The renewed interest in Choki Motobu has been a feature of the recent study of karate history. Anyone interested in the development of karate was well aware of Choki Motobu's name, but little if anything was known about his life and technique. He seemed to have left few living students, his dojo had long since closed down, and although he had written two books, few people were aware of them, and anyway, they had been out of print for decades. There was even a view -- and I heard this personally from a couple of senior Japanese teachers -- that Motobu was not a true karate master but rather just a fighter who made use of karate techniques.
But, as research into karate history developed, people began to look afresh at Choki Motobu and his legacy. Bit by bit material became available, and gradually it became possible to get some idea of his life and methods. Then just a couple of years ago Kimo Ferreira, a kempo instructor from Hawaii, made contact with Choki Motobu's son Chosei and helped introduce him to American karateka. In July 2002 when Kimo and his wife Kiko accompanied Chosei Sensei and his senior student Takeji Inaba to England for a seminar, they stopped off in London for some sightseeing, and this is where Harry Cook and I were able to meet the group and try and find out a little more about Motobu karate. Chosei Sensei does not speak English, but Keiko did a great job translating.
At the time of the meeting Chosei Motobu was seventy-eight and Takeji Inaba seventy-four, and they were remarkably sprightly for their age. Not long before, they had completed their Tsunami video, on which they personally demonstrate all the techniques. Chosei had spent his working life as a policeman in Osaka, and when he retired he decided to devote his time to the development of Motobu style karate.
He had studied karate with his father, he told us, from the age of fourteen, when Choki Sensei would come down from Tokyo to visit his family in Osaka. The training ceased when Chosei was seventeen and Choki Motobu returned to Okinawa. Chosei did not learn karate from anyone else, though for a time he did train along with a student of the well known Shinpan Gusukuma (Shiroma). He recalled that this karateka (I thought I caught the name Kina, but can't be sure) would walk around the dojo on his toes as training for the front kick.
What did Choki Motobu teach his son? For kata, essentially Naihanchi, which constituted a kind of kihon, or basic training -- Motobu did not teach the modern method of moving up and down the dojo drilling single techniques -- and kumite, mainly the twelve kumite sequences shown in his 1926 book and in Chosei's recent Tsunami video. Choki Motobu also stressed two points: 1. Always irimi (enter): move into your opponent's territory, don't step backwards; 2. Don't stand in neko ashi (cat) stance. This is a defensive position, and Motobu used to say that if you take up this stance, in a way you are telling the opponent you are losing. He may also have found that the neko ashi stance hadn't worked out too well in the numerous close quarters fights he had had back in Okinawa.
Choki Motobu used kicks, but sparingly. He taught that kicking should not be used as a first attack. There are risks in kicking, and Motobu considered that you should only kick when you have a strength advantage over your opponent, (60 to 40, according to Chosei), or when you have first hit him with a punch or a strike. Timing is essential: you have to choose the right moment when you will knock the opponent down with one kick. Also, don't kick higher than the waist.
We mentioned that Choki Motobu's karate was close range, in contrast to Funakoshi's Shotokan, for example, where opponents take up kumite positions a relatively long distance apart. At this, Chosei Motobu stood up to demonstrate with Inaba Sensei. The engagement was from a close distance, forearms in contact ("a basic training form"), and Chosei explained that at this distance it was easier to control the opponent and anticipate his actions. When a punch was thrown Chosei blocked it close in. The non-blocking hand was not pulled back to the hip in the orthodox hikite position, but kept close in front of the body, where it was ready to block a second punch, as Chosei demonstrated. In Motobu karate both hands are often used together, and this is called meotode, or "husband-and-wife hand"; the hands are close and work together to achieve the desired result. We mentioned that Choki Motobu would often use the front hand to strike, and Chosei said yes, a student (maybe it was Hironori Ohtsuka) had once asked Choki which hand should be used to strike, and he had replied, "The hand closest to the opponent."