The Bubishi is sometimes referred to as the bible of karate. Such a moniker is misleading as it is not a religious text. What it is is a comprehensive manual designed for students of the martial arts. I emphasise this point because it is quite esoteric in its nature and requires interpretation to get the most out of it.
The origins of the book are as mysterious as some of its sections. In the translation of it by Hanshi Patrick McCarthy (who I had the pleasure of training with at a couple of seminars back in the day), he discusses several origins of the manual. I have a clear memory of one of the stories about this from the book, however in grabbing my copy to discuss in this post, I cannot find the story in the Bubishi. Maybe it’s a Mandela effect? What I remember is that in tracing the history of the book one master who had been given a copy by his master as something to treasure, gives a heart-wrenching apology for not having taken better care of it. What happened to his copy that he felt so guilty about? It was incinerated when the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki in 1945. To me it seemed incredulous that someone would feel guilt over a possession lost in such a manner, but such is the mystique of the book that it was as though a part of history was destroyed. That’s my memory at least. There are certainly similar stories about masters losing precious relics when Okinawa was bombed in the Battle of Okinawa, so maybe I conflated the stories. It has driven me nuts over the last couple of weeks trying to find the story though.
So what are the mysteries described within this so-called bible? The book is divided into sections containing information on martial art strategies, healing and more. The healing section I find particularly interesting – it contains recipes for various treatments and medicines. Some of them blend into a tea, others make a poultice/paste for application to wounds, but all are interesting. They are based on what could be termed traditional Chinese medicine (the book is most likely of Chinese origin). There are recipes for painkillers, anemia, ointments for bone bruises, vitality medicines (one of which claims to be able to turn grey hair back to its former colour) and lots more. There is even a treatment for malaria.
There are fighting techniques. They tend to have a single image of two people fighting and state a winning and losing strategy. These strategies are relatively poorly described. It is worth remembering that the book is more training manual than an exact how-to; as such it isn’t of great use to a person who does not have someone to show them the interpretation of the moves.
This leads to the thing the book is most famous for – its description of certain techniques known as the ‘dim mak’ or more prosaically as the touch of death or death touch. These techniques must be performed at certain times of the day to be effective (related to the concepts of meridians and energy flow, which in Chinese medicine favours organs in two hour cycles) and can cause death ‘before a man can even take seven steps’ through to days, weeks or up to three years from the attack! As an aside several countries, including New Zealand, still have a law that if death occurs over one year after an attack, the attacker cannot be held responsible for the death – they can still be charged with assault etc. but not murder or manslaughter). The ‘dim mak’ usually involve striking several part of the body in a specific sequence or while it is in a certain position. The specific target for the strikes is usually given (for example: a specific vein between certain ribs “the left innominate vein at the third intercostal space”) and also shown on a diagram. These are all interesting techniques, but what strikes me is that for an allegedly centuries old text, how good the understanding of anatomy, physiology and the impact of trauma are in it*. This is why it was held in such regard by those who had copies throughout the centuries. It was full of extremely valuable knowledge. This is also the reason it is still studied today. For such a highly values and once scare book it is mind-blowing to think it can now be ordered worldwide and is freely available and in many languages.
Next time I’ll talk about another book which included a not so subtle attack on one of the author’s rivals. To make sure you don’t miss it, please follow this website or subscribe to mail mailchimp where you can have the convenience of email delivery.
*Again the techniques for striking these points are meant to be trained under someone who themselves understands the applications and not learnt directly from the manual, but that hasn’t stopped some people from claiming either the book is rubbish or they have trained themselves from reading it.