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Iain Abernethy
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Hi Stevenson,

Stevenson wrote:
We have a broadly consistent pattern (the numbers sum to 9) with 2 outliers - seisan and niseishi.

I don’t think we have a broadly consistent pattern. There are six number kata, and only four add up to nine. I think the term “outliers” is very generous when we are talking about a third of the total number.

Stevenson wrote:
In the case of seisan it is very prevalent, and with neisishi - it's a kata I have never heard of so perhaps less prevalent than seisan?

Neiseishi (Nijushiho) is a very widely practised form. Shotokan, Wado-Ryu, Shito-Ryu and plenty of others have versions of it.

Arakaki – teacher of Higaonna; who in turn taught Miyagi – is said to have taught it. It did not find its way into Goju though.

Stevenson wrote:
I would suggest that seisan is prevalent and with the meaning supposedly ascribed for a reason, and possibly niseishi is an error of transcription (chinese whispers) or there is some other meaning (provided the theory holds true) that might be divined from it - ie it's intent....or whatever.

This strikes me as starting with the conclusion and working back. You are suggesting that the theory is right and the number is wrong (transcription error). However, the most obvious conclusion is the theory is wrong.

That’s one of the reasons I find myself unconvinced by the attempt to afford all number kata a religious or philosophical basis. There is no unifying pattern to support the notion of a unifying theory.

Stevenson wrote:
Sorry Iain - you've lost me here a little. Higoanna went and studied in southern china where these philsophies and teachings were really prevalent and returned with a synthesised version of white crane kung fu and okinawan karate. Miyagi may have named this style of karate "Goju" later but surely he did so because of the philosphies consitent with the "taoist/zen buhddist" teachings that may have lead to the katas being named in this way. Just because the name "Goju" came later doesn't invalidate the theory at all - the name came from the content of the karate not the other way around.

You are asserting the numbers have a philosophical basis, with no real evidence to do so.  You are also arresting that Miyagi strongly ascribed to this philosophical approach and named his style after it. I see no strong evidence to support that.

Miyagi took the name from a poem in the Bubishi which states that, "the way of inhaling and exhaling is hardness (go) and softness (ju).” You could claim that Miyagi chose this line because of Taoist principles, but there is no evidence for that. It could have been loads of other reasons.

In 1928 Miyagi was asked to attend a demonstration in Kyoto. Unable to go, he sent Jinan Shinzato (said to be his top student). When he was asked what style he did, he had no good answer because Miyagi has not named his style. Shinzato bluffed with “hanko-ryu” (“half hard school”). It was because of this incident that Miyagi was forced to name the style. This would seem odd if Taoist philosophy was at the very heart of Miyagi’s teaching. The name came late and reluctantly, and his top student did not think to give a name directly reflecting the Taoist philosophy you are asserting is so central.

A more convincing reason for the name could be the simple fact that system contains both soft and hard methods (as exemplified by Tensho and Sanchin). I see no reason to assert Taoist philosophy as the most likely theory.

I’ll also mention again that Goju is just one style, and that almost all the others have number kata in their curriculum. Now if Taoist philosophy was so central to karate, and the kata that comprise it, surely the other styles would want to reflect that too? You are ignoring all the other systems that have names that have nothing to do with Taoist philosophy.

Higaonna also does not seem to have pushed the importance of Taoist philosophy as you are asserting. Kenwa Mabuni trained under him too and he formed Shito-Ryu. He got the name by combining charters from both Higaonna’s and Itosu’s names. Tsuyoshi Chitose, who founded Chito-ryu ("one-thousand-year-old Chinese style”), also trained under Higaonna. So, no sign of Taoist philosophy being front and central in those style names.

The evidence firmly points away from your assertion that Goju got the name because of the Taoist / Zen Buddhist teachings that you also assert were so central Higaonna’s teachings. There’s no evidence for any of that.

Stevenson wrote:
With the exception of seisan (13) which adds to 4 - considered the unluckiest of numbers and representing death. So some say it is the "killing" kata, that it's intent is for when there is no option for harmony but that a fight to the death is all there is left.

Iain Abernethy wrote:
Who says that? I’ve never hear that before. Is it a reliable historical source?

Stevenson wrote:
Yeah it's in the I Ching …

The I Ching does not state that Seisan is a “killing kata designed for when a fight to the death is the only option that is left”. I’m therefore still left asking who are the “some that say”?

If there are no historical sources that state Seisan is a special killing kata designed for when fight to the death is the only option that is left, then it would seem that you have things are back to front.

You have asserted that the reason Seisan is a special death kata (1+3 = 4, and 4 is sounds like death), but there is no historical basis for that claim. The claim has been made because it fits the theory. As before (“24 is an error in transcription”) the facts are being created or moulded to fit the theory. That strongly suggests it’s not a valid theory.

Iain Abernethy wrote:
What is the historical basis for your answers to the above questions?

Stevenson wrote:
The I Ching …

You are beginning at the wrong end. You are starting with the I Ching in order to prove that the number kata have their basis in the I Ching. This is circular reasoning.

The numbers that don’t fit with the I Ching (one third of them) are explained away on the basis of being an error in transcription and the status of Seisan as a death kata … but there is no independent evidence for those claims.

The fact the theory does not work without these baseless assertions is the strongest of reasons to reject the theory.

There is no evidence that 24 is a transcription error. You are asserting it could be because it does not fit with your theory. We have no other evidence is it a transcription error though. We should not assume it is simply because it does not fit the throry.

Stevenson wrote:
My (very very tentative) guess is that Niseishi's name was derived from the King Wen arrangemnet of the Gua. I have no idea why, but just maybe it might in the fullness of time be a clue as to its origin.

There is no evidence for that claim. You are again starting with the I Ching in order to prove the I Ching.

There is no evidence that Seisan as a death kata. You are asserting that solely on the basis of the numerology of the I Ching. There is no historical basis for that statement.

You have twice asserted the I Ching as that primary evidence. You are therefore employing the logical fallacy of circular reasoning.

Let’s say I write on a piece of paper, “There is a secret underground alien civilisation on the moon. This piece of paper is true”. If people then ask for evidence of this alien civilisation I can’t just point to the piece of paper (“It says it there”). I need evidence independent of the source of my claim. Without that it is circular reasoning with both source and proof being one and the same.

You are doing something very similar by claiming the I Ching as both source and proof without providing any additional external sources for the “facts” you assert to make the claim work ("death kata", etc).

You are obviously free to believe that if you wish, but you have not put forth evidence that makes me feel the theory is strong enough to assert others should also consider adopting it.

Iain Aberenthy wrote:
Worth mentioning that Itoman puts the “13” (and other number kata too) down to their use in Buddhism. This strikes me as very sketchy though. Itoman and others are no doubt just taking the prevailing religion of their area and asserting a connection that will be attractive to the masses. Just as the Bodhidharma / Shaolin monk myth was used in the same way.

Stevenson wrote:
Well, maybe don't dismiss that theory too quickly. There is a book I have been dipping into that may be of relevance here …

The argument seems to have shifted a tiny bit.

Stevenson wrote:
The theory is that numbers had special significance for practioners of the time.

The point I made was that I don’t see any reason to connect the numbers to Buddhism (or Taoism). You suggested I should not dismiss the theory that the numbers where derived from those sources. We have discussed it, and I am happy to maintain my original position based on the above points.

It is a different assertion to say they had “special significance”. That could well be the case for some of the kata. However, to date, no one has put forward a convincing argument that the “special significance” is religious or philosophical. Let alone positively identified the source of that special significance as the I Ching or anything else.

We don’t know what the significance of the numbers is.  There is no reason to suggest a universal underlying theme. One could be the number of steps, the other the number of hand positions, the other the number of weak areas struck … we don’t know.

What we do know is that any attempt conclusively show a Buddhist or Taoist source for the numbers is far from convincing. As presented to date (by you and others) it still strikes me as sketchy and inconsistent. I therefore see very good reasons to dismiss the theory.

Thanks for the back and forth that allows the topic to be thoroughly unpacked.

All the best,

Iain

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

Holger wrote:
Seisan as a Kata was first mentioned in the famous 1867 martial arts program. Here the Kanji 十三步 were used.

Interesting! I was unaware of the kanju used. That's great info!

So, when Arakaki demonstrated Seisan at that event on the 24th of March 1867 it was written down, again at that time, as “13 steps” not just “13”.

I assume it was the same for Chikudon Tomura’s (a student of Arakaki) demo of Suparinpei i.e. “108 steps” and the use of 步?

It’s that so, then we can confidently assume that “steps” is indeed what was being counted for those kata.

All the best,

Iain

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

Please be sure to check out Stevenson’s very detailed and interesting post on numerology here:

https://www.iainabernethy.co.uk/content/numerology-fighting-arts-i-ching-and-ku-ji-ho

Please keep all comments in this thread.

All the best,

Iain

PS While I don’t agree with Stevenson’s assertion the kata names have their origins in numerology. His post on numerology is very interesting! Well worth a read!

ky0han
ky0han's picture

Hi Iain,

for Tomimuras demonstration of a form called 108 Steps the Kanji 壱百零八歩 were used again with the last Kanji meaning step.

Regards Holger

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

Iain Abernethy wrote:
Please be sure to check out Stevenson’s very detailed and interesting post on numerology here:

https://www.iainabernethy.co.uk/content/numerology-fighting-arts-i-ching-and-ku-ji-ho

Stevenson wrote:
Taking the number 13 literally in the King Wen series gives “Fellowship”, which doesn’t seem a likely connection with a fighting form. There is no obvious connection to the Fu Xi arrangement by adding 1 + 3. All we have really is an established practise of adding numbers and a deeply ingrained cultural fear of the number 4. It’s likely that the adding one and three as would be the case in the I Ching to give 4 either symbolises a fight to the death, or when one’s luck has run out. The word for “death” in Japanese is also “shi” - which sounds nearly identical to the word 4. So in the absence of any other plausible theories and the ubiquitous use of numbers throughout eastern culture, and the wide use of the name “seisan” applied to many katas, it’s fair to say that it’s likely the reason for the name is because of the significance of the number 4 to people from those cultures.

I think Holger has found the smoking gun on this one.

Arakaki demonstrated Seisan on the 24th of March 1867. At the time, we have an historical document that shows the “13” related to the number of steps.

Holger wrote:
Seisan as a Kata was first mentioned in the famous 1867 martial arts program. Here the Kanji 十三步 were used.

Higaonna started training with Arakaki later that same year. We know with certainty that both Seisan and Suparinpei were in Okinawa at that time and were not brought back from China by Higaonna at a later date (as is sometimes said). We also know that the name of the kata was written as “十三步”(13 steps) at that time.

The inclusion of the kanji 步 makes it clear that it is steps that are being counted.

There is therefore solid historical evidence to say the number is simply the number of movements in the kata at that time. In the last 150 years that kata will have changed and evolved along various branches, but at that time we can be confident it had 13 steps.

The 1+3=4 and 4 is a homophone for death hypothesis has no historical evidence to support it and requires a lot of unnecessary supposition.

