Originally, the following article was written in Japanese with the author unknown. It was given to me by Katsuya Miyahira, Chibana-style Shorin-ryu Hanshi 10-Dan, in October of 1983.
One of the most colorful characters of Okinawan karate was Choki Motobu who was often referred to as Motobu Saru (meaning Motobu the Monkey or Motobu the Monkey King). Motobu is one of the most influential karate-jutsu instructors to have spread the Okinawan fistic art. His expertise centered around gaining experience through actual (street) fighting.
In his later life it is said that he transcended this attitude and became a"real" teacher of karate. In the late l930's, Motobu often
visited the dojo of Choshin Chibana to "recruit" new training partners. One of these recognized training partners is the present president of the Okinawa Shorin-ryu Karatedo Association, Katsuya Miyahira. It should be noted that a number of well known present-day karate experts claim to have been students of Motobu but Miyahira is the only one to have trained on a regular
basis with Motobu. This is stated in the Instructor's Profiles of the All Okinawa Karatedo Association.
Most of the other instructors only trained for short periods of time due to Motobu's lack of control or his wish "to see if this or that technique really worked." His style of karate centered around the Tomari-te system with a heavy influence from the Shuri-te methods of karate-jutsu.
Choki Motobu was born in Shuri Akahira village, Okinawa, on February 26, l871, and was the third son of Chomo Ashi Motobu of Motobu Goten (an old royal family serving the Ryukyu Dynasty). The eldest son, Choyu Motobu, received the proper and required education in the Chinese and Japanese classics and in Okinawan Bushi manners but Choki Motobu, as the third born son, was ignored as was the custom during those times.
Since early childhood, Choki Motobu was considered a rough tempered and incorrigible young man who had nothing in common with his noble birth. Choki would often confide in his peers that his only ambition in life was to be the"strongest man in all of Okinawa."
Due to the custom of those times of only educating the first born, Choki received little to no education in the Chinese and Japanese classics until he was 26 years old. Even though he had learned a rough brand of "street karate," Choki did not receive instruction in the family style of fighting as did his older brother, Choyu. Choki learned his karate from watching others and practicing what seemed to work. He practiced what he learned in the back alleys and shore front bars of Naha and Tomari villages and became famous throughout these areas as a rough fighter who would fight anyone at any time.
In his self-training, Choki would make use of the Okinawan makiwara (striking board) and mastered the keikoken (in present-day Okinawa this technique is called "sho-ken" or the one knuckle fist) for in-close fighting. It was often said that no one in all of Okinawa could match the devastating power of Choki's keikoken punch. Choki would strike the sheaved straw makiwara post 300 to 500 times at least three times per day, every day.
n the year l9l0 Choki developed his nick name of "Motobu Saru" (meaning Motobu the Monkey) due to his constant chatter about how strong he was and how he defeated this person or that person. Others state that he developed the nickname because he was as strong as a monkey and was able to climb face-up a festival pole and then quickly turn and go down the pole facedown. They would also say that Choki was quick of action "like a small bird darting here and there." Choki was a person who stood 5'5" and weighed 225 pounds in his prime. He was a strong man who liked to talk and liked to fight. He was also a man to be reckoned with.
In his growing period, Choki was a coarse man who would visit the red-light district every night to pick quarrels and test his prowess in actual street combat. In the year l913, Choki made the mistake of picking a quarrel with a man who treated him in a light manner. Initially, Choki was annoyed in just seeing this individual walking with confidence in the red-light district. Because of this, Choki decided to strike this person without notice (commonly called a sneaking punch) so as to teach him a lesson of always being aware of one's surroundings.
Choki approached this individual and then passed him. As he passed, Choki quickly turned and punched the person in the back. He was quickly surprised to see that although he turned quite fast the stranger was even faster and grabbed and locked Choki's arm. The stranger then speared him in the face with a nukite strike (finger tip strike) drawing blood and causing a scar that Choki would always carry with him.
He was to later find out that this individual was the famous Cho Manra Itarashiki of the Tomari-te method of TODE. Itarashiki was a well-known karate master of the era who only taught clan members. Although his style was secret, it was a well-known fact that it was lethal.
Choki was mortified at losing a fight that was to his advantage but what most impressed him was the fact that this individual could have just as easily killed him. Choki then decided to search out Itarashiki so as to ask for forgiveness and see if he could be accepted as a personal student.
Choki found Cho Manra Itarashiki and begged to become his student. Itarashiki turned him down and scolded him for his behavior and for his reputation. Itarashiki further stated that although Choki was strong of body his character was weak and that not only was he bringing dishonor to karate in general but to the Motobu family in particular. Choki was mortified to learn what people thought of him. This was the turning point of Choki's life and it was at this time that he decided to change his ways and to develop himself into a righteous person that would bring not only honor to Okinawan karate but also to his family.
Choki then approached all the great masters of that era and asked permission to receive training. All turned him down even though his Motobu's had been associated with the royal family for several hundred years. In l914 he finally approached Kosaku Matsumora of Haku, an expert in Tomari-te and a renowned fighter. As with the other teachers, Matsumora turned him down but this time, Choki refused to be turned down. He came every day to Matsumora's house and would often sit in the rain hoping for an audience with the old fighter. Matsumora liked Choki's attitude and dedication and finally stated to him that if he really wanted to learned karate-jutsu that he would have to become a Matsumora house servant. Choki thought long and hard on this decision but
finally agreed. He knew that this was a direct insult to the Motobu family due to the fact that Choki and his family had been royal retainers and were of the upper class in Okinawa but his desire to learn karate-jutsu was great. Matsumora later told Choki that in order to learn the real karate-jutsu one had to lose his ego so as to accept their teacher's way. Motobu had passed the ego test.
As a house servant, and as in anything he did, Choki strived to become the best house servant that Matsumora ever had. For over six months, Choki cleaned and washed his Sensei's back as a live-in house servant and student. During this time he did not learn Tomari-te but stole glances at the student's methods and of his teacher's kata and weaponry techniques. When caught watching without permission, Matsumora asked Choki why he should not be beaten and then expelled from the household and from the dojo. Choki quickly answered that he would gladly accept the beating without question but humbly asked not to be expelled. Matsumora then saw that Choki had truly transcended his ego and began his formal training in the Naihanchin form that were common to both the Tomari and Shuri methods of karate-jutsu.
