Wikipedia is a wealth of sagely advice – much of it misleading, incomplete and out of context. For instance, the author dealing with the ‘Tai Sabaki’ page - states that the usual interpretation of Tai Sabali in the West which involving ‘evasion’ is ‘wrong’. However, if an individual can ‘read’ Chinese and/or Japanese ideograms – it is obvious that whatever this concept is - ‘evasion’ forms a central aspect of it. The author in question does not fully comprehend the entire concept of Tai Sabaki and is attempting to join the two ends of an idea together whilst omitting a (vast) theoretical centre-ground!
1) 体 (Tai) - Japanese Equivalent of Chinese ideogram ‘體’ (ti3) = ‘body’
This is related to a body (comprised of - and structured by - its internal bone structure) which is augmented in the physical world through musical rituals (involving drumming) and the adornment of jade of jewellery. The body is enhanced by the placement and alignment of its inner structure and the means (rituals) through which this body traverses the outer world. That which is ‘detrimental’ is avoided and that which is ‘nourishing’ is embraced. There is an implication in the Japanese language that ‘体’ (Tai) refers primarily to the trunk and the abdomen – and only secondarily to the limbs. It is the ‘centre’ of the body which has priority over the ‘periphery’ of the body.
2) 捌 (Saba) - Japanese Equivalent of Chinese ideogram ‘捌’ (ba1) = Disentangle
This ideogram - (in its Chinese interpretation) can mean ‘eight’ - an alternative form of ‘八’ (ba1). A ‘hand’ which expertly uses a ‘knife’ - cuts through the flesh and bones of a fish so that it is separated into ‘eight’ clean parts (probably a generic term meaning ‘many’). There is also the central idea of ‘disentanglement’ - so that no unnecessary error (or resistance) is met. This is because ‘entanglement’ means ‘hindrance’ - and the skill referred to here involves the ‘avoidance’ of such self-imposed difficulty. Evading ‘resistance’ is the correct path that leads to such a skill. The blade of the knife skilfully feels its way around (and along) the natural contours of the bones – and does NOT cut directly (at right-angles) into the bone-structure at any time. There is a ‘going with’ rather than a ‘going against’. This ideogram is the central element of this Karate-Do principle - and probably means slightly different things within the various styles which make use of it.
3) き(Ki) - Japanese Equivalent of Chinese ideogram ‘幾’ (ji3) = Skill
There is an indication of ‘quantity’, ‘measurement’ and ‘refinement’ within Japanese language dictionaries. The suggestion is that the correct manipulation of exact amounts is a great skill which has to be mastered in any successful avenue of life. This idea spans both the material and the spiritual world! An individual can carefully follow the established criterion laid down by those who have gone before – or if such an individual possesses the correct (and right) amounts of psychological insight and physical strength – then they might set out on their own path and become an inspiration for those who are to come!
When taken as an integrated whole – the martial principle of Tai Sabaki (体捌き) suggests that the physical body (its central core and not just its periphery) is skilfully used (manipulated) in a combat situation so that there is no direct conflict between the defender deploying this technique - and an attacker ignoring this technique. Tai Sabaki (体捌き) is NOT just the skilful movement of the arms and legs in ‘protection’ of the central core (the torso). Tai Sabaki (体捌き) is a ‘centre-out’ technique that requires the core and periphery to work in concord. Strength does not clash with strength. The ability to assertively ‘give-way' is the key to this technique. Indeed, when the timing is perfect - ‘giving-way’ becomes far stronger than the momentary strength associated with a dramatic (but short-lived) show of strength! Giving-way, at its highest manifestation, not only ‘absorbs’ and ‘nullifies’ ALL incoming power – but when performed correctly, generates the basis for ‘greater’ power to be produced that is not reliant upon linear (muscular) strength – but rather the ‘circular’ movement associated with the structures of the bones and joints! The bodyweight ‘drops’ into the ground through the shaft of the (aligned) bones and rebounds upwards through the centre of the bone-marrow – producing a seemingly endless supply of ‘muscle-free’ power! As this power is greater than that associated with the muscular ‘tension’ of thuggery – the defender occupies a unique time-space frequency within which the attacker cannot access (or penetrate) regardless of the willpower exhibited. The linear attacks cannot land on an object continuously moving in perfectly timed circles. Once such a level of mastery is achieved – the defender can decide the level damage perpetuated upon the attacker depending upon circumstance. Should the body of the attacker be temporarily or permanently disabled? Should the body of an attacker be only (gently) nullified as if in play? Someone who has mastered Tai Sabaki (体捌き) possesses all these choices. This is why the Wado Ryu Style of Karate-Do posits the highest ideal of a defender possessing the ability to prevent damage to both their own body AND the body of the opponent! An ideal of the highest nobility!
