Motobu Choki (1870–1944) was an influential and controversial Okinawan karate master. Many people consider him one of the best practical karate fighters ever lived.
Motobu Choki became famous in mainland Japan after defeating a younger and bigger Western boxer in his 50s. There are also various accounts of Motobu Choki soundly defeating Gichin Funakoshi in a challenge.
Motobu Choki left behind two books “Okinawa Kenpo Karate Jutsu Kumite Hen” published in 1926 and “My Art of Karate Jutsu” published in 1932.
This post lists some valuable karate lessons that I’ve found in Motobu Choki sensei’s book “My Art and Skill of Karate” and hope that you find them helpful in your karate study.
Table of Contents
- 1. Work on your weak side
- 2. Hachiji dachi is the most practical stance
- 3. Practice karate daily under any circumstances
- 4. Use karate for the right causes
- 5. Use karate to train the mind and the body
- 6. The makiwara is indispensable
- 7. Other training equipment
- 8. The importance of practical application of karate
- 9. Kata should be taught as close as possible to its use in actual combat
- 10. Posture (kamae) is a state of mind
- 11. The meaning of “karate ni sente nashi”
1. Work on your weak side
In his book, Motobu Choki reminds us that we should always devote time and energy to our weak side.
This will not only benefit us physically and intellectually but also on the odd chance that we may need to use our martial arts skills to defend ourselves.
Training your weak side will strengthen the non-dominant side of your body but, do you know that working on your non-dominant side also affects your brain development?
The human brain is divided into two parts: the left and right cerebral hemispheres. The left side of the brain controls the right side of the body and vice versa.
While the left side of the brain is more involved in logical tasks like reasoning, analysis, judgment, reading, writing, calculating, etc, the right side of the brain is in charge of cognitive functions such as visual processing, perception, emotion, imagination, and intuition.
Therefore, training the weaker side of your body can stimulate the activity of the opposite brain side as well.
Because around 90 percent of people in the world are right-handed, training the left side of our body will strengthen neural connections in our brains and improve our creativity and imagination.
On the odd chance that we need to use karate to defend ourselves, we tend to rely on our dominant and stronger side and that’s fine.
But using it more also means there’s an increased chance of the stronger side getting injured and becoming unusable in the process. In that case, if we have been working on our weaker side as well, we’ll have just as strong a weapon which is the left side of our body to fight off our opponent.
When talking about practicing with a makiwara, Motobu Choki sensei says that “if the right strikes 20 times, the left strikes 30 times, and if the right strikes 30 times, the left strikes 40 times“, i.e. we need to exercise some positive discrimination here to strengthen the weaker side.
We should definitely apply this strategy to other training activities as well.
2. Hachiji dachi is the most practical stance
Motobu Choki sensei’s view is that the most important stance in any situation is the Hachiji dachi stance which he calls Hachimonji dachi in his book (hachi means the number eight (八) and monji means a character).
the basic stance in any situation is the character-8- stance (hachimonji dachi), i.e. with the tips of the toes opened, pointing outward in the shape of the Japanese character 8 … This standard form derives from the natural way of human walking …
Being a practical karate fighter, it is understandable that Motobu Choki considered this natural effortless stance the basic stance for any situation.
However, this is not the typical fighting stance we see nowadays in sparring practice or in competitions.
My theory is that in sparring practice or competitions, the aim is often to win by attacking an opponent, therefore you will need to be on the offensive and use an appropriate stance for this purpose.
In self-defense situations, because you are on the defensive, a passive, natural and strong-based stance like Hachiji dachi is more appropriate.
3. Practice karate daily under any circumstances
Motobu Choki reminds us in his book that we should also try to “practice without fail, twice a day in the morning and evening, even if it is only in the corner of the room“.
Practicing karate daily even for just 15 to 30 minutes every day is better than practicing for a couple of hours only once in a while.
Practicing daily helps build, maintain and strengthen neural connections and muscle memory.
Doing a big blast once in a while is not as effective because you will have forgotten a lot of what you have learned in the previous session. Too big a gap and you might forget all the new things that you’ve learned.
