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On Choki Motobu – Part 2

By Patrick McCarthy

Editor’s Note: This article was originally titled “More On Motobu” and is included in the book “Motobu Choki Karate – My Art”compiled and translated by Patrick and Yuriko McCarthy. The article has been edited to stand alone and appears in two parts on Part 1.

Without question, the character and karate of both teachers were diametrically opposite (Motobu & Funakoshi), like cats and dogs. Motobu may have been envious of the success fellow countryman Funakoshi Gichen experienced in Tokyo, as it far surpassed his own efforts, though as far as the actual ability was concerned, Motobu always lay claim to being superior to him.

There is an interesting story about Motobu that Konishi (a senior student of Funakoshi who later affiliated himself with Motobu) passed on that I would like to share with you. While Konishi was still taking lessons from Funakoshi Sensei, “Piston” Horiguchi (Japanese featherweight champion in 1933-34, 1942, and again in 1948) joined his dojo to study kendo and karate. One day, an elderly and liverish man dropped by the dojo to see Konishi and struck up a conversation with Horiguchi. During the conversation the elderly man gave some advice to Horiguchi, and, in order to substantiate the point, invited the boxer to “punch him.” With permission of Konishi, Horiguchi tried to punch the old fellow. Despite his “piston-like” strikes he failed to land even one punch on the old guy and finally gave up. Exhibiting cat-like body movement, the old guy as no other than Motobu Choki.

Besides actually being incredibly strong, Motobu was the kind of person who just looked angry all the time because of his weathered face and serious appearance. A proud man, deeply devoted to his art, and standing in opposition to Funakoshi, naturally he maintained the position, when compared to his rival, that he was, “the only representative of Ryukyu’s traditional martial arts.” On the mainland (at that time), Konishi often visited Motobu when he came to the Tokyo area and invited the master to his dojo to instruct him. Over the course of their relationship, Konishi learned the fundamental theories and practical application of Motobu’s karate.

The tradition of kakedamashi (match fighting to test/improve skill) (1) is a vital part of karate handed down in Okinawa and helps to improve their practical fighting skills. This practice does not have any nobleness like Funakoshi’s karate. Yet, on the other hand, there’s no technical compromise or ambiguity either. How come? Konishi understood the arm positioning and appropriate kicking level that Motobu taught. Motobu had excellent technique and mastered the ability to slip and avoid an opponent’s attacks. Moreover, his punching was unbelievably quick.

However, one big disadvantage Motobu had, according to Konishi, was that his Okinawan dialect was very thick and any explanations he gave were very hard to comprehend for the untrained Japanese ear. Japanese students who did not receive lessons from Motobu really had a difficult time understanding him.

Despite Asato Ankoh (the great karate pioneer, friend of Itosu and teacher of Funakoshi) and Itosu Ankoh (teacher of Funakoshi, creator of the pinan series of kata, who also first introduced karate into the Okinawan school system) pioneering a new and unique path, Motobu insisted that, “Funakoshi karate was fake.” Motobu said, “He could only copy their elegance by performing the outer portion of what they taught and used that to mislead others into believing he was an expert when he was not.”

“His demonstrations were simply implausible. This kind of person is a good-for nothing scalawag. In fact, his tricky behavior and eloquent explanation easily deceives people. To the naïve person, Funakoshi’s demonstration and explanation represents the real art! Nothing is more harmful to the world than a martial art that is not effective in actual self-defense. If that stupid person opens a dojo then let him fight with me and I’ll make him go back to Okinawa. This would be a real benefit to the world.”

Article # 37, which appears on pages 52 through 54 of the publication entitled, “Ryukyu Kenpo Karate-jutsu Tatsujin Motobu Choki Seiden” by Nakata Mizuhiko, supervised by Marukawa Kenji (a Shihan of Motobu Kenpo and head of the Daidokan), compiled by Onuma Tamotsu and published by Sojinsha in Saitama prefecture (Japan) in 1994, quotes Motobu saying: “When I came to Tokyo, there was another Okinawan who was teaching karate there quite actively. When in Okinawa I hadn’t even heard of his name. Upon guidance of another Okinawan, I went to the place he was teaching youngsters, where he was running his mouth, bragging. Upon seeing this, I grabbed his hand, took up a position of kake-kumite and said, ‘what will you do?’ He was hesitation and I thought to punch him would be too much, so I threw him with kote-gaeshi (a wrist throw common to jujutsu and aikido) at which time he fell to the ground with a thud. He got up, his face red and said ‘once more.’ And again I threw him with kote-gaeshi. He did not relent and asked for another bout, so he was thrown the same way for a third time.” (Translation by Joe Swift).

Konishi Yasuhiro recounts a version of the same story to Ikeda Hoshu, on page 22 of “Karatedo o Kataru Genzai no Budo teki Shiten”: “I heard that Motobu met Funakoshi and they talked about how various attacks could be effectively received, when Motobu asked him to show him a block against a punch. When Funakoshi blocked the technique Motobu seized his hand and threw him about three and a half meters. I’m not sure if this is true or not but I do know that since that time Funakoshi hated Motobu very much, referring to him as an illiterate.”

“Therefore, I was not surprised when Funakoshi’s students hated me for supporting Motobu, but Motobu Sensei was so very poor. Before he returned to Okinawa I organized a support group for him and collected contributions from many people to give him for daily expense. At that time they (Funakoshi’s students) spoke badly about me insinuating that I had used Motobu. Because I supported Motobu, they disliked me from that time on (ibid p22). Funakoshi himself, treated me like a heretic.” (ibid p25)

It is also said that Motobu said, after hearing that Funakoshi was issued a 5th dan from the Kodokan (long before Konishi Yasuhiro conferred a Butokukai (2) Renshi license upon Funakoshi. The Kodakan was the headquarters for Jigoro Kano’s judo in Tokyo) “if that’s the case then what am I, a 10th or 11th dan?” Taken out of context the issue provides the basis from which disgruntled rivals have also tried to discredit Motobu.

