.

To commit to receiving technique (uke-waza) requires an effort that goes beyond attacking techniques (seme-waza). Therefore, the most advanced and sophisticated category of techniques is the receiving techniques (uke-waza).

From: Chatan Shūbukan Sōritsu San Shūnen Kinen Jigyō Jikkō Iinkai (Executive Committee commemorating the 3rd anniversary of Shūbukan Dōjō foundation in Chatan): Okinawa no Karate-dō. Sono Riron to Gihō. Uechi-ryū Karate-dō Kyōkai Chatan Shūbukan, Chatan 1984.

We receive and eliminate (uke-hazushi) the opponent’s continuous attacks one by one, adapting to the requirements of the moment. This chaining of receiving techniques drives the opponent into a dilemma until he finally loses his fighting spirit. Precisely this is putting into practice the karate proverb, “Without being hit by the opponent, and without hitting the opponent, all ends without incident.” This is the spiritual and technical philosophy of the karate that is characteristic of Okinawa, and it can be said that martial arts karate (budō karate) is where this is put into practice.

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OKKJ, Part 1: Karate. Chapter 1 – Definition and Categories of Karate. 1. The Definition of Karate.

Translated from: Takamiyagi Shigeru, in: Okinawa Karate Kobudō Jiten, 2008, p. 77 – 79.

1. The Definition of Karate

Karate is a bujutsu and budō to protect yourself empty-handedly, to train your body, and to refine your mind without using weaponry and tools. This is the traditional, popular, and simple definition.

While karate promotes righteousness, justice, and honor, as symbolized by the saying “there is no first attack in karate,” it has the fundamental character of being a “gentleman’s martial arts,” which advocates that attacking first (sente) is unjust in both spirit and technique. On the other hand, hidden behind its pragmatic character as a “combative martial art” lies the behavioral aesthetic of “eradicating errors for the sake of truth” (=haya kensho, a Buddhist concept. It means to deny wrong ideas and show correct ideas, or to defeat injustice and to reveal justice.)

Karate has the unconditional philosophy of killing with one strike (ichigeki hissatsu) and complete self-protection. Therefore, when learning the techniques, it is necessary to assume a situation that corresponds to actual combat and to prepare for inevitable death. Like this, rigorous technical training of life and death refines the spirit and cultivates the character. In this way, the idea of “art and skill (jutsu)” sublimates into the concept of the “way ().” Because of this “path in which technique creates spirit,” karate has been generally called karate-dō since the Shōwa and postwar era.

Funakoshi Gichin (the founder of Shōtōkan) and Miyagi Chōjun (the founder of Gōjū-ryū) are martial artists (bujin) known to the world as kensei (saints of boxing) of the Taishō (1912-1926) and  Shōwa eras (1926-1989). Both these kensei defined karate as follows.

Funakoshi said,

“You can protect yourself and crush the enemy with empty hands and completely unarmed. In other words, it is a characteristic kenpō of Okinawa called karate.

Miyagi explained,

“What is karate? It is said that, in principle, during peacetimes, without carrying weapons on your body, do your utmost to cherish your life, and in case of emergency, protect yourself. That is, in most cases, to defeat the enemy in a fight man against man. Nevertheless, if facing a confrontation, it is not unusual to use tools at the same time.”

Practitioners of martial art aim to practice the trinity of mental training, self-protection, and health and physical education. In other words, the intention is to manifest the methods of moral discipline, self-defense, and physical education. When this is acquired, the practitioner can be considered to be completed as a martial artist.

Practicing martial arts is directly related to mastering the art of self-defense, but it is also directly linked to health and physical education as well as the practice of mental training. Through training the whole body, karate promotes physical strength, stamina, and explosiveness, and adjusts and strengthens internal organs and nerves and activates their functions. The process of training is nothing but rigorous, but enduring this kind of training develops willpower, nourishes courage, and it develops a spirit that can deal with things in the usual way, no matter when or what it may be, that is, it cultivates presence of mind. By enduring the severity of practice, karate-dō as a martial art is a system of techniques designed to look at yourself firmly and to ultimately realize the “way of human ity.”

Funakoshi Gichin explained the meaning of the character 空 in karate:

Karate is the art of training one’s body using the empty hands [or, to live a righteous life; to behave well; to improve oneself]. The character 空 in karate is based on this. Those who study karate-dō must distant themselves from their obstinacy and wicked thoughts, as if they are reflecting in a polished mirror or as a voice (echo) traveling along an uninhabited valley and must thoroughly investigate the center of emptiness. The character 空 in karate-dō is based on this. Those who learn karate-dō must continually nurture the spirit of humility inside themselves, and must not forget an easygoing attitude to the outside.

Moreover, once we see righteousness established, even ten million people must have the courage to live. Like the green bamboo, they are empty on the inside and straight on the outside, and with a node. The character 空 in karate-dō is based on this, too. If viewing the hue of the universe, everything comes to naught. But 空 is nothing but the entire hue. There are many kinds of martial arts, such as jūjutsu, kenjutsu, sōjutsu, and jōjutsu, but in the end, they are entirely the same as karate-dō. In other words, it is no exaggeration to say that karate-dō is the foundation of all martial arts. ‘All being is emptiness,’ and ‘all emptiness is being’ (=two central sentences of the Buddhist Heart Sutra), The character 空 in karate-dō is based on this, too.”

It can be said that both spirit and technique of karate is well explained by the concepts of empty-handed, free from worthless thoughts, righteousness and courage, form is emptiness, and emptiness is form.

