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Nimrod Nir
Nimrod Nir's picture
Opening Salutations?

I have just watched this video by Jesse Enkamp:

 

Is this information based on any known source?

To the best of my knowledge (and also according to what I learned here in the forum) we do not know the origin of the "opening salutations" and all assumptions regarding them being a salutation or respect gesture of any kind are just that - assumptions. 

If anyone knows more about this, please enlighten us.

Frazatto
Frazatto's picture

I remain skeptical.

Without sources, it could be the equivalent of a "cool handshake" that got too main stream just as well.

Heath White
Heath White's picture

I have read a number of places about the "kung fu salute" or "shaolin salute", that it is a modification of the normal Chinese salute or greeting, and that it was widely adopted by martial artists who were resisting the Qing and hoped to restore the Ming.  It seems to be common knowledge in the Chinese TMA community.  You will certainly see it in plenty of kung fu films set in southern China during the Qing dynasty. (All the "Once Upon a Time in China" films with Jet Li, for example.)  If you google either of those phrases, and maybe add "Ming dynasty", you will find plenty of sources.  How high-quality they are I cannot say.

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

Hi All,

Nimrod Nir wrote:
Is this information based on any known source?

None. We do know such a hand gesture was used as a greeting, but to then claim that we have the same greeting in kata, and that is the confirmed origin of the hand position, is highly questionable. It’s an old claim, but one with no credibility in my view. This is one of those “hear hoofbeats and think unicorns” things for me.

To grip the throat effectively, you need to locate it. One hand on the back of the neck as location / control, and the other closing to squeeze the throat, will look exactly like that hand position (see image). It’s exactly what you’d expect to see in a martial arts form. I hear hoofbeats, I think horses.

Even taken on its own merits, I feel it fails at the first hurdle as a supposed “secret greeting”. It’s hardly a secret gesture as it’s very public and very obvious. It’s about as subtle as the “secret masonic greetings” in the old Monty Python sketch: https://youtu.be/oqxZ3H5nAy0

If we consider it as a more overt greeting, then we have to ask why would anyone put a greeting at the start of a martial arts form? As a westerner, it would be like me waving before proceeding to show combative methods.

To my knowledge, there is no historical documentation linking the kata that begin with that gesture (Jion, Jitte, Ji’in, etc) to such an historical militia. Indeed, the more common “origin story” – which is also questionable – is to link these kata to the Ci'en temples, based largely on the kanji Funakoshi superimposed onto those kata to give them new Japanese names because the original meaning of the names had been lost (they had been passed on through numerous languages and dialects and were sounded out in katakana when written down). Worth noting that, despite claims to the contrary, there is no strong connection with the Ci'en temples and martial arts.

Other issue is the modern way we do kata i.e. an instruction to get ready, assume the first posture of the kata, announce the name of the kata, an instruction to begin, and then do the kata. This way of doing the kata separates the first move from the rest of the kata; such that the second move is often considered the first. This helps spread the idea that the first move is symbolic, a greeting, etc. However, when we view that kata in its entirety by simply doing it without the modern formalities, we can often see that there is nothing special about the first movement, and that the second movement (often considered the first) frequently flows on from it.

Passai / Bassai also has the same hand position on the first and second move. On the first, the hand is lower. On the second, the hands come up as the legs cross. So, if is a greeting, what’s all that about? A funkier greeting for the hipper members of the militia? Looks like a joint-lock takedown to me.

As I say, if you hear hoof beats, then think horses … not unicorns. The kata are combative in nature so Occam’s razor would have us view the motion from a combative perspective. It makes little sense to assume it’s a greeting based on a common position alone. By the same token, we could argue that a horse stance, with one hand on the hip, and the other extended, must originate from the wild west because it’s the same position a cowboy would be in when on horseback, holding the reins, and firing his six-shooter. Commonality in appearance does not prove common origin.

I know I often come across as “Relentless Mr Scepticism” when such ideas are put forth. I know that some like such ideas because they feel that add a “mystery” or “depth” to the kata. I know that by dismissing them I may come across as trying to remove that “mystery” or “depth”. I can therefore understand why some push back when I shoot this stuff down.

However, the kata truly do have a great depth and fascination without regurgitated myths and very suspect “history”. Indeed, this “false depth” often obscures the true depth. There is also plenty of mystery. There is lots about the kata that we don’t know, and probably never will know, especially when it comes to their history and origins. To me, an honest mystery is better than a false “solution”.

Nimrod Nir wrote:
To the best of my knowledge (and also according to what I learned here in the forum) we do not know the origin of the "opening salutations" and all assumptions regarding them being a salutation or respect gesture of any kind are just that - assumptions.

Absolutely right! When it comes to the “salutations”, I often point to the writings of Shigeru Egami (a senior student of Gichin Funakoshi). In his book, he shows all the various “salutations” and then states he has no idea what any of them represent and that further research is needed. I love that! It’s so honest! In regards to that research, I think we are better assuming combative function (based on everything we DO know historically) and not obscure symbolism (where we have reach for nothing but speculative “commonalities” with no supporting documentation at all).

Heath White wrote:
It seems to be common knowledge in the Chinese TMA community …If you google either of those phrases, and maybe add "Ming dynasty", you will find plenty of sources.  How high-quality they are I cannot say.

As with lots of these things, they are often not “sources” but restated opinions. It’s the logical fallacy of Argumentum Ad Populum i.e. “something just be true because lots of people say it is true”.

To my knowledge, there are no sources confirming that hand position, as found in the karate kata, is a greeting. It’s therefore way more logical to assume that a motion in a combative sequence of motions (i.e. a kata) is also combative.