By the end of his second year of training, Choki had mastered the kata N aihanchin Shodan and the Koryu Patsai. It was at this time that Choki began to ask for instruction in the kawari-te methods of Tomari-te (this is commonly referred today as jiyu-kumite or free sparring) which consisted of punching, grappling, locking, kicking, choking and slapping techniques that were in common use during the turn of the century. Matsumora still considered Choki a rough and coarse individual so he was refused this knowledge for fear that he would be tempted to use it.
Matsumora worked with Choki for over two years but Choki continued to ask for instruction in the Tomari-te methods of kawari-te. In l916 Matsumora took Choki aside and stated, "Kawari-te is the way of actual fighting that I will not teach you. If you wish to learn these methods you must now go out and devise your own methods based on your present knowledge. Thank you for your respect and for being a good student."
It is often said that a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing. Choki immediately went back to the red-light district of Naha City and once again established a reputation as a tough street fighter. Through time, Choki eventually came to the realization that he had once again reverted to bringing discredit on to his family and to karate and then sought to make amends by leaving Okinawa.
By l920, Choki had moved to the mainland of Japan and settled in the city of Osaka where he worked as a security guard for a large company. In the summer of l921 Choki happened to be visiting Kyoto with a friend when they saw large banners advertising a boxing contest. The banners stated "Welcome to all Strong and Truly Adventurous Players." Curious, Choki and his friend entered and watched several boxing matches. These matches pitted large foreigners against the smaller Japanese in a no-rule boxing contest. Choki watched as a number of judo players were quickly and easily defeated by one of the larger foreigners who claimed that he was the boxing champion of the western world. After this foreigner had severely beaten several of the Japanese challengers, he glared at the crowd and yelled that there was no one in Japan who could match him in the ring. This statement was quickly translated and Choki's friend quietly asked if there was anyone in Okinawa that could possibly defeat such a large and formidable fighter. Choki quickly mentioned that he knew of five or six individuals that could easily defeat this large foreigner. Choki also added that the foreigner could not withstand a karate man worthy of the name. Choki then stood up and challenged the foreigner by stating that he would defeat him with the skill of Okinawan karate-jutsu and for the honor of his home, Okinawa.
Since the Japanese were always interested in anything foreign, there were numerous press reporters in attendance watching the boxing matches. By 1922 the Japanese press had also written numerous articles on the mystical methods of Okinawan karate. So, when Choki stated that he would use this indigenous Okinawan method of fighting, the press quickly gathered around him to see this mysterious art.
Choki quickly stripped to the waist and entered the boxing ring and faced his opponent. Although Choki was small by foreign standards standing at 5'5", at age 53 he was a fighter to be reckoned with and he weighed in at 240 pounds. He assumed a relaxed posture while the foreigner aggressively moved in jabbing and weaving.
Choki avoided all the blows and did not attack showing the foreigner that he had complete mastery of the ring. The foreigner, never seeing this type of fighting before, felt that Motobu was scared and began to mock him. Motobu slowly became more aggressive when he saw that the foreigner was making fun of him. So, by the end of the second round, Motobu felt that it was time to punish the foreigner for his insolence.
At the sound of the bell for the third round Choki quickly stepped out and again faced the foreigner. The foreigner again laughing and making faces suddenly stopped and saw that Choki had changed his fighting attitude. He immediately recognized that Choki was different from the rest of the people he had fought and quickly moved in for the knock out. As the foreigner cross-punched, Choki weaved to one side, uttered a sharp kiai and struck him in the heart with his favorite technique of keikoken (one knuckle punch) followed by another hooking keikoken to the temple. At the next moment the foreigner collapsed. Due to the speed of Choki's technique, no one in the audience had been able to see the terrible power of his one knuckle punch. Choki had hit the foreigner so quickly that the audience was stunned and unable to tell what had happened.
Although this western boxer is unknown (some even say it was a Russian boxer but this is highly unlikely in 1921), the Japanese press only referred to him as"George." In any case, the Japanese people were very surprised by Choki's victory. Kingu (King), a famous Japanese sports magazine, featured Choki in its September of l925 edition (Issue 9 pages 195-204). Almost overnight, the name of Motobu Saru sprung into fame. He was asked by numerous groups to teach his mystical form of karate so that it could be popularized. Due to these urging, Choki began to teach in the Hongodai section of Tokyo. He was also asked to teach a small group of scholars at the fame Tokyo University.
Gichin Funakoshi popularized Okinawan karate from an intellectual point of view while Motobu Saru showed the value of karate by demonstrating its practical aspects. Choki Motobu returned to Okinawa during World War II and passed away in Sugenji-cho on June 20, l944, of a stomach disorder at the age of 74. He is still remembered in Okinawa as a fierce fighter who always sought the truth through his training and in real matches.
Choki Motobu is a very famous Okinawan street fighter and martial artist. To find out some interesting history on him, please refer to the Okinawan Karatedo History and Traditions published by this writer.
** One time Motobu went to Choshin Chibana to show him what he could do. Chibana said, "What you do, you do very well. Continue to practice and you'll
continue to advance in your methods and techniques." Motobu never forgot this compliment and he continued to hold Chibana in high regard up until his own
death in 1945.
** Motobu did not originally have any kata in his teaching methods. He just like to train in kumite (fighting) type techniques. He later learned the Naihanchin series and the kata Patsai from Matsumora of the Tomari-te system.
** Motobu's techniques were like the motions of the sword, which he greatly admired. Although his techniques were very strong, they were also very crude and he got hit a lot. He felt that the lunge punch was the best offensive technique and he saw very little value in the reverse punch so he did not practice it. Motobu believed that if a technique did not cause pain, that it wasn't of any value. The reason he did not have many students was the fact that he always considered himself a student looking for a teacher. He use to change his techniques and methods from day to day. He had many good ideas but had a hard time explaining them without hurting someone.
** Motobu used to say he would fight anyone so as to learn. One time the town butcher came to Motobu and stated that he, the butcher, was a master of the butcher knife and that he would be glad to give Motobu some lessons for a bottle of sake.
Motobu then invited the butcher in and they drank a lot of sake. All during their drinking bout, Motobu continued to feel out the butcher's real intentions for coming to his home. Motobu then told the butcher that he did not want any lessons but that he would be very interested in testing his karate skills against the butcher's knife techniques. To make the test more interesting, Motobu said that if he lost that he would buy the butcher enough sake to last for one year. But if the butcher lost, than the butcher would have to give him enough meat for a big party.
