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.

© 2020, Andreas Quast. All rights reserved.

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