LEGEND OF CHOKI MOTOBU
Remarks: This is a complete translation of the article written by Mr. Seijin Jahana, the original title "Choki Motobu, a Forerunner of Combative Karate" appeared in the monthly magazine "Aoi Umi" (=Blue Sea) No.70 February 1978 issue (pages 106-110). This number features articles on Okinawan karate masters. The magazine was published in Okinawa but was already discontinued.
(translated by Sanzinsoo)
I was in Okinawa in 1978. It seemed to rain soon in the early evening. I had to find his house soon, so I became hasty. A few drops of rain fell on my head when I succeeded in finding the home of Mr. Chozo Nakama, 80 years old, which was surrounded by a board wall.
When I was allowed to enter the house, the rain started falling. The ground of the courtyard was stamped flat. Maybe it was Mr. Nakama's training place of karate. There was a barbell got wet in the rain.
Mr. Nakama was awarded "Hanshi" (the highest title), 9th Dan(=degree) black belt. He teaches karate at 7:30 p.m. on Monday, Wednesday and Friday at a community center in Sakiyama, Shuri, Okinawa. He learned karate directly from Choki Motobu (1871-1944). It was about 1940 that Choki Motobu opened his own Dojo(=a training hall) in Nishishinmachi (=Kumecho now), Naha city after returning to Okinawa from Osaka, Japan.
I visited Mr. Nakama to hear the stories about his teacher, Choki Motobu during that time.
Choki Motobu passed away at his mistress's home in Tomari, Okinawa at the year when World War Two broke out. He died at the age of 73. His life was always with karate and karate.
He was born in Akahira, Shuri, Okinawa as the third son of Motobu Udun(=a feudal lord) in 1871. His elder brother was Choyu Motobu, the founder of Motobu-ryu karate. Choki Motobu was a rough fighter by nature. He began thrusting Makiwara(=a thrusting board) when he was a child and studied karate in his own way. Genius shows itself even in childhood. "Let's play karate fight, Grandpa!" He often said to his uncle who was "Ufuchiku" (=a police sergeant) as well as a teacher of Kobudo(=Okinawan classical weaponry arts) and used to visit Choki's father's home to have a chat.
Since he became strong enough after training in his own way, almost every night he went to a bar district such as Tsujimachi, and challenged a man who looks strong to street-fighting. Because of this, his reputation among karateka at that time was very bad. No one at his age could defeat him. Maybe he thought his street-fighting was one of his karate training.
Choki's fighting skills were created in the real fights, although people frowned upon his street-fighting. They said his fighting skills were full of variety and amazing. He created his Kumite(=sparring) techniques by himself. He rarely accepted disciples, as he was afraid that his Kumite(=sparring) techniques might be "stolen".
Although Choki studied karate in his own way, in fact he had three teachers. His first teacher was Anko Itosu, but he was soon refused to see Master Itosu, as Master Itosu received complaints about Choki's street-fighting.
His second teacher was Shitsunen Tokumine. Master Tokumine was a heavy drinker. Choki brought a bottle of Sake(=rice liquor) to him as a lesson fee. But later one day, Master Tokumine was very drunk and disorderly in Tsujimachi. He had a big fight with dozens of "Chikusaji" (=policemen) there, and eventually he was arrested by the police and exiled to a remote island in Yaeyama(=Ishigaki islands). He passed away in the remote island. Master Tokumine was a expert in karate and staff fighting arts. Chotoku Kyan alias Kyan Miigwaa(=small eyes) visited Yaeyama to learn Kata of staff fighting arts from Master Tokumine, however, at that time Master Tokumine had already passed away. Fortunately the owner of a small inn where Master Tokumine once stayed, had learned the Kata of staff fighting arts directly from Master Tokumine, so he taught the Kata to Master Kyan. In Yaeyama today still remains the Kata of staff fighting arts whose name is "Tokumine No Kun" (=The staff fighting arts of Master Tokumine).
After Master Tokumine was exiled to a remote island, Choki Motobu went to the karate Dojo of Master Kosaku Matsumora. When he asked the Master to teach him karate, he changed his name as Sesoko, not Motobu. He was afraid that Master Matsumora might also refuse to see him like his first teacher Master Anko Itosu. He was accepted by the Master Matsumora, but soon Choki's bad reputation of street-fighting disclosed his true name Choki Motobu alias Motobu Saaruu(=monkey). The Master Matsumora called him and questioned.
"Why did you tell me a lie that your name is Sesoko?"
"It's true, Master. I wouldn't tell you a lie. My name is not only Motobu but also Sesoko. My mother's family name is Sesoko. I was brought up in my mother's village when I was a child."
"I see. Never tell a lie!"
Then he was formally accepted as a disciple.
Choki was very frank and open-minded, so he did not care about money at all. He always spent all the money he had. It was his later period of his life. When Mr. Nakama visited Choki's home, Choki invited him to go for a walk. At that time Choki received a pocket money with the exact amount for a meal, a taxi and so on from his mistress who had been living with him since staying in Osaka. She was worried that he would spend all the money with him if she gave him some extra money.
Needless to say, Choki could not save money. He could not make money either. His horse-carriage business in Okinawa was failed, so he and his family went to Osaka, Japan in about 1921.