The butcher quickly agreed and told Motobu, "Let's fight and get it over with, I'm really thirsty and this won't take long anyway." Motobu then said, "So, you really want to fight?" The butcher said yes and Motobu quickly yelled for his servants to clear a fighting area in the patio for some "exercises." They both then got up to go outside but as soon as Motobu got up he kicked the butcher in the thigh and dropped him to his knees from the power of the toe-tipped kick.
"This is no game," Motobu said, "do you still want to chance your life on a fight with me?" "I am injured," cried the butcher. "Does this mean you concede defeat?" The butcher now angry said, "No!" "Then, my friend, I'll give you a choice: I'll either cripple you for life or I'll just put you out of your misery. You decide! What will it be?" The butcher, looking up into Motobu's eyes knew the truth of what he had just said and replied, "I concede Master Motobu. When do you want your meat delivered and can I come to your party?"
** A lot of people claimed to have "studied" under Choki Motobu but Motobu only taught technique and did not have a dojo or school. He considered himself a student first and would always go from school to school in the hopes of picking up a technique or two.
** Many masters of the day did not want anything to do with Motobu because he was "too colorful." He was awkward in his movements because he tended to put too much power in his techniques and would often go off balance or leave himself wide open for counters. He was very strong and did not mind taking a punch.
** The Motobu family was very rich and influential hence the karate masters of the day did not openly criticize him or hurt him. Motobu often learned his karate from the students of the various masters. These students were often very impressed with the Motobu's family position, their wealth, power or "fighting prowess" that they would often share their knowledge with him. This was about the only way that Motobu was able to pick up new knowledge.
** Motobu believed that if the technique didn't hurt then it wasn't worth using. He would often hurt his "students" or training partners to see if this or that technique worked so he didn't have many followers or individuals who wanted to exchange techniques more than a few times. Those who did study under him were mostly those who wanted to share in his colorful reputation.
Motobu specialized in elbow techniques and "smashing or slashing" techniques that resembled sword techniques. A lot of his techniques looked like sword drawing methods or cutting techniques of swordsmanship. These techniques were often very powerful but mostly effective against untrained people. Motobu would often test his techniques out in the red light district of Naha City but only against "civilians" and that is the basic reason most masters did not want to have anything to do with him.
By Motobu Choki
The following article was written by Choki Motobu (see Motobu the Monkey King) on May 5, 1926. It was given to me in the original Japanese by Katsuya Miyahira in 1983. It was translated by one of his students into English.
In 1926 Choki Motobu was living in Osaka, Japan and working as a factory guard. Due to his reputation, he was also in demand to teach the Okinawan martial art called Tode (written to mean Chinese Hands but also pronounced as karate). Since the Japanese public knew very little of the Okinawan martial art, they asked Motobu to write about its concepts. He then wrote a small pamphlet entitled, The Techniques of Tode (Karate). The following is an excerpt from that pamphlet:
1) The best age to start karate-jutsu training is 12 years old. Starting at this age enables one to develop the systematic skills that are highly desirable when one reaches adulthood. However, if one really has a desire to learn the martial arts, I would state that any age is a good age providing the student is serious in his efforts.
2) Anyone who wishes to study karate-jutsu should always try to work his weak side harder. I believe that a student in the martial arts should train at least twice a day (morning and evening) and pay strict attention to developing his weak side in order to even out his strength.
3) Anyone who learns karate-jutsu and has a real desire to master the martial arts should train every morning as he arises. He should sit on the floor with his legs crossed, tighten his stomach muscles, extend both arms level to the shoulders, move his arms from side to front, front to side, and also move both arms front to back, and back to front close to the body. Then exercise the arms from his right to left and left to right. Repeating this exercise about three times a day, both arms can be developed evenly.
4) Anyone who strives to learn karate-jutsu, should always remember the basic body position of hachi-monji-dachi (the figure eight stance). Even in training, he should tense the stomach muscles and always stand erect with his chest out, like a true martial artist. Keep this position always. It has been said that those who practice karate-jutsu diligently have much better physical structure and strength than the average man. This is due to the everyday training of controlling one's posture and muscles and by doing this, his body should be built so strong that if it is touched it rings (in other words, the individual would be hard as steel).
5) It is an unforgivable attitude for the student to complain about the smallness or conditions of the training hall. He who is a true warrior should always remember that the most important thing is to train. To elevate the student's soul and mind and actual technical training are equally important as a wagon needs two wheels. He who has the spirit of a warrior can train in an extremely small space of one ken (6x6 feet). He should train twice a day, morning and night. This is nothing special, like a man washing his face every morning when he arises, so a true karate-jutsu student must train twice a day without fail.
6) Some may worry that a young karate-jutsu student may become uncontrollable in his youthful strength and misuse his karate-jutsu for his emotional outlet or to punish the weaker, rather than to protect himself from being attacked. However, he who learns karate-jutsu with the integrity of a martial artist (a warrior) should not forget the purposes of his training. The karate-jutsu student without the mind and soul of a martial artist is a fool who comes to eat without chopsticks. The karate-jutsu student should always keep in mind the spirit and ideals of a martial artist as he strives to improve his skills.
7) Karate-jutsu is also a very important training source for spiritual strength, which is very useful, as this is a true international martial art. It is a very well known fact that many well trained karate-jutsu students have the remarkable ability to control themselves spiritually (physically and mentally). As a good example, a true karate-jutsu student with the ability of spiritual concentration can detect upcoming moves by his opponent only by looking at him while they are engaged in an actual fight. This is the ability to foresee whether the opponent will strike out with his right side or left side or any
other advances he might make.
This is just like a karate-jutsu master with the Tohachiken (this is also an ancient teacher's name but the technique is unknown) technique, can detect the hand motions of his opponent with a 100% accuracy. A student should always remember the importance of self-control and keep this in mind when practicing.
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 Okinawa Karatedo masters. The magazine was published in Okinawa but was already discontinued.