Ockham’s Razor states, “it is futile to do with more things that which can be done with fewer.” Therefore, the kata having 13 steps is the obvious position to take. We don’t need to suppose the involvement of the I Ching and bring in complex numerology. We don’t need to suppose it is a “death kata” without any evince to support that. It's just the number of steps.

Stevenson wrote:
So in the absence of any other plausible theories ...

The earliest record we have for this kata uses the kanji for “steps”. The man who taught Higaonna the kata Seisan had it written down as “steps” and that’s good enough for me. It requires no suppositions and therefore is the conclusion we should logically favour.

It was called “13 steps” before Higaonna started training and before Miyagi, Mabuni and Funakoshi were even born. So “steps” it is.

All the best,

Iain

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

ky0han wrote:
for Tomimuras demonstration of a form called 108 Steps the Kanji 壱百零八歩 were used again with the last Kanji meaning step.

That’s very useful! Thank you. I love days where I learn something new :-)

All the best,

Iain

muratmat
muratmat's picture

Do you guys have a scan copy of the the famous 1867 martial arts program? It would be really nice to see the original document.

Cataphract
Cataphract's picture

The step counting explanation begs the question: Why did they count that way? I guess it is safe to assume the purely utilitaristic aspect was made to fit culturally significant numbers. Maybe only as a learning aid, and maybe because the next guy also has a 108 set.

We didn't receive any explanation however, which leaves room for speculation and interpretation. My explanation is that 13 = 8 bagua + 5 elements, the universal building blocks. We are doing martial art. There should be some artistic license imo.

Stevenson
Stevenson's picture

The fact the theory does not work without these baseless assertions is the strongest of reasons to reject the theory.

 Iain, the theory are not based on "baseless" assertions. Reading any historical text on the I Ching or Kuji-ho emphasises how ubiquitous and important they were to the people and martial art practioners of the time. That we don't have a good connection to explain how or why this sort of practise fused with what we have in our karate kata, is not evidence that none exists. A logical fallacy is "the absence of evidence is the evidence of absence". Not being able to explain or understand dark matter or dark energy doesn't stop sceintists from looking for the evidence or infering its existence.

The issue I think you are over-looking is the cultural norms of the time. Given over whelming evidence that numerology was important to the people all over the orient, going back thousads of years and continuing to this day, wouldn't it be surprising if the significance they found in these numerical arrangements  DIDN'T find its way into karate?

This was the internet of its day., taken for granted, a cultural norm - at least all references seem to indicate this. So the question I have for you then is, how is it that karate, despite using numbers (superficially) associated with such philsophies popular at the time, did NOT draw from them or was influenced by them? Why were the practioners immune to their influence? If they weren't completely immune, how did it manifest?

Arakaki demonstrated Seisan on the 24th of March 1867. At the time, we have an historical document that shows the “13” related to the number of steps.

Of which version of seisan? The arakaki version? How do you work that out? The Arakaki seisan that I have seen has waaaaay more than 13 steps. Other versions have less than the arakaki, others have more. In what way is 13 steps related to the kata that is consistent with all other katas calling themselves seisan?

Regarding Niseishi....

There is no evidence for that claim. You are again starting with the I Ching in order to prove the I Ching.

So again with respect to the I Ching, I am not starting with the I Ching to PROVE the I Ching. I am starting with the I Ching to investigate the reasoning around the use of numerology in naming katas, and possibly more. Until recently I did not appreciate the degree to which asian cultures have been influenced by it, nor the importance they placed on numbers and their relationship more generally. My position is to try understand the cultural CONTEXT, not to PROVE a specific condition. The I Ching is PROVABLY ubiquitous throughout Asia, and from that I can suspect/suggest/imply/assume it ALSO influenced karate. But at this stage, I can't say exactly how and PROVE it with a direct quote or evidence. What I think I CAN say is that the connection given everything I have just said, can be ruled out. In fact it would be an extraoridnary claim for which I could demand evidence to say that it should be. Given how important numerology was at the time, why does karate ignore it?

It is a different assertion to say they had “special significance”. That could well be the case for some of the kata. However, to date, no one has put forward a convincing argument that the “special significance” is religious or philosophical. Let alone positively identified the source of that special significance as the I Ching or anything else.

I have actually never "asserted" anything different. This whole subject is so vast, it boggles the mind, but the whole numerology thing is completely tied up in Taoism and Confucianism as well as Buddhism and Hinduism, they are all heavily connected especially along certain important principles, philsophies and dieties. I contacted a famous Sinologist about this (an uncle of a close friend of mine) who said as much. And again, while no one has put a convincing argument together regarding the influence of the I Ching and numerology more generally in Karate, I am at least having a stab at it, and the more I discover the more I suspect there is one, and it certainly doesn't mean there isn't a convincing argument out there. We just don't know it yet.

Regarding evidence for Tao in Goju: I would say at this stage, it is pretty incredible to suggest that Goju was not steeped in Taoist principles, however the name came to be. That would make it's kata names and teaching principles a staggering coincidence.

Final point:

You have asserted that the reason Seisan is a special death kata (1+3 = 4, and 4 is sounds like death), but there is no historical basis for that claim. The claim has been made because it fits the theory. As before (“24 is an error in transcription”) the facts are being created or moulded to fit the theory. That strongly suggests it’s not a valid theory.

 There IS historical basis for the claim. The basis is in how people of those cultures used and viewed numbers, for which there is any amount of evidence you could want, plus the superstitious importance of the number 4. It is not a large leap to make. The first thing to do is try to understand the culture and mindset around numbers to people of that place and time. They weren't JUST numbers. 13 didn't JUST mean 13. My suggestion that 24 was a transcription error was just that, a guess. I don't think that is likely now having read more widely. I think it is likely based on a different interpreation/school of thought based on the I Ching. Given how many different ways the I Ching was used, hundreds and hundreds schools of thought, it would be an extraordinary coincidence if they applied it in the same way. I think the only reason that so many appear to be based on the Fu Xi bagua in modern karate is because they came (or were promoted) from one source - Kanryo Higoanna.

My overall view is that we are missing the context - I'm thinking about how the Japanese eat, the complexity of the culture for food preparation. We seem to be at the level of "the Japanese cut fish that way so that it fits in their mouths" argumentaiton. I have ordered some more resource material to try and get a fuller understanding, but the problem is we are asking such a specific question and the field is so vast. It's plainly apparent to me that with our Western eyes we haven't appreciated some aspects of eastern culture that are really important in understanding how and why things were done as they were. So I am trying to keep an open mind.

PS. so one of the resources I have ordered is from Serge Mol. have you heard of him? I've ordered his Invisible Armour: An Introduction into the Esoteric Warrior Arts. Looks pretty interesting.

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

Stevenson wrote:
Iain, the theory are not based on "baseless" assertions.

There is no evidence that Seisan is a special death kata. There is no evidence that “24” was transcribed incorrectly.  There is no evidence Taoist principles were at the heart of either Aragaki’s, Higaonna’s or Miyagi’s teaching. All have been asserted.

You start with the assumption that the I Ching is the reason for it all and the above claims flow from that. But there is no evidence to corroborate your assertions. That is why I maintain they are baseless.

Stevenson wrote:
That we don't have a good connection to explain how or why this sort of practise fused with what we have in our karate kata, is not evidence that none exists. A logical fallacy is "the absence of evidence is the evidence of absence".

The logical fallacy at work here is “Russell’s’ Teapot”. As the one making the claim you need to provide the evidence. Aside from the repeated assertion that the I Ching is at the heart of it all, there is no evidance being put forth to support the claim. There is evidence that undermines your claim though.  

Stevenson wrote:
Not being able to explain or understand dark matter or dark energy doesn't stop scientists from looking for the evidence or inferring its existence.

That’s a bad analogy. The universe is expanding way faster than expected and hence the unknown mechanism for that is currently given the label “dark energy”. There are also more gravitational effects being seen than conventional matter can account for, so they give the unknown cause the name “dark matter”. There is evidence for both of these things existing though. They have not made something up and then gone looking for it.  The evidence came first, and they still don’t know what it is.

You are asserting that the number katas are I Ching based – with no historical verification – and then selectively looking for evidence that supports the assertion. The scientists have not asserted they know what dark matter or dark energy are and then gone looking for them. And they are not “inferring” anything. They know something exists because of the evidence, but they are clear they don’t know what the something is.

Stevenson wrote:
Of which version of seisan? The arakaki version? How do you work that out? The Arakaki seisan that I have seen has waaaaay more than 13 steps.

As I understand it, the Aragaki version is modern version put together by Patrick McCarthy (very cool kata).

The inescapably thing here is that Aragaki’s demo had it transcribed as “steps” (character can also be read as “stages”) and we can safely assume he knew his own kata. It was 150 years ago, so some changes, even significant changes, are to be expected.

Stevenson wrote:
and from that I can suspect/suggest/imply/assume it ALSO influenced karate. But at this stage, I can't say exactly how and PROVE it with a direct quote or evidence.

Which is why I feel happy to reject it at this time. It’s an unproven assertion. There is evidence for “steps” though. Therefore, it is logical to have that as the preferred explanation.

Stevenson wrote:
Given how important numerology was at the time, why does karate ignore it?

Because it is a fighting system. The aim is efficiency in violence. Numerology has no value in achieving that aim.

Stevenson wrote:
but the whole numerology thing is completely tied up in Taoism and Confucianism as well as Buddhism and Hinduism, they are all heavily connected especially along certain important principles, philosophies and deities.

Karate is a martial art. Not a religion.

Stevenson wrote:
while no one has put a convincing argument together regarding the influence of the I Ching and numerology more generally in Karate …

That’s the point. There is no convincing argument … if there was I’d be convinced :-)

Stevenson wrote:
I am at least having a stab at it, and the more I discover the more I suspect there is one, and it certainly doesn't mean there isn't a convincing argument out there. We just don't know it yet.

Until such an argument is put forth there is no reason to accept it as having any validity. There is good evidence that the number relates to the kata’s structure.

Stevenson wrote:
Regarding evidence for Tao in Goju: I would say at this stage, it is pretty incredible to suggest that Goju was not steeped in Taoist principles, however the name came to be. That would make it's kata names and teaching principles a staggering coincidence.

Show me the quote where Chojun Miyagi says that his art is based on Taoist principles? The evidence for the names suggests they have nothing to do with Taoist principles. I’m not seeing any coincidence, let alone a staggering one.

Stevenson wrote:
There IS historical basis for the claim …

No there isn’t. I have asked for historical information that says that Seisan is a “death kata”. You keep asserting what the I Ching says about 13. Not even close to being the same thing. You are therefore inferring something about the nature of the kata from the I Ching – and the I Ching alone – in order to prove the assertion that the I Ching explains the numbering of the kata. It’s circular logic.

Give me one source that says that the kata Seisan is a “death kata”? That’s what I’m asking for. If you have that, then you have some evidence that the nature of the kata is reflected in the numerology of the name. As it is, you are inferring something about the kata with no basis on which to do so. You are using your theory to prove itself.

Stevenson wrote:
13 didn't JUST mean 13.

It did when they were counting. If they were counting movements, steps, or stages, and there was 13 of them, you’d say there was 13 steps. And that’s what they wrote down. There was "13 steps". We should not ignore that.  

