About Nihon Denryu Heiho Motobu Kenpo

Pre-World War II

Members of Motobu-ryu in the Taisho Period, Osaka, 1926
Members of Motobu-ryu in the Taisho Period, Osaka, 1926

Nihon Denryu Heihou Motobu Kenpo (Japan Traditional Fighting Tactics Motobu Kenpo) is one of the most historic and pedigreed schools of karate in Japan, founded by master Motobu Choki sensei in 1922. It is more commonly known as Motobu-ryu karate-jutsu or Motobu-ryu karate-dō.


Choki sensei was born in 1870 and started his formal training in karate at the age of 12 under the Shuri-te master Itosu Anko sensei, who was invited to the home of the Motobu Udun to teach. Because of Choki sensei’s status as a descendant of Ryukyuan royalty, he was able to study under most of the great karate masters of that time. As a result of his natural talents, extensive training, and then very unique for a karate-ka experiences in street fights (kakedameshi), Choki sensei by his mid-20s had already gained a reputation as the greatest karate-ka in Okinawa. Such was the level of his fame that even children as young as three knew his nickname of “Motobu Saarū.”


Even after Choki sensei settled on the Japanese mainland, his exploits--such as downing a foreign boxer in one blow in Kyoto--provided proof of the efficacy and value of karate. At that time, when karate was still known to only a handful of martial artists on the mainland, many more people came to be aware of it through the activities of Choki sensei. Because of this, he received many inquiries about karate and requests for instruction. In 1922, Choki sensei began teaching karate on the mainland, opening a dōjō in Shikanjima, Konohana Ward in Osaka, naming his ryūha Nihon Denryu Heiho Motobu Kenpo (commonly called Motobu-ryu) and establishing the Karate-jutsu Fukyu-kai (Society for the Promotion of Karate).

Signature of Motobu Choki sensei as the Seiden Shinan, or authentic instructor of Nihon Denryu Heiho Motobu Kenpo

In May of 1926, Choki sensei published Okinawa kenpō karate-jutsu kumite hen (Compilation of Okinawan Kenpo Karate-jutsu Kumite) in an effort to further spread knowledge of karate throughout mainland Japan. Choki sensei had even appeared in photographs of kumite techniques he had cultivated in secret over many years. This being the oldest manual of kumite, it is held in high esteem both in Japan and overseas even today.


In 1929, Choki sensei moved his base of operations from Osaka to Tokyo, becoming shihan of the Toyo University karate club and at the Ministry of Railroads. He also founded the Daidokan dōjō in Tokyo, training many students. In 1932, he published his second book, Watashi no karate-jutsu (My Karate). Then in 1941, he closed the Daidokan dōjō, returning briefly to Osaka before leaving for Okinawa to live out his final days in the place of his birth.

Post-World War II

Motobu Chosei sōke
Motobu Chosei sōke

Motobu Chosei, the second sōke, was born on July 24, 1925, the third son of Motobu Choki and his wife, Nabi (1893-1973). One of her ancestors was an important figure in 15th-century Ryukyu known as Gosamaru1, and she herself was the fifth daughter of Morishima Seiyu, whose family held the tunchi rank in the former Shuri aristocracy.


Chosei sōke studied karate under his father between 1938 and 1942 whenever Choki sensei would return to Osaka. His father and elder brothers passed away during the war, and Chosei sōke became head of the family in 1944. While working as a police officer after the war, he began instructing karate around 1948 in rented spaces such as temple halls.


In 1977, Chosei sōke set out to restore Motobu-ryu to its fundamentals by becoming the head of Nihon Karate-do Motobu-kai, formed through uniting with dōjō in other areas with direct connections to his father, such as Shunpūkan in Saitama and Daidokan in Gunma.

The 3rd Anniversary Demonstaration of Motobu-kai, 1980
The 3rd Anniversary Demonstaration of Motobu-kai, 1980

Another goal of founding the organization was to find and collect documents and other material related to his father. For example, Motobu Choki sensei goroku (Sayings of Motobu Choki Sensei) was compiled from the recollections of students like Marukawa Kenji sensei and Nakata Mizuhiko sensei. The results of this research continue to be presented through organizations such as Nihon Budo Gakkai, the Japanese Academy of Budo.


In addition, Chosei sōke has inherited his uncle Choyu sensei's Motobu udundi through Choyu sensei's student Uehara Seikichi sensei, whom he first met in 1976. It has now been just over 90 years that Nihon Denryu Heiho Motobu Kenpo has preserved the techniques, principles, and training style of Motobu Choki sensei and worked to pass on faithfully the traditions of Okinawan karate.


1. Nakagusuku Aji Gosamaru Seishun (also known as Mo Kokutei, ?-1458) was the commanding officer under King Sho Hashi, who was responsible for completing the unification of Ryukyu.