During a two-week visit to Hong Kong and the New Territories during February 1999 - which included a visit to the 'Chan' (陳) ancestral village in the Sai Kung area of the New Territories (as well as a trip over into Shenzhen to visit other relatives), I engaged in the usual gongfu activity of 'Form Swapping' with any other interested parties. Chinese gongfu Forms are like a form of cultural currency that involves a 'sharing' process which develops the over-all understanding of China's martial heritage of each individual involved! It is not that these 'new' or 'unfamiliar' styles are necessarily integrated into existing styles, systems and schools (although sometimes they are), but rather that practitioners of a certain level of attainment possess the ability to 'look beyond' and 'see through' the usual stylistic barriers that usually 'separate' and 'define' martial traditions! Indeed, as Master Chan Tin Sang (1924-1993) has a good reputation in the area, I was approached by various individuals to 'share' a gongfu Form over a friendly cup of tea! One such individual belonged to the now very affluent and exclusive 'Beggars and Wanderers Society' who offered to exchange one of our Longfist Forms for a Tiger and an Arahant Form preserved in their tradition. The members of this Society used to walk the roads of ancient China 'stealing' or 'borrowing' the gongfu Forms of local gongfu schools and passing these systems around, through and into places the population of which would usually not have encountered these types or sets of movements.
These 'Beggars' were also tough and developed these Forms through the practicality of having to fight for their survival! Today, however, this Society is now comprised of families that have done well for themselves in business, and which form a type of 'Guild' around the fact that a distant relative was once a wandering beggar - similar to an itinerant Buddhist monk - but without the support of the establishment! Travelling from place to place, and penetrating the clans and social systems of other places was a highly unusual pastime during feudal China - where China was controlled within the empire through a stringent conservativism where every household, community and area was expected to be an exact copy of the imperial house! Moving 'between' communities was viewed as being strictly unnecessary unless there was a good reason for it - but 'Beggars' often possessed the ability to move in and out of places 'unnoticed' and 'unhindered' providing they did not draw attention to themselves. This is how they 'acquired' their extensive martial knowledge - which is said to cover 'Northern' and 'Southern' fighting styles in equal measure! The style featured on this post is said to be a mixture of 'Northern' and 'Southern' styles and is termed '羅漢十八摩' (Luo Han Shi Ba Mo) or unusually' 'Arahant Eighteen Abilities of Touch'!
The use of the ideogram '摩' (mo2) is interesting - particularly as it seems to be replacing the more familiar '拳' (quan2) which denotes a closed fist. The ideogram '摩' (mo2) is comprised of:
Upper Particle - 厂 (han2) = 'Cliff'
Middle Particle - 𣏟 (pai4) = 'Hemp' or 'Linen'
Lower Particle - 手 (shou3) = 'Open-Hand'
Therefore, the use of '摩' (mo2) might denote the 'careful' and 'gentle' plucking or picking of plants from the edge of a cliff - a dangerous activity that requires skill, timing and precise movement. Indeed, this leads to the other meaning of '摩' (mo2) which is to 'study' so that the 'touch' of the individual becomes highly skilled and yet free of all malice. As this style is said to have been developed by Chinese Buddhist monastics (possibly premised upon Indian Buddhist prototypes) - it is more than likely that the use of '摩' (mo2) signifies the non-presence of greed, hatred and delusion, the three taints all Buddhist practitioners are expected to 'uproot' through hours of seated meditation and the behaviour modification enforced through stringent (Vinaya) self-discipline! I suspect this indicates that this style of 'Arahant' self-defence preserves an older naming system. The arrangement of the ideograms seem to suggest that there are 'Eighteen' fighting techniques the 'Arahants' are expected to 'Study' if the sentence is read from left to right (which I am assuming). If the arrangement is meant to read right to left, then we have 'Study Eighteen Arahants'. Whatever the case, it is more usual today to place the number 'Eighteen' BEFORE the word 'Arahant' (十八羅漢). It seems that the use of the ideogram '摩' (mo2) suggests methods whereby the Buddhist monastics emulate the techniques of 'closing the distance' between themselves and their opponent - without involving any malice of fore-thought!