Stevenson wrote:
So I am trying to keep an open mind.

We always should. I’ve listened to the arguments, and I don’t see them as having validity. Even you say that “no one has put a convincing argument together regarding the influence of the I Ching and numerology more generally in Karate.”.

So, having kept my mind open, listened to the arguments, and considered the evidence, I maintain the position that linking the numbers to Buddhism or Taoism has nothing to support it.

Holger informed me that the kanji used in 1867 said it was “steps”. So, I’ve shifted my position in this thread from “we don’t know” to “it was almost certainly steps being counted.” That’s strong evidence so my position has changed.

I’m not moving from my position in regard to Buddhism, Taoism and the I Ching though, not because I have a closed mind, but because I also have a critical one that seeks evidence and the most logical conclusion.

It is the weakness of the argument that sees me maintaining the initial position. Nothing else. Repeating the same arguments won’t serve any purpose. But if you discover anything new, then my mind remains open. However, as it stands I see no reason to accept or adopt the idea that kata numbers are based on the numerology of the I Ching.

I do enjoy our discussions and we’ve definitely given readers more than enough to read through when making up their own mind.

All the best,

Iain

Stevenson
Stevenson's picture

There is no evidence that Seisan is a special death kata. There is no evidence that “24” was transcribed incorrectly.  There is no evidence Taoist principles were at the heart of either Aragaki’s, Higaonna’s or Miyagi’s teaching. All have been asserted.

You start with the assumption that the I Ching is the reason for it all and the above claims flow from that. But there is no evidence to corroborate your assertions. That is why I maintain they are baseless.

Iain, I did not "assert" that "24" was transcribed incorrectly, I suggested it as merely possibility in passing. I do "assert" that Taoist principles are "at the heart" of Higoanna's teachings however, and for that I have a wealth of evidence. I'll go further, the influence of the I Ching permeates nearly everything in eastern culture from India through to Korea and Japan, but it's not me saying it. There is tons and tons of evidence for this.

You mentioned how Miyagi took the name "Goju" from a poem in the Bubushi? that "poem" was in fact the 8 precepts of Quanfa, the first of which reads: "The human mind is one with heaven and earth". This is the principle of Tai Chi - and the fact there are 8 precepts, and not 7 or 10 or any other number is clearly a representation of the primary gua. It found it's way into nearly every aspect of life and in Japanese martial arts it is known as the "hakke" or 8 trigrams.

That’s a bad analogy. The universe is expanding way faster than expected and hence the unknown mechanism for that is currently given the label “dark energy”.

 That's right. About 70% Dark energy and 25% Dark matter. My analogy is that there is plenty of evidence of a causal link between gravity/universe exapansion with out actual hard evidence that these things exist. I feel like we are in a room full of smoke but because we can't see the fire we don't believe the fire exists.

Because it is a fighting system. The aim is efficiency in violence. Numerology has no value in achieving that aim.

Whether it has value or not is entirely beside the point. It's what these guys believed at the time - their CONTEXT - is what I am really trying to argue is completely different from our western thinking. The aim may well be efficiency in violence, but how they went about achieving it, their mind set and philosophy is as coloured by their culture as ours is in how we appraise information. Bruce Lee says it best in his book "The Tao of Gung Fu":

The basic structure of gung fu is based on the theory of yin and yang, a pair of mutually complimentary and interdenedent forces that act continuously, without cessation, in this universe. to the Chinese, harmony is regarded as the basic prinicple of the world order, as a cosmic field of force in which the yin and yang are eternally complementary and eternally changing. European dualism sees physical and metphysical as two seperate entities, at best cause and effect, but never paired like sound and echo.....Gentleness and firmness (yin and yang) are two "interdependent" and "complimentary" forces in the Chinese art of gung fu....

...This oneness of things is a characteristic of the Chinese mind. In the Chinese lagnuage events are looked on as a whole because thier meaning is derived from each other. For instance, the characters for good and bad are different. However, when combined, the word "quality" is formed....

It's worth pointing out that the kata "Tensho" was devised as a compliment to "Sanchin" because Sanchin was characterised as a "hard/yang" kata. If that isn't evidence of adhereing to Taoist principles I really don't know what is. Even if the synchoncity of the kata naming system, and the technqiues and general approach weren't enough. It doesn't mean that the karate is not efficient, it just means that the philosphy guiding the principles  was Taoist not because it was looking exclusively to apply them, but because they saw everything through that lens. It wouldn't have been a big deal. When we discuss information we have found, we don't discuss the importance of using google over bing, we just discuss the information. We can't know exactly what was in their minds, so we have to keep an open mind and infer, and not draw too firm conclusions. Gradually improve our evidence.

It's importance is largley academic, but for working out whether something is applicable to our understanding of the world or not, it's helpful to know where they are coming from.

Karate is a martial art. Not a religion.

 It is to you, and it is to me. But from what I have been reading, there aren't such distinctions to practioners of the time.

Show me the quote where Chojun Miyagi says that his art is based on Taoist principles? The evidence for the names suggests they have nothing to do with Taoist principles. I’m not seeing any coincidence, let alone a staggering one.

Where have you written that your approach to karate is Judeo-Christian? Yet you live in a soceity that is fundementally based on western philospohies. You may celebrate christmas, but not be christian. The year is structured around christian celebrations and our thinking as Bruce Lee describes "seperates the physical and the metaphysical". My "evidence" that sugar is in the pudding is because it tastes sweet, not because the chef told me he used sugar. By creating a kata "Ten sho", by using kata names that are numbers known to have enormous significance in the I Ching primary gua. "To pursue karate is to master oneself" - Takahashi Miyagi...is pretty much right out of the taoist copy book.

Come on - 18, 36, 108? Sanchin (3 battles also known as Go no kata) and Shishoshin (4 towns or gates) - that's straight from quanfa which according to Bruce Lee (and other sources I have read) steeped in Tao/ Tao Buddhism. Sanchin and Shishoshin ought to serve as a clue as to the origin of the karate style, both being chinese, and belonging to style from a culture heavily steeped in taoist buddhism, and then to take numbers that correspond to pairings from the primary gua? And if that wasn't enough, a new kata was created (Tensho) to add balance to a yang style kata - Sanchin. That's phenomenally coicidental don't you think?

No there isn’t. I have asked for historical information that says that Seisan is a “death kata”. You keep asserting what the I Ching says about 13. 

 Iain, I am not "asserting" ANYTHING about what the I Ching says about the number 13. I am "asserting" (if you like) that the I Ching is hugely influential, that numbers and their signficance are important in eastern cultures. You keep using the word "assert" but it does nothing to further the discussion, because you are stating a position I don't have. It's hugely complex and vast and deep. That numerology was important all people of eastern cultures and for thousadns of years is surely beyond despute? Or is that your position? Are you asserting that numerology was just a little side show in eastern cultures?

The historical basis is enormous - there is so much information out there about the I Ching, the schools of thought, the way it influenced thought and culture. I stumbled across another book which I have just ordered:

The evidence it found it's way into Japanese martial arts is beyond despite too. Here is a page from the Shikansho (an ancient Japanese martial arts manuscript) showing clearing the primary gua or 8 trigrams:

Holger informed me that the kanji used in 1867 said it was “steps”. So, I’ve shifted my position in this thread from “we don’t know” to “it was almost certainly steps being counted.” That’s strong evidence so my position has changed.

From everything I have read I would say this: Virtually nothing is literal. If you put together "buy" and "sell" in Chinese, you get "trade". If you restrict yourself to literal translations from Chinese (and Japanese to a lesser extent), you will miss (or risk missing) the overall meaning. Is it still your position that Seisan is one kata modified dozens of times, or do you think there is a significance to the name that inpsired the creators to name it that way?

I do enjoy our discussions and we’ve definitely given readers more than enough to read through when making up their own mind.

It's been inspiring to say the least. I have long wanted to delve into this subject more deeply but without (dare I even say it...) your "yang" in opposing the notion, I wouldn't have had the motivation to find the balance... :) It also answered (or pointed to answers) of long held questions I have had with regards to the Goju system. The book: "Invisible Armour" by Serge Mol is absolutely extraordinary. It's breath-taking the richness and complexity of the Japanese martial art philosphoies and superstitions. And it's well written with a lot photographic evidence. I can recommend.

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

Stevenson wrote:
I do "assert" that Taoist principles are "at the heart" of Higoanna's teachings however, and for that I have a wealth of evidence. I'll go further, the influence of the I Ching permeates nearly everything in eastern culture from India through to Korea and Japan, but it's not me saying it. There is tons and tons of evidence for this.

We are never going to agree on this :-) There is no evidence Higoanna's teachings have Taoist principles at the heart of them.

Even if he was part of a culture in which Taoism was widespread, you need to show that he made that philosophy central to his martial teachings and included such symbolism as a result. There is no evidence for that at all.

Stevenson wrote:
It's worth pointing out that the kata "Tensho" was devised as a compliment to "Sanchin" because Sanchin was characterised as a "hard/yang" kata. If that isn't evidence of adhering to Taoist principles I really don't know what is.

It’s evidence that having both hard (forceful) and soft (yielding) methods in your fighting arsenal is very useful. That seems obvious and simple. Combative efficiency will have been the driving motivation, not adhering to philosophical or religious constructs. Goju is a martial art … not a Taoist religious sect.

Iain Abernethy wrote:
Karate is a martial art. Not a religion.

Stevenson wrote:
It is to you, and it is to me. But from what I have been reading, there aren't such distinctions to practitioners of the time.

The martial arts are full of myths that were created to serve a purpose. Alleged connections to religious ideals and figures are widespread because they were thought to give the arts legitimacy at a time where the needs of combative efficiency were less pressing. They are marketing and propaganda though. They have no historical basis. They are often repeated and some people really like them. Does not make them true. It’s been debunked and debunked some more and the fact they persist shows you how reluctant people are to give them up (talked about that in the Karate 3.0 podcast).

Iain Abernethy wrote:
Show me the quote where Chojun Miyagi says that his art is based on Taoist principles?

Stevenson wrote:
Where have you written that your approach to karate is Judeo-Christian?

Nowhere. Because it’s not. That’s why it would be wrong of people to assume that. Same with Miyagi.

Stevenson wrote:
Yet you live in a society that is fundamentally based on western philosophies.

True, and yet they have had no influence on my martial practise. Go figure :-)

No drills are named after bible verses. No kata have had their embusen adjusted to make crucifixes. I don’t call anything “3” to symbolise the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost. It would be wrong of people to assume that, because I live in a largely Christian society, I would seek to infuse that into my martial practise. It’s a fighting system. It would make zero sense to mix in such symbolism.   

We have seven bunkai drills for Pinan Godan in gradings. I also have seven grading drills for Naihanchi. Seven for Chinto too. Even Passai has seven. In a century or so I hope no one is claiming that:

Assertion: “Iain lived in a society where Christianity was the dominant religion and it infused all parts of society … and therefore that 7 must be based on religious symbolism because of the 7 days of creation, the 7 sacraments, the 7 virtues, the 7 deadly sins, the numerous references to 7 in The Book of Revelation, etc. Iain never once said that … but it MUST be the case! Just look at all the 7s!”.

