View Full Version : Thoughts on "Motobu Choki - Karate My Art"

3rd May 2002, 02:30

I've spent lots of pleasant time this week reading and re-reading the
new book by Patrick McCarthy on Motobu. Thought I'd share my

Victor Smith
Bushi No Te Isshinryu

Patrick and Yuriko McCarthy have prepared an excellent book
in "Motobu Choki – Karate, My Art" (published by the
International Ryukyu Karate-jutsu Research Society).

It contains their translation of Motobu's "Watashi no
Karate-jutsu" or "My Art of Karate", originally published in 1932,
and an impressive amount of other's writings on Motobu and his impact
on the development of Karate in the 20th Century.

Being able to read Motobu's own thoughts on his art and studies
from the 1930's is impressive enough, but this book gives you
multiple impressions of Motobu from friends, students and

Motobu Choki had an enormous impact on the development of Karate in
Japan. It seems to me all of his contemporaries took a giant step
forward in their desire to share their art in Japan when he used his
training to defeat a foreign boxer. His victory established
Karate's existence as a credible martial art in one fell swoop.

The work compiled and translated by the McCarthy's (with some
additional material by Joe Swift and Graham Noble) presents the
currents swirling around Motobu in Japan. From the words of his
students you get the feel what Motobu Sensei was as an instructor.

You see how the rivalry began between Motobu Choki and Funakoshi
Ginchin began. A most fascinating incident in its own right,
foreshadowing contemporary disputes between what a martial art should
consist of. It is works like Mr. McCarthy's which show that
these events have been with us as martial artists from the earliest
days recorded, and are likely to remain far into the future.

But not content to just present material on Motobu, this work
incorporates material from Kyan Chotoku, giving us another view from
Okinawa to greatly enhance our vision.

I can say every time I go through this work I find another gem to

Consider from Miyahira Katsuya's `Recollections of
Motobu', on page 35.

"One reason why he had difficulty in establishing a
`ryuha' was because he was constantly changing (please read as
improving) training methods. His idea of karate being "living
experience" was, in the midst of that inflexible social structure,
very un-Japanese-like. In other words, it didn't fit into the
Japanese budo paradigm, and, therefore, was never widely embraced by
the powers-of-be."

I believe this is the first explanation I've seen as to why
Okinawa's karate was dynamic and not static. This may have been a
wider Okinawan tradition as opposed to how karate ryuha became to be
seen, where kata and techniques were to develop into exact

I strongly believe in time this work will be seen as a very valuable
glimpse into the earliest recorded Karate traditions. The
McCarthy's are to be recommended for their efforts.

3rd May 2002, 17:37
Motobu & Funakoshi -
That's funny, I always thought Motobu and Funakoshi didn't get along because Motobu came into Funakoshi's dojo and beat the pants off him. Motobu probably felt about Funakoshi the way a lot of people in E-budo feel about the "soke" of McDojo - that it's all a money-making scheme and that the head instructor doesn't have the skill to back it up.

Josh Gepner

3rd May 2002, 17:47

It's far more interesting than just what you relate. The press strongly intimated that Funkaoshi beat the boxer (due to drawings with the article) and that was likely the start of the feud.

Essentially its the same story today in the Kata vs Kumite discussions.

But in the long run it doesn't matter one iota. Motobu and Funakoshi, not getting along made no difference. Each camp survived in their own fashionm, and today it's just a quaint story.

One that really had no long term implications.

Victor Smith
Bushi No Te Isshinryu

5th May 2002, 01:42
It had no long term implications because it never was kata versus kumite.Both Funakoshi and Motobu did both.

It was Funakoshi's schoolkid karate as contrasted with Motobu's dynamic karate. Both however were and are kata-based. Kumite as Motobu saw it, was application of kata principles to combat. He simply believed in using realistic technique and movement.

As one who was involved in the so-called kata versus kumite debates on these forums, as was Victor too,I can tell you, it isn't really kata versus kumite today, nor is this about what Funakoshi and Motobu disagreed upon.

Its about some people thinking they know what real combat is, and thinking that its the same as a mixed martial art event, while others believe that bogu kumite is more reality oriented and yet safer for the combatants if they adhere to the rules.

Its also about some people having a macho jock ethich, and thinking they alone have the key to realism in training, while others believe the older karateka like Motobu, who used kata as basis and kumite as application, had something very very real as well.

Its not about cross training, we all do that.It isn't about grappling, we all do that. Its really about respect. Its about people not listening to what is said in writing, and attacking people they don't know, never met, and if they did, would respect, if they ever would respect anyone.

Its about people having an attiutude where they feel they can gang jump anyone who comes up with points they can not refute.Its about the deterioration of civility in martial society, but that's , to be sure, an old, old story.I personally, got no time for it or for them.I do hope the new sport revolving around mixed bogu competition comes out soon so everyone can show what they got there.I already did, twenty years worth.Klang!

