Motobu Choki trained many students who went on to become influential karate masters in their own right and played significant roles in shaping the development of karate. Amongst them are Hironori Ōtsuka (the founder of Wadō-ryū), Nakamura Shigeru (the founder of Okinawa Kenpo), Tatsuo Yamada (the founder of Nihon Kenpo Karate-dō), Sannosuke Ueshima (the founder of Kushin-ryū), Yasuhiro Konishi (the founder of Shindō jinen-ryū), Kōsei Kokuba (the founder of Seishin Kai), Tatsuo Shimabuku (the founder of Isshin-ryū), Shōshin Nagamine (the founder of Matsubayashi-ryū), and Katsuya Miyahira (the founder of Shōrin-ryū Shidōkan).
We will look briefly at the profiles of those students in this post
Table of Contents
- Konishi Yasuhiro
- Ohtsuka Hironori
- Chibana Choshin
- Kokuba Kosei
- Nakamura Shigeru
- Yamada Tatsuo
- Ueshima Sannosuke
- Shoshin Naganime
- Kaneshima Shinsuke
- Shimabuku Tatsuo
- Nakama Chozo
- Katsuya Miyahira
Konishi was born in Takamatsu, Kagawa Prefecture, Japan. He had a comprehensive martial arts education from an early age. In primary school, he began training in Takenouchi-ryū (a complete martial art including grappling, staff, sword, iron fan, and restraining rope), Musō-ryū Jūjutsu (also known as jojutsu or the art of wielding the short staff, jo) and then Jikishinkage-ryū Kenjutsu (Japanese swordsmanship). In high school, he continued to study judo, kendo and Takenouchi-ryu.
When Konishi was at Keio University in Tokyo, he studied kendo and jujitsu and became the captain of Keio University’s kendo team as well as a kendo coach for the University’s club after graduation.
Konishi got a job after graduation but soon quit it to open a martial arts center called Ryobu-Kan (“The House of Martial Arts Excellence”) where he taught kendo and jujitsu.
In 1924, Konishi was approached by Hironori Ohtsuka (Wado Ryu founder) and Gichin Funakoshi (Shotokan founder) who sought his help in establishing a to-te jutsu club at Keio University. With Konishi’s help, Funakoshi established a to-te club at the university and Konishi then studied under both Ohtsuka and Funakoshi. He also trained with other Okinawan masters who came to Japan including Choki Motobu, Kenwa Mabuni and Chojun Miyagi.
As a man of wealth and position, Konishi generously supported those Okinawan karate masters in their effort to spread karate in mainland Japan. Kenwa Mabuni resided at Konishi’s house for ten months in 1927-28 and they became close friends. Although he did not train with Miyagi Chojun as much as with other masters, Miyagi sensei gave him an original manuscript titled “An Outline of Karate-Do” dated March 23, 1934.
Realizing Motobu Choki’s immense martial arts talent, Konishi did the unthinkable at the time by petitioning to train under Motobu to broaden his knowledge while he was still a student of Funakoshi Gichin. Unfortunately, this was considered an act of betrayal and, as a result, Konishi received a lot of criticism from the supporters of Funakoshi.
However, despite those personal attacks, Konishi’s support for Motobu Choki did not waver. Because Motobu had a thick Okinawan dialect and did not speak Japanese very well, it was hard for the Japanese to understand him and Konishi acted as a translator for Motobu to help him explain karate techniques and concepts. Konishi also supported Motobu financially and organized the Choki Motobu Support Society and arranged for seminars and training sessions at which Motobu Sensei was able to collect fees.
Konishi said the following about the feud between Funakoshi and Motobu and its impact on him.
I heard that Motobu met Funakoshi and they talked about how various attacks could be effectively received when Motobu asked Funakoshi to show him a block against a punch. When Funakoshi blocked the technique, Motobu seized his hand and threw him about three and a half meters. I’m not sure if this true or not but I do know that since that time Funakoshi hated Motobu very much, referring to him as an illiterate.
