Saturday, November 21, 2015

4/5 Ninja Stars for Bubishi by Patrick McCarthy

In the interest of full disclosure, I received this book from the publisher for review purposes
Title: Bubishi The Classic Manual of Combat
Translated with Commentary by: Patrick McCarthy
Publisher: Tuttle
Format: Hardcover
Cover Price: $27.95 $19.57(US)

    Bubishi is a title that's been hanging around my wishlist for a while now.  It's always been presented to me was as the "Bible of Karate."  Which I don't know quite how to take.  What does that mean?  Is it a series of rules and stories to live by if you're a karateka (person who does karate)?  In my head, it was kind of a Book of Five Rings or an Art of War, but somehow specifically written for karateka.  So I went into this book, not really knowing what to expect.  I have to say, as is more often the case than not, I was pleasantly surprised. 

NOTE: The editor just let me know that a new edition will be coming out in May 2016.  So start saving your pennies.


    From what I gathered from Patrick McCarthy Hanshi is that the Bubishi was the original hand written Chinese Kung Fu manuals that made their way over to Ryuku islands (what we would think of as Okinawa) to somehow form the basis for the original Okinawan art of Te, which eventually became Karate.  Many of the originators of what today is called karate had their own hand-copied version of the Bubishi, and swore by it.  My interpretation of the book is that there is no one official Bubishi manual, but indeed several versions of it, all of which mostly overlap in material.  What Mr. McCarthy did was to hunt down many of those versions, coalesce them, and offer an modernized interpretation to them. 
    The book itself is divided into several different sections.  The first involves the histories, stories, and legends of what Chinese martial arts migrated to the islands, and why they each have a piece of validity to them.  He then breaks the articles in the Bubishi into related subjects.  There is a section on history and philosophy, one on Chinese Herbal Medicine, another on Vital Points, and the last section is on Fighting techniques.  There are also lots of pictures of the original manual with translations of the Chinese texts.


    The translation and commentary by Mr. McCarthy was definitely worth the book by itself.  He has obviously put a large amount of time and energy into this product.  In fact the version I read was the third or fourth re-write from the original, with more work and insight having been poured into each new edition.  I enjoyed the frank and thoughtful observation of the various theories of how the Bubishi and the Chinese arts made they way to the Okinawan islands with a critique of the value of each theory as to its validity.
    He also went to great troubles to get an accurate interpretation of  the writings themselves.  As he states many times, the older language was not only hard to translate by itself, but often rife with terms only meaningful to those of a specific dialect of Chinese.  I guess this is how a lot of the secrecy and Oriental mystique gets started, but I did enjoy that Indiana Jones research aspect to his contribution to the story.
    The portion on pressure points and fighting techniques seemed, to me, to be of the most universal use to martial artists of any ilk.  The pictures and descriptions would have to be gone over, and dissected many time before they would reveal their wisdom.  But, isn't that one of the fun parts of martial arts?


    I am not a subscriber to traditional Chinese medicine in anyway shape or form, just because I haven't found any science to back it up (did I mention I'm a science teacher), so that portion of the book held no interest for me.  I understand as a historical look at Karate, and the portion of Chinese culture that gave rise to Karate, it has value.  And I understand that it was part of the original Bubishi, so why it should be included, but for me, it was easily overlooked.  Maybe one day I'll go back and look at it more in depth.  In some ways I feel bad because I get the feeling that Mr. McCarthy had the most trouble, and put in the most effort with that section of articles of the Bubishi.


     I do believe that this book, and Mc. McCarthy's version in particular, probably has a lot to give any martial artist.  I don't practice karate, but the ideas of history, philosophy, pressure points, and techniques presented seem to be pretty universal, and deeper meaning than the once-over would reveal.  As such, I'm going to give the book 4 out of 5 Ninja Stars, just because I didn't find the Traditional Chinese Medicine portion useful.  I'm sure there are people out there that will scoff at me for that, but that's my opinion. 

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