Translator's Note: Chinese martial arts are diverse in origination and influence. Although a broad designation of 'North' and 'South' can be made on the grounds of the geographical origination of the Founding Masters, and certain defining characteristics - a fighting style above all was premised upon its effectiveness in combat and there was little room for sentiment or an attachment to dogma! As a consequence, and despite the truth in the 'North' and 'South' designation, there are Southern styles that look Northern and their are Northern styles that appear Southern - and this to be expected considering the human propensity for adaptation! Furthermore, cross-fertilisation led to many hybrid styles and an outpouring of diverse variations - a phenomenon that is very much the norm within modern China! ACW (5.8.2022)
The term ‘idiom’ is from the Greek (and Late Latin) word ‘idioma’ - and was prevalent from the 1580s onward – where it refers to a ‘form of speech peculiar to a people or place’. Originating from the Greek word ‘idioumai’ (to appropriate to oneself) from ‘idios’ (personal and private, properly particular to oneself). The use of an ‘idiom’ involves a highly condensed (or contracted) linguistic expression which conveys far more in suggestion (or implication) than literally contained the few words used. As a rule, the meaning of an ‘idiom’ is culturally derived (and passed on from one generation to the next) as an important (and ‘underlying’) element of culturally conditioned education. As an expression, the meaning contained within an idiom is not predictable from the grammar or language used and cannot be easily ‘guessed’ by an individual who has not been privy to the relevant education.
Chinese Language Idiom: 南船北马
南 = (nan2) - South
船 = (chuan2) Boat
北 = (bei3) - North
马 = (ma3) - Horse
English Translation: ‘Southern Boat – Northern Horse’
Chinese Language Origin:
English Translation: Tang Dynasty Poet - Meng Jiao [孟郊] (751-814) - deriving from a phrase written in his book entitled ‘Journeying Together Expert Study Book Defining South Return’.
Meng Jiao was a famous Tang Dynasty poet who recorded his return journey beginning in the Northern Tang Dynasty capital of ‘Chang’an’ (Xi’an) to the Southern areas of China. He observed that the difference in terrain between North China and South China was so stark that it effectively altered the physique, psychology and everyday culture of the respective populations! This was best seen in the trade routes (or the commercial arteries) that saw the transportation of goods and produce throughout and around China. Within North China the mountainous terrain led to horse-reliant cultures developing (including the necessary horse husbandry) - whilst in the South the extensive waterways were best navigated using all types and sizes of boats (which they designed and built after harvesting wood cultivated from sustainable forests, etc). This separation in culture led to very different sets of skills being developed with Northerners being good at carrying heavy weights on their back whilst running or walking up and down steep inclines in all kinds of weather – whilst Southerns were good at swimming, diving, and maintaining their balance when stood on the deck of a boat in all kinds of weather! In turns, these indifferences were expressed in the martial systems developed in each region – which were an expression (or extension) of the already existing strengths and skills extant within the populations – with specialities extending out from these representations. A Northern Horse Stance, for instance is two shoulder widths apart with the upper thighs parallel to the floor and the knees directly covering the feet (with a 90-degree angle between the upper thigh and lower leg). This martial skill derived from riding a horse (or Steppe pony) without stirrups – where the rider had to grip the rotund belly of the animal and steer the horse by pivoting the pelvic girdle left, right and centre. This develops tremendous supporting strength in the lower part of the body. The Southern equivalent assumes an individual is stood on a small boat with the feet shoulder width apart and the knees slightly bent. Balance is retained through the expert transference and interchange of the bodyweight between the legs – with the bodyweight dropping down the centre of the bones into the floor of the boat and into the water the boat is floating within (although not all Southern stances are 'narrow' or 'high').
Nowadays, with the modernisation of China, many martial arts styles have ‘mixed’ and ‘combined’ their respective strengths, thus creating an all-round and vigorous fighting style. Even Chinese martial arts exported to Ryukyu in the 19th century – such as Yongchun White Crane Fist – was mixed with Okinawan ‘Te’ by Higaonna Kanryo (1853-1915) and later developed by his key disciple Miyagi Chojun (1888-1953) into the world famous Goju Ryu Karate-Do! From the Katas movements contained within Goju Ryu, there appears a very strong ‘Southern Fist’ (南拳 - Nan Quan) influence – but some of these movements appear ‘Northern’ in origination! This could well have been the product of Northern stylists either bringing or transmitting their fighting styles southward. Despite geographical differences persisting in China, the development and spread of modern technology has negated these differences and made everyday life very similar for most people. Therefore, the differences within traditional Chinese martial arts styles are ‘historical’ and must be protected and preserved for future generations to benefit from. Even considering the development of sports science – traditional Chinese martial arts still have a tremendous amount to offer as regards the psychological, physical and spiritual development of an individual! This is because the Chinese ancestors were very clever when adapting to their physical conditions and recording those adaptations!
