It is widely posited, and in some cases documented, that modern karate systems are derived either partially or entirely from Southern Chinese gung-fu forms. For instance, Kanryo Higashionna, progenitor of today’s Goju-ryu, spent the better part of ten years in Foochow, Fukien province studying martial arts. Kanbun Uechi also spent a decade in Foochow, independently of Higashionna, studying a form of Chinese boxing called Pangai-noon. Upon returning to Okinawa, Uechi moved to Wakayama Prefecture on the mainland and began teaching “Pangainun-ryu Todijutsu,” today known as Uechi-ryu Karatedo. The “crown jewel” of Matsubayashi-ryu kata, Kusanku, is named after an 18th century Chinese diplomat from Fukien province to whom we trace lineage.

Some forms are thought to have melded with native Okinawan fighting arts, as well as other forms of bujutsu introduced by the occupying Satsuma samurai (the makiwara, for instance, is storied to have been derived of the striking post used in Jigen-ryu kenjutsu) to produce the karate we know today. Other influences from Japan include the keikogi (training uniform), the dan/kyu (you’re welcome!) system, the shogo system of titles (renshi, kyoshi, hanshi), line drills for mass instruction, and perhaps even the concept of the formal dojo for training as early karate was practiced by small groups in less formal and structured environments.

In any case, the following video outlines various Southern Chinese systems of Guangdong province, next door to Fujian (Fukien), some of which bear a striking resemblance to the techniques and kata of Shorin-ryu. A survey of Southern White Crane would also reveal a resemblance to kata of both Goju-ryu and Uechi-ryu. Although our various styles have evolved over the generations to become unique unto themselves, rather than thinking about who and which is “better” than the other it is more interesting to identify our common ancestries and the principles therein which transcend system or style.

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