The Story of Chinese Boxing

I translated this article about Uechi-ryu founder Uechi Kanbun several years ago, but am reposting it here as readers may find it interesting. It was originally written by Mabuni Sho and published in the magazine Karate Kenkyu, 1934 pg. 92-93. Enjoy.

I was traveling on business and on the last day visited Higashi Kawagan-machi in Wakayama city. On the way there the first thing I noticed was a signboard on the left. It read, Pangainun-ryu Toudi Master; Uechi Kanbun, Instructor. 

I was impressed by the sign board which was in the Chinese style. At the age of 20, Uechi had traveled to China and trained in pure Chinese style chu’an-fa for more than 13 years and returned an expert. Before our business was concluded, we quickly paid a call to Uechi’s dojo to discuss chu’an-fa. We talked about many different things, but fortunately near the end of the conversation we were able to discuss Chinese chu’an-fa. The outline of that discussion is written below. 

Mabuni: Sensei, in China is chu’an-fa still active as it was? 

Uechi: It was extremely active when I went there, and might still be now. 

Mabuni: Do Chinese immediately teach people chu’an-fa once they are asked to do so? 

Uechi: Yes they do teach, however the student and teacher swear an oath and only after 23 days does teaching begin. 

Mabuni: Why is this done? 

Uechi: Those who wish to practice chu’an-fa first go to the chu’an-fa master’s house and ask tuition. If the teacher consents, the group then confers, builds a dojo for the teacher and brings him there. In the dojo various rituals are carried out to the dojo god. Then, the students and teacher take an oath. In the beginning there is no spiritual training and kata is taught. During this time one states one, two, three, four or five years of commitment to practice under a teacher. To become an excellent teacher takes 15 years or more, but to become a poor one takes 1 year or perhaps 6 months. 

When opening a dojo, the most worrying things is dojo yaburi (footnote: people who issue a challenge to the dojo). Usually it consists of two or three thugs who come to the dojo and challenge the teacher to a fight. If the teacher loses the match, the challengers take that months fees. So, if you are not confident in your abilities you had better not open a dojo. 

Mabuni: They seem like barbarians, don’t they? 

Uechi: There is no reasoning with them. Also, another interesting thing is when you become an expert you can demonstrate kata on the road or in front of a crowd. If there is a more proficient expert among the people passing by, he will stop and give you some instruction. 

Mabuni: This is different from how Japanese train. 

Uechi: That’s right. 

Mabuni: Which is stronger with Chinese, the fist or the tips of the fingers? 

Uechi: Japanese have stronger fists, but Chinese have strong finger tips. 

Mabuni: What methods do they use to make their finger tips stronger? 

Uechi: First sand is placed in a box and you practice thrusting the finger tips into it. When you get used to that, you then replace the sand with larger objects such as beans and practice thrusting with your finger tips, then you will start to get stronger. In China, if kata is performed with the fists it is called Taiso (footnote: Uechi is referring to Great Ancestor Fist Boxing), but if kata is performed with the finger tips it is called Rakkan (Note: Uechi is referring to Arahat Boxing also know as Monk Fist Boxing.) 

Mabuni: Sensei, your style is called Pangainuun in Chinese, what does this mean? 

Uechi: It means that the chu’an-fa kata are extremely quick. Lately instead of calling the style Pangainuun, I have been thinking a little that it might be better writing it Uechi-ryu. 

Mabuni: Thank you for talking to with me. Good bye.