Okinawan Goju Ryu Karate-Do Retains Characteristics of Both 'Northern' and 'Southern' Style of Chinese Martial Arts!
Chinese Language Sources:
The ‘Tensho’ kata is written in Japanese script as ‘転掌’. At first glance, these Japanese language ideograms look similar to Chinese language ideograms but are slightly out of context. This is because these are written as ‘Shinjitai’ (新字体) or ‘New Character Form’ ideograms developed in Japan during the post-1946 period. They are ‘simplified’ versions of traditional Chinese ideograms altered in Japan for the exclusive use within Japanese culture. These alterations of traditional Chinese ideograms are not recognized within Mainland China (which has pursued its own ‘simplified’ ideogram development). This suggests that prior to the 1930s (and Japan’s aggressive war against China) the term ‘Tensho’ may well have been written using recognizable traditional Chinese ideograms. As matters stand, the Japanese term ‘転掌’ (Ten Sho) can be translated as:
転 (Ten) = Rotating, Turning, Moving, Shifting and Transition.
掌 (Sho) - Palm (or ‘Flat’ of the Hand), Control, Rule and Manipulate.
When read together, these two Japanese ideograms suggest a ‘continuous and expert manipulation of the (transitioning) open hand with fingers extended and palm exposed’. How would these two Japanese ideograms read in traditional Chinese ideograms? Probably something like this:
‘轉掌’ (zhuan3 zhang3)
轉 (Zhuan) = Turn, Revolve, Wind, Entwine, Envelope, Encircle, Shift, Alter, Change, Seize Victory (from Defeat), Return, Contemplate (Turn-Over in the Mind), Mediate, Reconcile, Wave, Flutter, Divert, Transfer, Evade, Avoid, Support, Abandon, Leave, Arrive and Utter a Spell, etc.
掌 (Zhang) = Palm (of the Hand), Finger, Extended Fingers, Sole of the Foot, Slap, Hold, Grip (Close Fingers), Control, Support and Hold.
It is clear that the Japanese transliteration process has simplified by removing essential and very important (Chinese) cultural data and information contained within the original Chinese language ideograms. This means that part of the intended ‘Chinese’ meaning conveyed in the original Chinese martial arts sequences is now ‘missing’ in the titles – where once it was included and obvious. Although the second ideogram ‘掌’ is identical in both examples – the Japanese interpretation is obviously deficient and lacking important meaning – such as the requirement for an equal emphasis being implied for the use of the hands and feet. Whatever advanced and mysterious implications are intended with the hand movements of ‘Tensho’ - exactly the same meaning is intended for the use of the feet! Perhaps the greatest deficiency of meaning lies in the difference between the Chinese ‘轉’ (Zhuan) and the Japanese ‘転’ (Ten)!
The Chinese ideogram ‘轉’ (Zhuan) is comprised of the left-hand particle ‘車’ (che1) - which is an ancient carriage (or 'chariot') pulled by a set of horses (introduced into China around 1200 BCE or earlier). This was a relatively stable platform for travel, transportation of goods and as a mobile fighting platform during war. The Wheels operate by moving around and around so that the carriage and contents are transferred from one place to another according to the intent of the driver and wishes of the passengers. The horses are attached to the carriage by various ropes, straps and reins so that the driver can control them whether they move, stop or turn, etc. Sometimes, the horses are controlled by a driver who sits upon one of the leading horses and controls the movement by the ‘grip’ of his legs around the horse’s sides, etc. Usually, the platform not only has four walls and a roof – but the entire structure is covered by a large umbrella which protects the occupants, drivers and guards, etc, from the sun, wind and rain. Expert control and the ability to suddenly change direction, stop or retreat quickly is implied by this particle, which is obviously ‘martial’ in essence. The right-hand particle is ‘專’ (zhuan3) which represents the actions of an ‘expert’ who uses his or her hands to good effect. This is because the top element of this particle is ‘叀’ (zhuan1) - which represents a ‘spindle’ that is expertly controlled and directed by a human hand – this hand is represented by the bottom element of this particle as ‘寸’ (cun4). This is a drop-spindle which must be expertly controlled by the human-hand as it turns and spins – creating thread, yarn or wool, etc. Therefore, ‘轉’ (Zhuan) suggests an expert martial ability that transforms the mind, body and spirt, whilst the practitioner carefully masters the art of timing, positioning, moving and prediction, etc. All of this ability involves the mind, body and spirit, but is achieved through the expert coordination of the hands (which are emphasized) and the feet (which are foundational).
