We have studied Wing Chun’s rules of conduct in my last article. We also know that Shotokan has Funakoshi’s Niju kun (20 principles). How about the other styles? Today I wish to investigate Kenpo Hakku 拳法八句 which has been handed down in Goju-ryu. The Kenpo Hakku was a favorite poem of Miyagi Chojun, the founder of Goju-ryu. In fact, Miyagi named his style, Goju 剛柔 by taking a part of a line from one verse of Hakku 八句. You know what Kenpo means. So, what is Hakku? It means “The eight verses” that describes the eight precepts or the teachings of the kenpo or karate. Even though the teaching of Hakku was handed down only in Goju, I believe it is beneficial to all karate practitioners and that is why I decided to share it with the shotokan practitioners.

Before we go into the interpretation of the Hakku, let me introduce Goju-ryu and its founder, Chojun Miyagi for they may not be too familiar to many of the shotokan practitioners.

Goju-ru 剛柔流 is one of the major 4 traditional karate styles (Shotokan, Goju, Shito and Wado) in both Japan and Okinawa. Although it is commonly believed that the name of Goju-ryu was created by its founder, Miyagi Chojun 宮城長順 (1888 – 1953) Miyagibut interestingly it was originally named by one of his top students, Shinzato Jinan 新里仁安 (19011945) in 1929. Miyagi, approved it later in the 30s,and Goju-ryu became the official name of his style. Goju-ryu is the representative style of Naha-te. Miyagi combined the teachings from his master Higaonna Kanryo 東恩納 寛量 (1853 – 1915) and some of his own modifications (a la, improvements). Kanryo was also known as Higaonna “West” as there was another master by the name of Higaonna Kanyu 東恩納寛裕 (1849-1922), Higaonna “East”. These two are often confused due to the same last name. We must remember that Miyagi learned from Higaonna Kanryo or “West”.

According to Wikipedia, Goju-ryu features a combination of hard and soft techniques thus the name of Goju (literally means “hard” and “soft”). Both principles, hard and soft, come from the famous martial arts book, Bubishi 武備志 used by the Okinawan masters during the 19th and 20th centuries. bubishi old versionGo , which means hard, it refers to closed hand techniques or straight linear attacks. On the other hand, Ju 柔 meaning soft, refers to open hand techniques and circular movements. Goju-ryu incorporates both circular and linear movements into its curriculum, combining hard striking attacks such as kicks and close hand punches with softer open hand circular techniques for attacking, blocking, and controlling the opponent, including locks, grappling, take-downs and throws. Major emphasis is given to a certain breathing method, Ibuki 息吹き, in all of the katas but particularly in the Sanchin 三戦 kata which is one of two core katas. The second kata is Tensho 転掌, meaning circling open hands and this kata is to teach the soft style of the system. Goju-ryu practices methods using various weights and tools, Hojo kigu 補助器具 that include body strengthening and conditioning, its basic approach isclose distance fighting (ma-ai, stickiness, power generation, etc.), and partner drills.

Goju-ryu’s 12 katasare Gekisai (1 & 2), Saifa, Seienchin, Seisan, Saifa, Shisochin, Sanseiru, Kururunfa, Sanchin, Tensho and Suparinpei.

Chojun Miyagi 宮城 長順, the founder of Goju-ryu, was born in 1888 and died in 1953 at the age of 65. It should be noted that Miyagi began his study in Shuri-te Karate at the age of eleven, in the dojo of Ryuko Aragaki (1875-1961). But at the age of 14, in 1902, he became the student of Naha-te Master Kanryo Higaonna (1851-1915). He was devoted to the teachings of Higaonna through the rest of his life. There is an interesting story that Miyagi visited Itosu, Funakoshi’s teacher, one day and asked if Miyagi could learn some karate techniques from him. Itosu, number one Shuri-te master at that time, told him that there was nothing more to teach him because Miyagi was the senior student of Higaonna and he had already mastered Naha-te karate. I am not sure if Itosu really meant it or if it was only a diplomatic comment showing the respect to Higaonna. Regardless, what is important to learn from this story is that Miyagi was open minded enough to seek teaching from a Shuri-te master.