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 Karatedo at 7:30 p.m. on Monday, Wednesday and Friday at a community center in Sakiyama, Shuri, and Okinawa. He learned Karatedo 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 Karatedo 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 Karatedo in his own way. Genius shows itself even in childhood. "Let's play Karatedo fight, Grandpa!" He often said to his uncle who was "Ufuchiku" (a police sergeant) as well as a teacher of Kobudo (Okinawa 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 Karatedo practitioner at that time was very bad. No one at his age could not defeat him. Maybe he thought his street fighting was one of his Karatedo 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 Karatedo 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 an expert in Karatedo 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 Karatedo jo 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!" "No, never!" 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 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 Okinawa 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 Karatedo 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 Karatedo 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 Okinawa 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 (Okinawa 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 Karatedo practitioner (Karatedo 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
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 Karatedo techniques if surrounded by many men, and so on. He studied practical Karatedo 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 Karatedo 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 Karatedo history, Kata, application of Kata, sparring techniques and so on. It must have been a comprehensive book of Choki Motobu's Karatedo 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 Karatedo techniques might be "stolen". If he were still alive, maybe he would tell us not to "steal" other Karatedo practitioner 's techniques but to create by ourselves.
I knew that the Japanese magazine "Kingu" (King) had published a story on Motobu and the boxer back in 1925, but when I finally tracked this down and read the translation I found that it was a piece of imaginative, popular journalism rather than an accurate blow-by-blow report. However, the importance of this feature lay not in its accuracy as a fight report but in the publicity it gave to what had previously been an obscure event. "King" was the major general interest magazine at the time with a circulation of over a million and this is how Motobu's exploits came to be widely reported. For the record, the "King" story states that Motobu knocked the boxer unconscious with a rising palm heel strike. On the other hand, Seiyu Oyata, a modern day Okinawan karate expert, states that Motobu won the fight by kicking the boxer in the solar plexus and finishing him off with a strike to the neck. Shoshin Nagamine (Shorin-ryu) says that the knockout came in the third round from a strike to the temple. Motobu hit the boxer so hard that he was knocked down and blood came from his ears. Nagamine was told by Motobu that he had won a hundred yen by betting on himself.
There is no doubt that Choki Motobu was a formidable fighter. Hironori Ohtsuka, the founder of Wado-ryu, knew Motobu in the 1930s and recalled that he was "definitely a very strong fighter". Ohtsuka remembered seeing a fight, or maybe it was more of a sparring match, between Motobu and a boxer named Piston Horiguchi. Motobu blocked all the boxer's attacks and Horiguchi was unable to land a single clean punch.
Choki Motobu was over 50 years old when he defeated the Western boxer! People on Okinawa used to say that he liked to fight more than anything else, and certainly he did not seem to mind a good brawl. In 1932, when he was 60 years old, a group of expatriate Okinawans brought him to Hawaii to face the fighters there, presumably boxers and judomen. However, no bouts took place because the Hawaiian immigration authorities considered him an undesirable and he had to leave almost immediately.
Motobu was born into a high ranking family at a time when education and privilege were reserved for the first born son. Consequently, as a third son, he was rather neglected. His elder brothers, however (and particularly Choyu Motobu, the eldest) were good karateka and he may have learned something of the art from them.
As a young man, Choki Motobu's ambition was to become the strongest man in Okinawa. To fulfill this ambition he trained himself every day, lifting stone weights and hitting the makiwara (striking post). There are stories that he would hit the makiwara a thousand times a day, and even if this is an exaggeration it illustrates the importance he attached to this training drill. Nagamine recalls that Motobu would sometimes sleep outside, (when he slept inside the dojo he would lie on the hard wooden floor, without a mattress), and if he woke up during the night, rather than turning over and going back to sleep he would get up and hit the makiwara. Motobu was also very agile and quick and he got the nickname "Motobu-saru" (Monkey Motobu) not only because of his rough behavior but also because of his remarkable agility in climbing trees and moving from branch to branch as nimbly as a monkey. In his youth at least he seems to have been a good natural athlete.
He was a good runner too, and Japanese karate expert Hiroyasu Tamae writes of one occasion when Motobu was fighting attackers then ran off, jumped nimbly onto a roof and began tearing off the roofing tiles and throwing them at his assailants, beating them off in this way. Tamae makes the point that Okinawan roof tiles are secured very strongly to withstand typhoons, and it requires powerful hands and arms to tear them loose, but for a man reputed to be the best fighter on Okinawa it still seems a strange way to act. I guess Motobu's behavior was just eccentric at times. Gichin Funakoshi used to say that he never knew what Motobu would get up to next.
One time when Choki Motobu was watching the bullfighters in Shuri he constantly blocked the view of the spectator behind him. The man became increasingly agitated and finally shouted at Motobu and struck him with a walking stick. Motobu turned, grabbed the stick from the man and struck him back across the head - knocking him unconscious. He may not have intended this but he was rough and heavy-handed and probably didn't realise his own strength. And this was not the end of the matter because on the way back from the bullfight the man's friends attacked Motobu. After he knocked several of them down however the rest ran off. It was incidences such as this that gave rise to Motobu's other nickname of "teijikun" - "real fighter". (This story is from Richard Kim's book "Weaponless Warriors").
Choki Motobu's idea of a good training session was to go down to Naha's entertainment district and pick fights. This area was well known for street fighting and Motobu picked up valuable experience in this way. Being bigger and stronger than the average Okinawan he usually won these fights but there was one occasion when he tackled a man called Itarashiki and was well beaten. This Itarashiki was a karate expert and the defeat only made Motobu more determined to train hard and learn more about karate.
At this time, around the turn of the century, karate was just beginning to emerge from generations of secrecy and the senior masters were sensitive about the image of the art. They looked upon karate as a physical art, building health, strength and character and they did not approve of Motobu's exploits in the rough areas of town. Nevertheless he was able to get instruction from several leading experts. (Seikichi Toguchi has said that, because of Motobu's upper class birth, many karate masters found it difficult to refuse him instruction). Motobu originally studied karate with the famous Ankoh Itosu (1830-1915), the leading master of Shuri-te. However he came to feel that he was not learning enough, and growing dissatisfied with Itosu's teaching he later studied with Tomari-te's Kosaku Matsumora (1829-1898) and with Master Sakuma. However, Motobu's karate always seemed to bear his own distinctive stamp, arising no doubt from his independent nature and his fighting experiences. He always emphasised practicality and in time many people came to regard him as the best fighter on Okinawa. True, he was beaten in a shiai (contest) by Kentsu Yabu (1863-1937), Itosu's senior student and a tough character, but we don't know the full circumstances surrounding this. Yabu was Choki Motobu's senior in karate by several years, and at the time of the contest Motobu may have been a comparative novice. This is something that needs clarification, but anyway it is a fact that Motobu was famous in Okinawa for his fighting ability.
