29 January, 2013

Theory on Suparinpei Origins

Having recently learned a version of suparinpei, and having done some research into this form for my grading, there was one thing that always bothered me about it.  It wasn't about the kata, or its history - both seem to be fairly well understood.  For those who do not know much about Goju Ryu kata, I encourage you to read some better sources than me, but for the sake of this discussion I will list the basic history as I understand it.

Orthodox history of Goju attributes all of the core kata (gekisai ichi & ni, saifa, sanchin, tensho, seiunchin, sanseiryu, shisochin, seisan, seipai, kururunfa and suparinpei) as being taught to Miyagi Chojun from his primary teacher Higaonna Kanryu.  This is the usual story told to most karateka.  But if you dig a little, you find that it is far more likely that Higaonna only taught four kata (sanchin, seisan, sanseiryu and suparinpei) and that these forms are from white crane, which Higaonna studied during his time in China.  While it is known and admitted that Miyagi invented gekisai ichi and ni, as well as tensho, this raises the question as to the origins of the others.  There is a lot of speculation in this regard, but it becomes obvious that they are likely interpretations or derivations of other Chinese forms which Miyagi added to the originals he learned from Higaonna.

Now, what my Sensei told me is that Suparinpei is linked to General Yue Fei.  I found this a very hard claim to understand for a number of reasons.

  1. General Yue Fei lived from 1103 to 1142 BC.
  2. General Yue Fei was in Northern China.
  3. General Yue Fei is linked to Eagle Claw and Xing Yi Quan.
  4. Some of the proposed systems from which the additional kata come from are: Tiger, Crane, Dragon, Five Ancestors, Mantis/Cricket, Hawk, Lohan and Lion (these come from other researchers, not myself).
The main issues I have with the above facts should be obvious - time, distance and unrelated arts.  While I haven't been able to find much information on some of these styles (Lohan, Lion, Hawk, Cricket) I have read a bit on some of the others, particularly Crane, Dragon and Five Ancestors.  While I find it likely that Tiger, Crane and Five Ancestors are the primary source for modern karate, this still didn't answer my questions about Yue Fei.

Recently I have done some reading about Eagle Claw, and I was surprised to see a couple of coincidences that might explain the connection my teacher told me about.  First of all, the idea of a connection between Eagle Claw and Karate is moot - Eagle Claw didn't come to Southern China until the early 1900's, well after the development of what is considered modern Karate.  But this doesn't limit out the possibility that Yue Fei's contributions are without possibility.

Among the core forms of Eagle Claw is something called Yue Shi San Shou, or General Yue's Fighting Style.  This also goes by another name, Yi Bai Ling Ba Qin Na, or 108 Seizing and Grabbing.  It should be noted that Suparinpei means 108 Hands, and while this is likely coincidental it still gave me hope to dig further.

Yue Shi San Shou (aka Yī Bǎi Ling Bā Qín Ná 一百零八擒拿 – “108 Seize Grab" techniques) is considered the "heart" of the Eagle Claw system. It is believed to be the original material passed down by the style's legendary founder Yue Fei. This material has 108 different categories of skills/techniques that are trained to a level of perfection with partners. One thing to remember is that each sequence is only an example of that category which contains numerous variations and off shoots.

Further digging about Eagle Claw led me to find additional articles which reinforced my ideas.  But in particular they noted that Yue Fei's techniques were popular amongst the fighting arts in contact with it, and his soldiers spread the art after his death.  This leaves the possibility that some concepts did migrate south and influence the Southern Chinese quan fa that did influence Karate. 

 Legend states that general Yue Fei (1103 - 1142 b.C.) of the Song dynasty, developed a a series of very effective fighting techniques to teach his soldiers, thus creating the "108 hands" and a system that was named Yue Shi San Shou, meaning "Yue Fei fighting techniques". After his sudden death, his faithful soldiers went all over China and taught his system. There isn't any reliable information about the historical continuity of the system, but years later, during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1664), in general's Qi Ji Guang book about war strategy and martial art, there mentioned the "Grab of the Eagle King". This mention in a way proves that the system was preserved and well known at that period of time. In this same book, Qi Ji Guang mentions Ba Shan Fan (another name for Fan Zi) as one of the most effective fighting systems of the Ming Dynasty.

I believe it is very likely that General Yue Fei's system, along with his legend and hero status among the residents in China, created a more keen interest in his methods and helped to spread the style in some form.  Not only this, but since this was first implemented in a military setting, it is also possible that many of the soliders who became monks would teach these skills as well.  Now match this with the multiple temple burnings and the flight of monks from those temples, and it becomes a little more likely.

Not to mention the fact that the ideals of Eagle Claw and Karate seem to be similar (grappling for the purpose of striking, not in an of itself).  In all, I think this was best summed up in the below excerpt from another article.

Early 20th century Okinawan masters, such as Gichen Funakoshi, spoke of developing the hands and grip so as to be able to seize an opponent tightly. In his early works he also demonstrated joint locks and take downs. Others, such as Goju Ryu's founder Miyagi developed his hands to the point that he could rip off chunks of bark from trees or be used to penetrate soft areas of the body. Within most karate systems today, however, this training is not longer emphasized. Only within older karate kata are the ancient skills of grasping and piercing techniques still retained.

