Fuzhou and the Higaonna Kanryo Dojo

On 15th Feb 2011, we arrived in Fuzhou from our dojos across different parts of China. Sensei Lam King Fung and Sensei Ricky Tsui came from Hong Kong, and the rest of us came respectively from the Zhuhai City dojo (IOGKF-China Honbu), Panyu City dojo, the Guangzhou dojo and the Hunan-Changsha dojo. A friend of ours from the OGKK in Beijing, Mr He Hong Xiao also came with us on this trip. Higaonna Sensei and Nakamura Sensei arrived at the Fuzhou Airport in the evening and they were met by Sensei Ricky. Thereafter our delegation proceeded to a local restaurant and we had dinner with the Chairman and Vice Chairman of the FWA (Fuzhou Wushu Association), Professor Hu and Mr Ye respectively. Professor Hu and Mr Ye had been long time friends of both Higaonna Sensei and Sensei Lam and consequently there was much catching up between old friends as they exchanged information about old acquaintances.

Above left: (From left to right) Mr He from the OGKK, Mr Soh of IOGKF, Sensei Higaonna and Sensei Lam.
Above Right: (Seated, from left to right) Sensei Ricky Tsui, Sensei Nakamura, Mr Soh, Mr Hu (Chairman of the FWA), Sensei Higaonna, Sensei Lam, Mr Ye,(Vice-chairman of the FWA)

The opening ceremony of the IOGKF Higaonna Kanryo Memorial Dojo in Fuzhou commenced at 6:00 pm on 16th Feb 2011. Higaonna Morio Sensei presided over the opening ceremony, unveiling the dojo entrance plaque and the plaque over the front of the dojo. Whilst walking about in the dojo, Higaonna Sensei gazed at the photograph of Higaonna Kanryo and commented to me that Kanryo Sensei was built very differently from Miyagi Chojun Sensei. He said that Kanryo Sensei was lean and compact and he had very powerful thigh and leg muscles so he could move extremely fast, whereas Miyagi Chojun Sensei was stoutly built and had a very powerful upper torso and powerful hips and a very strong grip. Therefore the emphasis and outward appearance of their karate were different. According to Higaonna Morio Sensei, the original Sanchin Kata, which Higaonna Kanryo Sensei learnt from China, had nukite (knife hand) strikes instead of the close-fisted punches. However, Higaonna Kanryo Sensei hid the nukite within the fist and changed the kata to show only fists. “The nukite became a hidden technique, present but hidden.” Higaonna Morio sensei said, emphasizing what he meant by first making a nukite and then rolling the tip of his lethal looking fingers inwards until he formed an equally lethal looking fist.

Scenes from the opening ceremony for the Kanryo Higaonna Memorial Dojo in Fuzhou.

Excursion to Quanzhou

On the following day, 17th Feb 2011, we made an early start for Quanzhou City. Quanzhou is an ancient city founded in the year 718 A.D. In medieval times Quanzhou, being on the southern coast of China, was a major trading center and received an influx of foreign influences variously from South East Asia, the Middle East and Western Europe. Catholicism arrived in China first in Quanzhou in the year 1291 AD and a Catholic congregation was established in Quanzhou in 1313 A.D. An Islamic Mosque built in the year 1009 A.D, a Medieval Catholic Church and many other historical relics still stand testament to the influence of Jesuits, Arabic and Persian traders in Quanzhou’s long and colourful history.

Our main interest in Quanzhou however, came from the fact that two famous Fujian Martial Art styles, the White-Crane Boxing and the Five-Ancestor Boxing (known as Go-Cho in local Fujian dialect) schools both claim to originate from Quanzhou. White Crane Boxing claims its origins around the region of Yong Chun, Yong Chun being a sub-urban district of Quanzhou City. It is widely believed that Okinawan Goju-Ryu’s lineage is closely related to the White-Crane Boxing style. Sensei Higaonna and Sensei Nakamura had already travelled to Yong Chun in 2009 to visit the White-Crane Memorial hall. However, the White-Crane style had been one of the five branches of the Five-Ancestor Boxing style, the other four branches or styles being the Grand Ancestor style (Taizhu in Chinese, the title of the first emperor of the Sung Dynasty in China), Bodhidharma style (Damo in Chinese), Arhat or Arahant style (Luohan in Chinese) and Ascetic style (Xingzhe in Chinese). Together with the White-Crane style these were, as legend has it, the five main styles practiced by the martial artists of the Southern Shaolin Temple several centuries ago.