Counter Argument: "But what about the fact he had 6 drills for Kushanku?"

Assertion: "That’s because God rested on the 7th day, and the kata is very long so he chose to have six grading drills for the bunkai of that kata to represent that the kata is “without rest”.

Counter Argument: "Did he ever say that?"

Assertion: "Just look at the numbers and remember how widespread Christianity is in Britian".

… and so on.

You are doing the same thing with Higoanna and Miyagi. It’s an assumption with no evidence to support it.  

Iain Abernethy wrote:
I have asked for historical information that says that Seisan is a “death kata”. You keep asserting what the I Ching says about 13.

Stevenson wrote:
Iain, I am not "asserting" ANYTHING about what the I Ching says about the number 13. I am "asserting" (if you like) that the I Ching is hugely influential, that numbers and their significance are important in eastern cultures.

So, to ask directly once again, is they anything that says Seisan is a death kata?

Please answer that.

It is something you have repeatedly said.

If there is no historical bias on which to say that about Seisan, then there is no supporting evidence for “13 = 4 = “death”.

There is evidence for “steps”. We should go with steps.

Stevenson wrote:
You keep using the word "assert" but it does nothing to further the discussion, because you are stating a position I don't have.

“Assert” is defined as, “state a fact or belief confidently and forcefully.”

I said:

Iain Abernethy wrote:
You have asserted that the reason Seisan is a special death kata (1+3 = 4, and 4 is sounds like death), but there is no historical basis for that claim.

You said in reply:

Stevenson wrote:
There IS historical basis for the claim …

I therefore maintain you asserted (dictionary definition) that there was an historical basis for the claim that Seisan was a “death kata” (block capitals and all! :-)) … but, as yet, you have not provided a source that states any of the versions of Seisan were ever viewed that way.

There is therefore no bias for the suggestion that the number “13” reflects their status as “death kata”. None.

You have not provided any evidence for this central claim. It therefore follows that there is nothing to connect the nature of the kata (because you’ve not established that nature, just asserted it) to the numerology of the I Ching.

This takes us back to the fact that they wrote “steps” so I see no reason to assume it was anything other than steps.

Stevenson wrote:
Are you asserting that numerology was just a little side show in eastern cultures?

No. I’m saying that there is no reason to assert numerology was the basis of the numbers in karate. I see no evidence for that at all. There are other, far more plausible, explanations that do have evidence to support them. They wrote steps and numbers were used for counting too. Indeed, you could argue that was their main use :-)

Stevenson wrote:
Is it still your position that Seisan is one kata modified dozens of times, or do you think there is a significance to the name that inspired the creators to name it that way?

My postion is unchanged. There has been no solid case made that the name has any significance. You have not established that key premise.

You’ve not convinced me that “13” is the number attached to different “death kata” because you have provided no evidence that any of the versions of Seisan were ever considered as “death kata”. I have asked :-)

Just as there are variations on the other number kata too, the most plausible explanation is the natural evolution the kata. We see this in “non-number” kata too. Rohai (Meikyo) being an obvious parallel. The versions of that are all quite different too. However, the level of commonality over all, and the common name, suggests a common source. I see no reason to assume people named different kata as "Rohai" because of some unproven and unestablished symbolism. Same with Seisan.

Stevenson wrote:
It's been inspiring to say the least. I have long wanted to delve into this subject more deeply but without (dare I even say it...) your "yang" in opposing the notion, I wouldn't have had the motivation to find the balance... :)

I like it! Very good :-)

All the best,

Iain

Cataphract
Cataphract's picture

I have seen the numbers in question often enough to rule out pure chance for myself. There is a pattern in east asian martial culture there. I also agree that the Ryukyu kingdom had a strong background in Chinese culture, let alone the Chinese developers of Seisan.

My point of contention with the "death kata" hypothesis is this: Why the indirection of adding 1+3? Why not let 13 stand for itself? Seems a bit arbitrary. No more or less convincing than my 5+8 hypothesis (which I got from Taiji, btw). Both don't add any insight, besides being an in-joke maybe. Every kata is potentially a death kata.

@muratmat: see here, last paragraph

(the last link in that document is broken, actually it shout redirect here https://books.google.com.au/books?id=NK5CJKwQLsEC

 

ky0han
ky0han's picture

Hi,

@muratmat

I don't have a copy of the program but people like Patrick McCarthy and Henning Wittwer sure have, because they translated it. McCarthy was the first who published his translation in the early '90s. See Cataphracts link. 

I like Wittwers translation and find his the better one. He always provides a ton of footnotes that explains why he translated things a certain way and what other possible translations would be possible plus further background information. If you are interested in his translation you can find it in his book Karate History: Collected Essays  

There he also provides the Kanji or Kana for the Kata used in the program.

Regards Holger

Stevenson
Stevenson's picture

We are never going to agree on this :-) There is no evidence Higoanna's teachings have Taoist principles at the heart of them.

Even if he was part of a culture in which Taoism was widespread, you need to show that he made that philosophy central to his martial teachings and included such symbolism as a result. There is no evidence for that at all.

Yeah I'm really sorry Iain but there IS evidence for this. A lot. Some of it is indirect and some can be inferred. Mubani, whose father was friend of Miyagi and studied with Higoanna himself, says so himself. What I wasn't clear on, and has become clear now is the distinction between Zen and Taoism. They can sort of be likened as a difference between Catholocism and Protestism but without the annimosity. So the Zen interpretation of the I Ching and buddhist philosphy is the suffering of the world and we seek enlightenment by shedding the 108 defilements. So "108 steps" represents symbolically each step of the journey of relinquishing the 108 worldy sins.

These are often symbolised by the physical steps leading up to Budhhist temples, or flights made up of factors of 108 - eg 36 or 18, or even 56. Each step is symbolic of a defilement you cast off in order to reach enlightenment. Mabuni makes great mention of Karate being "Zen in motion" and Funakoshi talked about this as well. Once you start to delve into the literature on this you realise how much yin/yang and wu-hsing (5 elements) and the influence of the I Ching permeates every corner of eastern culture, and most particuarly in the Tokogowan shoganate when it reached it's apex.

What is important to realise is that you cannot seperate buddhsim/tao/zen philsophies that were integral to eastern culture from anything they did - including and especially the martial arts. Your test for evidence seems to be some written confirmation for something was taken completely for granted. Given the lack of written evidence for karate specifically and that you are asking for something in such a very narrow field within it, it's not realistic or reasonable. In EVERY other martial art, or art more generally, or culture more generally still, there is tons and tons of written evidence. It's not realistic to suggest that karate is a seperate entity utterly disconnected from the rest of the culture in which it arose.

Did you know that the "do" in "karate-do" comes from the word "tao"? It is essentially the same word and means the same thing - roughly "The way of". While arguing that there can be no influence of tao in karate because there is no evidence of it, you are actually citing the evidence all the time when you talk about karate-do. With regards to 108 and the whole paradigm of understanding that flows from it into Taoism and Zen Buddhism, the only way to get a feel for it's signifiance is to refer to the literature. I have just received the book I listed above on I Ching and it's influence on Tokogawan thought and cluture, and it's a serious academic work with an extensive bibliogrpahy, and extraordinary interesting. In the mean time, here is a short essay by another academic that might help you get a feel for the importanc and influence of this particualr number in eastern philosphies:

http://www.tempewingchun.com/docs/108_steps.pdf

The martial arts are full of myths that were created to serve a purpose. Alleged connections to religious ideals and figures are widespread because they were thought to give the arts legitimacy at a time where the needs of combative efficiency were less pressing. They are marketing and propaganda though. They have no historical basis. They are often repeated and some people really like them. Does not make them true. It’s been debunked and debunked some more and the fact they persist shows you how reluctant people are to give them up (talked about that in the Karate 3.0 podcast).

This is a very important thing to be clear about. I get the feeling that you have encountered some serious baloney which has biased you against some of the notions we are discussing. It's really important to understand that I am not talking about what WE believe or what we SHOULD believe, but understand the context in which our karate fore-fathers lived. This sense that relgion or sprituality is seperate thing from the every day is a western dualism that does not exist in eastern cultures particularly in earlier times. The historical basis is there; you can read the work of historians and examine what people thought and wrote at the time. Some of it is pretty crazy - they took some of this stuff to some amazing extremes. I don't know if you know about Hidori and Hidari and how they were mixed? It lead to some mad events. Also Kuji kiri was very common and widely practised as evidenced by the many makimono on the subject - it's very interesting but I am not suggesting we revive it.

I don't think I have heard some of the crazier theories to make me guarded against this, so perhaps you'll pardon me if I take a fresh look at this from a historical rather than a hysterical perspective.

Nowhere. Because it’s not. That’s why it would be wrong of people to assume that. Same with Miyagi.

Let me try again: where have you written why you tend to hold seminars on Saturday or Sunday? My point is that to these guys, these are things that don't need to get written about, it's common knowledge, a cultural norm. And the only way to understand that is too look at the evidence for it - not say it is rubbish or that it doesn't exist.

We actually do not have to assume that these guys knew or were influenced by philsophical mores of their time. There is plenty of evidence, in the karate, in writings of their peers and occasionanly them themselves Some of it is simply presumed, and other is a a bit of detective work and cross referencing with other styles or martial arts known to have been influential. I really recommend Bruce Lee's book "The Tao of Gung Fu". He is actually extremely articulate and someone who is trying to get westeners to understand the mindset and philosophy. They share the same roots with at least the Goju side of Karate - Higoanna. It explains what is meant by "Four Gates" - which is not what I thought it was, but is a standard concept in Wing Chun/Southern Kung fu.

Stevenson wrote: Yet you live in a society that is fundamentally based on western philosophies.

 

True, and yet they have had no influence on my martial practise. Go figure :-)

No drills are named after bible verses. No kata have had their embusen adjusted to make crucifixes.

 No. Because we SEPERATE our religion from the rest of our lives - at best going to church on a Sunday. Fighting is fighting, eating is eating, breathing is breathing, religion is relgion, but LISTEN what these guys are saying and you'll see that they don't see things that way. Nearly ALL the karate masters emphasies the importance self-development - that karate is MORE than just learning to fight. "Make Heaven and Earth one", "To pursue karate is to master oneself", "karate is zen in motion" etc etc. Mabuni complains of this side of karate being "lost" in his book Chapter 3.2 "Zen in Motion" and the rules for breathing. Bruce Lee in his book, complains of the same thing, and explains the whole concept really well.

I think there might be a concern that this promotes some sort of mysticism, that these guys are saying we should pray to the Buddha, meditate on beds of lotus flowers or whatever. But that is most definitely NOT what they are saying. What they are saying is that efficient scientific practical application of a fighting art can be seen through the lens of a wider philsophy, and be informed by it. Taoism and zen Buddhism is fundementally a philosphy, which can be turned into mysticism and nonsense pretty easily, but it is not a religion in the western sense.

You are doing the same thing with Higoanna and Miyagi. It’s an assumption with no evidence to support it.  

 No I am not doing anything of the same with Higoanna and Miyagi. What I have said about them comes with TONS of evidence. Go and look at it!! The argument you are making is what we commonly call a "straw man". I tried to draw your attention to certain things you do that you take for granted because of the society you exist in, in order to try and illustrate that different cultures have the same practises that are mundane and not note-worthy to them, but strange to us. In particular, the whole tao/I Ching thing and especially their obsession with numbers.

So, to ask directly once again, is they anything that says Seisan is a death kata?

There is no direct evidence of someone saying that Seisan means the "death kata".

However, in trying to find if their IS a connection, I have discovered many important and interesting things that may yet inform us as to it's origin. (Incidentally - I am not trying to PROVE this, I didn't ASSERT this, I simply stated that I had taken this from a reliable source and wanted to find if there was anything to it. There IS something to it, but it is not PROVEN. I guess what I am asserting is the idea hasn't been ruled out and I do assert that there is a historical basis - ie there is historical information that supports the idea. This is different from proof).

In Chinese, their affection for numbers is really extrordinary. Cominbations of numbers create homophones - they sound LIKE words. So for example, 14, sounds like "alive/death" - their word for zombie. 250 sounds like the chinese word for "imbecile" which I found particualrly pleasing. 167, 169 and 1679 are similar to of the most profane words in Canotnese. So in Hong Kong, combinations of those numbers are used to create many dirty jokes.

The homophone in Cantonese for 13, 1 (when used as 10) sounds like "definitely" and 3 sounds like "alive" or "birth". So rather than stating the kata as being a "death" kata it is actually sounding like "definitely alive". The irony is that if you do sum the numbers you get a homophone for "death". Now - and please understand I am not ASSERTING this - this strikes me as a rather pleasing play on words and I can't help wondering if that might have made it attractive as a kata name. As the name moves to other places, the homophone is lost and all that remains is the name of the kata "seisan". It may be for this reason the original meaning might be lost.

Mabuni talks about numbered kata. It's clear that while the orientals loved numbers, the reasoning for giving kata names as numbers is varied. According to Mabuni, 108 steps (suparenpi) represents the 108 steps taken to rid oneself of wordly sins and reach enlightenment: 

http://charliemetro.blogspot.co.uk/2012/12/the-108-defilements-of-buddhi...

But other katas have much more mundane reasons. His father invented a kata Jiroku, meaning 16, named so because he invnted it in 1941 or the 16th year of Showa. But katas like Sepai (18 hands) may have been a reference or hommage to 18 hands of Lohan, which was likely known to Higoanna as it was a very famous Qi Gong form. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Luohan_(martial_arts)#Luohan.27s_18_hands

Just as there are variations on the other number kata too, the most plausible explanation is the natural evolution the kata. 

I agree this is possible, I just don't think it is likely. The reason is that the kata comes in so many different forms, all utterly different to one another. What is your "evidence" that they are one and the same other than the name? How do you know that they aren't different forms with the same name? What is your historical basis for that?

I am probably not going to be able to convince you on a forum blog, I cnly suggest you consult the historical records, of which there are vast amounts. This is like archaeology - we have to look at the clues, understand the context, and piece together a narrative, ruling things in or out as we go. Relying on someone in history knowing that this would puzzle future generations and jotting something down for us is a bit of a stretch. :-)

WRT to Seisan, I have a friend at the Bickbeck University who is a professor in linguistics and a keen martial artist. This isn't his field, but I am hoping he can find me someone in Chinese linguistics that can help me understand the semantics and habits from a historical point of view. I had no idea prior to this the importance of numerology in Eastern culture and it feeds so much into their language. If there any further clues, I need to find an expert in the langauge and culture - esp from a historical point of view.

Stevenson
Stevenson's picture

My point of contention with the "death kata" hypothesis is this: Why the indirection of adding 1+3? Why not let 13 stand for itself? Seems a bit arbitrary. No more or less convincing than my 5+8 hypothesis (which I got from Taiji, btw). Both don't add any insight, besides being an in-joke maybe. Every kata is potentially a death kata.

Nice observation about the in-joke. That was my thinking too. I did wonder the same things as you, but it seems it relys on semantics. So you could write:

一 三 rather than 十三. But I don't know whether that would work or the meaning understood or that it's too literal. They clearly love their little play on numbers. Also, as I explained to Iain, when you say 13 it sounds as a homophone to "definitely alive" which would be more ironic if they were looking at writing 4 without writing 4 because it meant "death". I think it's likely to be on the level of an in-joke of a type common at the time, rather than anything as deep and meaningful as was first suggested to me. I need to speak to an expert in the langauge to see if this is plausible.

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

Stevenson wrote:
Yeah I'm really sorry Iain but there IS evidence for this.

I’d need you to point to some :-) I get that karate was practised in a wider culture, but you are asserting that religious and philosophical ideals were integrated to the huge degree. I’m not seeing it at all. It’s also not a position that can be supported historically.

I don’t think we can say that the number kata’s names are all attributable to the I Ching or any other form of numerology, because the theory what would link 13, 18, 24, 36, 54 and 108 in line with such a numerology has not been identified.

I don’t think we can say that Taoist (or Zen) principles are at the heart of either Arakaki’s, Higaonna’s or Miyagi’s teaching. There’s no evidence for that. I therefore don’t think we can say that Goju has Taoist principles at its core.

And as for the original topic of the thread, we can’t say that the “13” has its origins in either Taoism or Buddhism. The “death kata” hypothesis has nothing to support it. Arakaki had them transcribe it as “steps”, so it would seem prudent to go with that.

As I say, I’m not seeing evidence for the claims that Taoism, the I Ching, or Zen Buddhism are as thoroughly interwoven with karate as has been suggested. Add to this that the alleged historic links have been debunked by historians and religious experts, and we are not left with anything remotely solid.

Stevenson wrote:
Did you know that the "do" in "karate-do" comes from the word "tao"?

Yes. And I’m sure you’re aware that the suffix “do” was added very late in karate history to tie in with the success modern budo like judo and kendo were having. It’s was a strategic move to appeal to the masses at that time. Nothing can be retroactively inferred from it.

While it was Funakoshi who pushed the “do”, it is worth remembering that Anko Itosu, one of his teachers, specifically stated there was no link. The alleged link between zen and the martial arts has been thoroughly debunked by religious historians.

This old thread has a link to a BBC radio show where three experts on zen all unequivocally state that that the widely propagated view on zen and the martial arts is modern revisionism with no historical basis:

https://iainabernethy.co.uk/content/zen-and-martial-arts-why-it-bs

The minutes from “The Meeting of the Masters” in 1936 has Shimabukuro ask Nakasone why people have stated calling karate, “karate-do”? He also asks if this is because character development will now be emphasised like it is in judo and kendo? Nakasone replies that he believes this will be the case. None of the other masters there (including Miyagi) comment further. They are copying judo and kendo because they are popular. The “do” does not point to any intrinsic Taoist link. It’s modern, has no historical basis, and was adopted to promote the art at that time.

Stevenson wrote:
I really recommend Bruce Lee's book "The Tao of Gung Fu". He is actually extremely articulate and someone who is trying to get westeners to understand the mindset and philosophy.

It’s a good book. But it’s also a book written at a time where the idea that the martial arts were supposed to create “warrior monks” was widespread, and were historically debunked ideas were accepted as truth.

“Chinese Martial Arts Training Manuals” by Brian Kennedy and Elizabeth Guo is a good book for all those wanting to look at things from an historical perspective. They do a good job of debunking the assumptions many of us (including Bruce Lee) take as a given. Propaganda, modern revisionism, politics, and promotion / salesmanship do not make for historical facts.

Stevenson wrote:
There is no direct evidence of someone saying that Seisan means the "death kata".

And that’s why I feel there is no reason to assume that’s the case. There is therefore no good reason to assume the number has any significance other than the number of steps (or stages) it contained … which there is evidence for. "13 steps" has direct historical evidance to support it.

Stevenson wrote:
What is your "evidence" that they are one and the same other than the name? How do you know that they aren't different forms with the same name? What is your historical basis for that?

You have not established any plausible reason why the number 13 may have a universal significance. You have not established that this significance even exists, let alone that is was so widespread that different people sought to name different kata after if for this unidentified reason. There is therefore no reason to accept that position. The burden of proof is on those making the claim.

All of the other number kata are clearly variations on a common theme. You’d not expect that if the practise of attributing common numbers to entirely independent kata was widespread. It therefore strikes me that the most logical position to take is that all the variations on Seisan are from a common source. There is evidence of that process having happened many times. There is zero evidence that people gave independent kata common numerical names based on an as yet unidentified meaning supposedly attributable to that number.

We also have the historical evidence provided by Holger that the name was originally (or at least as far back as the records go) associated with the number of steps / stages. Again, there is no evidence to say it was because of numerology.

In the above post, you stated why I may be reluctant to accept your position. I can unequivocally state that reason I don’t accept it is because there is no evidence that suggests I should, but there is evidence that suggests I should not. Aragaki said “steps” and that’s what I’m going with. Occam’s Razor tells me that is by far the most logical position and hence the one I will take.

Further attempts to convince me personally are sure to fail if there is no new evidence. However, I am sure that there is plenty in this thread for readers to consider when deciding what position they should take.

Thanks once again for thorough and detailed discussion.

All the best,

Iain

Cataphract
Cataphract's picture

The point that matters most to me at this point is, what difference would it make? Is there in some applicable information the numbers from a practical point of view, or is it a footnote on east asian folklore and aesthetics?

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

Cataphract wrote:
The point that matters most to me at this point is, what difference would it make? Is there in some applicable information the numbers from a practical point of view, or is it a footnote on east asian folklore and aesthetics?

I doesn’t help you punch harder :-) So from that perspective it makes no difference irrespective of what the numbers mean. I think it matters when it comes to understanding our art though. View it through the wrong lens and you get a distorted view.

Martial arts should be about honesty and truth. It works or it doesn’t. You can do it or you can’t. You won or you lost. We can’t be honest and pragmatic in one area (i.e. combat), but be dishonest / misinformed and fanciful in another (i.e. historical development). The karate of the future needs to be rock solid on all fronts.

I strongly believe karateka need to be honest and clear on our art’s origins and developments. The evidence should be what leads us. The myths need to go. The falsehoods that helped promote the art in the 1930s and 40s are now obvious untruths. By clinging to them we present karate as a “fantasy art”. That needs to stop. We have made great headway on debunking the practical falsehoods that arouse during that time. We now need to dump the historical falsehoods too. That way we have a karate that has integrity on all fronts.

All the best,

Iain

PS I talked about this quite a bit in this podcast: https://www.iainabernethy.co.uk/content/karate-30

Stevenson
Stevenson's picture

I don’t think we can say that the number kata’s names are all attributable to the I Ching or any other form of numerology, because the theory what would link 13, 18, 24, 36, 54 and 108 in line with such a numerology has not been identified. 

The problem is you are looking for a 'one size fits all' explanation, but the I Ching and numerology more generally is as vast and as varied as the all the regions, time periods, dialects and languages. In some cases the reason was mundane, in some cases it was directly linked to the I Ching, in some cases the signifiance may have come through the Zen buddhism lens, in some cases it may have been through popular superstition. What is clear though, is that numerology (in all its various forms) was vastly more important than you seem willing to credit and the influence of the I Ching can be found and found clearly in nearly every facet of Japanese/Chinese/Okinawan life and culture. The auspiciousness of certain numbers, what they signified, and how they were combined and used is incredibly varied. While there are very scant records of early karate as it was passed on orally, there are plenty of signs of the influence of customs and beliefs from the period in what we have, and in martial schools where influences were recorded, there is direct evidence of the influence of the I Ching and ideas clearly consitent with it.

This old thread has a link to a BBC radio show where three experts on zen all unequivocally state that that the widely propagated view on zen and the martial arts is modern revisionism with no historical basis:

There is a widespread misunderstanding of Zen buddhism and how it relates to Taoism and other types of buddhism. From my reading, the predominance of "Zen" in practise came later in the Tokogawan period and there was some tension between it and more traditional Tao forms of Buddhism. This is part of the historical context - we have to take what is written about karate and it's relation with Zen and Taoism/buddhism with a slight pinch of salt because attitudes were changing. Never-the-less there is a relationship between all these major philsophies and religions. For example, the signficance of 108 was appopriated by Zen Buddhism to be the defilements or "worldly desires that cause suffering". 

Serge Mol: "In many books about the Samurai it is suggested that the Japanese warrior could detach himself from his emotions, turn his mind as it were into a blank canvas, an ability he supposedly acquired through diligent practise of Zen meditation. As result, the Japanese warrior and his martial arts alike are often automatically, and quite erroneously I might add, associated with Zen buddhism. The warrior class was introduced to Zen in the Kamakura period (1192-1332), but at that period Zen was quite different from the way we have come to understand it at present, and was deeply intertwined with Mikkyo..."

So the main cultural force that can be seen consitently all throughout this period is still inyo and gogyo - yin/yang wu-hsing.

’d need you to point to some :-) I get that karate was practised in a wider culture, but you are asserting that religious and philosophical ideals were integrated to the huge degree. I’m not seeing it at all. It’s also not a position that can be supported historically.

Ok, well - with the historical texts I have here, it's actually pretty hard to open a page without some "basis" for what we have discussed popping out at you. It's hard to know where to start, but here goes:

From "The I Ching in Tokogawan Thought and Culture";

Jujutsu masters found legitmacy for practising their techniques in the Hsi Tz'u and Shuo Kua of the I Ching. Katayama shosai remarked:

[The Hsi Tz'u reads:] "Movement and quietness have their definite laws; according to these, firmness and softness are differentiated." The shuo Kua reads: "Therefore the sages determined the way of heaven and called it yin and yang. They determined the way of the earth and called it yielding and the firm. They determined the wy of man and called it benevolence and righteousness. They combined these three fundemental powers and doubled them." the three powers of heaven, earth, and man are not beyond the dualism of firmness and softness....Because the heavenly principle is like that, it goes without saying that it is also applicable to the martial arts. Therefore, even things like spear-fighting, fencing, archery, and horsemanship are not excluded from the dualism of firmness and softness.

Shibukawa Yoshikata (1652-1704), admitted that its teachings were based on the I Ching. Jujutsu taisei roku:

The I Ching reads: "The sages determined the way of the earth and called it the yielding and the firm"....Therfore, from the I Ching we come to know that a change in strength hinges on softness andyielding. Following the development of things forward and backward, moving and stopping is called jujutsu...The teachings of our school were established on the text of I Ching. this is also the reason for the name.

On it goes quote after quote from school after martial art school. Yagyu Monue'nori of the famed Yagu school of swordsmanship writes:

Yin and yang are two correspnding terms that we should consider together. yang is moving and yin is quiet. As regards yin and yang, in terms of internal and external, yang moves inisde; yin is quiet outside. If the internal is yin, then yang moves and appears from outside. To apply its tactics, we should keep ch'i moving inside restlessly and make the motionless and slient. Moving inside and being quiet outside is [a state] in agreement with the principles of the universe.

It doesn't stop with martial arts. Medicine, Natural sciences, economics, flower arranging, construction, art and popular culture - there ia hardly an area which is not touched or referenced to, and in this book full of quotes and pages and pages of bibliography from orginal manuscripts.

And yes, some of these ideas lead to an enormous amount of mystic meg rubbish, even in the martial arts (there are some pretty amazing stories). But not always, and the fact that this way of thinking was utterly ubiquitous does not mean that the martial arts and karate (as it was then) was not fully practical, efficient and effective. It's just that they saw signifance in things that they did, connected to a greater whole. Evidence that numbers were signficant to them is in the fact that so many kata had numbers as names. They weren't choosing a significant number and trying to create martial signifiance after the fact, they just saw what they did and connected it to the popular ideas current in their culture....and these changed. Tracing those changes is possible, because while karate may not have much in the way of written testimony, other martial arts that clearly influenced karate most certinaly did.

You can also look at other customs and rituals with regards to numbers - and these can be highly illuminating - suggestive at the very least of why some katas got their names. For example, the Japanese had a method for calculating a person's nature (but not just a person - I think this was used more widely but I hazy on this) based on the Chinese Zodiac. What you did is add the values of their Jikkan and Junishi symbols. The Jikkan (Ten Celestial stems) which is based on the I Ching Inyo and Gogyo - each day has one of th five elements assigned to it. The Junishi is the twelve Zodiac animals (you know - year of the rat, dog, dragon etc).

First you added the Jikkan and Junushi numbers of their birthday. If the sum was <6 you could call it. If it was greater than 6, you dvided by 5, and the remaining whole number would correspnd to the Gogyo element. So for someone born in Mizunoe Tatsu year: Mizunoe=5, Tatsu=3 5+3=8 divided by 5 = 1 and leaves 3 remaining so 3 which is Water nature (Suisei) is their nature.

So this kind of number manipulation is was if not common certainly not unusual. In Catonese it is extremely common, but I don't fully understand it. I have made contact with Chinese linguistics PhD student who has agreed to help me. I'll post back how that goes.

My final point is this: there IS historical BASIS - ie not proof, not a cast iron guaranteed, works everytime, absolute smoking gun, solution to how kata's where named with numbers. What we know is that numbers where significant far beyond numerology as we understand it in the west, and was tied in with their general culture. It probably is possible to discover a strong contender for how some katas were named with a little research, knowing what we do about the history of numerology. Sometimes, the numbers were very significant eg 108 Suparenpei, and at other times most likely not eg Mabuni's kata. I think Seisan is likely to be significant, but it's meaning has not travelled with the kata.

There is loads and loads of evidence for the I Ching and the ideas of Inyo-Gogyo all throughout the Tokogawan period, and that some of the ideas were appropriated by zen buddhism does not change that. That doesn't mean that the karate is sulllied by relgion or mysiticism unless people take it into their heads to re-inhabit the ideas of a completely different age - not something I propose and seems to be a motivating factor behind Iains skepiticism. Skepticism is vital, but complete incredulity is the logical equivalent of complete credulity.

Stevenson
Stevenson's picture

I have to add to some of your comments Iain:

And that’s why I feel there is no reason to assume that’s the case. There is therefore no good reason to assume the number has any significance other than the number of steps (or stages) it contained … which there is evidence for. "13 steps" has direct historical evidance to support it.

There is no evidence that Seisan refers to stages or "steps". There are many different versions of Seisan and they have way more than 13 steps. What basis are you saying that there are "stages" and how is that consistent across the various versions? What is the historical basis for that?

You have not established any plausible reason why the number 13 may have a universal significance. You have not established that this significance even exists, let alone that is was so widespread that different people sought to name different kata after if for this unidentified reason. There is therefore no reason to accept that position. The burden of proof is on those making the claim.

Well, I am sorry but I don't agree. What you are looking for is some cast iron thing where someone says "I call this kata seisa (13) because...." and that would be lovely but it's not realistic. I have tried to outline the historical context for which there is tons and tons and tons of evidence - practises that exist to this very day. Firstly, the general significance in numbers, but more specifically:

- Numbers that correspond to auspicious numbers in Taoism and Buddhism.

- The various ways the numbers are combined to create new signficance.

- Homophones, and superstitions in popular culture. 

- Combinations of numbers to create homphones.

- As Zen buddhism was becoming more established, the appropriation of numerological signifance from the I Ching.

Your reading of "steps" in the context of how these guys went about things at that time is too literal and simplistic. That really was not their jam. I have a theory about the addition of "steps" at the time of Aragaki but I am worried you might think I am asserting it so I feel nervous about sharing. In any case, if he wanted it to be clearly "13 stages" or "steps" why did he use the chinese word rather than the Japanese? It comes down to us as Seisan, not Jusan, or "to amari mittsu".

These guys probably wanted their katas to have a ring of authentically cool philsophically profound about it, or perhaps an in-joke to impress their mates, something signficant. Your band needs a cool name and your song should sound hip - we wouldn't get as excited about Creedance Clearwater Revival's song "Bad Moon Rising" if they were called "Nice Band" and the song "A Song in Several Sections". I dunno....maybe it's me.

But what writing we do have suggests that our karate forefathers felt that Karate was more than just learning to punch and kick, so just on the face of it, taking such a literal approach seems out of character, especially when you factor in all the other cultural stuff they had going on. "Peaceful Mind", "Iron Horse", "Flying Swallow", "Cloud Hands",  and you reckon they were going for a catolgue number? Well, I reckon there was a bit more to it than that, especially as no version of Seisan has anything recognisably numbered 13 in it even if you squint your eyes and look from the behind at sunset on an overcast day.

 The evidence should be what leads us. The myths need to go. The falsehoods that helped promote the art in the 1930s and 40s are now obvious untruths.

I am worried that in trying to do this, you are inadvertently creating new myths and ignoring evidence. You mentioned Bruce Lee's book - you realise it was only published in 2016? It was not published in his lifetime and so therefore cannot have contributed to any mythology that you feel needs to be debunked. I completely agree the evidence should be what leads us, but you seem to be looking for the kind of evidence that rarely exists in history. It's more like a crime mystery, it involves building up a profile, investigating leads, examining and collecting clues, and trying to build a narrative that will explain the evidence. You won't find the answer in one single piece of evidence, you need to look at all the clues together. In science it's called a "consilience" of evidence.

I realise some people might have gotten misty-eyed over some of the fantastical elements that might have followed the martial arts, and I seem to have been fortunate enough to not have been exposed to them. But I don't see why you should ignore the evidence of history just because the ideas contained within them is not relevant for Karate today.

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

Thank you for another very informative and detailed post. While there is lots of interesting information in there, I don’t think it takes us any further forward in regard to the issue being discussed i.e. there is nothing specific to karate.

Stevenson wrote:
It probably is possible to discover a strong contender for how some katas were named with a little research, knowing what we do about the history of numerology.

Or maybe it has nothing to do with numerology? The research is telling us unequivocally that they wrote “13 steps” 150 years ago. Gojushiho (54 steps) and Nijushiho (24 steps) are written with “steps” today.  

Steps (which can also be read as “stages”) seems the logical way to go. Lots of historical evidence for that. Why ignore it? Why assume that the masters wrote “steps” in error? There’s no need to assume numerology is needed and must be at the heart of it. The historical evidence does not point to numerology.

Stevenson wrote:
That doesn't mean that the karate is sulllied by relgion or mysiticism unless people take it into their heads to re-inhabit the ideas of a completely different age - not something I propose and seems to be a motivating factor behind Iain’s skepiticism.

I would respectfully ask that you don’t seek to guess at my motivations and then post your guesses. You are totally wrong. This is the second time you’ve done so and as I said in my previous response:

Iain Abernethy wrote:
In the above post, you stated why I may be reluctant to accept your position. I can unequivocally state that reason I don’t accept it is because there is no evidence that suggests I should, but there is evidence that suggests I should not. Aragaki said “steps” and that’s what I’m going with. Occam’s Razor tells me that is by far the most logical position and hence the one I will take.

The reason I don’t accept it is because there is no direct evidence for it. If there was, then I’d accept it. Please be assured that what I write is what I think.

Iain Abernethy wrote:
Skepticism is vital, but complete incredulity is the logical equivalent of complete credulity.

Scepticism is “a questioning attitude or doubt towards one or more items of putative knowledge or belief.” I have questioned and due to the lack of supporting evidence I see no reason to adopt the position.

Incredulity is “the state of being unwilling to believe something.” Your argument is not strong enough to be believed. I am not unwilling to believe it, but I am unable to believe it because you’ve not put forward any evidence that would support the claims I am rejecting.

You have not shown Taoism is at the heart of Goju, you have not shown that the Seisan is named due to numerology (again, they wrote “steps”), and we now agree that there is no evidence for the view that Seisan is a “death kata”. You have also not shown that past masters attributed numbers based on numerology to differing kata. There is no firm evidence for any of the karate based claims made. There is strong evidence against them.

If you want me to accept these arguments, then the argument needs to be able to withstand scrutiny. The weakness of the argument is the issue, not any “incredulity.”

Stevenson wrote:
There is no evidence that Seisan refers to stages or "steps".

Aside from the fact they specifically wrote "steps" 150 years ago! The earliest record of the kata we have unequivocally states “steps”. Sorry, but the evidance there is clear.

Stevenson wrote:
You mentioned Bruce Lee's book - you realise it was only published in 2016? It was not published in his lifetime and so therefore cannot have contributed to any mythology that you feel needs to be debunked.

It can reflect it though because at the time Bruce Lee was alive such myths were readily accepted. That what I said.

Stevenson wrote:
But I don't see why you should ignore the evidence of history just because the ideas contained within them is not relevant for Karate today.

Again, what evidence?

If there was evidence that Taoism and numerology were at the heart of practice, then I’d accept that and argue it needed dropped … but there is no evidence it ever was. None at all.

Stevenson wrote:
taking such a literal approach seems out of character, especially when you factor in all the other cultural stuff they had going on. "Peaceful Mind", "Iron Horse", "Flying Swallow", "Cloud Hands", and you reckon they were going for a catalogue number?

Your timeline is off. Those names are Funakoshi’s later names (1930s onward). He wanted to call Gojushiho (literally “54 steps”) “Hotaku” (Woodpecker) because of the repeated spear hands, but that poetic name never caught on.

The cases you point to are the poetic names that Funakoshi did get to stick. Before that, names were largely either numbers, other descriptions of the kata, or named after the person who formulated the methods the kata records (i.e. Kushanku, Wanshu, etc). Not much that can be thought of as poetic.

In Goju there is not much that is poetic either. We have numbers, or names that translate as things like “Attack & Destroy” (Gekisai), “Smash and Tear Apart" (Saifa), "Control and Pull" (Seiyunchin), "Holding Ground" (Kururunfa), “Turning Palms” (Tensho), etc.

These are all direct and down-to-earth descriptions of the nature of the kata. The number of stages / steps would be a natural extension of that.

The assertion the names were literal descriptions has much to support it. It’s not out of character at all. Quite the opposite.

There is nothing poetic and nothing that would support your theory that Goju has Taoism at the heart of it.

Funakoshi – an accomplished poet; with the style he gave rise to being named after his pen name (“shoto” / “pine waves”) – may have favoured poetic names, but in doing so he wrote over the top of the older, very literal, names.

As a related aside, I am in the early stages of forming a short kata based on Motobu’s twelve two-person drills. When deciding on a name of the kata, the very first thing that jumped to mind was “the twelve stages of Motobu” or “Motobu no Juniho” … maybe just “Juniho” for short :-) I’ll call it that because the kata will be a summary of 12 steps or stages (not foot movements). It’s not because of the 12 disciples, the 12 months of the year, the 12 tribes of Israel, or even the 12 days of Christmas. It’s because it is made up of 12 bits. One would hope that because I specifically wrote “steps / stages” people would accept that is what I mean by 12.

Arakaki had them write “steps” too and no one in the Goju line ever once asserted that Taoism and its associated numerology was at the heart of their practise. As I see it, the historical evidence points away from your theory. If we listen to the old masters, they only say one thing.

All the best,

Iain

Stevenson
Stevenson's picture
Stevenson
Stevenson's picture

You have not shown Taoism is at the heart of Goju, you have not shown that the Seisan is named due to numerology (again, they wrote “steps”), and we now agree that there is no evidence for the view that Seisan is a “death kata”. You have also not shown that past masters attributed numbers based on numerology to differing kata. There is no firm evidence for any of the karate based claims made. There is strong evidence against them.

Iain - I HAVE shown evidence that Taoism and taoistic ideas is not just at the heart of Goju, but at the heart of nearly ALL of eastern culture, from India right through China, Japan and Korea. I have shown a LOT evidence and there is far more to show than I have been able to here. I have also shown that culturally numerology was extremely important and I have shown that masters of other martial schools known to be or likely to be influential to karate certainly used numerology as part of how they saw the world. You just seem to ignore it.

This is why I think your skepticism is over played. I completely get that at some stage you have enountered some nonsensical views regarding the philisophical views current at the time - the "warrior monk" idea for example - perhaps. But it's amazing that you can't accept the clear influences of Taoism principles within Goju when they are so clearly there, from it's very name through to its kata and heritage. You are pretty the only learned karate ka writing about such things that does not - which doesn't make you wrong on its own, but gee - look at the evidence!

Aside from the fact they specifically wrote "steps" 150 years ago! The earliest record of the kata we have unequivocally states “steps”. Sorry, but the evidance there is clear.

No the evidence is NOT clear! That's because there aren't 13 steps in Seisan katas! Some seisans have a bit more, some seisans have a lot more!. Mabuni said himself of that theory:

But there are some peopple who claim that numerals in the names of the kata have nothing to do with the religios or philisophicak meaning of certain numbers. These numerals would only express the number of technqiues the kata consist of. In case of the Suparenpai kata this would be 108 and for sanseru kata 36 technqiues. But to me this explanation does not seem to be plausible, because kata include a lot of invisible technqieus and the techniques in general can be modified without limits.

I agree! And sometimes these katas are known as "hands" - eg 108 hands (Suparenpei). And actually sometimes they really are quite literally the number of moves as in Tai Chi:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/108-form_Wu_family_tai_chi_chuan

But at other times the numbers have significance simply because they relate to the religious and philisophical beliefs at the time. As pointed out earlier, the original connection to Taoism drifted toward Zen buddhism interpretation - there was a huge amount interconnection between the ideas anyway - partly driven by a growing antithesis towards Chinese culture in Japan.

For your theory to be correct, all katas that end with "steps" which should be re-interpretted as "stages" (evidence for that?) ought to have a consistent and recognizable number of steps or stages and consistent across the version of the kata. But they do not.

n Goju there is not much that is poetic either. We have numbers, or names that translate as things like “Attack & Destroy” (Gekisai), “Smash and Tear Apart" (Saifa), "Control and Pull" (Seiyunchin), "Holding Ground" (Kururunfa), “Turning Palms” (Tensho), etc.

These are all direct and down-to-earth descriptions of the nature of the kata. The number of stages / steps would be a natural extension of that.

I am absolutely not disputing that. But the Gekisai katas and Tensho were created by Miyagi - long after the deeper connections with Taoism/Buddhism were lost or held less sway. Seiyunchin, according to Mabuni is associated with the number 72 - another important number in Tao/Buddhism.

From my PhD friend who is having a look into some of the issues that have been brought up: A Chinese scholar named Wen Yiduo (around 1920s) wrote a book named Seventy Two《七十二》explaining that 72 is a basic number in the Ancient calendar, an important part of people’s life then. 

Seiyunchin (制引戦) literally translated means "Lead the War". According to according to Meitoku Yagi who founded Miebukan, which is a branch of Goju, believed the kata originated in Hsing-I and it's direct translation has been lost. The kanji is most likley a homophone of whatever it used to be. Some information about the style can be found here:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Xing_Yi_Quan

A style that is pretty steeped in Taoist principles particuarly wu-hsingor/gogyo/five elements.

Sanchin means "3 battles". Supposedly those 3 battles are mind, spirit, and body. There are no specific bunkai for sanchin, it is about understanding body structure, focus etc. As Kris Wilder puts it "don't look for bunkai in your sanchin, look for sanchin in your bunkai". I really liked that - once you understand at least some of the principles of sanchin, if you apply them to your technique generally its amazing how much more effective they can be.

But Sanchin is not a literal instruction set for fighting. It's about teaching certain principles, mindset and spirit - fudoshin etc. It's used for shime testing. And it's title is figurative - 3 battles.

But I absolutely 100% do not disagree that some kata names are perfectly literal. I am 100% not saying that every kata is bound up in some superstitious deeper connection. What I am saying is that some ARE. And with regards to numerology - I have provided you with tons evidence (and there is tons and tons more) showing you how significant numerology was to their way of life, and how varied it was. I am trying to understand the cultural context - you have to put your mind into the head of someone living in that world, where the entire understanding of the world was linked to the ideas of the I Ching and Toaism, to it's very core. EV-ERY-THING was viewed through that lens. Every part of your life - to the way buildings were built, to treatment for ailments, to how the eocnomy was run, to how business was conducted, all the way and including the way people learnt to fight and conduct war.

If you narrowly look at karate or a specific fighting art, you are missing the whole of the context. It was part of a whole culture. People getting too swept up in the Zen ideology are also missing the context - that Zen was became a gradually more favourable philosophy in Japan because it broke away to an extent from the Chinese-Taoist roots from which it came. It appropriated and morphed ideas - a bit like christianity did with adopting pagan celebrations of christmas and easter. But actually that sort of thing happened through out the centruries but the fundemental ideas remain. To this day, in Japan and China you can see signs and cultural adherence to these anciet ideas and beliefs. They haven't dissappeared.

I pointed out an interesting clue with respect to Seisan. While number combinations to divine meaning may have been common and fairly widespread, until further information can be uncovered about how widespread and common with more solid circumstantial evidence for its use and practise, it is still a tenuous theory. Seisan and it's many iterations is considered one of the oldest forms. A possibility for the genesis as a name may be the "Shi san jing zhu shu"  十三經注疏 or the 13 Classics (incidentally the first of which is the I Ching).

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shi_san_jing_zhu_shu

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thirteen_Classics

These were used as the basis for the Imperial Examinations in china through the Qing dynasty, contemperaneous with the Tokagawan shogunate.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Imperial_examination

From the wiki:

The influence of the Chinese examination system spread to neighboring Asian countries, such as VietnamKoreaJapan (though briefly) and Ryūkyū.

The thirteen classics had to be memorized for full marks - all 600,000 characters. Ouch. A plausible theory might be that Seisan represented to the practioner thier own version of the 13 classics required to reach a certain level. It might make a bit more sense of "steps" and in a funny way coroborate your idea about "stages". It's certainly worth investigating further. First thing though is to understand the context of what mastering the 13 classics would have meant for people at the time. The significance of 13 would be pretty high - especially given their predeliction for finding signifiance in numbers.

There is nothing poetic and nothing that would support your theory that Goju has Taoism at the heart of it.

My final word on this - I am not asserting that taoism was at the heart of Goju. That is misrepresenting my position. I am saying, based on the historical texts that I have read and I have quoted from, and given you evidence of, that Taoism is at the heart of EVERYTHING in eastern cultures. I am not picking out Goju specifically - although the names of kata and the system of teaching is unsurprisingly supportive. What I am trying to get across is the utter ubiqutity of these ideas - they may vary, change, morph into something a bit different but they are at the very heart of all eastern cultures. I am simply not picking out Goju as an exception, it's just a little bit more overt than perhaps some other schools because it has a closer connection with the chinese styles.

Cataphract
Cataphract's picture

People back then were individuals. Just like us. Maybe one guy appreciated such things and the next guy was an pragmatic like Iain.

Thirteen has cultural significance for me. I can't help but think about these implications when I see it. But that doesn't mean that every time I use it there is some deeper meaning. It depends.

I think we are in an area where there is no black and white. We can't tell for sure what the original inventor of Seisan was thinking when he or she gave it that name. There can be only probable and improbable. As long as it is not self-contradictory, every hypothesis is ok. Some are just nicer than others.

The five elements theory has practical implications, btw. At least in Karate's cousin arts. And if anyone knows about a credible link to Xing Yi, I would really like to know.

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

Stevenson wrote:
Iain - I HAVE shown evidence that Taoism and taoistic ideas is not just at the heart of Goju, but at the heart of nearly ALL of eastern culture, from India right through China, Japan and Korea.

I’m not disputing that Taoism had a major influence on the wider culture. What I am disputing is that it had a meaningful influance on karate. I am also disputing that the number kata get their name from Taoist numerology. Pointing to the wider culture is not evidence for the specific claims being made. There is no evidence for the karate specific claims. There is evidence against them.

The aim of all “combative technologies” has always been effectiveness in combat. You don’t see other cultural issues overriding that. For example, the Buddha said:

“Even if thieves carve you limb from limb with a double-handed saw, if you make your mind hostile you are not following my teaching.”

He also stated:

“In times of war, give rise in yourself to the mind of compassion. Helping living beings and abandon the will to fight.”

Buddhism has a huge influence on eastern culture, but they don’t let the teachings of Buddha get in the way of combative efficiency. Pragmatism wins out. They do fight back with hostility and they do embrace the will to fight … as the armies, weapons and martial arts of these cultures clearly demonstrate. The religion of the wider culture is not present in all sections of that culture. It’s certainly not in karate because we train to fight back against those who would harm us … irrespective of whether their specific objective is to saw our limbs off or not.

As we can see, pointing to the wider culture says nothing about the specific subcultures within. You can’t simply assert that the “big picture” must be universally reflected in all smaller subsections without any evidance. That’s not how societies work.

Christianity is at the heart of UK culture, but it does not have any influence of the way we box, sword fight or wrestle. There is nothing in the terminology of any indigenous combative system that relates to the dominate religion and cultural force of Britain. As hugely important as Christianity is on the wider culture, any attempt to assert it must be present through the entire culture is immediately shown to be wrong.

Karate was practised and developed in a culture where the influence of Confucianism, Buddism, Taoism, etc was highly significant. On that I agree. Where we disagree is that I see no evidence for those worldviews being infused into karate to the degree suggested.

I see no “code” originating in Taoist numerology being attached to the kata. The names of the kata seem very down to earth and descriptive. Arakaki had them write “steps” and it strikes me as odd to ignore that in favour of a more “esoteric” explanation with no direct evidence to support it.

The “link” between karate and various religious worldviews has been historically debunked. Just as the link between Zen and the samurai has been debunked. And the historic link between Tai Chi and Taoism has also been debunked. However, because these myths were useful in promoting the arts at a time where combative skill was no longer a pressing need they became widespread to the point where many still take the martial arts - religion link as a given. However, it is demonstrably false. The evidence is clear that these religious worldviews were not infused into the martial arts as often stated and supposed. Anko Itosu was clear on this when he said, “Karate did not develop from Buddhism or Confucianism.” However, subsequent generations were smart enough to realise the propaganda value of suggesting otherwise.

Stevenson wrote:
I am not asserting that taoism was at the heart of Goju. That is misrepresenting my position.

Then you have also misrepresented your position. Can I point you to your last post:

Stevenson wrote:
Iain - I HAVE shown evidence that Taoism and taoistic ideas is not just at the heart of Goju but at the heart …

In the above post you have said you have provided evidence that Taoism is at the heart of Goju, and then also said that I am misrepresenting your position because you are not asserting that Taoism is at the heart of Goju.

In previous posts you have also stated things like:

I do "assert" that Taoist principles are "at the heart" of Higoanna's teachings …

I would say at this stage, it is pretty incredible to suggest that Goju was not steeped in Taoist principles …

Miyagi may have named this style of karate "Goju" later but surely he did so because of the philosophies consistent with the "taoist/zen buhddist" teachings …

And so on.

You can see why this would lead me to believe that you were asserting Taoism was intrinsic to Goju. If I am misrepresenting your position, then it only because of the way that you have presented it.

There are also contradictions in other places too. For example:

Stevenson wrote:
But the Gekisai katas and Tensho were created by Miyagi - long after the deeper connections with Taoism/Buddhism were lost or held less sway.

Conversely, you also stated that Goju was “steeped” in Taoist principles, and the name of the style that Miyagi chose reflects that. You also said the following about the creation of Tensho:

Stevenson wrote:
It's worth pointing out that the kata "Tensho" was devised as a compliment to "Sanchin" because Sanchin was characterised as a "hard/yang" kata. If that isn't evidence of adhering to Taoist principles I really don't know what is.

Your position has either changed or is unclear. I therefore hope it is clear to you and other readers that I am simply reflecting your views as they have been stated.

Stevenson wrote:
That's because there aren't 13 steps in Seisan katas! Some seisans have a bit more, some seisans have a lot more!

The word “step” does mean foot movement. But it can also mean, “a stage in a gradual process” and “a measure or action, especially one of a series taken in order to deal with or achieve a particular thing.” The character used has similar readings. It does not have to be foot movements that are being counted.

We also need to remember that after 150 years of evolution the kata are sure to have changed such that what was being originally referred to has become unclear.

The inescapable fact though is that the first ever reference to the kata clearly states “steps”. Arakaki had them write “steps”. The fact that what those steps are may be unclear to us today is not evidence that “steps” is wrong.

We can safely assume that Arakaki knew his kata, and that he knew it was made up of 13 steps or stages, and that is why he has the name transcribed that way. Our modern ignorance is not evidence that Arakaki wrote “steps” in error and that he did not know what he was doing.

The very first document we have referring to that kata states “steps”. That is strong historical evidence that the great master Arakaki saw the kata has having 13 steps or stages. The man who taught the kata to Higoanna had it written as “13 steps”. There is no reason at all to think the 13 referred to anything other than steps (and you keep doing that with no evidance to support the supposed link i.e. "death kata", the 13 classics, etc).

I don’t think our back and forth on this has moved either of us from our initial positions. And that’s totally OK because our combined efforts have produced a detailed thread for members and visitors. And while I don’t find myself at all convicted by your position as it relates to karate, I have found your information on numerology very interesting.  Thanks once again for thrashing this out with me.

All the best,

Iain

Cataphract
Cataphract's picture
This is getting way off topic, but...
Iain Abernethy wrote:
And the historic link between Tai Chi and Taoism has also been debunked.

The myth about Taoist monk Zhan Sanfeng as founding figure has been debunked. But Taiji stems from a synthesis of Tao Yin practices with northern Kung Fu by Chen Wangting and is infused with Taoist theory. That much is uncontroversial as far as I know.

DaveB
DaveB's picture

Hello all,

I personally believe that Hangetsu and its shorin variations come from the Seisan of Goju and it's variations, which in turns comes from the 13 treasures form of Fujian White crane kung fu. I know FWC is the white elephant of karate history in that there's much talk but few actual links, but in this case I think the name and pattern fit.

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

Cataphract wrote:
The myth about Taoist monk Zhan Sanfeng as founding figure has been debunked.

Thanks for the clarification. Yes, that’s what I was referring to. I don’t know enough about Tai Chi to discuss anything beyond that. It’s common to posit such "historical" connections in order promote the art. Choose someone of historical or religious importance and then claiming they are the founders of the art. It would be like me, as a Brit, claiming my art has its origins with King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. Bodhidharma was not the founder of Shaolin Kung Fu. Karate is not part of that mythical family tree. Zen was not an intrinsic part of the Samurai worldview. The code of Bushido is largely a modern invention. However, all of these things are taken as authentic by many and this skews the lens though which the martial arts are viewed.

It’s worth noting that as well as being credited with creating Tai Chi,  the “immortal” Zhan Sanfeng (who lived to be over 300 years old apparently) is also credited by some as being the ultimate source of martial pressure point knowledge too. Apparently, he paid jailers to let him practise on prisoners. Again, no evidence for this at all … but it does not stop the story being repeated.

This is a good article on the why martial arts myths originate, the purpose the were indented serve, and why they withstand continual debunking:

https://chinesemartialstudies.com/2014/03/28/bodhidharma-historical-fiction-hyper-real-religion-and-shaolin-kung-fu/

All the best,

Iain

Extract:

“The rise of the myth of Bodhidharma was one of the most important developments in the martial arts of the Late Imperial period. Not only is it still with us today, but it has spawned an entire genera of other stories (most notably the Taijiquan legend of Zhang Sanfeng) which have helped to buttress it, creating a rich and complex world view. The concept of the “hyper-real religion” might help to explain how a clearly fictional tradition has continued to be so influential for so long. The same idea might also help us to think more clearly about the relationship between fiction and popular religion in a number of other areas that relate to the Chinese martial arts.”

Cataphract
Cataphract's picture

DaveB wrote:
I personally believe that Hangetsu and its shorin variations come from the Seisan of Goju and it's variations, which in turns comes from the 13 treasures form of Fujian White crane kung fu. I know FWC is the white elephant of karate history in that there's much talk but few actual links, but in this case I think the name and pattern fit.

Interesting. I don't know enough about Goju's Seisan, but after a cursory look it seems possible.

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