Therefore, I was not surprised when Funakoshi’s students hated me for supporting Motobu, but Motobu Sensei was so very poor. Before he returned to Okinawa, I organized a support group for him and collected contributions from many people to give him for daily expenses. At that time, they (Funakoshi’s students) spoke badly about me insinuating that I had used Motobu. Because I supported Motobu, they disliked me from that time on. Funakoshi himself treated me like a heretic.Konishi Yasuhiro
Ohtsuka was born in Shimodate, Ibaraki, Japan to an upper-class family. At the age of five, he began training in jujutsu with his uncle, Chojiro Ibashi (a samurai) and then with his father. At the age of 13, he became a student of Tatsusaburo Nakayama and studied Shindo Yoshin ryu jujutsu (traditional Japanese jujutsu).
When Ohtsuka was at Waseda University between 1910 and 1913, he continued to train in various styles of jujutsu as well as learning the art of bone setting (joint manipulation for healing). His study was cut short due to the death of his father in 1913 but he continued to study martial arts afterwards.
In 1921, at the age of 29, Ohtsuka was awarded the Menkyo-Kaiden (a certificate of complete transmission of the art from the teacher to the recipient) by Tatsusaburo Nakayama. This made him the successor of Shindo-yoshin-ryu to become the fourth grand master of the style.
In 1922, Ohtsuka reportedly heard about Gichin Funakoshi and karate and went to Tokyo to meet Funakoshi. He then began to train regularly under Funakoshi and ultimately became an assistant instructor for Funakoshi in 1928. Later on, he also trained under other Okinawan masters including Kenwa Mabuni and Motobu Choki as well as studied traditional Okinawan weapons.
Ohtsuka and Funakoshi parted ways in the 1930s due to differences in karate philosophies. Ohtsuka felt that there was too much focus on kata and that kata study should be supported by free sparring practice. Funakoshi, on the other hand, was of the view that this was “belittling to the art of karate”. In addition, some say that this was also partly due to the fact that Ohtsuka went to study under Motobu whom Funakoshi hated and considered “a densely illiterate person” and “his irreconcilable enemy”.
In 1934, Ohtsuka started his own school, the Dai Nippon Karate Shinko Kai, in Tokyo where he taught a style of karate that included elements of Shotokan and Shindo Yoshin Ryu jujutsu. In 1938, Otsuka registered his Wado ryu style with the Dai Nippon Butoku Kai.
It’s not clear how long Ohtsuka had trained with Motobu but he had a very high regard for Motobu. Ohtsuka said the following about Motobu in his book “Wado Ryu Karate”:
This Naihanchi Shodan, according to the late Motobu Choki, was a kata handed down to him from Matsumura. He was a famous fighter in Ryukyu, and it was said that there was no one, even a small child, who did not know his name. This is a kata to which I have added a slight modification. Mr. Motobu is the most outstanding Ryukyuan karate master I have ever met, and I have learned a lot from him because we have been in constant contact.Ohtsuka Hironori
We can see some similarities between Ohtsuka’s Wado-Ryu karate and Motobu’s karate style, in particular, the higher stances, the relatively small number of kata (nine kata) compared to other styles, and the focus on kumite drills.
Born in Shuri, Okinawa, Chibana Choshin (1885 – 1969) was a devoted student of Itosu Ankoh. He studied under Itosu for 13 years beginning at the age of 15 and remained with Itosu until his passing. After that, Chibana continued to practice on his own for several years before opening his own dojo at the age of 34 calling the system he taught “Shorin-Ryu“.
Chibana narrowly escaped death during the battle of Okinawa and resumed teaching immediately after the war. At first,, he taught in a dojo in the Gibo area but as his reputation spread in Okinawa as well as mainland Japan, many other dojos were open. The Okinawa Karate-do Association was established in 1956 and Chosin became its first president.
In 1957, Chibana was awarded the prestigious title of Hanshi (Grand Master) by the Dai Nippon Butokukai, the first Okinawan to receive the honor. In 1968 he was awarded the 4th Order of Merit by the Emperor of Japan for his devotion and contribution to the development of Okinawan karate.
While karate researcher, Patrick McCarthy, listed Chibana Choshin as one of Motobu’s students, I have not been able to find any document substantiating this claim.
Kokuba was born in Naha, Okinawa to a family with royal lineage. It is said that Kokuba sought out Motobu Choki to train under him from the age of 14. Kokuba moved to Osaka in 1943, opened a dojo called “Seishin-Kan” and began teaching the Okinawan karate style of Motobu Choki. Seishin-Kan dojo is said to have been a meeting place for many Okinawan martial artists in Osaka, amongst them, Motobu Choki and Kenwa Mabuni.
