Gijutsu-taikei: Technical System
Besides being taught by the legendary Shuri-te masters Matsumura Sokon, Sakuma Pēchin, and Itosu Anko, Choki sensei also studied under the great Tomari-te master Matsumora Kosaku.
Thus, Choki sensei's karate could be classified as orthodox Shuri-te with an admixture of Tomari-te. However, Choki sensei's "Shuri-te" was not the same as the later widespread "Shuri-te" karate. Choki sensei's karate was one that retained strong characteristics of the martial karate from the time of Matsumura sensei and Sakuma sensei. The later widespread "Shuri-te" karate, as many times seen today, was changed from the original karate by Itosu sensei to make a product for the purposes of physical exercise in order to be accepted into physical education curriculums of schools.
In addition, Motobu kenpo--along with Choki sensei's elder brother Choyu sensei's Motobu udundi--was one of the few karate ryūha to stress the importance of kumite in the prewar period.
"These days, punching is done with the arm angled down, so that water would roll off. In the past it was different. Punching was done with the arm straight and a feeling of it being slightly angled upwards. This is the true legacy of Matsumura of Shuri." Ryukyu Shimpo, 1936
In Motobu kenpo, the kata known as naihanchi forms the basis for the entire practice. This is because all the principles of Motobu kenpo--from the basics to the most advanced techniques--are contained within naihanchi, providing a lifetime of study.
Choki sensei disliked teaching a large number of various kata because of the problems it presented for managing the dōjō. If requested, Choki sensei would sometimes teach passai or seisan, but for the most part restricted instruction to just naihanchi. This led to rumors that he "only knew naihanchi," but even so he stood firm in his convictions.
The Motobu naihanchi is done in a more refined, older style compared to other ryūha. For example, it does not use the forceful stepping of post-Itosu naihanchi, but the more subdued stepping characteristic of the naihanchi of Matsumura's time. Also compared to the naihanchi of Itosu lineage, the body is held somewhat lower and the knees are not turned inwards, instead slightly turned out in a stance that is easier to maintain.
While naihanchi most commonly begins by moving to the right, in Motobu-ryu older variations are taught, such as first turning the head right and left before moving to the left.
Currently, Motobu kenpo inherits seisan and shirokuma, as well as the Motobu Udun no passai and ufukun (kūsankū dai), which Motobu Chōsei sōke inherited from Motobu Chōmei (Chōyū's oldest son) and Uehara Seikichi.
The basic principle of Motobu kenpo's kumite is me-oto-de (husband and wife hands), the aim of which is to develop the ability to use both hands simultaneously for offense and defense. Me-oto-de is a fundamental feature of classical karate. Today, it finds expression only in the kamae used in Motobu kenpo and Motobu udundi.
In the me-oto-de kamae, the rear hand is not held at the side of the body in hiki-te, but out in front of the body along with the forward hand so as to protect the vital points. When applied, either hand can be used for attacking or protecting as need be.
In accordance with the principle of me-oto-de, striking can be done with either the forward or rear hand. Motobu kenpo and Motobu udundi were the only ryūha that utilized forward-hand strikes in the prewar period. This is because Choki sensei and Choyu sensei continued the classical fighting traditions of the Ryukyu Kingdom by focusing on kumite in their training rather than follow the trend for emphasizing kata practice. Another fundamental of Motobu kenpo is to attack and defend at close quarters after closing the distance to an opponent using irimi. As a result, besides the familiar thrust punch, a variety of other strikes such as uraken (backhand strike) and enpi (elbow strike) are utilized.
Kicks used in Motobu kenpo include choku-geri (straight kick), hiza-geri (knee strike), and hiza-ori (a kind of side kick), among others. Since the kicks in Motobu kenpo are classical types meant to be used at close quarters, kicks like the roundhouse kick that were incorporated into karate from other fighting arts in the postwar period are not used.
Besides familiar blocks such as age-uke (upper block), yoko-uke (inner and outer side blocks), and gedan-barai (low arm sweep), Motobu kenpo has other blocks such as kake-yoko-uke and tsuki-uke. No matter what block is used, the aim in Motobu kenpo is to be able to change it into a strike at an instant, which again arises from the fundamental idea of simultaneous offense and defense.
In addition, grabbing hold of an opponent--considered a foul in kumite matches today--is another fundamental technique in Motobu kenpo's kumite.
The basic kumite stance is with the feet the same distance apart and the body held at the same height as in naihanchi, the body then twisted to the left or right. Weight is placed on both feet evenly. Stances such as neko-dachi (cat stance), zenkutsu-dachi (forward stance), and kōsoku-dachi (back stance) are not used in the kumite of Motobu kenpo.
"Lost Karate": the classical legacy
The kumite techniques of Motobu kenpo were not designed for use in the sport-style kumite matches that came into being after the war. They are what Choki sensei mastered through rigorous training with his masters in his youth and his experience in actual fights, and therefore constitute genuine classical Okinawan kumite.
Choki sensei said that originally "training was done in kata and kumite at the same time," and from the time of the Ryukyu Kingdom to the beginning of the Meiji Period kumite was just as important as kata practice.1 However, from the Taisho Period kumite began to be neglected as the trend in the karate world shifted towards emphasis on kata. Teaching kumite became almost a heresy as it gave way to pedantic instruction only in various kata.
Choki sensei did not go along with this trend, persisting in his belief in the importance of classical Ryukyuan kumite while centering kata training just on naihanchi. As younger practitioners and students began to play a larger role in the karate world, they started creating kumite anew. But as Choki sensei pointed out, the new styles of kumite "were taken unchanged out of kata," and had no relation to kumite in its original form. As a result, only Motobu-ryu faithfully passed on classical kumite.
In this way, Motobu kenpo today preserves kumite techniques that were lost even in Okinawa, not to mention the Japanese mainland. These techniques should be a source of pride for Okinawa, as an important aspect of its cultural heritage.
1. "Choki Motobu: The Lost Interviews of 1936." Classical Fighting Arts, 2 no. 11, (2007), 52.