I first read about this colorful figure years ago in Peter Urban's book "Karate Dojo". Although this has remained one of my favorite karate books, it has little value as a historical source and Urban describes Choki Motobu as a giant of 7 foot 4 inches "with hands and feet like monstrous hams" . . . an early Okinawan version of the Incredible Hulk in fact, who was almost impossible to hurt and who "preferred to grab his enemies and chop them to death". A couple of years later the American karateman, Robert Trias, trying to inject a note of reality (?) into the subject, told an interviewer that the accounts of Motobu's size had been exaggerated and that actually he was "only 6 feet 8 inches" tall.
All this was rather hard to believe and at one time I wrote to Richard Kim, the famous authority on karate history, about it. He kindly replied, stating that Motobu was a little under 6 feet tall and solidly built, weighing around 200 lbs. This sounded reasonable, yet as I learned more about Choki Motobu I had to constantly revise the estimates of his height downwards. In fact the existing photographs, taken in the 1920s and 1930s, show him to be no bigger, and in some cases smaller, than his training partners. The article in the old "King" magazine gives his height as 5 feet 3 or 4 inches and I would think this is correct. He was thus only a little bigger than some of the other early pioneers of Japanese karate such as Funakoshi, Mabuni and Konishi, although of a much heavier build.
The photos we have of Motobu show him in middle age when he had put on weight and thickened appreciably round the waist. He had a sturdy, robust appearance but for a reputed strongman, the muscular development of his arms, chest and back does not look particularly impressive, at least by today's standards.
Another myth about Motobu is that he only knew one kata, the 'Naihanchin', ('Tekki' in the Shotokan version). This is incorrect. He also knew 'Passai' - evidently there is a rarely seen Motobu version of this kata - and 'Gojushiho', and although he may not have practiced them he was aware of the major kata of each style - Shuri-te, Naha-te, and Tomari-te. (He provided a list of the major kata in his book). It would be true to say, however, that he did become attached to 'Naihanchin' and for all the talk about him not being good at kata, the photographic record shows that technically his performance of 'Naihanchin' was quite as good - if not better - than Gichin Funakoshi's.
Choki Motobu was not against kata but he did require that they relate to combat. In 'Naihanchin' for instance, his students were taught to pay attention to various technical points. It seems that the nami-ashi ('wave returning foot movement) in 'Naihanchin' was originally interpreted as a stamping movement to attack the opponent's leg (now it is usually taught as a foot block against a kick) and consequently many karateka would crash their foot down noisily on the floor while doing this technique. Motobu however, although he did the movement strongly with a kiai, always kept good balance and put his foot down lightly. It wasn't that his technique was weak, because he once broke an opponent's leg with this stamping waza (technique). He explained to his students however that if the technique was done too heavily and the foot was brought down with a big crash then you might find it difficult to maintain your defence throughout the movement. According to Yasuhiro Konishi, Motobu thought about every detail in the kata in this kind of way.
However, where Choki Motobu really differed from other leading karate masters such as Funakoshi, Mabuni and Miyagi was in basing his style on the study of kumite.
Kata seemed to occupy a secondary position with him. His karate stressed alertness, sharpness, and practicality, and his experience in brawls and streetfights showed through in his techniques which were straightforward and effective. Some of his kumite-waza were shown in his book "Ryukyu Kempo Karate-jutsu. Kumite," (The Okinawan boxing art of karate-jutsu. Sparring techniques), published in 1926. Incidentally, Motobu could not speak or write mainland Japanese at all well and it is thought that someone else must have written it under his direction, or possibly he dictated it. But at any rate the book's philosophy is his and he posed for all the illustrations.
Judging from this book, Motobu used a natural stance and it is noticeable that when blocking or striking he did not pull his other hand back to the hip (the action of hikite) but held it across his body as a guard, where it could be brought into action more readily. He also stressed training the weaker side of the body to bring it up to the natural side. For instance, in hitting the makiwara he recommended doing more repetitions with the weaker, left hand, if you were right handed. And he also frequently told his students to "Defend the centre of the body and attack the centre of the body"; an early form of centre-line theory in fact.
Motobu also made full use of the lead hand for striking. This was rather advanced for that time, when the orthodox method was to block with the forward hand, and use the rear hand to counterattack. Motobu taught that the forward hand, being closer to the opponent is quicker in action and should be used for striking effectively.
Choki Motobu relied mainly on hand techniques, with the feet and knees being used in a supporting - but effective role - aiming his kicks at the stomach, groin, and knee joints. He often liked to grab and he also used basic techniques of covering or checking the opponent's hands and arms. His attacks were directed not only to the face and midsection, but also to the groin (striking with the knee or foot, or grabbing the testicles) and knees (with stamping kicks). The forefist, backfist, elbow, and one-knuckle fist seem to have been his favourite weapons. According to Shoshin Nagamine, Motobu attached some importance to the one-knuckle fist (keikoken), and he would train this technique on the makiwara, striking with full force. Over the years he had found that at close quarters the orthodox forefist punch might be smothered or unable to generate sufficient power and that in such situations keikoken could be very effective. "No other karateman in the history of Okinawan karate", wrote Nagamine, "has ever matched Motobu in the destructive power of keikoken."
As for training equipment, Motobu stressed the use of makiwara, and also recommended the use of the chishi and sashi, the traditional tools for building the strength of the hands and arms. He also used to practice a crude form of weight training, lifting a heavy stone weighing about 130 lbs., to his shoulders daily.
Motobu sensei was actually the first of the Okinawan karate masters to settle in Japan, preceding Gichin Funakoshi by a year or so. He came to Osaka in 1921, but his purpose in coming to Japan may not have been to teach karate. He may simply have moved because, like many Okinawans, he believed Japan offered greater opportunities to make a living. In 1879 the Ryukyu Islands were made a prefecture (Ken) of Japan, and from then till 1945 this Okinawa-ken was Japan's poorest and most neglected prefecture. Consequently, many islanders emigrated to Japan and it was estimated that by 1940 over 80,000 Okinawans were living there. This was out of an Okinawan population of something over half a million.
Motobu had been living in Japan a couple of years when he made the acquaintance of a judo teacher named Doi, who encouraged him to try to teach karate in Japan. Motobu subsequently began giving demonstrations and teaching in the Kobe-Osaka area, but development of the art was slow. After a couple of years he thought of giving it all up, but then in the mid-1920s interest in the art slowly began to grow. In 1927 he moved to Tokyo where he probably saw greater potential.