If you are worried about overworking your muscles or joints, you can alternate the types of exercises you do or their levels of intensity.
Motobu Choki also emphasizes that if we have the correct martial spirit, we should be able to practice karate under any circumstances.
Having only a small room or small space is not an excuse for not practicing. You can certainly practice basic techniques like blocks, punches and kicks in a small space. You can also practice fighting an invisible opponent (like shadow boxing) in a small space.
Practicing kata requires a larger space but if you only have a small area to practice, you can still improve your kata by selecting micro sequences of a kata that you feel still need further work and practicing only those. In fact, focusing on micro sequences of a kata will be more beneficial than practicing the whole kata over and over again.
As Motobu Choki says, when you have the correct martial spirit, you can practice under any circumstances.
4. Use karate for the right causes
Motobu Choki earned a bad reputation for allegedly picking up fights in the Tsuji Machi (the red light district) to test his fighting skills in his youth.
However, according to Shoshin Nagamine, an Okinawan karate master, “Motobu was never known to start a fight but was also never known to run from one“.
In his book, Motobu emphasizes that one should only use karate to defend oneself.
It would be severe misbehavior if a karate practitioner would behave hot-blooded in youthful ardor, or if he would not solely use it to defend himself, but would abuse karate to bully the weak.
The practitioner always bears in mind and complies with the correct meaning of bu (martial) and, in the spirit of modesty and self-discipline, must never forget the concept of bu at any time.
5. Use karate to train the mind and the body
Motobu Choki reminds us that karate is not just for self-defense, it is also a tool for cultivating the mind.
Karate, being a quite valuable and universal martial art, is also a resource for mental training, that is, the cultivation of the mind.
Those who practiced karate developed a strong unity of mind and body, became immovable, and never lost their composure. On these points, the practice of karate coincides with that of zen.
Karate teaches you to defend yourself and you’ll become fitter and healthier thanks to karate training.
However, karate can also help you build mental toughness and make you a better person.
You’ll become more disciplined, respectful, courageous, resilient and resourceful as well as improve your problem-solving skills through your training.
Although you can certainly treat karate as a mere physical exercise, if you think deeper beyond its forms and train diligently, you will find that karate has a lot more to offer.
6. The makiwara is indispensable
Motobu Choki considers the makiwara indispensable equipment for karate practitioners and that “when you have trained with it for several months, your fist is well capable of crushing several roof tiles and wooden boards with a single blow“.
A makiwara helps you work on correct body positioning and power generation. It also provides progressive resistance whereas a punching bag will provide the same resistance.
If you don’t have a makiwara at home or in the dojo, use a punching bag or a punching post to practice. Anything that provides some form of resistance is better than punching air.
As mentioned above, during your makiwara practice, Motobu Choki advises starting with your weaker side first.
For most of us that would mean punching with our left hand first. In addition, you should spend more time striking with your left hand than with your right hand to strengthen your weak side.
He also notes that “when the thrusting hand moves with 80% power, the power of the hand pulling back should always be 100%” but he doesn’t explain the reason for this recommendation.
7. Other training equipment
In addition to the makiwara, Motobu Choki mentions three other indispensable tools for karate training: oval-shaped stone, chishi and sashi.
An oval-shaped stone weighing about 42 kg (92 lb) is an indispensable item to increase physical strength and one should lift it twice a day, every morning and evening.
As your strength gradually increases, you should try to use oval-shaped stones of up to about 78 kg (172 lb) stone.
Stones of appropriate shape and size for lifting may be hard to find nowadays but a deadlift can be a perfect substitute.
The chishi is a dish-shaped stone or iron with a wooden handle inserted in the center. It is mainly used to improve the strength of your grips and wrists.
Below is a video of Morio Higaonna sensei demonstrating how to use the chishi.
The sashi is shaped like a padlock and made of stone. It is used to increase the strength of the shoulders, arms, grips and wrists.
Below is a video of Morio Higaonna sensei demonstrating how to use the sashi.
8. The importance of practical application of karate
Many consider Motobu Choki to be the best practical karate fighter ever lived.
He earns such a reputation perhaps because of his focus on the practicality of karate and rightly so because karate is first and foremost an art of self-defense.
In his book, Motobu Choki recounts how the teachings of Matsumura Sōkon sensei (c. 1809-1901) influenced his practical approach to karate training:
For a long time, I have also received regular instruction from Matsumura Sensei and the practice of kata always focused on how to place power into kata as well as on the practical use of kata.
That’s true just like that and I have been following his teachings to this day.
Even if your strength is superior to that of other persons and your body is well trained: if you have not fully mastered the practical applications, in a sudden situation, you will be unable to act with speed, and because of this, such a martial art is of no use whatsoever.
Fully mastering practical applications and being able to apply them with speed in actual combats would require a good understanding of the techniques and a lot of practice until they become your second nature.
9. Kata should be taught as close as possible to its use in actual combat
When talking about Naihanchi kata, Motobu Choki emphasizes the practicality of karate again.
Kata should be taught as close as possible to its use in reality (i.e. actual combat) and not selectively to increase strength (i.e. for physical training purposes).
I can’t agree more with his view on this point.
The purpose of kata is to teach a set of combat techniques and kata bunkai should be as close as possible to real fighting scenarios. Kata’s primary goal is not to improve physical strength.
In the Shotokan karate style (which has been modified for the Japanese audience), many original katas have been modified and their stances often become longer and deeper.
The reason for the changes is not clear but some say that they help strengthen the lower part of the body and build a stronger base.
However, in reality, it is very rare to see people use those deep long stances in a fight. High natural stances are what people rely on in all kinds of martial arts, not just karate.
If Motobu Choki could witness these changes, it’s likely that he would have looked at them with disdain.
Kata was not created for the purpose of physical exercises.
Kata is karate and karate is kata and we should train kata the way we intend to fight. Otherwise, we would waste thousands of hours practicing something that we can’t actually use in practical situations.
10. Posture (kamae) is a state of mind
Motobu Choki’s view is that there is no fixed outer form in postures and that posture is a state of mind rather than a mere physical form.
This is the first time I come across this view on kamae and it has been an eye-opener for me.
While we all have our favorite posture that we feel most comfortable while fighting, I realize that the state of mind (being in the here and now; being free from ego, anger, fear, hatred, and ambition; and being fully aware of your opponent and your surrounding) is definitely more important than where your hands are or what stance you choose to adopt.
There are various types of what is usually called posture (kamae) but I want you to know that these are just outer forms…
In the case of real combat, if a person says you should always adopt the posture like this or that, I would object and say that there is no fixed outer form in postures (kamae).
I argue that this is because posture (kamae) is a state of mind and not a mere physical outer form. It is always important to be prepared to deal with the requirements of the moment, that is, in case of being attacked, in an instant situation.
Therefore it should not categorically be said that “this posture is good” or “that posture is good”, judging only from its outer appearance.
In short, you should pay attention to the fact that posture (kamae) is a matter of training your martial strengths every day, and coincident with it, to train your mind and spirit.
11. The meaning of “karate ni sente nashi”
In the book, Motobu Choki explains that “karate ni sente nashi” does not mean one should never attack first but, in substance, it simply means a karateka should avoid resorting to the use of force unnecessarily.
He even goes on to say that when a fight is unavoidable, it is essential to strike first to dominate the enemy.
There is the expression called ‘karate ni sente nashi’ … and some people seem to frequently teach it as “you must not attack first” which I think is quite a misunderstanding…
… this expression means that you should not cause harm indiscriminately, and if you are forced to, that is, when it is unavoidable, and the enemy tries to harm you, you must stand up and fight ferociously.
When entering a fight, it is essential to dominate the enemy, and to dominate the enemy, you must move (attack) first. Therefore when entering a fight, you must move (attack) first. This is important to keep in mind.
“My Art and Skill of Karate” – Table of Content
The above are some valuable lessons that I find in Motobu Choki’s relatively short book.
Below is the book’s table of content that may help those of you who are considering buying it.
As you can see, the book is relatively short and the majority of the book spends covering Naihanchi Shodan kata and Kumite techniques.
However, it definitely contains a few nuggets of wisdom and helps us understand Motobu Choki’s thinking and approach to karate training.
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