All the best,

Iain

PS Absolutely nothing in this is directed at Jesse personally. I like him and believe does a lot of good for karate. His enthusiasm, work ethic, and desire to look at all aspects of karate helps bring the wider community together in a way that no one else does. I think his influence is extremely beneficial to  karate; and feel he often does not get enough credit for this important role (I can’t think of another modern karateka with as wide an appeal across all aspects of our art?). I am sharing my views on the idea shared in this specific video, which is an idea which has been doing the rounds for a very long time.

AllyWhytock
AllyWhytock's picture

Hello, To get a hint of cultural and historical context, here's a link, with references, to get folks started, if they wish.

https://martialartscultureandhistory.com/en/a-brief-history-of-secret-society-tiandihui/

Kindest Regards,

Ally

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

Hi All,

AllyWhytock wrote:
To get a hint of cultural and historical context, here's a link, with references, to get folks started, if they wish.

Interesting article! This bit caught my attention:

Other interpretations are given to define the symbolism of this greeting which is most often designated by Bao Quan Li 抱拳 礼 and which can be translated as “the salute of the wrapped fist”. These interpretations are interesting, however I do not wish to dwell on the subject here.

While the author concentrates on the Ming Secret Society interpretation, it seems others interpretations exist that the author does not wish to get into.

I did a quick bit of Googling and found the following:

https://www.topchinatravel.com/china-guide/chinese-etiquette-fist-and-palm-salute.htm

History

Fist and palm salute is one of the typical Chinese etiquette with a history of more than 3000 years. Since West Zhou Dynasty (BC 1046-BC 771), people had already used this etiquette when meeting peers (it is said that most Chinese traditional etiquette is originated from Zhou Li, created by the Duke of Zhou [1042–1035 BC] in early West Dynasty). In ancient time, if people met a stranger, one would tend to prepare for a fight if they have to, and hands were always ready for holding any weapons. Holding hands together pointed to themselves was a gesture of saying relax, I am not with any weapons and I am not here to pick a fight. Later it became the etiquette when meeting each other and show gratitude. In Modern China, fist and palm salute has already been one of the common etiquette frequently used on traditional occasions. Chinese people show their respect of others through distance, which is different from western people usually showing through physical closeness. Around 100 years ago, handshake was introduced to China.

In that regard, it is a little like western waving (i.e. “here is my hand, you can see I am not holding anything”). However, this article suggests it is not related to any secret society, has been around for a very long time (thousands of year earlier), it is recorded in a book on etiquette, and originated from the nobility.

Doing an image search for the Duke of Zhou – said to be the originator of this greeting above – there are a number of paintings and statues where he is covering his right hand with his left (see image).

Probably nothing to do with the secret society then? Or does it all come down to whether the open hand is straight or curved? And where does that leave all the various style variations where some do curve the fingers and others have them straighter? Wado’s Jion is from the 19th century secret society, but Shotokan’s is thousands of years older and comes from the nobility of the West Zhou Dynasty? I fear this is the kind of mess we can get into when we conflate superficial similarity with “proven” historical links.

As a little aside, the linked article above also states that men and women do the greeting differently:

How to do Fist and Palm Salute Properly?

The gesture of fist and palm salute: firstly, stand at attention. If you are male, right-hand half-fist, and then left hand hold the right hand in front of your chest. Watching each other in the eyes, raise both hand to brow, bent down and shake hands toward each other gently for three times … Noted that in history, for male Chinese people they considered the left as the important and honourable side.  If you are female, the honourable side is the right, and you should do the fist palm salute the other way which should be right-hand on the top.

As I say in the post above, I am extremely sceptical about the secret society thing as the hand position is overt and obvious. Nothing even remotely subtle about it and EVERYONE would see it; both fellow members and those you wanted to keep your membership a secret from. Furthermore, five mins on the internet suggest that it’s been used a greeting in China for thousands of years.

Interestingly, I read some news reports that it’s having something of a resurgence due to a desire not to shake hands due to Covid.

Even if the kata position was the greeting under discussion, it does call into question the strength of the "secret soceity link".  It seems to have origins that go back much further and has a far wider use among the population.

I am also very doubtful that the position in the kata is any form of greeting. A common hand position does not automatically mean common origin. Other elements of the greeting – such as the shaking of the hands three times, etc – are entirely absent from what we see in the kata too (athough it may have changed over time?).

I think it much more likely that it merely looks like one single element of the greeting … and it looks EXCATLY LIKE A THROAT GRAB. Occam’s razor tells me that the logical position to take is that a combative kata is made up of combative motions. Therefore, when a kata motion looks like both a single aspect of greeting and exactly like throat grab, then it’s much more likely to be a throat grab. I hear hoofbeats, I think horses.

All the best,

Iain

Kiwikarateka
Kiwikarateka's picture

I'll throw my hat in but, all I have is speculation I'm afriad :p

This posture doesn't just appear at the beginning of kata, Seiyunchin from Goju Ryu also features this "greeting" twice about one third into the kata.

Coincidence? Perhaps, there are only so many configurations for tha hands to adopt after all, but this could lead credence to the idea that it's a combative posture and not a greeting.

In regards to it being a greeting, I feel like I have seen videos of Chinese masters using this before/after doing a form, I assume as a sign of respect to the audience. So if a kata was based of a Kung Fu form from a Chinese master who tended to do this "greeting" at the start of their forms, it could have "inheritied" the posture for that reason. Another idea is that people just wanted to emulate this posture because the Kung Fu masters did it and they wanted to be "hip" too.

The fact that kata tend to be very codified and formal in how they are performed could have lead to a relaxed greeting posture changing into a rigid starting posture.

 

Cheers,

Mat