Hawaii Karate Seinenkai.

The following article originally appeared in the Journal of the Shoto Research Society International, and is reprinted by permission of the author. Copyright © Joe Swift. All rights reserved. See his website Traditional Karate Kobudo.

See parts 1, 2, 3 or 4 of the article.

Wisdom from the Past: Tidbits on Kata
Applications from Pre-War Karate Books.
Part Three: Motobu Choki

By Joe Swift

Copyright Iwai Tsukuo: Do NOT COPY!

If there ever was an Okinawan martial artist who knew how to use his "stuff" in a real confrontation, it must have been Motobu Choki. Although often decried as an uncouth brawler by those who do not know the details of his life, by looking at his writings, we can see that he had a deep appreciation for kata and their defensive applications.

Okinawa Kenpo Toudijutsu Kumite-hen (1926)

Motobu's first book, this publication covered many aspects of Motobu's karate. While also addressing history, philosophy, training, resuscitation methods, and the like, the major portion of the book focuses upon a set of 12 basic fighting techniques. Let us take a look at an example, that can be very easily extrapolated to Passai no Kata, which Motobu is said to have learned from Matsumora Kosaku.

Fig.1 Copyright Iwai Tsukuo: DO NOT COPY!   Fig.2 Copyright Iwai Tsukuo: DO NOT COPY!

(Fig.1) As the opponent strikes to our face with his left fist, we use our left hand to strike his arm off its course, and immediately grab his left wrist with our left hand.

(Fig.2) After blocking the opponent's left attack with our left hand, then twisting our left hand top grab his left wrist, as in the previous diagram, we grab his left elbow with our right hand, and stomp on his knee with our right foot to break it.

Watashi no Toudijutsu (1933)

This book, covering much of the same material, at least in the text, as the first, also includes Motobu's version of Naifuanchi Shodan, as well as some different applications. Although it has been said that Motobu had a "special" version of Naifuanchi, replete with "ti-like grappling techniques," one can immediately see from this publication, that other than personal quirks (higher chamber, etc.), Motobu's kata varies very little from the mainstream variety.

The kumite in this book also seems to focus mainly upon Naifuanchi. Let us now take a look at an example that seems to have been taken directly from Naifuanchi.

Fig.1 Copyright Iwai Tsukuo: DO NOT COPY!   Fig.2 Copyright Iwai Tsukuo: DO NOT COPY!   Fig.3 Copyright Iwai Tsukuo: Do NOT COPY!

(Fig.1) When the opponent grabs our lapel with his right hand, we grip his wrist with our right hand and open our body to the right slightly.

(Fig.2) The opponent is now in an un-advantageous position. We pull strongly with our right hand and punch him in the side of the chest as shown in the diagram.

(Fig.3) If the opponent is undaunted and launches a punch with his left fist, we pull his right hand while inserting our left hand in and pressing his left hand down as shown in the photograph, while pulling our left and right arms like pulling a bow. If he still remains unsubdued, pull his right arm down while raising our left arm to break his arm.

Other Morsels from Motobu!

In 1978, an essay entitled "Collection of Sayings by Motobu Choki" was published in Japanese. This essay is based upon the oral teachings of Motobu Choki to his students, and was overseen by one direct student of Motobu, namely Marukawa Kenji. Let us now take a look at several of these "oral transmissions."

1. Everything is natural, and changing.

2. Kamae is in the heart, not a physical manifestation.

4. One must develop the ability to read how much striking power any person has in one glance.

5. One does not have to take care to block every single attack by an opponent with weak striking power.

6. One must develop the ability to deflect an attack even from behind.

7. In a real confrontation, more than anything else one should strike to the face first, as this is the most effective.

8. Kicks are not all that effective in a real confrontation.

9."Karate IS Sente" (Here, sente means the initiative, or the first move. c.f. Karate ni Sente Nashi - there is no first move in karate -JS).


12. The position of the legs and hips in Naifuanchin no Kata is the basics of karate.

13. Twisting to the left or right from the Naifuanchin stance will give you the stance used in a real confrontation. Twisting ones way of thinking about Naifuanchin left and right, the various meanings in each movement of the kata will also become clear.