The trip from Fuzhou to Quanzhou on the modern motorway cuts through a series of mountain ranges that historically separated the north and south of Fujian Province. Even today Chinese people refer to Fujian as the “Min” region whereby the prosperous south is known as “Min-Nam” (Min-South) with its own language and customs, whereas the less developed Fuzhou, surrounded from three sides by mountains and one side by sea, is known as “Min-Dong” (Min-East). In my previous trip from Fuzhou to Quanzhou with my Sensei, the GPS misguided the driver onto the old mountain road built some 60 years ago. At times it was no more than an unpaved single vehicle track meandering through the mountain ranges. That other trip took nearly 6 hours, leading us on a rocky ride through one isolated village into the next. Our driver on that trip commented that even just 50 years ago, when villagers had to travel on foot between neighboring settlements, a short journey would have taken days, and a trip by foot into the city from the mountains would have taken weeks. Apparently it was the ancient custom in these parts in an age bygone when villagers commonly and collectively practiced martial arts to defend against mountain bandits and each village would teach a secret version of whatever style of martial arts their ancestors passed down through the generations, imparting their knowledge only to their own people (usually male members of the family) and never to outsiders. This tradition was almost identical to the tradition in Okinawa two centuries ago, and if nothing else, it demonstrated a close cultural similarity between Okinawa and Fujian relating to martial arts.

Our trip this time, thankfully took us only 2 hours. Travelling with us that day was Professor Hu and Mr Ye of the FWA. Arriving in Quanzhou we first checked into our hotel and went for lunch. We were somewhat concerned as the menu in the restaurant had no prices and we had to negotiate the price of every dish we ordered. As it turned out lunch was a fantastic 8 course meal at very good value. We managed to feed our party of twenty with RMB 800 Yuan (About 75 Euros).

After lunch we proceeded to the Quanzhou Shaolin temple. It was the oldest Shaolin Temple (circa 200 years old) in Fujian province, rebuilt after the original Shaolin Temple was razed in a fire in the 17th Century. We arrived at the temple in the early afternoon where the abbot of the temple, the Chairman and Vice Chairman and senior members of the QWA (Quanzhou Martial Arts Association) formed the welcoming delegation. Mr Zhang Xiao Feng, the Vice-Chairman of the QWA, was an old acquaintance of Sensei Lam as well as Professor Hu and Mr Ye, and he had made all the arrangements for our reception in Quanzhou. We walked into the main courtyard and saw a large audience of about 200 people, consisting of the local press and television, and martial artists from many schools. The people had gathered in the temple courtyard to watch the demonstration the temple monks were about to give us, as well as a demonstration by the IOGKF. The QWA Chairman and temple abbot each gave a speech to welcome Sensei Higaonna, and Sensei Higaonna reciprocrated with a speech to thank their hospitality. In the meantime we were led to side chambers to change into our do-gi, glad that the speeches were long enough to allow us to stretch our legs and get our blood circulation going after the long journey.

