Western New York Karate Center
August 19, 2016
Bao Quan, or “fist wrapping” is a common martial arts salute performed with one’s hands. It has its origin in China but is also used by some other martial arts. It is performed by clenching the right fist, straightening the left palm to have the four fingers in a plane, and then wrapping the left four fingers together around the right fist.
Bao Quan goes by a variety of names other than “fist wrapping. Some described it as the “velvet glove” covering the “iron fist” and reportedly refers to the fall of the Ming Dynasty. Ming means “sun and moon.” Since this hand formation could, with the hand over the fist, look like a crescent moon over the sun, some refer to it as the “sun and moon” salute.
The martial arts symbolism behind Bao Quan is intriguing and something that should be meditated upon from time to time. The left palm symbolizes the spirit of martial arts with the four fingers representing the four nurturing elements: Virtue, Wisdom, Health, and Art. The left thumb, rather than being held straight is slightly bent to acknowledge that one should never be arrogant or self-centered. The right fist symbolizes rigorous practice and, since the right hand is clenched in a fist, it also symbolizes power and the potential for action. When brought together, the left hand, the spirit of martial arts, checks the right hand, power and action, symbolizing self-discipline and restraint. Through the spirit of martial arts and its nurturing elements we can channel our practice and use our power responsibly and even choose not to use it at all.
Bao Quan can also be a reflection of the fact that most people are right handed and how that fact would impact training. In ancient China, it reportedly was common for Chinese masters to practice conditioning methods, such as “Iron Palm,” with their left hand. Such conditioning would enable the left hand to readily execute lethal strikes. But as martial artists were less likely to use their left hand and instinctively use their right, their training would bias them to use incapacitating techniques rather than lethal ones. A martial artist who trained in this manner would have to purposely decide to use a lethal technique. Thus, the Bao Quan salute represents this choice between lethal or incapacitating techniques.
There are other interpretations that get more into Chinese philosophy and medicine. The left hand is seen to represent yin and the right hand represents yang. The joining of the hands in Bao Quan therefore symbolizes yin yang and would be a manner for a martial artist to express the desire to be in balance. It is also said that Bao Quan connects the meridians from a specific point in the open left hand to a specific point in the knuckle of the right hand and thus closes an energetic loop in the body.
In Isshin-Ryu, the four fingers are left in a plane position and are not wrapped over the fist. I believe that this is still consistent with the underlying symbolism of Bao Quan but adds a slight twist. With the hand remaining in a plane it suggests a connection with the universe around the martial artist versus turning the connection strictly inward. It also could be seen as a manner of expressing a desire to always improving in one’s martial arts spirit. But, regardless, as with perhaps the more traditional Bao Quan salute, the left hand is still shown as keeping the right hand in check. While we strive to improve our martial spirit, our virtuousness, our health, our wisdom, and our sense of art in our practice of Isshin-Ryu, we will remain disciplined and our use of our power will be purposely deployed.