top of page

Triangulating Chinese, Korean, Japanese Martial Arts first started out with ancient Chinese martial arts manuals, then subsequently I worked on Korean manuals. Only recently this year, 2017, you see me releasing works on Japanese manuals. This article explains why I'm "branching out", and inform you on the next phase of this website's evolution.

This could be the most important blog article that I've written since the inception of this website.

The above Chinese character should be familiar to you, if you're into Eastern martial arts. Across the 3 cultures/countries, China, Korea, Japan, it is read in phonetically similar ways.

In Chinese, it is read as "wu". In Korean, it is read as "mu". In Japanese, it is read as "bu".

Different ways of pronouncing the same word, but you can see the similarity there. Furthermore, all 3 countries' languages use Chinese characters, 漢字 (hanzi), literally "Words from the Han Chinese".

In Korean, 漢字 is read as "Hanja". In Japanese, it's read as "Kanji".

Evidently, all 3 countries shared similiarities in their language, history and culture. Korea and Japan subsequently developed their own unique characters and grammar. Historically, these 3 countries have also fought in wars/battles against and alongside each other.

Does it not make sense then, that in order to fully study historical Eastern martial arts (and manuals), we have to triangulate from all 3 countries' sources to gain a more holistic understanding and complete picture?

Below are some examples.

Referencing Japanese & Korean Historical Manuals

In the below picture, on the left is an approximately 200 years old Japanese manual on swordsmanship & halberd. On the right, is "Muye Dobo Tongji", a well-known comprehensive Korean martial arts manual set, which is about 250 years old.

Japanese and Korean Ancient Martial Arts Manuals

If you were to ask any modern Japanese or Korean, to read the above manuals in their own language, they will not be able to do it. Because, both were written in classical Chinese. It would have made no grammatical sense if you were to 'convert' it to Japanese or Korean to read it.

But if you were to get a Chinese person to read it, if he/she didn't know better, he/she would have thought that it was a Chinese book all along, instead of a Japanese or Korean one.

Let's examine other commonalities.

Javelin depicted in Chinese, Korean and Japanese manuals

In the above picture, on the left is from the "Sword & Shield Manual", found in 紀效新書 (Ji Xiao Xin Shu) by Chinese Ming Dynasty General Qi Ji-guang, dating back 400+ years. Circle in red is the Javelin, thrown by the shield-bearing soldiers.

In the middle, is from the Korean "Muye Dobo Tongji" dating back 250 years, which is essentially the same.

Lastly on the right, is from the Japanese "Buki Nihyaku Zu", dating back 170 years. Quite possibly, this could be the 1st time in history that we see the same drawing in full color.

Let's look at another one:

"Metal Turtle" from Ji Xiao Xin Shu and drawn in Japanese manual.

On the left is a page from 紀效新書 (Ji Xiao Xin Shu). Highlighted in red is 錫鱉 (xi bie), which is literally translated as "Metal Turtle". This page describes the items that a Ming Dynasty soldier will be equipped with. This "Metal Turtle" is a small container for storing fire-powder.

As far as my research went, there were no historical Chinese drawings showing how this "Metal Turtle" looked like. That is until I stumbled upon the antique Japanese publication "Buki Nihyaku Zu", 200 Diagrams of Weapons. Not only do we now known how it looks like, but also in full color!

And also, the Ming Dynasty "Crouching Tiger Cannon".

Crouching Tiger Cannon Chinese and Japanese depiction

This is a small cannon, easily carried by 1 person, with something like a bipod or stand which you can attach onto when you want to shoot with it. Think of your WWII Mortar man.

On the left, is from 紀效新書 (Ji Xiao Xin Shu), which shows the cannon in an assembled and disassembled state. On the right is from "Buki Nihyaku Zu", possibly the 1st time in historical publications to show it in full color.

Few months back, I also wrote a full article, showing Shaolin Staff techniques found in Samurai General Yamamoto Kansuke's book, which dates back 400+ years ago.

Shaolin Staff techniques found in Yamamoto Kansuke's book

Below is a page from the Korean Muye Dobo Tongji, Scroll #4, chapter on fighting with the Staff, which is based largely on Ming Dynasty martial arts.

Muye Dobo Tongji describes Chinese staff technique

Highlighted in red is the word 掤 (bing), which is a technique for the Staff. Followed by some small words below it, which explains that this technique is like trying to knock away an in-flight arrow.

Why is this important? Because if you were to read purely just Chinese manuals, you may encounter the word 掤 (bing), but you'll not know what it means. You can't just type it in a dictionary for the answer!

I suspect that Muye Dobo Tongji was written for Koreans who may not be that familiar with Ming Dynasty Chinese martial arts terminology, hence they had to write some kind of subscript to provide additional explanation. Thank goodness for that!

Launch of New Segment: Japanese Manuals!

I hope now you can see why, we need to triangulate sources from Chinese, Korean, and Japanese, in order to gain a more complete understanding and insight of historical Eastern martial arts manuals.

With this, I'm pleased and excited to announce the next phase and development of, by launching a new segment for Japanese historical martial arts manuals!

What you can expect, moving forward in 2018 and beyond:

  • Works on Chinese, Korean & Japanese manuals, to create publications that triangulate information from these 3 major sources.

  • Re-work on existing publications, to enhance them by referencing from other manuals.

I met with Karen Buitenwerf-Lowe from Tai Chi Nederland recently 2 months ago (Oct 2017) when she was visiting Singapore. During our conversation, I mentioned that my time and effort are limited, as I have to juggle with work and other responsibilities too. Therefore I have to be very selective in which antique manual(s) I choose to work with, Chinese, Korean or Japanese.

I hope my efforts will help you in deepening your understanding of traditional Chinese martial arts, and also traditional Eastern martial arts as a whole.

Thank you for your support all these years, and I look forward to the next phase of this website.

Jack Chen Ancient Chinese Martial Arts Manuals


Featured Posts
Recent Posts
Search By Tags
Follow Us
  • Facebook Basic Square
bottom of page