The Shaolin temple monks were first to demonstrate their kata. These were mainly a hybrid of Southern Fujian kata such as White Crane Boxing and Five Ancestor Style Boxing. One particular contingent performed a kata in formation using wicker shields and broad sabre. The Wicker shield and Sabre kata was a local specialty, and until the advent of firearms on the battlefield, the local Fujian militia had trained and fought in massed formations thus armed. In fact parts of the kata resembled armed men drilling on the parade square rather than techniques used in one versus one combat. In one part of the kata the whole formation “duck-walked”. While the lone saber bearer would not find much use for such odd-maneuvering, it was one way by which shield-bearing infantry would maneuver on the battlefield hiding behind the cover of horsemen or behind a standing front-rank of soldiers so as to remain out of sight of the enemy as they moved. There was also a demonstration of the Southern Shaolin long staff (bo) kata, again in formation. In this kata the techniques were very simple, consisting mainly of forward thrusts, overhead forward strikes and front parries, implying again that this kata was used in close military formation, whereby the men could not execute sideway strikes for fear of hitting their companions.

Following the Shaolin Temple kata demonstration, Instructors from the QWA demonstrated. Their dominant style was the Five Ancestor Boxing.

After their demonstration our Goju Ryu delegation demonstrated their kata, in the following sequence: Nakamura Sensei began with the Sanchin kata with Higaonna Sensei performing shime, then Chen Yang Ti Sensei of the IOGKF Panyu Dojo performed Shisochin, Yi Yu Zhang of IOGKF Changsha Dojo performed Sanseru, Mr He Hong Xiao from Beijing OGKK demonstrated Seiyunchin, Weiyong Soh of IOGKF Zhuhai Dojo performed Kururunfa, Nakamura Sensei performed Seipai, Higaonna Sensei performed Suparimpei, then Higaonna Sensei and Nakamura Sensei performed kakie.

Above pictures: IOGKF demonstrates in the Quanzhou Shaolin Temple.

Finally, as our host in Quanzhou, Mr Zhang Xiao Feng had the last performance and he performed the Five Ancestor Boxing’s Sanchin Kata.

When the local press interviewed Higaonna Sensei they asked Higaonna Sensei his purpose for visiting the Shaolin Temple, to which Higaonna Sensei thus answered (with Nakamura Sensei and myself acting as the interpreters), “My sensei’s sensei, Miyagi Chojun, and his sensei before him, Higaonna Kanryo, had always said that there were many powerful martial arts south of Fuzhou in south Fujian, but Miyagi Chojun Sensei never had the opportunity to come. I came because of what my sensei told me. It is good to see young people today living as monks in the monastery and practicing martial arts whilst they are monks. It is a good tradition. I want to come again to visit when I have time. There is much to discover here.”

After a brief tour of the temple, we had dinner in the Shaolin Temple and were served a vegetarian meal in the Buddhist tradition.

Above pictures: Touring the Shaolin Temple with members of the QWA and the FWA.

The Shan Wai Shan Martial Arts School in Quanzhou

As it happened to be the Yuan Xiao Festival which marks the end of Chinese New Year, we made our way through the congested streets after dinner while crowds celebrated liberally with plenty of fireworks. We finally reached our next destination, the Shan Wai Shan Martial Arts School, which belonged to Mr Zhang of the QWA.

Mr Zhang explained that as it was a holiday most of his boarding students had gone home. His remaining students consisted mainly of teenagers, and they demonstrated weapon kata for the sai, pitch-fork, and broad halberd (a type of Naginata). After the demonstration we were invited to tea in Mr Zhang’s office for a discussion.

Nakamura Sensei started by asking about the name of the dojo. The name of the dojo was Shan Wai Shan (mountain beyond mountain). Our hosts explained that it came from a Chinese proverb which said there’s a mountain beyond every mountain, a sky above every sky, and in comparison with each man there’s always a better man.

Higaonna Sensei complimented Mr Zhang’s Sanchin kata whereby Mr Zhang replied modestly that his sensei taught him but regrettably his sensei had died too early for him to learn all there was to learn from his sensei. The discussion proceeded into the details of different types of Sanchin Kata, where Mr Zhang explained that unlike Goju-Ryu, the Five Ancestor Style Sanchin Stance was literally called the “Bu Ding Bu Ba” stance which meant “Not T and Not Eight” Stance. (“Ba” or the Chinese character that denotes the number 8, consists of two inward pointing strokes on paper, looking like the Goju-Ryu Sanchin stance or the Hachiji-Dachi).

Higaonna Sensei said that notionally in the Goju Ryu Sanchin Kata, ki came in through the noise, up head down back and under, then coming around between the thighs to roll and tighten in the region just below the navel. Mr Ye, Mr Wu and Mr Zhang talked about breathing techniques in Sanchin for different schools in Fujian, whereby there is a type of breathing in which when one breathes in his stomach contracts and another whereby when he breathes out his stomach contracts. To satisfy my curiosity, Mr Zhang demonstrated and I felt his belly expand as he breathed out.

Higaonna Sensei said that the original Sanchin kata that Kanryo Sensei brought back from China was with nukite strikes, but Kanryo Sensei changed it into a fist, hiding the nukite within the fist. Higaonna Sensei again made a palm and closing action to emphasize what he meant. He mentioned that his sensei Miyagi Anichi, and Miyagi Anichi’s sensei Miyagi Chojun and before him Higaonna Kanryo Sensei, constantly practiced jabbing with their nukite into various material, and Anichi sensei said that it was call “sai min” in Fuzhou dialect. Higaonna Sensei asked what that meant in the local dialect, and made a stabbing motion with his fingers to emphasize. FWA and QWA martial artists immediately said that it was pronounced chai mi, which literally meant stabbing into rice. They wrote the characters for Chai Mi on paper and handed it to Higaonna Sensei.

When Higaonna asked about Black Tiger style boxing, the local martial artists there said there was no Black-Tiger style that they knew of in this region. However in several other schools they had kata named “Black Tiger”. Higaonna Sensei said that all the kata in Goju-ryu which used a double fisted strike were representative of the influence from the tiger style within the Goju-ryu lineage. Professor Hu said that “Black Tiger” kata was common in the North of China, and was introduced into Fuzhou by Northern people. He quoted the late Master Wan Lai Sheng, whom Higaonna Morio Sensei knew, who was from Hubei in the north and their style had more kicking than most southern schools, and for example in their school they had a kata called “Black Tiger”.

I asked Mr Zhang about the Five ancestor style boxing, stating that because they had a kata called Sanseru, another called Seventy-Two (which was twice of 36), I am curious whether they had a kata called Suparimpei (108 which was thrice of 36), to which they said no. However, it was established that the Five-Ancestor-Crane-Yang (Wuzhu He-Yang ) style, which is a variation of the five ancestor style, consisting of a hybrid of three schools (Five Ancestors Fist, White-Crane Fist, Yang Fist) had a list of techniques called the one-hundred and eight methods. This was however, not a kata.

Higaonna Sensei then said that originally this kata was not called Suparimpei but Pechurin or Bechurin, when Miyagi Chojun came to Fuzhou and demonstrated people simply said it was called One-Hundred-Eight or suparimpei, so he brought the name Suparimpei back to Okinawa.

Members of the FWA explained that Bechurin or BaBuLian meant eight-step-linked, “eight-step” meaning the Sanchin stance. Professor Hu explained that Babulian was also the Whooping (Singing) Crane school’s modern way of calling their Sanchin Kata, and in fact there was an older version of Babulian which was longer and a later version which was simply the Sanchin kata of that school. Also Sanchin, meaning “three battles”, was called sanchiem-“three swords”, “Samjin-bo”- “three arrow steps”, as it was passed to different regions of Southern China, as pronunciation in dialects differed according to region and as many people were illiterate in those days, they passed on kata names verbally and distortion in the name of the kata commonly existed.