When Motobu died in 1944, Kokuba reportedly named his style “Motobu Karate Seishinkan” in honor of his teacher. There is also a claim that Kokuba Kosei was the second soke of the Ryu-Kyu Motobu-Ha Karate-Do.
When Kokuba died, he asked his top student, Hayashi Teruo to assume the leadership of Seishin-Kai until his son was mature enough for the role. Hayashi did so until 1970 when he handed it over to Kuniba Shogo, Kokuba Kosei’s only son.
When Kuniba Shogo died in 1992, Kunio Tatsuno became the successor of Seishinkai but after Tatsuno’s sudden death in 1996, the organization was dissolved. However, Shogo Kuniba’s sons later formed Nihon Karate-do Kuniba-kai which is recognized and authorized by the Japan Karate Federation and the World Karate Federation. Kuniba-Kai is headquartered in Osaka, Japan with affiliated dojos in many countries around the world.
Nakamura was born in Nago, Okinawa. His father introduced him to the basics of te but his father died when he was only 10 years old and Nakamura continued his training with his uncle, Nakamura Teiichi, and family friends, Motobu Choki and Yabu Kentsu. Nakamura reportedly learned Naihanchi kata and free sparring from Motobu.
When Nakamura went to the prestigious Icchu Middle School in Shuri, he continued his martial arts study under pre-eminent karate masters including Kanryo Higashionna, Kentsu Yabu, Chomo Hanashiro, and Yastune Itosu. Nakamura continued to pursue his martial art study in earnest when he went to the Prefectural Teacher’s Training College and University.
After graduation, Nakamura returned to his hometown Nago and studied for about 10 years under Kuniyoshi Shinkichi (1848-1926) who was known as ‘Iron Fist Warrior’ due to his striking ability. Legend has it that Nakamura challenged the sixty-year-old Kuniyoshi to a duel and was knocked down with a single punch. After that Nakamura asked to become a student of Kuniyoshi and was accepted.
Nakamura had previously taught students in his home but opened his first stand-alone dojo in 1953 in Nago and called his style “Okinawa Kenpo”.
Like Ohtsuka Hironori, Nakamura felt that studying kata was not enough and that it was important to include free fighting (jiyu kumite). Nakamura was quoted as saying “Without full contact fighting, effective techniques will be replaced with ineffective ones. No full contact fighting, no karate“.
Nakamura is credited with inventing protective equipment that allowed students to practice full-contact sparring more safely in response to the 1920s Japanese government’s ban on Okinawan bare-knuckled full-contact fighting. Nakamura’s protective gear (bogu armor) included the kendo helmet with added metal ear cups, quilted canvas vests, shin guards and kendo mitts. After some initial resistance, with time, many came to realize the value of free-style sparring and bogu kumite was adopted by most karate styles by the early 1930s.
Nakamura was unhappy when he saw different traditional karate schools competing with each other and arguing about which style was better. He had the vision of unifying all Okinawan karate styles. His effort resulted in a gathering of karate masters from all over Okinawa in June 1961 in Naha City to discuss the unification of all Okinawa karate styles and form the Okinawa Kobudo Kyokai. Unfortunately, after Nakamura’s passing in 1969, the organization fell apart. Okinawa Kenpo was also split up into several groups.
Yamada Tatsuo (1905 – 1967) was certainly a student of Motobu Choki and there are even photos of him and Motobu Choki demonstrating and of Yamada Tatsuo amongst Motobu’s students. However, there is very little information that I could find about Yamada apart from a short summary below.
Full-contact karate matches were banned in Japan at the time so Yamada was interested in Muay Thai which was the opposite and began to study with a Muay Thai champion.
Yamada wanted to have full-contact karate matches and proposed the tentative name “karate-boxing” and had a plan for this new sport. It is said that Yamada welcomed Thai fighters in his dojo and his dojo also sent fighters to Thailand to participate in kickboxing matches there.
In 1964, Yamada Tatsuo and Osamu Noguchi, a boxing promoter, organized a 3-on-3 competition of karate vs Muay Thai in Thailand and the karatekas won 2-1. In 1966, the first kickboxing event was held in Osaka. This was the beginning of the development of Japanese kickboxing which led to the formation of the Japan Kickboxing Association later on. However, it is often Osamu Noguchi rather than Yamada Tatsuo who is seen as the father of kickboxing.
Ueshima Sannosuke (1893-1987) was a Japanese martial arts master and founder of Kushin-ryu style.
Ueshima was born in Kobe, Japan and began training juijutsu (Konshin Ryu Yujoyitsu style) with Kiyotada Matsubara’s dojo in Hyogo at the age of three. He also trained with Sugaya Ueshima, a police officer from Okinawa. By the time he turned 25, he was already awarded the title Kyoshi (master teacher) by Matsubara sensei. After receiving this title, he moved to Osaka and opened his own dojo. It is said that this was where he met Motobu Choki and other Okinawan karate masters who came to Osaka to practice and teach there.
In 1932, Ueshima founded the Kushin-ryu style which combined elements of Koshin-ryu and Okinawan karate.
Although a lot lesser known than other karate masters of his time, Ueshima must have had a lot of talent for in 1935, together with Chojun Miyagi (founder of Goju-ryu) and Yashuhiro Konishi (founder of Shindo Jinen Ryu), he was conferred the title of kyoshi by the Dai Nippon Butoku Kai.
When Ueshima passed away in 1987, Horyu Matsuzaki sensei became the successor of the Kushin-Ryu style which I believe is still being practiced in Indonesia today.
Shoshin Nagamine (1907-1997) was a karate master and founder of Matsubayashi Ryu as well as an author, soldier, police officer, and mayor of Naha City. Nagamine studied under Motobu Choki for only about six months when he was studying at Tokyo Metropolitan Police Station but the experience seems to have had a profound impact on Nagamine as a karateka.
Nagamine was born in Naha, Okinawa. He took up karate in high school due to poor health. Due to the significant improvement in his health as a result of his training, at the age of 19, Nagamine decided to pursue martial arts study full time and began to study under Taro Shimabukuro of Shuri City. He also studied under Ankichi Arakaki and Kotatsu Iha (a student of Kosaku Matsumora) before joining the Japanese army.
After leaving the army, Nagamine joined the police force which was where he thought he could further his karate study.
During his police career, Nagamine was able to train with two influential karate masters, Chotoku Kyan and Choki Motobu. In addition to his karate study, Nagamine also learned kendo and achieved 3rd dan in kendo.
In 1947, Nagamine decided to name his style Matsubayashi-ryu after two karate masters, Sokon Matsumura of Shuri and Kosaku Matsumura of Tomari, whom his teachers had studied under.
In 1953, after retiring from the police force, Nagamine finally fulfilled his dream of building his own dojo in Naha.
In 1982, at the age of 75, Nagamine was awarded the Fifth Class Order of the Rising Sun by the Emperor of Japan for his contribution to martial arts.
At the age of 29, Nagamine met Motobu (then aged 66) and trained with him for only six months. As mentioned above, even though Nagamine only trained under Motobu Choki for a short period of time, Motobu seems to have had a significant on Nagamine’s karate, especially kumite, and inspired Nagamine to create seven kumite drills for his Matsubayashi style. Nagamine said the following about Motobu in his book “The Essence of Okinawan Karate-dō“:
After I had personal instruction from Motobu and learned kumite from him late in his life, my old ideas on kumite were changed. I was inspired to create new ideas, based on the instruction of this teacher, who learned kumite through his own experience in actual fights. I have always been encouraged by his way of life sustained by his strong will and his devotion to karate-do.
I owe a great deal of what I have achieved in the course of my career as a karateman to Motobu’s karate-do and his teaching. Without him, I could never have developed seven kumite forms, which are the basic forms of kumite in Matsubayashi-ryu….
Motobu, my sensei, used to preach against “dead kumite”. Therefore, I deliberately developed kumite seriously considering the following essential conditions:
- To develop techniques to enable us to defend and attack simultaneously
- To develop techniques to enable us to defend and attack simultaneously using both hands
- To develop techniques to enable us to defend and attack simultaneously using both hands and feet
- To develop techniques to enable us to shift the body to the attacking position reflexively and naturally in order to always keep beside the opponent and avoid facing him
- To develop techniques to enable us to defend and attack by means of shifting the body and approaching the opponent from the side or front, with definite determination to find some way of beating the opponent, in critical situations
- To develop swift, reflexive nerves or senses which enable us to kick the opponent when he catches us or when we catch him
- To develop techniques to enable us to attack the opponent by kick or blow, reflexively, after we have suppressed his movement without losing our grasp on him.