Japanese traditional martial arts (budō) has used religion (Buddhism and Zen) to explain its reasoning. Even martial arts (budō) cannot tell the ultimate truth of things without using Buddhism, and especially Zen.

As regards one theory of “All being is emptiness, and all emptiness is being” (from the Heart Sutra):
“All being is emptiness” means

“Material existence is the truth, but inside of it, a void exists and there is no attachment there.” (Nihon Kokugo Dai-jiten

“All emptiness is being” means

“All phenomena are, in fact, empty, and each of the empty phenomena are the real existence.” (Nihon Kokugo Dai-jiten

The character 空 of karate is literally “emptiness” or “empty-handed,” and practitioners need to practice “empty-handed martial arts” in a mental state free from worthless thoughts. If you have idle thoughts in your mind, you will not be able to understand the reason, nor will you be able to learn the art. It can be said that the pure and simple state of mind is the ultimate goal of training.

Also, it is well known that the te of karate means skill, art, or technique. Therefore, learning karate means reaching the state of no mind (mushin) and to protect yourself without using weaponry and tools, but to cultivate the hands and feet as weapons for self-defense.

In this way, the two characters of karate condensed the mental image of the practitioner and his view of techniques as one united whole. It can be said that by polishing one’s skill and strengthening one’s body, karate represents the oneness of mind, technique, and body, which involves entering a mental state that is detached from the world.

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The most important source to assess and to reinterpret the old narratives of karate schools

A narrative is a report that adds meaning to, and influences the perception of events among a target group. It is related to a specific field (cultural, political, etc.), conveys values and emotions, and is subject to modification over time. The function of a narrative is to establish and legitimize a desired truth.

All schools of karate have their own narratives, which establish tradition, lineage, personal relations, technical background (sport, combat, streetfight), a philosophy and the like. Narratives are also used to differentiate one’s school from others, and to highlight one’s own importance relative to others.

In other words, the official narratives of the various schools almost became the world view of its members.

The narratives of the major karate schools – such as Shitō-ryū, Shōtōkan, and various branches of Okinawa Shōrin-ryū – were created and became established during the postwar era, i.e. after 1945. These narratives are interpretation attempts of the information available at the time, for instance, the writings, oral traditions, and techniques handed down by a certain founder. Persons like Matsumura and Itosu are highlighted in various written and technical narratives to establish and concrete a legitimized or orthodox tradition. For example, prefixes of famous people were added to kata names, such as in the case of “Matsumura Rōhai” of Shitō-ryū, which in fact did not come from Matsumura at all. With more and more primary information being unearthed, the supporting pillars of many of those old narratives start to crumble, and not to the particular joy of their votaries.

There is one primary source that was unavailable to any of those who formulated the narratives of the various karate schools in the postwar era. This is Motobu Chōki’s Watashi no Karatejutsu.

The book Watashi no Karatejutsu contains knowledge, firsthand information, and original accounts imparted by Motobu Chōki and printed already in 1932. Why, then, wasn’t it considered by everybody when it was published already in 1932?

Well, the existence of the book was unknown until the 1980s!

In the 1980s, the wife of a deceased student of Motobu Chōki send the book to Motobu Chōsei. This is the only known original edition in existence! The date 1932 is printed in the publication info page in the book. But it has never been published publicly. Motobu Chōsei produced a number of private facsimile reproduction of the book and sent the original back to her. At that time, the book was still unknown to the public.

Appearance of the 1932 original edition

Then, in 1993, Motobu Chōsei and the Nihon Karate-dō Morobu-kai published an official reprint of the book.  There were maybe 200 or 300 of this edition, many of which were given as presents to students or to libraries.[1] Like this, Watashi no Karatejutsu by Motobu Chōki became available to the public for the first time, albeit in a relatively small number.

At some point in time, Motobu Chōsei also gave one of the 1993 editions to Iwai Kohaku (aka Tsukuo). Later, in 2000 Iwai republished the book by himself.[2]  At this point in time, it became more widely available in Japanese karate circles. 

But Western karate circles also noticed the significance of this book. At first, Joe Swift sent a letter to Motobu Chōsei, showing his interest to translate the book. But Patrick McCarthy also worked on it and published in 2002. While his work is a compilation of all sorts of material on Motobu Chōki, it also contains a translation of Watashi no Karatejutsu of 1932.

In other words, the knowledge, firsthand information, and original accounts imparted by Motobu Chōki in 1932 came to be known in Japan only 60 years and in the West only 70 years after its original publication. 

Moreover, the postwar narratives of karate – Shitō-ryū, Shōtokan, the various branches of Okinawa Shōrin-ryū – were created and propagated without knowing or considering the information provided by Motobu Chōki.

What does it all mean?

Simple. It means that Motobu Chōki’s Watashi no Karatejutsu is the most important source to assess and to reinterpret the old narratives of karate schools.

For example, in order to correctly assess and interpret Itosu’s technical tradition, you need to study about Bushi Nagahama, and that you can almost only do by using Watashi no Karatejutsu.

By the way, I am in the process of publishing an English translation of this text in early 2020. Motobu Naoki sensei, grandson of Chōki, and I have been working on this translation for quite some time.


[1] Motobu Chōki: Nihon-den-ryū Heihō Motobu Kenpō. Sōjinsha 1993. 本部朝基著:日本伝流兵法本部拳法。拡大復刻版。壮神社、平成5年。

[2] Iwai Kohaku: Motobu Chōki to Ryūkyū Karate. Tōkyō, Airyūdō 2000. 岩井虎伯:本部朝基と琉球カラテ。愛隆堂、2001。

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