Now, all of this isn't to say that it makes sense and there is a connection.  After all, Suparinpei is just the modern name of the form, said to originally be called Pechurin (百步連).  This is likely a homophone for another phrase in Chinese, but using Google I translated this as '100 Steps in Succession' and so perhaps all of the above is a coincidence.  But I was glad to be able to find some connection and give my mind something further to ponder upon.

06 January, 2013

Daily Practice - Sanchin, Tensho, Suparinpei

As regular readers of my blog will recall, I have been aiming to do regular daily practice and exploration of the softer, yin side of my practice.  I would like thrice daily, but at work this is difficult and akward, so I am doing twice daily for now.  This culminated with a decision to work on some qigong and the kata Tensho.  I have found myself doing this the last few days on a very consistent basis, after New Years.  This is entirely coincidental and not in line with any sort of resolution, but rather good timing against overcoming a bit of a Christmas cold, feeling energized, and learning one version of the top form in Goju, Suparinpei.

Anyways, in my practice of Tensho I have been experimenting and exploring a few different concepts within the form.  I have been performing is with different emphasis on each repetition in an effort to explore muscular tension, internal tension, mental focus, and breath control.  I will continue to work on this and develop the internal power I believe inherent with proper practice of TCM and its close derivatives like Goju karate.  I find myself preferring the Okinawan emphasis to my forms, and so in this I have been doing research to find out what past masters have thought on Tensho.  The information is surprisingly sparse, and so as with all my research I have been pushing for related topics to try to find something with depth.  I have resolved to play with the form and my own ideas on softness to try to come up with my own flavour of the form.  Achieving the proper, relaxed ideal I have in mind is incredibly difficult but I feel rewarding.  As I find myself fond of saying, the way is in the training...

As mentioned above, I have also been focusing on Suparinpei, the crown of Goju.  Having finally learned the schematic from my Sensei before the winter holidays, I have been somewhat obsessed with it.  Watching videos, reading articles, and practicing what I have been shown and how it contrasts with what I see other styles doing.  For those in a similar world, I highly recommend making a study of a given form in this method - find the different versions according to large schools, teachers older and newer and compare what is being done.  Watch the hips!  Be aware of the breath.  See how the practitioner tenses.  Be aware of the timing of a single movement like mawashi uke - this technique alone can change the intent of a given application.  Fascinating and I feel like I am finally beginning to connect with some sort of central concept for my art.  The more I practice, the more I realize I am truly at the beginning, and there is so much progress to make that I am excited for what additional practice will bring.

Anyways, back to Tensho.  In the course of my research, I found that many people group Tensho with Sanchin for obvious reasons.  So due to the lack of depth people have given Tensho, I was immersed again by people's thoughts on Sanchin.  In the past I have read things about Sanchin, and I know that Sanchin is the heart or core of Goju.  But until I started reading more about it and really thinking (actively) about this fact, I didn't really feel that I understood what it meant, or how this short and simple form could be at the core.  But two things have recently changed by mind, and I am now including Sanchin into my daily practice.

The first is a video I was watching, about an unrelated art.  Bak Mei, or White Eyebrow, is a Southern Chinese Quan Fa style with an interesting history.  At any rate, I was watching a video, link provided below, when it mentioned a relation between essential basics in Quan Fa and other arts like Karate.  This sparked a bit of a revelation to me, and sparked further interest.

Bak Mei Salute power details

I then found a great little intro article, which I believe is taken from the intro to the book The Way of Sanchin Kata: The Application of Power by Kris Wilder.  The link to the article is provided below.  Needless to say after this inspiration from Bak Mei and the versatility of Sanchin, I have ordered the book and this fuels my own practice and research into the benefits of this basic form.  It has been many years since I thought of this form as difficult, and I am glad to be able to discover more depth to this form.  I finally get what the interest in this form is, and why it is still so essential to current quan fa styles as well as part (extinct) styles.  Forms for combat experience and Sanchin for conditioning.  The way is in my training...

Sanchin Kata Fundamentals

So my current twice daily practice looks to be shaping up nicely.  Just after I wake and just before I sleep there is one Sanchin and one Tensho waiting for me.  Suparinpei is added in as well to help start developing some understanding and depth.  It raises other questions I have as well about my art, namely:
  1. Why do we order the forms the way we do?
  2. Are the forms a progression from simplest to most difficult?
  3. Are the forms a progression from most essential to the more obscure?
  4. Are the forms even a progression and what does advanced mean in a curriculum?
  5. Why do we study all the forms now instead of only a few?
  6. If some forms were added after the fact, what is it that they provide in terms of new material?
  7. If we want to add another form into the style, what are the criteria for its inclusion?

I find all of this providing a great sense of freedom in my training.  There is no limit, only that which I set for myself.  For now I have no plans or end goals, only to continue training and to continue learning.  I suppose that is as close as I will get to a resolution.