Although the Japanese ideogram of ‘転’ (Ten) retains the left-hand particle of the ‘carriage’ (or 'chariot') with ‘車’ (che1) suggesting a continuous turning motion - the right-hand particle is completely altered and now stands as ‘云‘ (yun2)! Within ancient Chinese language usage this usually refers to a human mouth expressing various vocalizations which generate ‘clouds’ of water vapor around (and next to) the head that speaks! Indeed, within modern Chinese language usage, ‘云‘ (yun2 is a simplified way of referring to a ‘cloud’. Therefore, this suggests that ‘転’ (Ten) as used in the Japanese language interpretation - ‘changes’ - the intended (and original) Chinese language ideogram of ‘轉’ (Zhuan).
Original Chinese Language Meaning:
‘轉’ (Zhuan) = A continuously spinning, dropping and rotating spindle device is expertly ‘controlled’ by exact movements of the human hand.
Altered Japanese Language Meaning:
‘転’ (Ten) = A moving (turning) object generates ‘speech’ and ‘clouds’ of water vapor!
Although the second ideogram ‘掌 is identical within both Japanese and Chinese usage, the meaning does vary between cultures.
Original Chinese Language Meaning:
掌 (Zhang) = Palm (of the Hand), Finger, Extended Fingers, Sole of the Foot, Slap, Hold, Grip (Close Fingers), Control, Support and Hold.
Altered Japanese Language Meaning:
掌 (Sho) - Palm (or ‘Flat’ of the Hand), Control, Rule and Manipulate.
When all this analysis is combined together, the academic and intellectual implications should be clear and assist the modern martial artist understand the intended meaning behind the ancient Chinese martial arts systems and their diverse training methods, techniques training regimes, etc. Furthermore, it must be understood that the ancient Chinese scholar believed that the sheer act of ‘writing’ was a mystical undertaking whereby ‘exact’ words with ‘precise’ meanings were carefully chosen when the highly important compiling of ‘lists’ was undertaken within the Imperial Court and elsewhere. A ‘list’ once written was believed to possess the legal and moral power to bring physical (and spiritual) order throughout the world! The same methodology was used for the compiling of written lists pertaining to martial arts practice and preservation. This is why it is important to know and understand the original ‘Chinese’ language meaning and interpretation of all the martial arts terms that are practiced. This process ensures a precise and pristine transmission and assists the current generation to correctly understand the wealth of doctrinal information that is being communicated which has been gathered over the centuries in wartime and in peace!
Original Chinese Language Meaning:
‘轉掌’ (Zhuan Zhang) = Within the Chinese cultural milieu, this ‘Form’ would be known as ‘Zhuan Zhuang’ - and probably understood to mean something like ‘Continuous Transitioning and Transcending Open Hands – Coordinating the Palm, Fingers and Soles of the Feet whilst Controlling the Opponent’. This may seem overly long – but from the sheer weight of intended meaning contained in the two relevant Chinese language ideograms – this is as compact as I can make it. Indeed, I find this compromise to be embarrassingly ‘short’.
Altered Japanese Language Meaning:
‘転掌’ (Tensho) - although often translated as ‘Rotating Hands’ - the Japanese language ideograms certainly do not say (or suggest) just this idea. A rotating device vocalizes as it breathes in and out – so that the open hands can turn in any direction. What might be happening here, is that the Japanese Masters took-out the particle pertaining to a ‘hand-spinning’ device (which signifies mastery of a handicraft) and replaced it with a particle suggesting ‘breathing’. As the second ideogram already suggests that an ‘open hand’ or ‘palm’ is to be used – the Japanese Masters may have thought that the particle denoting the ‘drop-spin’ device could be removed without any great loss and a particle added that suggests that this kata involves a very special form of breathing. Even so – the original Chinese language meaning does not pay any attention to the required breathing but focuses instead only upon physical aspects and the innate level of mind-body skill that is required to master this kata. Breathing is an issue passed in person from Master to Disciple - and is often dealt with in any number of Daoist Qigong or Daoyin manuals. After-all, circulating the prenatal breath in both its micro and macro-orbits is not a great secret anymore – not even in the West!