Okinawa Bubishi pageOne thing I must mention here is an important note on Bubishi 武備.It is supposed to be the source of these eight verses, Hakku. It is said that these eight verses are found in the Chinese book, Bubishi, the poem is called “Kenpo no taiyo hakku” 「拳法之大要八句」. One fact that we must know is that there are two different Bubishi books; a Chinese version called Wubei Zhi 武備and an Okinawan version 沖縄伝武備. This is not too well known even among the Goju ryu practitioners but this fact can cause some confusion. For instance, in Wikipedia (English site), it only lists the original Bubishi and there is no mention of an Okinawan version of Bubishi.

The original Bubishi written during the Ming Dynasty in the 17th century is the most comprehensive military book in Chinese history. It was edited by Mao Yuanyi 茅元儀 (1594–1640), a naval officer. This book contains 240 volumes, 10405 pages, and more than 200,000 Chinese characters. It consists of five sections. Section 1 contains military theories, Section 2 describes more than 600 specific examples of battle, Section 3 introduces different ways of training troops, Section 4 covers the contents related to wartime logistics and Section 5 covers traditional Chinese methods of divination, formation, and marine navigation. Section 3 is most interesting to us as it includes martial arts training with different weapons.

There is another Bubishi whose official title is Okinawa den Bubishi 沖縄伝武備志, Okinawa version Bubishi which is handed down by Miyagi. He supposedly had purchased a copy of Chinese version of Bubishi in 1914 when he visited southern China‘sFijian Provincewhich is closest to Okinawa. However, the karate historians now believe this version is a totally different book because its content is limited to Hakutsuru ken (White Crane kung fu). The Okinawa version book consists of approximately 100 thousand words with 72 illustrations while the original version has nearly 2 million words with about 700 illustrations. Hakutsuru ken was Bubishi by McCarthy 2developed and practiced mainly in the Fijian province therefore, it is very possible that the author of Okinawa Bubishi may have taken or “borrowed” the well known name from the famous military book.

As this article is not about Bubishi I will not go any further on the subject. If you are interested in it, I recommend a book written by Patrick McCarthy, the well known martial arts historian. A copy of “The bible of karate, Bubishi” (cover page, right) can be purchased from Amazon: 



Maybe in the future I may venture into writing an article on the difference between the original and the Okinawan versions but today we will focus our attention to Kenpo Hakku.

Kenpo Hakku 拳法八句

The Kenpo Hakku is said to be a vital document for Goju-ryu as it holds hidden meanings and the secrets of martial arts. Chojun Miyagi, one of world’s most influential men in history of Karate, used one of its lines to name his style – Goju-ryu. The Kenpo Hakku was written in a sentence structure of Chinese poetry. The interpretations can vary between the individuals and the practitioners. I reviewed several interpretations that are available online but I was not totally happy with them. Thus, I will put my own interpretations of each verse in this article based on the original Chinese text. Bubishi illustration 3I am not a Goju practitioner and I am new to these verses, so I am not sure if my interpretation is in line with what is being taught at a Goju dojo. I welcome the input and, possibly, the corrections from the senior Goju practitioners.


Verse 1:

人心同天地: Jinshin wa Tenchi ni Onaji

The literal translation is the human spirit is the same as the sky and the earth. Two interpretations I found are, “Man is Earthly as his Spirit is Heavenly” and “The mind is one with heaven and earth.” but they do not make sense. We need to think deeper. My interpretation is that our mind is usually filled with the worldly things and worries that deter or hamper the martial art mind.

The teaching of this verse: We must be able to clear our mind so that we can unite with nature (earth and heaven) if we wish to excel and master kenpo (or karate).

Verse 2:

Bubishi illustration 8

血脈以日月: Ketsumyaku wa Nichigetsu ni Nitari

The literal translation is “Blood Cycle Through our Arteries and Veins is Similar to Cycle of Day and Night.” The other interpretations are; “The circulatory rhythm of the body is similar to the cycle of the sun and the moon.” and “Blood, arteries, and veins are similar to sun and moon.” These do not make sense to me. When the Asians talk about blood we mean the blood line of a family. Then how is it related to the cycle of the sun and the moon? I believe it signifies the unceasing universal program. The sun rises every morning and the moon comes up when the sun sets. And this happens every day and every night. So, this verse is saying that we must continue our karate heritage from one generation to another. Even though the relationship between the teachers and the students are not the same as families but I believe it is very common for us to consider a dojo as a family.