As a matter of interest, Funakoshi Gichen can be seen performing kata and application principles on the vintage footage now available through Master’s Publications. This might help some readers draw their own conclusions when evaluating Motobu’s comments.


Master Motobu imparted his tradition through a unique system of conditioning exercises, weight and makiwara training, highly functional two-person kumite drills and one or two kata.

It would certainly coincide with what I have discovered about most old-school practices where the kata culminated the defensive lessons rather than actually teach it. Although Motobu Chosei, his son, believes his father may have also known Bassai and Seisan and even developed a form, named “Shiro Kuma (White Bear), they do not appear to have been handed down.

In his interview with Ikeda Hoshu, Konishi Yasuhio said “….he had also learned Bassia and Gojushiho from Matsumura Sensei in Tomari”(one of the three towns most noted for development of early karate on Okinawa)(ibid p21). Actually, I support the insightful comments of Charles Goodin who wrote, “With fewer kata, more and more time and effort can be devoted to bunkai (applications of the kata moves). I do not think that Motobu-Ryu emphasizes bunkai because it has fewer kata – I suspect that it has fewer kata in order to emphasize bunkai.”(Setting the Record Straight,”4th Quarter issue Journal 2001, p 7).

In my opinion, Master Motobu Choki represented the last of a warrior-like breed, a stalwart not intimidated by political pressure, or afraid to stand up to what he believed in. He walked the talk. Always the perpetual student, never a clone of mass production or mundane training, Motobu Choki demanded all or nothing. It’s too bad we don’t have more men like him today.

One mistake the inexperienced researcher often makes when trying to grasp the technical ambiguities surrounding the application of early karate practices is to depend on contemporary assumptions. That is why it is so important to study the birth and evolution of this tradition when conducting a comparative analysis. One of the most fascinating things about delving into the history and evolution of this wonderful tradition is just how much one can learn about the culture, philosophy and people who shaped its practice. In doing so, a message of more important proportions unfolds. What could possibly improve our overall understanding of karate more than walking in the footsteps of those people most responsible for pioneering it? Great people should never be forgotten, if only to remind us of the potential latent in ourselves. By studying the anthropology of this tradition it becomes evident that many of the early pioneers established a symbiosis with karate so that their lives became as much a product of the art as was the art a product of their lives. When learning the art comes a responsibility to keep this knowledge alive, a responsibility that extends beyond karate and into society as a whole. Early pioneers maintained that karate conditions the body, cultivates the mind and nurtures the spirit. However, an even more important message reveals that the source of human weakness lies within and it is there where all of our battles must be first fought and won before karate can ever improve the quality of our daily lives.

It is the wish of the master’s son, Motobu Chosei, that Motobu Ryu be perpetuated and for his father’s distinguished record as a karate pioneer and teach to be set straight.


(1) Kakedamshi (“The spirit of entangling one’s hands”) is a test, challenge match, or exchange of technique between willing opponents, not unlike the pushing-hands of taijiquan, sicky-hands of Wing Chun, hubud/dumong of kali, or sambut of silat. Kakedamashi was a popular practice among Uchiandi practitioners during the “old-days”.

(2) Butokukai: Short for Dai Nippon Butokukai translated at “The Great Japan Martial Virtues Association” which was founded in 1895 to preserve and promote the martial arts and ways.

Editor’s note: Footnotes and information in parenthesis was added for reader assistance.

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About The Author

Patrick McCarthy is an internationally known teacher, lecturer, seminar leader and author who is a 7th degree Black Belt in karate (under Kinjo Hiroshi Hanshi) and holds a Kyoshi Menkyo issued by the Dai Nippon Butokukai Kyoto Honbu in April 1994. He has been a supporter of the Dai Nippon Butokukai for many years, as a student of Richard Kim Hanshi (the man originally responsible for first establishing the Butokukai in North America). A veteran Canadian/American touriment competitor during the 1970’s and 1980’s he was recognized as a North American top-ten rated competitor in kata, kumite & kobudo and received many meritorious awards. He then migrated to Japan as a 5th dan where he immersed himself in the study of karate, its origins, ethos & technical theories. He was invited to test before a board of DNBK honbu Hanshi at the Kyoto Butokuden in 1988 and was awarded his Renshi accreditation and 6th dan in karatedo. In 1995 McCarthy moved to Australia where he oversees that county’s first government accredited instructor's program in traditional Karatedo. He also represented the international division of the Butokukai, but discontinued this association when he established the Ryukyu Karate-jutsu Kokusai Kenkyukai as an international organization. He is the author of hundreds of articles on karate, its history and origins that have appeared in leading martial arts journals. He has also authored a number of books including: “The Bible Of karate: Bubushi”, “Ancient Okinawan Martial Arts: Koryu Uchinadi 1 & 2”, compiled and translated materials for the books “Tanpenshu: Funakoshi Gichin“ and “Motobu Choki: My Art” and translated “Tales of Okinawa's Great Masters by Shoshin Nagamine.”

To find more articles of interest, search on one of these keywords:

Okinawan karate, Motobu, Funakoshi, Japnaese karate pioneers, kata bunkai, kata applications

Read more articles by Patrick McCarthy

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