There is a famous story that Choki had a match with a professional boxer when he was in Osaka. He worked as a guard at a cotton factory. It was an owner of a rooming house where Choki lived who suggested him to play a match with a boxer. The owner found an advertisement in the newspaper that a promoter seeking an opponent of a Russian boxer, Johnson. He explained the advertisement to Choki who could not read letters, and for a joke he suggested Choki to apply for this offer. Choki agreed with his suggestion seriously at once. The owner of a rooming house was surprised to hear Choki's reply, but he made an application for Choki.
Well, on the day of the boxing match, the ringside was crowded with a lot of people. The tall and big Russian boxer versus short Choki.
"That man (=Choki) must be a fool!" said many spectators.
Choki was told to put on the boxing gloves, but he refused to put on them.
"He is really crazy!" said the spectators again.
In the first round, the big Russian boxer was driving Choki into a corner of the ring. The boxer was stronger and tougher than expected. "I cannot defeat him. I will lose." thought Choki. "But If I easily lose this match, I would be very very sorry for my Okinawan fellow students of karate." The first round was over with much difficulty for Choki.
In the second round, the professional boxer, Johnson maybe thought that this match was too easy for him. He charged toward Choki with less guard. Seeing the unguarded moment, Choki immediately jumped. The big body of Johnson fell down to the mat. In a moment the spectators could not understand what happened. Then, knowing Choki won the match, they shouted and applauded with admiration. Some of them excitedly threw their money and precious watches into the ring.
Choki jumped and hit the back of Johnson's ear with his fist. Choki Motobu or Motobu Saaruu's jumping and karate skills were really amazing.
The match was reported widely all over the country by newspapers and magazines, so the name of Choki Motobu and the power of karate became very famous. Some people visited him for asking him to teach them karate.
Choki also taught at university by request. When he taught there, the Okinawan student acting as interpreter was always beside him, as Choki could not speak Yamatoguchi(=standard Japanese language). The interpreter translated Choki's explanation of Kata etc in Uchinaaguchi(=Okinawan dialect) into standard Japanese. His illiteracy and lack of education might be helping to make a bad image of Choki such as a rude and rough fighter who has no good manners and so on. But in fact, he was polite and very rigid in good manners not only for himself but also for his disciples.
In about 1937 or 1938 Choki was in Okinawa, while his family was left in Osaka. A judo teacher whose name is Sudo came to Okinawa from Japan to study karate. He was a black belt of 8th Dan (later he became 10th Dan). He visited Mr. Kojun Yamashiro who was also a judo teacher at the Second Middle School (=now Naha High School). Sudo visited many karateka(=karate players) in Okinawa. One day he came to Choki and challenged him to a match. Choki accepted the challenge. They made rules before playing a match, because they might be severely injured or damaged if they really fight each other with real karate techniques without any rule or restriction.
Choki and Sudo took a fighting stance, and watched sharply each other without moving. One minute passed. Two minutes passed.
"I can't win. Please teach me karate!" said Sudo with loosening the stance.
I suppose a true martial artist can see his opponent's ability and power if he look at the opponent's sharp eye when they face each other.
Since that day, Sudo, a judo teacher came to Choki every day to study karate. He learned how to fight with a man wielding a knife, how he should respond by karate techniques if surrounded by many men, and so on. He studied practical karate by Choki Motobu, the pioneer of combative karate.
There is another episode related to this match. When Choki met with Sudo to have a match, he wore Haori-Hakama(=a Japanese traditional black kimono with a coat over it, a formal suit at that time). He thought an ordinary clothes was lacking good manners, so Mr. Nakama, his disciple rented Haori-Hakama, a formal clothes for him. Choki did not have any formal clothes.
There are very few books of Choki Motobu. It is regrettable that there is no comprehensive book of Choki's Kumite(=sparring) techniques. I wish he had written such books. In fact, Choki had a plan for publishing karate books. There was the manuscript written at his dictation. When he was about to go to Osaka again, he asked Mr. Nakama to keep the manuscript for him.
"Please send it to me immediately if I ask you." said Choki. It was a very thick manuscript. Mr. Nakama copied it in his four notebooks. Some days later, Mr. Nakama was asked to send the manuscript to Choki in Osaka soon. But eventually the book was not published. In fact, Choki sold his manuscript to someone else just for money. He had no choice but to sell it, because he needed money to pay the hospital. He had been in hospital due to ill.
Mr. Nakama's notebooks of the manuscript copy had been burnt to ashes due to air raid in Okinawa during World War Two. To whom or which publisher did Choki sell the original manuscript? Does that manuscript still exist?
The content of the manuscript consists of karate history, Kata, application of Kata, sparring techniques and so on. It must have been a comprehensive book of Choki Motobu's karate studies.
People frowned on Choki's karate, as they thought his was just for the purpose of fighting. However, the truth was that he was always earnest or very serious about karate. Considering this, it is quite regrettable that Choki's comprehensive book made by all his life did not appear after all.
But it may be suitable for Choki Motobu who very rarely accepted disciples as he was afraid that his karate techniques might be "stolen". If he were still alive, maybe he would tell us not to "steal" other karateka's techniques but to create by ourselves.
Back to the Home Page