Although the martial arts term ‘Ninja’ is a distinctly ‘Japanese pronunciation – the two ideograms used to express this concept are of Chinese origin – namely ‘忍者’ (Ren Zhe). Whether this concept originally spread from China as a martial arts principle – or was distinctly developed in Japan - is open to debate. Certainly, the ‘Ninja’ of medieval Japan occupied entire clan-systems which ‘mirrored’ perfectly their Samurai equivalents with the only difference being that the Samurai clans were socially accepted and the ‘Ninja’ clans were clandestine and considered ‘illegal’. The ‘Ninja’ communities were made-up of the peasantry and any outcast members of the nobility and criminal fraternity, etc. Although the ‘Ninja’ communities were hidden from open view, they were disciplined, followed strict codes of conduct and were dedicated to perfecting many different martial skills designed to ‘counter’ or ‘negate’ every martial advantage the Samurai believed they possessed. In-short, the ‘Ninja’ communities represented a ‘different’ but related blue-print for Japanese feudal society – perhaps one that was internally democratic and fairer than its Samurai alternative, as women were considered ‘equal to men – and practiced martial techniques designed by women for women to use on the battlefield or during ‘assassinations’ - a key skill of the ‘Ninja’ warrior.
The character ‘忍’ (ren3) is comprised of a contracted version of the lower particle ‘心’ (xin1) - which translates as ‘mind’ and ‘heart’ - and the upper particle ‘刃’ (ren4) - which represents a ‘bladed weapon’ such as a ‘knife’ or ‘broad-sword’, The Japanese version of this ideogram appears to have a handle affixed to a blade – a blade said to be covered in ‘blood’:
When combined together, the ideogram ‘忍’ (ren3) suggests a situation where the human mind (and body) is said to be highly skilled swordsmanship – together with ‘tolerating’ the ‘lose’ of a certain amount of one’s own blood – as well as spilling that of the opponent. The training in this martial art is arduous and painful to experience – but this is the path that must be ‘endured’ if mastery is to be achieved. Whereas the ideogram ‘者’ (zhe3) is comprised of the lower particle ‘白’ (bai2) which carries the meaning of the colour ‘White’, whilst the upper particle is ‘耂’ (lao3) and refers to a ‘an old man who is bent-over and has long hair’ - usually implying ‘acquired wisdom overtime’. Therefore, ‘者’ (zhe3) appears to mean a ‘body of expert knowledge acquired by an individual over a long period of study’. The combined term of ‘忍者’ (Ren Zhe) - or ‘Ninja’ - refers to the concept of an ‘accumulated body of knowledge and martial arts skill and acquired by an extraordinary person overtime’. Or, an ‘acquired body of knowledge and martial arts skill that transforms an ordinary person into an extraordinary person’.
忍術 (Ninjutsu) - ‘Ren Shu’ = ‘Endurance Art’
忍法 (Ninpo) - ‘Ren Fa’ = ‘Endurance Law’
Ninjutsu originally derived from an indigenous, traditional Japanese fighting technique known as the ‘Thorn Kill Art’ (刺杀术 - Ci Sha Shu) - perhaps implying the ability to ‘assassinate an opponent using a poisoned-dart'. Later, this art absorbed several Chinese cultural influences such as the ‘Art of War’ by Sunzi", and the martial principles contained within the ‘Six Secret Teachings’, etc. There is a legend that a Chinese Buddhist monk travelled to Japan early-on, and brought various Tantric Buddhist and Traditional Chinese Medicine techniques (perhaps around the 8th century CE) which were combined with Japanese Shintoism. This mixture of Chinese and Japanese martial elements was integrated to finally form ‘Ninjutsu’. The techniques of ‘evasion’ and ‘invisibility’ in were emphasised in the city – whilst ‘ambushes’ and the ability to suddenly ‘disappear’ was perfected in the mountainous areas.
Chinese Language Reference:
The traditional Chinese martial arts probably evolved from ancient rituals pertaining to shamans ‘dancing’ or otherwise purposely ‘moving’ in a highly ritualised manner premised upon the behaviour of living animals and the spirit of animals, etc. The shamans dressed in furs, wore make-up, jewellery and elaborate head-dresses. The manifestation of the shaman would change depending upon which animals was being represented. The head-wear might well have contained various types of ‘horns’ or ‘antlers’, etc. Although communication with the ‘hidden’ spiritual realm – these shaman (around 2000 BCE or more) was believed to possess ‘special’ or ‘magical’ martial skills assumed to be the product of spiritual influence. The ‘Huangdi Neijing’ (黃帝內經) states that the daily ‘shapes’ made with the body, determine the strength of the internal energy-flow, and the general health of the individual’s mind and body. This observation is often used as one of the main medical principles behind the justification for the structure of ‘Forms’ as used within develop Chinese martial arts.