When Motobu came up to Tokyo, Gichin Funakoshi had already been teaching there for several years, and a certain amount of ill-feeling arose between the two men, who had known each other back in Okinawa. It was something like a question of who was to assume the leadership of karate in Japan, but really, the two men were incompatible personalities. Gichin Funakoshi for instance, seemed to feel that Motobu did not really understand the true nature of karate. Funakoshi, a man who valued propriety and culture, criticised Motobu's lack of education - he called him an illiterate - and his rough behavior. For his part, Choki Motobu said that Funakoshi's art was just an imitation karate, not much more than a dance. A Japanese karate teacher named Fujiwara has also pointed out that in the rigid social ranking system of Okinawa, Choki Motobu was two classes higher than Gichin Funakoshi and so it was impossible for him to regard Funakoshi as his superior in any way.
I don't know if much ever came of all this, but there were rumours. Yasuhiro Konishi, who studied with both masters, heard that one time when the two men met, they began comparing techniques of attack and defence, as Okinawans often do. In demonstrating a movement Funakoshi was unable to block Motobu's thrust completely and moreover was knocked back several feet by its force. Konishi heard that Funakoshi was resentful about this. There was also a rumour that Motobu had challenged Gichin Funakoshi to a match and when the two met, he swept Funakoshi to the floor and followed up with a punch to the face, which he stopped a couple of inches short - just to show who was boss I guess. Konishi could not vouch for the truth of this and it may never have happened. Reading all the available material on Gichin Funakoshi, he does not come over as the type of person who went in for challenge matches - just the opposite in fact. However, if the two men ever had met in a serious contest then (this is just my opinion) Motobu would probably have won rather easily. For one thing, Funakoshi who was only 5 feet tall, was slightly built and would have been heavily outweighed. For another, Funakoshi never became involved in fights, whereas Motobu had the experience of numerous streetfights behind him and was a fighter by nature.
But anyway, the years rolled by and "the leadership of karate", if it could be called such a thing, did pass to the Funakoshi school. The Motobu method does not seem to exist today as a distinctive style. Funakoshi organised his teaching well, he had energetic helpers (including his brilliant son, Yoshitaka), and influential friends such as Jigoro Kano, the famous founder of Judo. Funakoshi's first book "Ryukyu Kempo Karate" (1922) contained forewords by such people as Marquis Hisamasa, the former Governor of Okinawa, Admiral Rakuro Yashiro, Vice Admiral Chosei Ogasawara, Count Shimpei Goto, and so on. Choki Motobu, however, never sought out such patrons, and in fact, according to Hironori Ohtsuka he was quite a solitary man. This agrees with the view of Konishi, who was quite close to Motobu for several years and never once saw him in an actual fight. Konishi felt that, although Motobu was obviously an exceptional fighter, he would never provoke trouble and was actually a very quiet person. So it sounds as if Choki Motobu calmed down quite a bit as he grew older. He seems to have been a straightforward, intelligent, but uncomplicated type of person who lacked Gichin Funakoshi's education and knowledge of Japanese culture and etiquette. Motobu did not speak mainland Japanese very well - the Okinawans had their own dialect which was often incomprehensible to the Japanese - and even when he moved to Tokyo he had to use Yasuhiro Konishi as an interpreter.
Choki Motobu spent nineteen years in Japan, teaching karate for most of that time. In 1940 he returned to Okinawa and died there in 1944.
2. Motobu and the boxer
The story of Choki Motobu's contest with the boxer was featured in the Japanese magazine "Kingu" (King), in the September 1925 issue (No.9), pages 195-204. It needed quite a bit of detective work to track this down and I must thank Mr. R. A. Scoales of the Japan Society of London, and Mr. Kenneth Gardiner of the British Library, for their help. It was Mr. Gardner who finally located a copy of the article for me. I am also deeply grateful to Kenji Tokitsu, the leading authority on Japanese karate history in Europe, who made a translation of the article. Below
The story is entitled, "When Human Bullets Clash: Great Contest Between Karate and Boxing", and it states that in 1921 in Kyoto a series of contests were held between boxers and judoka. These gave rise to much discussion and drew many enthusiastic spectators. These fights were often extremely violent and surprised even those onlookers who regularly attended the annual contests at the Butokuden, (of judo and kendo).
During the action someone with the appearance of an old countryman went over to the organisers and asked if a late entry to the fighting would be allowed. The following conversation occurred.
"Mmm. Who is it you wish to enter?"
"What? You? . . . Are you a judoka then, or a boxer?
"Well what have you trained in then?"
"Nothing special. But I think I could manage this type of contest - So will you let me enter?"
"Yes, let him enter!" cried the onlookers who had been following all this with interest. "Everybody would want to see a surprise entrant."
"But he says he doesn't do judo or boxing. I wonder if he does some form of provincial wrestling."
"It doesn't matter. Since he wants to enter he must have learned something. If not he's an idiot. Let him enter?"
"Well OK," said the promoter. "Do you know the rules?"
"Rules?" replied Motobu. "What rules?"
"It's forbidden to strike with the fists and feet."
"Mm. What about an attack with the open hand?"
"Fine, let's get on with it."
"Wait a minute. What uniform are you going to wear!"
"I'll just wear my ordinary clothes".
"Those you're wearing now? You can't do that. I'll lend you a judogi."
The promoter brought a judogi, and looked at the man, still trying to make him out. As he stripped a murmur of surprise arose from the onlookers. Although his face was that of a man well over fifty, the muscular development of his arms and shoulders was impressive and his hips and thighs looked extremely powerful.
Motobu was asked who he wanted to fight, a boxer or a judoka. He replied "Whoever you like," and the organisers decided to send him against a boxer named George. (No surname or nationality is given in the article. The name may be invented).
As the contestants entered the arena a cry rose from the crowd. "Look! A surprise entry" . . . "Who is this Motobu? I've never heard of him" . . . "He looks like an old man. What's someone like him entering a contest like this for?"
The contrast between the two men was striking. Here was a boxer seemingly brimming with vitality, against a man of fifty who stood only 5 feet 3 or 4 inches. As they began, George took up a boxing guard and moved about looking for an opening. Motobu lowered his hips, raising his left hand high with his right hand close to his cheek. The spectators thought this looked like some kind of sword dance (karate was more or less unknown in Japan at this time) but actually it was the opening position of the 'Pinan Yodan' kata.
