I have thought it best to start off this series of posts with a greeting- not just any greeting, but a greeting straight out of the world of Martial Arts!
Our American friends have lots of awesome tales of the Wild West, but what about the East? They certainly have their time of Ronin and Ninjas to look back to in Japan. One of my favourite eras, however, was the Jiang Hu era in China. This era was not necessarily tied to a particular dynasty, but it was a time in which martial artists lived a life on the edge in an underground lifestyle of challenging each other to the death, righting wrongs, driving out bandits or just taking revenge. The kind of stuff movies get made of.
This greeting hails from that time...
This greeting, of course, is the familiar salute with the right fist covered by the left hand.
To us Westerners this is a greeting associated with martial arts only as modern Chinese civilians do not bother to greet each other like this anymore. The use of this salute is traced back all the way to the Qing Dynasty that started in the 17th century and lasted all the way into the early 20th century (1912, I believe). It was said to be used by Ming loyalists that wanted their old regime back to greet their rebel brothers in a secret, yet recognisable manner. What happened to the rebellion I don't know, but I think the Communists were eventually the ones to overthrow the Qing...
But I digress...
Let's get back on track.
We know Japanese greet each other by bowing. We greet by shaking hands. In these greetings there is a sense of acknowledging one another.
Showing someone a fist in a palm, however, said something more.
If you ask Ashida Kim (hehe- I see Owen cringing in my minds-eye now) he would say that this was to tell the people being greeted that they were being greeted by a possessor of secret knowledge. This calling card might have meaning among martial artists at the time, but this explanation does not fit in with the fact that non-martial people used this particular greeting- known as Yi Li in Chinese as well. It had no martial connotation whatsoever.
Sifu Shuai Zheng has an explanation, however, to clear this up: Having the fingers folded over the closed fist is a ceremonial greeting.
Having the fingers of the open hand, straightened however, signified to the wanderers of the Jiang Hu world that you were a martial artist. Sifu Shuai actually explains why in an article of his here:
|Good day! A martial artist greets you!|
Using the straight fingered greeting is called Wushu Baoquan Li. My Chinese is not that good, but it sounds to me like "Fighting Arts Embraced Fist Standing", which sort of makes sense...
In the Kungfu of this day and age we see something similar being used as the opening to a form or as the salute to a sparring partner before you start the bout. In the photo below I have the fingers over my fist (because I have not read Sifu Shuai's article at the time of taking the photo. :D) while standing in a False Leg Stance. This movement is known as "Dragon and Tiger Appear" in Shaolin Kungfu. I have never figured out why Chinese martial artists had to give their movements such poetic names, but it is kinda cool.
Now- what "Dragon and Tiger Appear", Wushu Baoquan Li and Yi Li all have in common are the references to Yang and Yin.
You see- the tiger represents the Yin side while the Dragon represents the Yang side.
The left side represents the Yin aspect and the right side the Yang.
A closed fist (as if holding something) represents Yang while an open hand (empty) represents Yin.
Bringing Yang and Yin together in a symbolic greeting like this signified a unity and balance between these contrasting forces. It conformed with Confucius' teaching that a proper gentleman is schooled in the martial ways as well as the scholarly. It also says that effort should be tempered with patience.
In martial arts it can tell us that courage and ferocity is balanced with compassion and calm observance.
This greeting of course found its way to Japan. Shotokan karateka can recognise this pose from the kata Jion.
Now- I intended to show a Chinese link to Japanese karate, but must confess that my research on Jion actually yielded a shocking result:
You see- in Japan's Sengoku period, which is during the 15th Century, the man we know as Jion had another name- Soma Shiro Yoshimoto. Nothing is said of him ever having studied Karate at all. The only martial arts reference to him is the Nen-Ryu (Nen- school)of Kenjutsu (swordsmanship) that he had founded in his days as a Samurai.
Later in his life he had taken up monastic life and took the name Jion.
You can't get more Japanese like that. Not a single Chinese link to be found.
Before writing this post I contacted my friend and fellow karateka in Japan, Senpai Miki Yamaguchi, and asked her when the fist-and-palm greeting was first seen in Japan. She told me that Japanese do not greet like that and that it is the Chinese way of greeting. When asked about Jion's use thereof she said that he is known to have travelled to the Buddhist Temple in India.
So- we know now that monks in that time travelled and that foreign practices are found on these travels.
It would be interesting to know how this monk from the 15th Century found his place in Karate that came to Japan during the 20th Century... Guys- I don't have a comment section for nothing. If you know something, please share!
Now- having said that this Chinese Kungfu movement was taken up in a Karate form- I have found another interesting phenomenon. Most probably it came from Mister Miyagi showing us that waxing a car is actually a karate technique or Master Han who showed us that hanging up your jacket can be dangerous to assailants, but it clearly seems that someone in the Karate World felt that this movement simply had to have a fighting application.
I don't really object thereto, but the Shaolin part of me feels that people should just chill and look a bit further than just fighting. Kata actually have more to offer than just that. There is a reason why some movements are not even performed at combat speed after all...
Now- if you have read all the way to here I hope you had as much fun reading this as I had typing it.
Finding movements from Kungfu in Karate is not as easy as you'd think, but I have found a couple that Kungfu students can easily recognise. Next week's post will be about such a move.
Until we meet again- stay well!