Overtime, the ‘dances’ took-on a special significance, and came to represent particular ‘styles’ of Chinese martial arts premised upon the behaviour patterns of animals ‘fighting’ for their lives in self-defence! Although the mind is ‘calmed’ and ‘strengthened’, martial skill is attained not from the spiritual realm, but is rather slowly acquired through continuous, physical repetition and critical assessment from those who have more experience. The ‘Forms’ of Chinese martial arts are vehicles for preserving, maintaining and transmitting the martial secrets of particular lineages. The concept of martial arts being practiced this way is thousands of years old in China, and was probably developed during the Zhou Dynasty and perfected during the Qin Dynasty, etc
Thousands of men, women and children would practice together in an open area, whilst instructors led the training usually to a count – demonstrating and correcting the movements when required. These ‘Forms’ were practiced in the daylight so that every movement could be clearly seen, communicated and copied. Martial arts ‘Forms’ designed to be practiced in ‘secret’ or in the ‘darkness’ of the night – are often referred to as ‘Black’ arts (as in ‘hidden’). These ‘Black’ arts are not practiced in the open, but rather behind ‘closed’ doors. Rather ‘Light’ or ‘dark’ martial arts – the ‘Forms’ involved serve exactly the same purpose and are structured in the same manner. Perhaps around thirty distinct kicking, punching, blocking, elbowing (and other strikes) are expertly weaved together in an integrated pattern of movements. Continuous practice builds technical skill and familiarity within the context of the style concerned.
The ideogram ‘形’ (xing2) is comprised of the left-hand particle ‘幵’ (jian1) - contracted to ‘开‘ - refers possibly to ‘two hairpins’ designed to make the hair ‘level’ and ‘straight’. This particle could also imply an ‘even’ and ‘flat’ open space within which martial art ‘Forms’ are practiced. However, ‘幵’ (jian1) is also created by doubling the particle ‘干’ (gan1) - with ‘干’ (gan1) representing a ‘two-pronged’ (shafted) weapon depicted during the Shang Dynasty as:
The right-hand particle is ‘彡‘ (shan1) - which literally translates as ‘three strands of hair’. This may be used to denote a large collection of objects so that when assembled everything becomes ‘clearly visible’. ‘形’ (xing2), therefore, can refer to martial arts practice being carried-out in the open and by many individuals - so that all the movements are clear and observable. Interestingly, ‘形’ (xing2) used to be written as ‘𢒈‘ (xing2) - with ‘𢒈’ being viewed as a variant of ‘丹’ (dan1). This refers to the ‘three’ energy-centres (丹田 - Dan Tian) spread throughout the body. These are areas of great importance for developing the various internal energies as found within Daoist self-cultivation. As martial arts practice develops these areas – the ideogram ‘𢒈’ would make more sense.
The related ideogram ‘型’ (xing2) is comprised of the upper particle ‘刑’ (xing2). The left-hand particle ‘幵’ (jian1) - contracted to ‘开‘ - refers possibly to ‘two hairpins’ designed to make the hair ‘level’ and ‘straight’. This particle could also imply an ‘even’ and ‘flat’ open space within which martial art ‘Forms’ are practiced. However, ‘幵’ (jian1) is also created by doubling the particle ‘干’ (gan1) - with ‘干’ (gan1) representing a ‘two-pronged’ (shafted) weapon. The right-hand particle is ‘刂’ (dao1) - a contracted version of ‘刀’ - which refers to a short, single-edged blade such as a knife. ‘刑’ (xing2), therefore, refers to the concepts of ‘punishment’, ‘sentence’, ‘punishment’, ‘massacre’, ‘slaughter’ and even ‘torture’! The lower particle is ‘土’ (tu3) which translates as ‘potters clay’, or the ‘broad earth’. As the area where martial art ‘Forms’ are practiced is thought of as ‘holy’ or ‘scared’, etc, ‘土’ (tu3) is related to the ideogram ‘社‘ (she4) - which refers to the ‘God of the Earth’. ‘型’ (xing2), then, refers to ‘martial’ or ‘violent’ movements performed in a wide-open (public) space – the technique of which can be ‘moulded’ and ‘improved’ through regular practice whilst exposed to continuous expert scrutiny.