George, the expert boxer, seemed surprised by the ability of his opponent whose guard presented no weak spot. He contented himself with searching for an opening, continually moving his fists around and feinting. Motobu kept his position.
George's breathing grew less steady and, he realising that he might tire himself out if things continued like this, he edged forward and send out a fusillade of blows to the face. Everyone expected to see the end of Motobu but without moving his position he parried the blows with his open hands and forced his opponent back.
Growing more and more frustrated as the fight went on, George steeled himself for an all out attack. He drew back his right hand and threw a punch with all his strength at Choki Motobu's head.
Just at the moment when it seemed as if Motobu's face would be crushed he warded off the punch with his left hand. The force of the parry unbalanced the boxer, forcing his hips to rise, and at that instant Motobu struck him in the face with the palm of his hand. George, struck on the vital point just below the nose with the rising palm strike fell to the ground like a block of wood.
Everyone was shouting! What had happened?
The organisers went to look for someone to help George who was still unconscious. "What a formidable old character!"
Various people who went to talk to Motobu were astonished by his hands, calloused and almost as hard as stone. Even a blow with the open hand would be terrible, they thought.
"Ryukyu Karate," said one. "Hmm. I didn't know such an art existed. In fact, you have such trained hands that you don't need to be armed. The hands themselves are terrible weapons."
Spectators and contestants continued to talk for hours about the events which had taken place.
A few observations on this old article might be worthwhile. As I said, when I first heard about it I thought it might give an accurate account of the contest, but although it obviously relates to the events which occurred, both the descriptions of the action and the dialogue are imaginative. The author, someone writing under the pseudonym Meigenro Shujin, does not give his sources but he had obviously done some basic research and probably had talked to some of the spectators or even Motobu himself. He may have even been at the event, but somehow I get the impression that he was not an eye-witness. In any case the article appeared 4 years after the events described (if the date of 1921 is correct) and by then people's memories may not have been too clear about what actually happened.
One point of interest is that the artist who did the accompanying illustrations confused the two karate masters teaching in Japan at that time - Choki Motobu and Gichin Funakoshi - and drew the illustrations as if it had been Funakoshi and not Motobu, who had defeated the boxer . . . I wonder what Choki Motobu thought about that when he saw the article?
For other source material the artist and author must have used Gichin Funakoshi's "Rentan Goshin Karate Jutsu", published the same year (1925), since the illustration for "the guard of Pinan Yodan" is copied directly from that book. Of course the posture shown is not an "on guard" stance but an intermediate position of defence before a counterattack is launched. The writer probably chose this stance because it looked very "karateish", but it is hardly conceivable that Choki Motobu would use it. Kenji Tokitsu has pointed out it is unlikely that Motobu knew the Pinan kata, and even if he did (i.e. the order of the movements) he did not practice them sufficiently to apply the techniques in combat. Anyway, we know that Motobu's fighting stance was much more natural and orthodox than this. One point that does emerge from the story, however, is that Motobu fought without the use of gloves and struck the knockout blow with his bare hands - whether with the palm or closed fist we can't really be sure. It does not seem that Motobu used palm strikes much at other times.
The nationality of the boxer is not given but there is a tradition that he was German - or Russian. His identity will probably never be known, and even if it was, it probably wouldn't mean very much to us. I mean, it is unlikely he was a well known professional whose record we could refer to. He was probably an itinerant boxer who found himself in Japan and was making some money knocking over judomen. That he was the German Heavyweight Champion on his way to the USA to fight for the (World) Championship, as has been suggested, is extremely unlikely. There simply was no German contender for the title at that time. The top European heavyweight was the Frenchman George Carpentier who did fight for the World title in July 1921 and was stopped by Jack Dempsey in four rounds. The first German boxer to make a name for himself was Max Schmeling but he didn't win the German title until 1928 when he beat Franz Diener.
As for him being the "Russian Heavyweight Boxing Champion" (per Bruce Haines in his "Karate's History and Traditions"), the Russians did not even have organized boxing until after the second world war, when they began competing internationally in all sports. However, he may indeed have been a Russian (or German) who had picked up some boxing in his travels.
All this is not to put down Choki Motobu's achievement, but just to try and introduce some kind of perspective into the stories which have grown up about this contest. l think that, sitting there watching the action, Motobu must have realised he had the measure of the boxers, but it still took courage and confidence to step up in front of a skeptical crowd and accept the challenge. When the fight actually began, he did what had to be done - and he did it at an age - fifty - when most people today are happy to spend their time in front of the television or down at the pub. What a fascinating character he must have been.
Just a few words too about "King" magazine and its publisher, Seiji Noma, the founder of Kodansha. (A leading international Publishing house that has published a great many fine martial arts books by leading masters. Editor). The magazine was launched in 1925 and its circulation soon passed a million. It was the largest circulation general interest magazine of the time and martial arts featured frequently in its pages, mainly judo, kendo and samurai tales. Apart from the Motobu story, karate was rarely, if ever, featured in its pages.
In his younger days, Seiji Noma had been a teacher and in the years 1904 to 1908 he was an instructor in Japanese and Chinese classics at the Prefectural Middle School in Okinawa (The Ryukyu Islands). He wrote in his biography "The Nine Magazines of Kodansha" (1934) that "there could scarcely be a more remote outpost than Okinawa", and like most Japanese he regarded the Okinawans as little more than peasants. However, he liked them a great deal and believed that this period was "in a sense, the time of my life."
What is interesting, though, is that Noma mentions karate in his book (called tekobushi in this case), in what is one of the very first references to the art published in English. He writes:
" - The Ryukyuans are a Pacific people, but like all those given to strong drink and leading a primitive life, they would commit acts of nameless cruelty if their blood was stirred. The Ryukyuans had developed through centuries of practice the peculiar art of self-defence and aggression known as tekobushi, which consists of making incredibly deft and powerful thrusts of the fist after the fashion of jujutsu or even boxing. This was the only possible mode of self-defence for the Ryukyuans, who had been prohibited the use of weapons by their double rulers of China and Japan. A Ryukyuan expert in this deadly art could smash every bone in his victim's body with the thrusts of his arms, as if he had struck with a giant hammer. Not infrequently poor victims were found dead by the road side bearing marks of terrible blows from naked fists. Near Tsuji at night there were always gangs of roughs supposed to be skilled in tekobushi who were ready to pick quarrels with unwary strangers."