FWA Professor Hu further said that One Hundred and Eight may be a way of calling a kata which combined 3 types of Sanseru kata, three times of thirty-six giving a sum total of one-hundred and eight. It was a common practice in the past to combine katas this way. Apparently in the old days, in Fujian martial arts every style had a kata which defined its core principles, this kata is called Sanchin, or “Mu-Quan” which meant “mother-kata”. But every school had a slightly different Sanchin kata. Most schools also had Nipaipo-28 steps and Shi-men,which meant “four doors”, four directions, (and perhaps had a similar significance as Goju-Ryu’s Shisochin which means four direction battle), and many styles had a kata called thirty-six hands or Sanseru. Often when a student has graduated from two styles or more, he would create one kata combining several katas from the few schools he graduated from, and this kata would define his style or school as a new and separate entity from the old schools he had studied in. Hence, according to Professor Wu, Suparimpei might possibly be the combination of three sanseru katas from three sources, although there is no evidence to prove or disprove this theory.

The discussion was really interesting but regrettably as the night was getting late we had to leave despite having much more to discuss.

Above pictures: Weapon kata demonstration in the Shan Wai Shan school.

Visiting A Yong Chun White Crane School

The following day we went to Yong Chun to visit the Wen Gong Ci White Crane Boxing School. This was the oldest White Crane School in China. Master Pan Chen Miao who was the presiding master of the school came to welcome us. Master Pan and Higaonna sensei met in 2007 in UK where four masters from four schools performed Sanchin kata together. Then in 2009 Master Pan’s son, Sensei Pan Chan An met Higaonna Sensei again in China when Higaonna Sensei visited the White Crane Memorial Hall.

Master Pan began as was the custom, by introducing the centre display of their school where the founders of their style and school were honored, then he went on to introduce their school’s history. Thereafter Master Pan got into the swing of things and called his students to demonstrate their kata before Higaonna Sensei. Three people demonstrated including Sensei Pan Chan An, and they demonstrated a series of very traditional White Crane kata.

Afterwards, Higaonna Sensei also decided that we should all give impromptu kata demonstrations, dressed as we were in Jeans, leather shoes, boots and Sneakers. First to go was Weiyong Soh who performed Kururunfa. Then Chen Yang Di performed Saifa in high-heeled boots (Nakamura Sensei commented that it must not have been easy!) Then Nakamura Sensei performed Shisochin (Nakamura Sensei later told me that he believed that Higaonna Sensei wanted him to demonstrate the Shisochin Kata because this kata was in appearance closest to the White Crane Style). Higaonna Sensei then performed Tensho. As fitting of the custom, Master Pan as the host performed the last kata, which regrettably I never got the chance to ask the name of.

Above clockwise: Higaonna Morio Sensei performs Tensho, Nakamura Sensei performs Shisochin, Pan Chan An Sensei performs a White-Crane kata, Master Pan Chen Miao performs a White Crane kata.

After the demonstrations, our hosts invited us to lunch in a local restaurant, whereby discussion was focused on the White Crane style. Master Pan said that there were some twenty odd kata in their style but he only generally taught about ten kata. Higaonna Sensei asked about practicing in their open-air dojo. Master Pan replied that they practice according to weather conditions and change their routine according to the seasons. Master Pan’s family business was trading in food-stuff, but they teach and train because it had always been their tradition and their martial art lineage have been passed generation to generation. Master Pan said he was the 11th Generation master in his line of White Crane Boxing.

Top Left: Master Pan presents Sensei Higaonna with a figurine of the White Crane Founding Master.
Top Right: Sensei Higaonna presents Master Pan with an IOGKF Banner.
Above: Sensei Higaonna signs in the guestbook of the school.

When we returned to Fuzhou that evening, inspired by all the karate and martial arts they have seen, our students petitioned to train in the new dojo. Higaonna Sensei and Nakamura Sensei also turned up and gave us instruction on our kata starting with Sanchin, followed by Gekisai-Dai Ichi, Geki-Sai-Dai-Ni, Saifa and Seiyunchin. Higaonna sensei explained in great detail the relationship between Sanchin and various parts of the other Goju-Ryu “open hand” kata, demonstrating once again how Sanchin kata was the basic foundation for the rest of the Goju-Ryu System. On that final note, we ended our most interesting and rewarding trip to Fujian in February 2011.