14. One must always try and block the attack at its source (i.e. block not the attacking hand, but deeper on the arm).

15. The blocking hand must be able to become the attacking hand in an instant. Blocking with one hand and then countering with the other is not true bujutsu. Real bujutsu presses forward and blocks and counters in the same motion.

16. One cannot use continuous attacks against true karate. That is because the blocks of true karate make it impossible for the opponent to launch a second attack.

17. I still do not yet know the best way to punch the makiwara. (note: this statement was made when Choki was over 60!!!)

18. It's interesting, but when I just think about performing a kata, when I'm seated, I break a sweat.

19. When punching to the face, one must thrust as if punching through to the back of the head.

21. When fighting a boxer, it is better to go with his flow, and take up a rhythm with both of your hands.

24. It is necessary to drink alcohol and pursue other fun human activities. The art (i.e. karate) of someone who is too serious has no "flavour."

25. It is OK to take two steps forward or back in the same kamae, but over three steps, one must change the position (facing) of their guard.

27. When I fought the foreign boxer in Kyoto, he was taller than me so I jumped up and punched him in the face. This is effective against people who are taller than you.

29. I started having real fights at Tsuji when I was young, and fought over 100 of them, but I was never hit in the face.

30. When I was 4, I was made to go to a school, but I hated studying, so I often skipped class and played somewhere with my friends.

31. When I was still in Okinawa, Kano Jigoro of the Kodokan visited and asked to talk with me, and through a friend we went to a certain restaurant. Mr. Kano talked about a lot of things, but about karate, he asked me what I would do if my punch missed. I answered that I would immediately follow with an elbow strike from that motion. After that, he became very quiet and asked nothing more about karate.

34. There are no stances such as neko-ashi, zenkutsu or kokutsu in my karate. Neko-ashi is a form of "floating foot" which is considered very bad in bujutsu. If one receives a body strike, one will be thrown off balance. Zenkutsu and kokutsu are unnatural, and prevent free leg movement.

The stance in my karate, whether in kata or kumite, is like Naifuanchin, with the knees slightly bent, and the footwork is free. When defending or attacking, I tighten the knees and drop the hips, but I do not put my weight on either front or back foot, rather keeping it evenly distributed.

35. When blocking kicks, one must block as if trying to break the opponent's shin.

37. When I came to Tokyo, there was another Okinawan who was teaching karate there quite actively. When in Okinawa I hadn't even heard his name.

Upon the guidance of another Okinawan, I went to the place he was teaching youngsters, where he was running his mouth, bragging. Upon seeing this, I grabbed his hand, took up the position of "kake-kumite" and said "What will you do?" He was hesitant, and I thought to punch him would be too much, so I threw him with "kote-gaeshi" at which he fell to the ground with a thud. He got up, his face red, and said "once more" so we took up the position of kake-kumite again. And again I threw him with kote-gaeshi. He did not relent and asked for another bout, so he was thrown the same way for a third time.

In Conclusion: Motobu and Kata

Motobu Choki is often decried as having only known the Naifuanchi Shodan kata. However, this seems not to be true. Nagamine Shoshin, in his publications, notes that Motobu had learned Passai, in addition to Naifuanchi, from Matsumora Kosaku. Motobu's books also give us a hint that he may have known a lot more about kata than most give him credit for.

Copyright Iwai Tsukuo: DO NOT COPY!

In his books, Motobu refers to kata as "types" or "kinds" of karate, and lists several of the kata passed down in old Okinawa. These were: Sanchin, Gojushiho, Seisan, Seiyunchin, Suparinpei, Naihanchi (3), Passai (Dai/Sho), Chinto, Chinte, Wanshu, Rohai and Kushanku. Now, the question begs to be asked, would he have put these kata down into writing unless he had at least a passing familiarity with them? That, I shall leave up to the reader to decide.

The next installment of this series will take a look at the voluminous tome entitled Karate Kenpo, written by Mutsu Mizuho, and published in 1933. Stay tuned! J

All photos provided by Iwai Tsukuo. Used with permission. J.S.
Hawaii Karate Seinenkai.