Translator’s Note: Although ‘劍‘ is pronounced ‘Jian’ within Putonghua (which is the dialect of the Chinese language spoken in Beijing) - also known in the West as ‘Mandarin’ (the language of the scholar-officials) - within the Hakka language ‘劍‘, is pronounced ‘Kiam’ (in the ‘Sixian’ variant) and ‘giam’ (in the ‘Meixian’ version). As the Hakka language is considered far older as the language of Northern China used by the ruling elites, It would seem that ‘kiam’ and ‘giam’ were the normal ways of pronouncing ‘劍‘ - and that the Cantonese people of the South (originally the ‘Tang’ people of the North before they migrated en masse) - logically adopted ‘gim’ as their rendition of ‘劍’. Of course, I am assuming that the Hakka pronunciation is ‘older’ and probably the ‘original’ rendition of ‘劍‘. The Hakka people, in full or in part, probably ruled China through the Qin and Han dynasties from the North of China (but not Beijing), before being forced into a number of historical migrations Southward over two-thousand years. Certainly, our ancestral ‘Hakka’ village in the Sai Kung area of the New Territories of Hong Kong not only upholds the Hakka martial traditions of North China – but when I was young, we were taught to refer to the ‘long sword’ as the ‘giam’ - a tradition we retain to this day. The ‘long sword’ is used within our practice of the single and double sword routines as is exclusively associated with advanced Taijiquan practice. ACW (21.2.2021)
This ideogram dates back to the Bronze Inscription Characters of the Shang and Zhou Dynasties (c. 1600 BCE – 300 BCE) and was depicted in the following manner (amongst a number of similar of variants):
This means that swords designed to be ‘long’ and ‘thin’ to varying degrees (made out of metal) probably developed during this era. Today, these ‘劍‘ (jian4) swords are around three-foot long and constructed from a sharp double-edged blade. Although designed for the expert (and ‘effortless’) ‘piercing’ of the opponent – such a weapon can be used to ‘hack’ and ‘slash’ if the situation demands (although this is considered very much a ‘secondary’ skill). The Confucian scholar carries this type of sword as a symbol of his ‘learning’ and his ‘academic’ authority – although like with the bow and arrow – such a scholar was expected to be a ‘Master’ of self-defence, particularly if he held Public Office. The opponent’s defence (and body) must be decisively penetrated without any undue effort due to a perfect timing, positioning and movement. Furthermore, as such a scholar possesses a ‘calm’ and ‘wise’ mind – at no point in the execution of his sword technique does his weapon become ‘entangled’ with the weapon of the opponent! All ‘movements’ pursued with the long-sword must be effortless and ‘touch’ nothing other than the surface of the body that is to be ‘pierced’.
‘劍‘ (jian4) is composed of the left-hand particle ‘僉’ (qian1) - the top part of which is ‘亼’ (ji2) - an ‘inverted mouth’ that is used here, to denote the meaning of ‘gathering in from three-sides'. The bottom part of which uses a double ‘兄’ (xiong1) which refers to ‘an elder brother’. The right-hand particle is ‘刂’ (dao1) which refers to a ‘knife’ or a ‘single-edged; blade. ‘刂’ (dao1) is a contraction of ‘刀’ which within the Bronze Inscription Characters is drawn in this way (despite the character dating further back to the Oracle Bone Inscriptions:
When all this data is assembled into the ‘劍‘ (jian4) ideogram – it seems (to me) to read ‘community defence’. The elders of the community – symbolised by two mature but physically ‘fit’ older brothers used to bearing responsibility – unite to ‘protect’ a community (that is drawn together on three-sides) to form a more ‘solid’ centre that is easier to defend with ‘weaponry’. The ‘weapon’ in question has evolved from a simple (and shorter) single-edged blade – to that of a longer double-edged ‘sabre’ or ‘sword’ that requires an incredible amount of skill to use effectively in combat. As ‘劍‘ (jian4) is so complex when compared to the far simpler ‘‘刀’ ideogram depicting a short-knife – it would seem that an element of ‘elaborate’ ritual is implied in the formulation of a long-sword' that extends to its ‘ownership’ in peace-time, and its ‘usage’ in times of war!
Certainly, Confucian scholars are considered academic ‘warriors’ who often carry the scabbarded long-sword in their right-hand which means they have no intention of ‘drawing’ and ‘using’ it. Order within society is maintained simply by the ‘presence’ (and the ‘use’) of the long-sword – although this level of harmony and tranquillity manifest in the outer world implies exactly same level of attainment within the mind and body of the scholar-warrior! Should a ‘divine’ violence be required on the physical plane, then the scholar-warrior carefully places the scabbarded long-sword carefully into his left-hand whilst he right-hand secures a firm grip upon the long-sword handle... Having to resort to ‘violence’, however, would be thought of as a ‘failure’ by the scholar-warrior – as ‘peace’ is always preferable to ‘violence’.
Shifu Adrian Chan-Wyles (b. 1967) - Lineage (Generational) Inheritor of the Ch'an Dao Hakka Gongfu System.