Noma was clearly relying on rumour and hearsay in writing this description, which would seem to show that around this time there was little real awareness of karate among the general public, even in Okinawa. Noma also uses an old term for the art, meaning warrior's hand (te meaning hand, and bushi meaning warrior). It is a little surprising that he was unaware that karate had actually been introduced into the Okinawan education system in a limited way while he was there - especially as he was an enthusiastic budoka himself (he practiced kendo), and a schoolteacher too.
3. Some related matters
The Motobu family had its own martial art, which had been handed down through several generations. In the last century Chomura Motobu headed the family and he taught the system to his eldest son Choyu (1865-1927). The two other sons, Chosin and Choki, however, were not taught the art. As mentioned earlier it was customary for education to be centred on the eldest son, but Choyu Motobu himself also refused to teach his younger brother Choki because of the latter's rough behaviour. That is the story anyway.
An Okinawan named Seikichi Uehara was taught the art, though. He later began teaching and in 1961 formed his own school, calling it Motobu-ryu. Motobu-ryu is not to be confused with Choki Motobu's karate, and in fact it is not even a karate system. It is closer to jujutsu or aiki-jutsu, concentrating on locking and throwing techniques.
During Choki Motobu's period in Japan he taught such people as Yasuhiro Konishi, Tatsuo Yamada, H. Ninomiya, Chozo Nakama, S. Uejima (Kushin-ryu) and Hironori Ohtsuka (Wado-ryu). His influence can occasionally be seen in the teaching of these masters, as it can for example in Shoshin Nagamine's Okinawan Matsubayashi Shorin-ryu. Nagamine was in Japan for several months in 1936 and took the opportunity to study with Motobu.
Yasuhiro Konishi, who died a couple of years ago, was one of our last links with the heroic period of Japanese karate. (A feature on Konishi, plus an exclusive interview, appeared in 'Fighting Arts' Vol. 4 No. 6 Editor). It seems that Konishi knew anybody who was anybody in the martial arts. He originally practiced jujutsu and kendo but then in 1923, met Funakoshi and his assistant, Hironori Ohtsuka, and began studying karate. He was also a friend of Kenwa Mabuni, the founder of Shito-ryu, and one of the first students of Choki Motobu when Motobu settled in Tokyo. Konishi also trained with Aikido's founder, Morihei Ueshiba and he believed that, of all the experts he had trained with, Ueshiba was the greatest, a true master.
When Konishi left the Funakoshi school and began to study karate with Motobu, Funakoshi regarded him as a heretic. Motobu was so poor at this time that he was thinking of returning to Okinawa but Konishi helped him out by organising a kind of support association.
The bad feeling must have died down within a few years because Funakoshi was grateful when Konishi helped him enter the illustrious martial arts association, the Butokukai. Funakoshi was given the grade of Renshi, and later Tashi, and it is ironic that Konishi was on the Butokukai's karate examining board, since of course he was actually Funakoshi's student.
Konishi remembered the original group of Motobu's karate students in Tokyo. It included such people as Seiko Fujita, a jujutsu and martial arts expert who is remembered in some quarters as the "last officially recognised ninja" (ie. the last to see active service), Lion Kamemitsu, a sumo wrestler, and Piston Horiguchi, a boxer - and a colourful group it must have been.
In a little book called "Talks on Karate" (in Japanese), Konishi also reminisced with Hoshu Ikeda about Tatsuo Yamada, one of the earliest of Motobu's Japanese students. Yamada later founded "Nippon Kempo Karate" and I think he experimented quite a lot with bogu kumite, (sparring with protective equipment). He was a tough, uncompromising character - Konishi seemed to think he was something like "a boss of gangsters" - and he called other karateka "dancers". Yamada was a friend of Hironori Ohtsuka and stayed with Ohtsuka during one period. Every time Ohtsuka went out to do a demonstration of kata, Yamada would say something like, "Oh, you're going out to dance again". Ikeda and Konishi agreed that Yamada was a kind of precursor of kick boxing. Konishi told Ikeda that at that time (the 1930s) Tatsuo Yamada was one of the karate radicals, ("you can say that again!" Ikeda responded).
Incidentally, Yamada was also an early student of Gichin Funakoshi, and Mas Oyama once said that he was the best karateman, Funakoshi produced. This is not a view that many people would take, but Oyama may have seen in Yamada an early version of himself - someone who stressed realism, conditioning and hard kumite; a radical who did not blindly follow tradition.
Piston Horiguchi was referred to earlier in this article, when his sparring match with Choki Motobu was mentioned. In fact, during his classes, Motobu would often tell Horiguchi to get up and spar with him.
A western-style boxer was something of a rarity in Japan in those days since boxing and wrestling (western-style) were considered barbarous - the Japanese generally considered that they lacked the "form" that is so important in the Japanese martial arts. It was a tough life for Japanese boxers too since there was no organisation overseeing the sport (the Japan Boxing Commission was only founded in 1951) and they would often travel from town to town fighting daily. A fighter would frequently have to give away weight, and as an attraction boxers were occasionally known to fight sumo wrestlers, (not the Grand Champions, but still . . .). Not surprisingly their careers were short.
But what fighting spirit they had! Japanese boxers today are known for their courage, but the few veterans who can remember the pre-war days say that the modern fighters are soft by comparison - although admitting that the modern fighters are better athletes and much better boxers.
The information on this neglected subject comes mostly from an article by Leo Noonanm in the now defunct American magazine "The Fighters"; (Vol. 1, No.1, 1974). This article does mention one pre-war Japanese boxer. It is Piston Horiguchi.
"Takayuki Yamagata, trainer of Misako's fighters and the youngest looking 50-year old I've ever seen, jogged his memory to recollect a scene of 38 years ago."
"'In 1936, when I was a 12-year old growing up in Hawaii, I saw a Japanese boxer named Piston Horiguchi, the most courageous athlete I have ever known. Now there was a fellow with a college education who displayed more bravery in the ring than you could imagine.'
"Yamagata struck something resembling the legendary John L. Sullivan pose. Then he began pistoning his clenched fists back and forth with blinding speed. 'That is the way Horiguchi carried on in the ring. He did not have a lot of ability, but those fists always, and I mean always, were coming at you. In one fight, both of his eyes had been swollen shut. He went on. And do you know he won the fight? Today that could never happen, but remember there was no governing body then'."