I’ve been thinking on the Bubishi for some time now. I think I will share my thoughts.
First this is a work on Chinese arts. Whether by a student in China or a student of Okinawa’s Chinese community. It was written in older Chinese. I start by making as assumption (who can say if it is true?), based on logic, Consider the original author studied and practiced the arts described herein. It is written not as a textbook but a reminder of the art. Most likely to refresh the memory as a tool, no full descriptions, as the author knew what was behind each practice. It was not very likely more than personal notes.
That the text was preserved or shared on Okinawa, itself was a miracle.
Moreso, as ½ the text was focused to healing , the primary study may have been for a healing practice. The defensive traditions may have been a secondary study. The medical study of blows might have been focused on healing where possible by understanding then current attacking theories. But consistent that a sound body goes with a sound mind. This individual focused on his own protection too.
From my first reading I thought it might be most meaningful to Chinese stylists or students, to consider earlier training. Back about 1999 I gave a seminar for Ernest Rothrock’s students of the Chinese arts looking at the Bubishi as a Chinese students notes. When I got to the 48 self defense technique, Ernest joined in. He demonstrated technique after technique (he had not seen the book before) from his background in Faan Tzi Jing Jow Pai (Northern Eagle Claw), Sill Lum (Northern Shaolin), Tai Tong Long (Northern Mantis), Pai Lum (White Dragon) and Yang and Wu Tai Chi). He was of the opinion the techniques therein were simply the basics found in many Chinese styles and his performance of them seemed to bear this out. It was uncanny watching them from a Chinese style of execution. (somewhere I think I have this on tape). Of course his focus was not on researching Okinawan puzzles, focused on his own Chinese studies.
The impact on Okinawa’s arts.
While present and shared within Okinawan seniors in the arts, the presence of this work is perhaps more of a puzzle to determine how it was used by those seniors. I doubt the primary use was to create forms in the Bubishi tradition. No doubt it did influence similar movement application studies. We know when the existence of karate was shared with Japan, sections of this work were shared in every book Funakoshi wrote, and one of Mabuni’s books even shared more of it. But it was shared in the original Chinese and was a pointing finger for senior students, would have meant less to others. I expect even the presence of the Chinese self defense diagrams would be found confusing to the Japanese audience.
No doubt it influenced Okinawa karate. Those schools do not share their thoughts openly. Nor do they any obligation to do so.
Will the real Bubishi please stand up?
The method of transmission, before it was print, required the senior students to copy the original(s). Either personally or by someone who did so for a living. Texts may have changed as the copyists changed, illustrations changed or became more indistinct over time.
Individuals added material to make it more comprehensible.
In Japan serious work was done to tie the book to earlier Chinese works. In the modern era many have incorporated meridian theory, based on their own theories, to the work. There was no meridian description in the original text. It is very difficult to even know what was the original text.
The author’s additions were meant as a kindness to today’s students to try and make this more comprehensible as well as bolster their own theories. But without considering the original text it really is harder to reflect on what was viewed.
This work often does not spark open discussion, I’ve found that out over 15 years.
It is being used but it remains difficult to know where. I believe it might be worthy to consider it’s defensive traditions for research.
As for the medical traditions, it is unwise in my war of thinking to try and learn from copies of copies of the original. I think separate study of herbalists arts should be considered.
I believe it represents a tradition of healing and martial endeavor that most of us have not experienced. Too often seen just for the martial implications. Perhaps it will inspire a new way to look at our arts.