In this recurring series, I’ll analyze the origins of Pokémon designs, their culture, and their historical allusions to British culture.
This article will discuss the origins of Kubfu and Urshifu, legendary Pokémon that appear in the Isle of Armor DLC.
Kubfu is a Fighting-type Pokémon and is described as the “Wushu Pokémon”. This classification is a reference to the sport of Wushu, also known as kung fu. This association is noted in its name, a combination of a bear “cub” and “kung fu”. To add to its fighting aesthetic, it wears a headband resembling a hachimaki.
It is a legendary Pokémon, and cannot be bred. At the same time, there seem to be many of them in the world. Mustard has one in his party, and he gives one to you. It is unclear how many exist and where they may be found.
Wild Kubfu live in mountainous areas far away from the Galar region today, but it was once a species that called Galar its home. It’s noted in historical texts that this species used to head to uncharted lands with people as they set out to trade or explore. Records suggest that the Kubfu living in faraway mountains today may have descended from Kubfu that became naturalized to the distant lands they visited in their journeys.
Kung fu is a form of Chinese martial arts, which may at first make it an odd choice for a region based in Great Britain. However this origin note has allusions to the history of Great Britain in trade and exploration, and Kubfu seems to have some allusions to this history.
Marco Polo was an Italian merchant from the early fourteenth century who traveled to China and developed relationships with many in East Asian nations. While not the first to do so, his book The Travels of Marco Polo, became widely publicized and depicted these nations to a European audience.
As the Renaissance began in Europe, merchants began to expand trade to include China, India, and other nations. Advances in ships made travel easier, and new opportunities to reach these places became more valuable. Christopher Columbus sailed west, hoping to find a faster route to India.
England among other nations began to colonize places like India and developing large-scale trading corporations like the East India Trading Company to export Asian resources. One of these exports was tea.
Mustard was another plant that was first cultivated in the geographical region of India. Mustard plants were later cultivated by the Romans, where its usage in European culinary dishes spread. One variety of mustard as a condiment, honey mustard, is used in some British dishes as a coating on grilled meat.
Kubfu seems to share this exploration, traveling to some far-off region in order to learn their fighting skills and train. Many seem to have not returned, staying in the region and adapting to their surroundings.
Mustard as a character seems to be either from this far-off region or has adopted its martial arts. The dojo contains a number of vertically-hanging banner written in a novel script. Mustard’s battle theme includes a brief musical phrase that seems to be based on a cliche of far eastern music but does not seem to be a traditional tune. The riff seems to be more likely to be a western recreation of far eastern music, perhaps implying that Mustard is recreating a martial art.
Kubfu trains hard to perfect its moves. The moves it masters will determine which form it takes when it evolves.
If Kubfu pulls the long white hair on its head, its fighting spirit heightens and power wells up from the depths of its belly.
The Pokédex entries for Kubfu suggest that it is a student . Through a period of intense training, it becomes a master. This occurs by battling through one of the two towers on the island until you reach the top. At that point Kubfu, in its mastery, reads the Scroll of Water or Scroll of Darkness i order to complete its training and evolve into a Wushu master.
Depending on which scroll you use, it will evolve into a Fighting/Water-type or Fighting/Dark-type Pokémon Urshifu. Its name is a combination of “ursa”, Latin for bear, and “wushu”.
Like its bear counterpart, it has a preference for sweet honey and will require you to find Max Honey in order to craft the soup to enable it to Gigantamax. It has the ability Unseen Fist, which enables it to use direct contact moves through Protect.
It’s believed that this Pokémon modeled its fighting style on the flow of a river — sometimes rapid, sometimes calm.
This form of Urshifu is a strong believer in defeating foes by raining many blows down on them. Its strikes are nonstop, flowing like a river.
Rapid Strike Style
The Rapid Strike form is Fighting/Water and may be based on the chain punch in Chinese martial arts, particularly in Wing Chun.
This form is where the practitioner throws multiple punches rapidly in a row with both of your arms to gain the momentum in a fight. It may be the basis of this form’s signature move Surging Strikes.
It may be based on the east Asian sun bear, which is sometimes referred to as a honey bear. The Pokédex suggests it is not a natural inhabitant of the island, unlike Kubfu, and the scrolls to evolve it may have come from this distant region.
This form of Urshifu is a strong believer in the one-hit KO. Its strategy is to leap in close to foes and land a devastating blow with a hardened fist.
Inhabiting the mountains of a distant region, this Pokémon races across sheer cliffs, training its legs and refining its moves.
Single Strike Style
There are two forms of Urshifu depending on which scroll it reads. The Single Strike form is Fighting/Dark and may be based in particular on the one-inch punch in Chinese martial arts.
This is a form where the practitioner throws a powerful punch at a very short distance to deal a significant amount of damage. It was popularized in media by actor Bruce Lee. It may also be the basis for this form’s signature move Wicked Blow.
There is a Gigantamax form for each of Urshifu’s forms, giving it access to the G-Max move G-Max Rapid Flow or G-Max One Blow. Both are able to hit through protect or even Max Guard.
The Pokédex entries for each suggest they are fairly intimidating even among other Dynamax Pokémon.
As it waits for the right moment to unleash its Gigantamax power, this Pokémon maintains a perfect one-legged stance. It won’t even twitch.
All it takes is a glare from this Pokémon to take the lives of those with evil in their hearts — or so they say.
Rapid Strike Style
People call it the embodiment of rage. It’s said that this Pokémon’s terrifying expression and shout will rid the world of malevolence.
The energy released by this Pokémon’s fists forms shock waves that can blow away Dynamax Pokémon in just one hit.
Single Strike Style
Kubfu is a Pokémon that traveled the world with Galarian merchants and explorers. Along the way they found a region with allusions to China and began to study that form of martial arts, wushu. After completing their training, they evolve into Urshifu and have become the masters.
The relationship between Great Britain and China is alluded to slightly, but there are not a lot of additional details provided. Perhaps one day there will be a new region where Urshifu are common and you’ll be able to find them roaming the mountains. Perhaps at that point we will learn more about these legendary Pokémon.