My interpretation of the teaching: We must continue our karate tradition and hand it down generation after generation.

Verse 3:

法剛柔呑吐: Hou wa Gouu wo Donto Su

This verse must be the most important one for the Goju practitioners to understand. It is said that Miyagi, the founder, used this verse to name the style. The literal meaning of the verse is, “The law of strength and softness is taking inhaling and exhaling.” This is why, I suspect, Goju-ryu considers its unique breathing method, Ibuki an important exercise in its syllabus. One interpretation I found was, “To Inhale Must be Strong and To Exhale Gentle.” With due respect I disagree with this interpretation. This interpretation may be correct for the beginners, but as you practice further and understand the secret of breathing better we find that the system of breathing methods is much more complex than this. In other words, you can generate power (strong) as you exhale as well as when you inhale. We also learn that one’s breathing can be a combination of half inhale and half exhale. Then the percentage of inhalation and exhalation is not only 50/50 but rather it can be numerous. This law not only applies to the breathing but also to the application of the power as we execute the techniques.

The teaching from this verse: We must be able to control our body very naturally. So that we can apply the strong and the soft techniques at our will just as we can control our breathing methods.Bubishi illustration 6

Verse 4:

身髄 時應変: Mi wa Toki ni Shitagai Hen ni Ozu

This one is not too complex though the meaning is deep. The literal meaning of this verse is that our actions vary according to the time and complies with the changing situation.

My interpretation: Our body must be able to move regardless of the time, situation or circumstance. To be able to do this our mind must work in harmony with our body.

Verse 5:

手逢空則入: Te wa Ku ni Ai Sunawachi Hairu

This verse is a challenging one. The literal translation is easy but catching the true meaning is hard. When the hands meet Ku (emptiness) then they enter. Of course, this translation does not make any sense. Te means more than the hands and should be translated as the techniques. Ku, emptiness means the state of mind. Enter means the techniques are executed.

My interpretation: The teaching of this verse is that the techniques must come out naturally without any conscious thinking. Once again, it teaches the importance of the harmonious unification of the body and the mind.

Verse 6:Bubishi illustration 9

碼進退離逢: Shin Tai wa Hakarite Riho Su

The literal meaning is; “Advance and retreat, part and meet” but it does not make too much sense. I figure this verse is talking about the foot work.

My interpretation for this teaching: Our body and mind must unify with the heaven and earth so that our feet can move swiftly and precisely.

Verse 7:

目要視四向: Me wa Shihou wo Miru wo Yo Su

This one seems to be simple as the literal meaning is that our eyes must see all four directions. However, I suspect the ancient masters must have thought something deeper than the obvious.

My interpretation of the teaching: You must be able to see with more than the eyes. We must develop the eyes in your heart, thus you can sense or feel all the things around you that are more than visible.

Verse 8:Bubishi illustration 5

耳能聴八方: Mimi wa Yoku Happo wo Kiku

This one is similar. The literal translation is that the ears must listen to all eight directions.

The teaching of this verse: We must listen not only with the ears but with our heart so that we will not miss anything that cannot be heard.


So what do you think of these eight verses and their teaching? I hope they are beneficial and helpful to your karate training.


For further information:

Miyagi Chojun: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ch%C5%8Djun_Miyagi

Goju ryu: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/G%C5%8Dj%C5%AB-ry%C5%AB

Wubei Zhi: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wubei_Zhi



2 Responses to 拳法八句とは?

  • I like your interpretation of verse 2 regarding the bloodline. Purely from a scientific point of view, it makes a lots of sense. Thanks for using my calligraphy for your kempo hakku post.

    • Dear Mr. Wong,

      Thank you very much for your comments. I am sorry that I did not get your approval to use your calligraphy for this article. If you allow me I am very grateful. If you object to it I am happy to take it down.

      Best regards,
      K. Yokota

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *