History of Motobu Udundi: 1955 - 1965 (3)
・I was born in 1943. I enrolled under Uehara Sekichi sensei in 1959, the same year that I started senior high school. I had been practicing Goju-ryu a bit before that. The reason that I enrolled, was because Yogi Shunichi, a friend of mine who had gone on to study at a technical high school, had enrolled before me. Shunichi was the one who introduced me to Uehara sensei. In his junior high school years, Shunichi was a judo champion, and after graduating high school, he emigrated to Brazil.
・From that time onwards, Uehara sensei identified his style as Motobu-ryu. Uehara sensei had been a student of Motobu Choyu sensei. He told me that he had been to Wakayama Prefecture to pass the techniques that he learned from Choyu sensei down to Choyu sensei’s oldest son.1 Choyu sensei was living in Tsuji (Chiji in Okinawan), Naha in those days. Uehara sensei was known to visit the Tsuji area to peddle soy sauce. It seems that this is where Uehara sensei got to know Choyu sensei there, and decided to enroll with him. The other students who were Uehara sensei’s seniors, used to practice karate kata, but Uehara sensei did not take part in this. At first, it seems that he was made to practice only the basics of punching and kicking while standing on his toes.
1. An error of the second son.
・Uehara sensei said that he had received a scroll of traditional Okinawan poems from Choyu sensei. Choyu sensei had originally composed the poems for his son, Motobu Chomo (who was nicknamed Toraju), but he also gave a scroll to Uehara sensei at the time, when Uehara sensei moved to the Philippines. Uehara sensei also made us recite the poems back then, so I still remember some of them.
・Uehara sensei used to run a bar for customers from the US military. These kind of bars could only be run by people who passed a strict hygiene inspection (which got them an A Sign, a sign stating that the premises was approved for use by US forces).
・I used to practice near Futenma Airfield. These days, this area is full of houses, but back then it was just graves and fields. I also used to practice on the wooden floor of Uehara sensei's bar.
・I think that there were about three students including myself. Uehara sensei did not publicize the fact that he taught karate. His students had all been introduced through acquaintances.
・Initially, I mainly practiced kicks and punches. I put on my boxing gloves and practiced by punching Uehara sensei’s abdomen, with him sweeping my punches. At the time, I had a senior who was about 20 years older than me, and we would also train together. He was kind of rough, and I got my face punched by him during training. With Uehara sensei this would never happen, because his level of technique was so high.
・For the punches, I could use either my left or my right arm. However, I was taught to always punch using my front arm. It's a jab, like in boxing. At that time, there was no other school in Okinawa that advocated punching with the front arm (what is now called jab off the front hand), so this was highly unusual. In the common karate styles of the day, the standard repertoire was for the front arm to be the blocking arm, and for punchs to start from a rear chambered set position. We were also taught to kick using the front leg. We kicked forward, using the joint at the base of the big toe.
・We were taught to stand on our toes, keeping our knees straight. We were taught this way, as is still the case in Motobu Udundi to this day.
・After training which focused on kicking and punching, I moved on to throwing. I would punch, and Uehara sensei would throw. Uehara sensei’s way of throwing was different from that of aikido where take holds and swings. It was more that you caught the other person as they punched, and threw them or first swept their foot before throwing them. In addition to this, Uehara sensei also had a throw where he would wrap his right arm around his opponent’s neck and throw them backwards.
・I think that I was taught three or four kata, but I didn't really have any interest in kata. Kumite was my main focus, so I don’t recall much about kata now. I learned two sanchin kata, one with open hands and one with fists. Sanchin was the main practice of Yogi Shunichi, who migrated to Brazil, and Matsuda Umeichi. The sanchin kata that Uehara sensei taught at that time was not the style where you move forwards a few steps, then make an 180-degree turn. This kind of 180-degree turn did not exist in the sanchin kata of the time. One simply kept moving forwards. Sanchin was taught to people who had mastered the foundations of Udundi. When we practiced sanchin, Uehara sensei would remind us to put our strength into it and to clench our fists firmly.
・In 1961, the first kobudo demonstration was held in the Naha Theater. The majority of the karate practitioners who participated in the demonstration were from small schools with only a few students. They were not well known. The demonstration was organized by Higa Seitoku sensei. I also went along as an observer. We as the young practitioners did not participate. Uehara sensei demonstrated a kata called Jicchin.
・As soon as I enrolled, I heard that there was a technique called Tuiti (Torite in Japanese) in Udundi, and so I asked Uehara sensei to teach me this. However, he would not teach it to me straight away. Only after I mastered throwing, did sensei finally start to teach me Tuiti. This happened around the fourth year after I enrolled. Uehara sensei referred to both joint-lock techniques and throwing as “Tuiti.” I enrolled in Ryukyu University, and joined the karate club there. At university, we centered our practice on kumite. I was practicing with the university club at the same time as I was training Motobu-ryu.
・In those days, Uehara sensei used to mix with a number of other karate teachers with whom he also researched kumite among other things. He also taught a few of those teachers Tuiti. However, when some of these teachers with whom Uehara sensei associated saw sensei’s Tuiti, they criticized him behind his back, saying things like: “That technique is not karate,” or “That kind of technique (Tuiti) doesn’t exist in karate.” Uehara sensei was already using the word “Tuiti” at that time, but some criticized him saying that they had never heard such a word or that it’s weird to have a technique like Tuiti in karate. To be perfectly honest, back then I also felt embarrassed about telling people that I studied Tuiti. I simply said that I was learning karate. In any case, there were many people who believed that no such martial art as Tuiti existed in Okinawa.
Q: Do you know whether the word “Tuiti” appears in “The Ten Precepts of Karate” (1908), by Itosu Anko sensei?
No, I don’t.
Q: Are there any other schools that use the word “Tuiti” or teach Tuiti more recently?
I never heard anyone other than Uehara sensei use the word “Tuiti” back then. I would not believe any story about Tuiti having spread to another school. Anyone who insists this is the case probably just doesn’t know that his or her master used to study with Uehara sensei at some time in the past. There are many people who gave up studying with Uehara sensei after a short time and just left.
・There was one person among the karate practitioners who mixed with Uehara sensei and who was skilled at yakusoku (prearranged) kumite. That was Nakama Chozo sensei. He had also studied under Motobu Choki sensei. Nakama sensei’s kumite was streamlined. Using the arm with which he blocked his opponent’s thrust, he would return the thrust, in the one move. The double beat of his defense-attack was really fast. He would not pull his blocking arm back to his side each time, but would strike towards his opponent from the last blocking hand position. He did not divide his technique up into neat subdivisions. If anything, he tried to use it in a seamless way. The Naihanchi kata that he executed was powerful. I found it a little scary, and it made me feel wary of getting too close.
・Nakamura Shigeru sensei, who founded Okinawa Kenpo, was a pioneer of combat karate. He was the first person in Okinawa to hold karate matches wearing armor. This was after WWII. At that time, people in Okinawa thought that a karate match meant that one of the opponents was surly to die, so other schools focused purely on kata training. Shimabuku Tatsuo sensei, who founded Isshin-ryu, also taught combat karate to soldiers in the US army.
・Both Uehara sensei and I went along together to a Hakko-ryu Jujutsu training course that was held in Okinawa. There was only about ten minutes class time per day. During the training course, I was with Uehara sensei the entire time. This business about Uehara sensei incorporating Hakko-ryu techniques into Motobu-ryu after that training course, is nonsense. After the course ended, Mr. Yasuda, who acted as an assistant during the course, stayed on in Okinawa for about a month. We practiced Motobu-ryu together, under Uehara sensei.
Q: Mr. Yasuda told me that he tried his technique against Uehara sensei during the Hakko-ryu training course, but it didn’t work. Uehara sensei already was trained in and knew the techniques to counter Hakko-ryu moves.
・Near the end of my time studying with Uehara sensei, there were also some training sessions where I performed Tuiti on Uehara sensei. But even when I caught a hold of Uehara sensei’s hand, he would often easily slip his hand out from my grasp. How was he able to do it? I guess he knew how to slip out of his opponent’s Tuiti techniques, or how to block them. I don’t know whether this was some innate talent of his, or whether it was a skill that he gained through training. I also learned a bit of Hakko-ryu from Mr. Yasuda, who was considerably skilled. If Mr. Yasuda says that even though he tried some techniques on Uehara sensei, they didn't work. This meant that Uehara sensei already at that time, had the techniques to block Hakko-ryu techniques.
・In terms of weapons, we had practiced using the staff against a staff, against a sickle, and against nunchaku, but I was not particularly interested in fighting with weapons, so I did not train them with much enthusiasm.
・Q: Higa Seitoku sensei claims that Motobu Udundi Tuiti was handed down from Matsumura Sokon, but is this true?
I had heard Higa sensei say that, but I never heard that theory from Uehara sensei.
・From about 1965 or 1966, people started to practice kumite wearing kendo masks and armor. Also, a few US military personnel started to attend training from about this time.
・At the time, Uehara sensei’s students also included Tsuha Komei sensei from Nago, and Higa Seitoku sensei from Shuri. These two were both extremely enthusiastic in their training. By then, Tsuha sensei was over 50 or so. He was a considerable master, and Uehara sensei had also pinned his hopes on him, but Tsuha sensei died in a traffic accident on his way home from training one day. Omura Motozen was also one of Uehara’s disciples, but he only came to training occasionally. Mr. Omura was Tsuha sensei’s brother-in-law and Nakamura Shigeru’s disciple. Uehara Hiroshi also came to class, but trained during a different time slot. We trained during the day, so I never got to train with him at the same time.
・In the Motobu-ryu of the time, there was no such thing as ranks or licenses. We only distinguished between white belt and black belt. When I was 26, I was conferred a ranking of go-dan, and the title of “Renshi (instructor),” by Higa Seitoku, the president of the Zen Okinawa Karate Kobudo Rengokai (All Okinawa Karate and Kobudo Association). This was both the first and last time that I was conferred a rank or a title.
・After that, I found work at Ryukyu University, and I started to lead the university karate club. The karate training sessions at the university had me very busy, and I drifted away from Motobu-ryu.
・The kinds of blocking techniques that you often see in karate, such as outside blocks and inside blocks, were not taught by Uehara sensei back then. Neither did he teach the downward block with which you block an opponent’s kick. Uehara sensei would dodge his opponent’s attack while striking at the same time. It was something like striking while dodging his opponent’s attack with his striking hand. This is a particular kind of technique for counter attacking. It’s very difficult to master without doing a substantial amount of practice. It’s impossible to use this technique in the way that Uehara sensei did, unless you devote yourself to practicing it in a mechanical way.
・Uehara sensei’s body movement was good. The reason that we stand on our toes in Motobu-ryu, is so we can dodge our opponent’s attack quickly. Uehara sensei would explain for us to raise our heels just high enough that a piece of paper could slide underneath. He would say that if we raised our heels too high, our knees would end up stiff like rods, which was no good. From that time onwards, Uehara sensei would not bend his knees, but even with his legs straight, there was a little slack in his knees. It’s more that he was not visibly bending them, yet not locking them out. There was no school of karate that kept their knees straight in Okinawa at that time. The principle ways of standing for kumite in Okinawa at that time. were the forward stance and the cat stance.
・Uehara sensei was strong. His ability matched his words. In the gymnasium at Ryukyu University, he asked Nakandakari Kanzo to hold a large knife, or something more like a nata (traditional Japanese hatchet). Then Uehara sensei did his exercises with Mr. Nakandakari, thrusting the knife or nata towards him at whatever way he liked. Uehara sensei was able to dodge all the attacks. Even in prearranged moves, you are using genuine steel, so if you make a mistake it can get very messy. But Uehara sensei was able to do this. From the very beginning, there were people who made nasty comments like: “It’s not possible,” “Their demonstration has been planned out in advance,” and “What if his opponent feints?” but Uehara sensei could really do it. Uehara sensei’s technique of dodging with his body, was an ability that others were just not able to imitate. “Think of your opponent’s punch as a blade and dodge it. You only get one chance,” is what Uehara sensei often used to say.
(Interviewed on May 24th, June 3rd, June 13th and September 19th, 2007)