As for Motobu and Funakoshi, they apparently were on the same demo team in Okinawa.The photo of them at Funakoshis with other masters, supposedly during the feud, and sitting next to each other eating and drinking, says something, not sure what, though.:-)

What is the debate? Kata versus kumite? No, that's just the excuse, because a number of these people claim to do traditional karate and do kata themselves.As I said, some of us also do judo and other stuff, too.No, you don't need kata in the formal sense to eb a good sport or reality or real fighter.But today, what you do need for that is an M 4 and a good military or police training course.Because that, today, is the reality of combat.Guns, knives, explosives, and hi tech gear.

What we call martial arts is either, a game, a sport, however rough it gets, most of us don't go to a dojo or tournament expecting to die there.What it is in real life is the second to last line of defense, wehen you are otherwise unprepared for attack.If you have to use bare hands against life and death attackers, you're a few seconds from death, at most, if the atackers are any good.

Last line of defense? Fast prayer.First line too.

If the attackers are incompetent numbskulls and you see one or two coming, bare handed, at you, clumsily, sure, you can use karate waza to kick some butt.But even then, accidents happen and people could be hurt badly or die, maybe you. If anyone thinks different , they are inexperienced or foolish, imo.

In case of more dangerous attack, you may live, unhurt, or not.At most, karate or other martial arts or sports, give you some advantage in response time, that opponent may not expect.That shorter lag time can and has saved many a person and given martial arts its deserved reputation, but is misunderstood by many as conferring superhuman ability when all it really does or is is a shorter and more focussed and trained response.

Kata however, does provide, properly taught and if they are the right type of kata done correctly,that shorter response time. Partner practice or kumite, provides simulation of reality, in part, and equipment training provides the other.Ultimately however, one does not know how they will react until an actual situation, which resembles a little bit of Hell, occurs, the adrenalin dump hits, and the fight or flight response happens.Gross motor skills are king, and simple works best, and kata must be properly trained and understood before it can play any role here, but play one it does.

Thats the part many don't want to understand, and they don't have to.But in Japan, for instance, the koryu arts mostly all train by way of kata, because kumite with live katana would be fatal indeed.

What the situation here is, is a few people trying to bully others and failing.What the situation between Funakoshi and Motobu was, was something else. I hear about Motobu beating up Funakoshi, and I also hear that instructor wasn't Funakoshi. I also hear whenever Motobu came to Funakoshi's dojo looking for him, F was not there.Was this a pro wrestling rivalry and F and M were drinking buddies? Who today really knows?

Lets not confuse what happened then with the tempest in a teapot that is e-budo.:DI notice people all jump bad on email and foirums, but when things appear to really be about to happen, everyone changesd their tune.Big time.If my stuff was not real, I would have been beaten clean out of the arts decades ago.I'm still here.

There's lots of tough people out there. If anyone likes, I'll be happy to introduce them to some.I'm relatively peaceful myself.:-)

Over and out, signing off.

5th May 2002, 03:19
I have very little experience with arts from Okinawa. But From what I understand, Mutobu-ryu is a very powerful style that has existed for centuries as a protection art for the Okinawan Royal family. I may and am probably wrong, but I do believe that Mutobu-ryu is a mostly throwing, Submisssion style- similar to Daito Ryu based arts.

But then again I don't practice Okinawan Arts currently-
Jon Gillespie

5th May 2002, 13:27

Motobu-Ryu is a distinctly different art from Motobu Choki's Karate, though as I understand it some karate has crept in over the past few decades.

His older brother was instructed to carry that art on, where Choki did receive training, for various reasons he moved to karate.

There is very little currently available in English on the Motobu-Ryu tradition, though Mark Bishop has written a little about it.

I'd recommend you find a copy of Biushopls "Okinawan Karate" to get a more detailed answer.

Victor Smith
Bushi No Te Isshinryu

5th May 2002, 13:31
Thanks for the book information, I will check it out!

Jon G.:D

5th May 2002, 23:32
According to Joe Swift, and he can correct me if I'm remembering this wrong, Motobu Ryu is a style of Karate with full set of kata, as well as udundi or palace hand and weaponry.It has been rerpresented as an Okinawan aikijutsu, may actually be related to forerunner arts of Daito Ryu thru related jiujitsu styles, but how exactly is not known.

Victor is right, Choki did also train from his brother though his own karate is not his brother's, yet the apps he used are influenced by his brother's teaching, after his brother handled Choki easily in a fight or kumite match.Flinging him about like unto a rag doll, heh heh. Even a superior man , has his superior.

Rumors exist that the current Motobo Ryu head's techniques may be influenced by Hakko Ryu Jiujitsu. I would discount these but for an interseting fact: The names of the first twenty seven techniques taught by a Shorin ryu style which uses Motobu Ryu tuite type techniques, as its master is a student of Uehara, are identical with techniques named in Danzan Ryu Jiujitsu, one source of which is said to have been Hakko Ryu if I remember correctly.

Or perhaps, they all came from one common earlier source. However, I do find interesting that an Okinawan supposedly indigenous art, uses Japanese jiujitsu terminology.Their Sumo does not.Their karate does not.Their kobudo or kobujutsu does not, why should their udundi , which even is a different name for gotente in Okinawa-ben(dialect).

Why should their techniques be Japanese in nomenclature? Did Choyu's art really survive, and if so, was it Jiujitsu?Many Okinawan masters have in fact studied and augmented their karate styles with jiujitsu, Eizo Shimabuku did, as did others.

Thats all I got on this one.Thanks guys.Wanted this to get on.

8th May 2002, 09:06
My understanding of Motobu-ryu was that it had no kata (until recently, sometime during the 20th century, when a whole set of kata was adopted) but initially it was passed down in the Motobu family and was handed to the eldest son, which was why Choki did not really study it (although he did pick up bits and pieces through observation and by occasionally training with his brother.)

I have heard that udundi and weaponry are major components in it however.

Dale Knepp
8th May 2002, 17:53

Various histories about Motobu-ryu have come into existence and many more are likely to surface in the future. Sorting through them is no easy task with many confusing components of the stories prevailing. As best as I have been able to determine, Motobu-ryu is a family system handed down from the 14th century or so. The family originated with one of the princes of the ruling Sho dynasty. No pre-war documents exist supporting claims of what this art consisted and the stories told are oral family histories.

Since the war, Uehara claims to have inherited the system from Choyu Motobu, the last family holder of this system. Uehara born in 1903 claims to have began training with Choyu at the age of twelve and to have been training partners with Choyu’s son and Choki Motobu as well. Many senior Okinawan teachers do not take Uehara's claims seriously but he is respected for his age and abilities nonetheless. It seems unlikely that Choyu would have passed on his family system to a commoner but only Uehara knows for sure. Uehara claims to have received a menkyokaiden from Choyu but this document was reportedly destroyed during the war. Choyu Motobu passed away in 1927~9. (I've seen different dates given.) Nevertheless, Uehara would have practiced, carried on, and developed his teacher's art for a two decades before teaching Motobu-ryu publicly and accepting practitioners with prior experience as students. This is where the idea that katas were added to the system originated.

Shian Toma started to train with Uehara in the 1960s. Toma began teaching and popularizing Motobu-ryu by training American students who returned to the United States and began teaching what has become known as Motobu-ryu. In 1978, Toma formed the United States Motobu-ryu Association with his students, John Kennedy of New York, Ed Duga of Pennsylvania and Glenn Goertz of Kansas. Jody Paul was an early member of this group as well. This organization thrived for several years and then dissolved. Sometime later in the 1980s, Robert Teller returned form Okinawa to Pennsylvania and established the Motobu-kai. After ties between Uehara and Toma dissolved, this became the Seido-kai but eventually the members went separate ways.

Uehara received a teaching license from Hakko-ryu jujutsu but it is unclear whether this is a certificate of proficiency or simply an acknowledgement of Uehara’s technical abilities. How this connection between Motobu-ryu and Hakko-ryu is still an open question in need to further explanation. There is one claim that Uehara trained in Aikido as well but I haven’t been able to substantiate this claim.

Sometime in the early 1980s, Roy Jerry Hobbs met Toma and started teaching and promoting Toma’s Motobu-ryu Seidokan system around the world. Hobbs, a USAF officer, traveled the greatly establishing or affiliating schools in England, Spain, South Africa and the United States. Rod Sacharnoski was introduced to Toma and an affiliation was begun only to dissolve after Sacharnoski made claims to proficiency and mastery of Motobu-ryu. Sacharnoski still persists in his claims to this day although his affiliation with Toma was brief and there is little chance that he learned much from Toma let alone his entire system. However, Sacharnoski has made it appear that there was three separate styles or systems of Motobu-ryu, thus adding to the confusion. Both Hobbs and Sacharnoski claim knowledge and licensing in separate forms of jiu-justu systems.

More recently, Uehara and Chosei Motobu have met and collaborated in order to bring Uehara’s art of Motobu-ryu back into the Motobu family. Chosei is the son of Choki Motobu who introduced Ryukyu Kenpo to Japan in the 1920s by defeating a European boxing exhibitionist in an open all-comers match. Choki taught Chosei from a limited time in the early 1940s before Chosei was drafted into the Japanese military. Chosei has carried on his knowledge of what his father taught him as a teenager. Choki’s system revolved mainly around practical application of kumite as demonstrated in his twelve exercises found in his book, Okinawan Kenpo Karate-jutsu Kumite. Although Choyu Motobu does have several living grandsons, it would seem that they are uninterested in reviving the family art. However, Chosei is over 70 years old and it is uncertain how much Uehara will be able to teach and transmit to him and his sons. In any case, Motobu-ryu will merge Choyu’s and Choki’s combine legacy and have a different look and flavor as it survives into the future.


8th May 2002, 23:56
That was very complete information. Good to have all that.
regards and respect,