Kaneshima Shinsuke (1895 – 1992) was the founder of “Tozan-ryū Shindōkan.
Kaneshima is said to have trained with Motobu Choki for 4 years since the age of 15. He then traveled to Taiwan where he trained under an Okinawan from Shuri named Toyama Chōgi. Kaneshima also studied jiujitsu and kendo and reached a high rank in kendo.
Kaneshima later named his style “Tozan-ryū Shindōkan” after his Okinawan master. Some sources say Tozan Ryu is similar to Matsubayashi-ryu but there is very limited information that I can find on this style.
Kaneshima must have reached a very high level of expertise and was well regarded for he was awarded 10th dan in 1960 together with other karate masters of the day (Nakamura Shigeru (Okinawa Kenpo), Shimabukuro Zenryō (Shorin-ryu), and probably Nakazato Jōen (Shōrinji-ryū)).
Kaneshima was the co-founder of the All Okinawan Karate Association which was established in the 1960s and also served as its 2nd chairman from 1969 to 1971.
According to the Okinawa Times Newspaper, at a 1969 Nippon Budōkan demonstration for the whole nation, Kaneshima was chosen amongst six hanshi who were considered authorities of Okinawa karate-do to give kata demonstrations.
In his senior years, Kaneshima was given the title “National Living Treasure Award” by the Emperor of Japan.
It seems that his Tozan-ryū style did not survive but there are still some dojos around with lineage traced back to Kaneshima sensei.
Shimabuku was born in Chan village in Okinawa to a farming family. He started karate training with his uncle and later on was fortunate enough to study under a number of Okinawan karate masters including Chotoku Kyan, Chojun Miyagi, Choki Motobu and Taira Shinken.
Shimabuku opened his first dojo in 1946 and formed his own style Isshin-ryu in 1956, combining the best elements of Shorin-Ryu and Goju-Ryu styles that he had learned from his masters. Shimabuku reportedly said that Shorin-ryu’s naihanchi was the mother, Goju-ryu’s sanchin was the father, and Isshin-ryu was the offspring of this union.
In 1955, the U.S. Marine Corps that was stationed in Okinawa chose Shimabuku to train its Marines and, as a result, Isshin-ryu was introduced to the United States by returning Marines. Those Marines turned out to be the driving force in the spread of Isshin-ryu in the United States.
Shimabuku is said to have learned Naihanchin kata from Motobu Choki. Shimabuku is quoted as saying “It is not the number of kata a person knows, it is how well they know a kata that counts“, a principle that he is believed to have been influenced by Motobu.
Nakama Chōzō (1899-1982) was a student of Motobu Choki but it is not clear for how long and over what period of time. Nakama is reported as having studied under other karate masters including Chosin Chibana (founder of Kobayashi Shorin-ryu), Chomo Hanashiro, Chotoku Kyan, and Kenwa Mabuni (founder of Shito-ryu),
In an interview with Sabana Seijin for the Aoiumi in 1978, Nakama was reported as being a 9th dan Hanshi and still teaching karate three times a week in Shuri.
Nakama said in this interview that Motobu Choki had written a four-volume book on karate that was never published. Motobu had sold his manuscript to settle hospital bills when he fell ill. Unfortunately, a copy of the manuscript that Nakama had made for his personal use was also destroyed during the bombing of Tokyo in 1945.
Nakama had a deep respect for Motobu and was not happy that he did not receive the support and recognition that he deserved.
Among his peers were those who disapproved of Motobu and his methods, maintaining that he was imprudent and his Uchinadi was overly aggressive, just for fighting.
I can only imagine that, in our efforts to overcome the need for physical violence, we tend to forget that it is the very nature from which the art of karate comes. It is truly unfortunate that Master Motobu did not gain the public support he should have and was not recognised during his time for the genius he really was. It is even sadder that his masterpiece was never published as he had so few students and was classically secretive about his teaching.Nakama Chozo interview by Sabana Seijin in Aoiumi Vol. 70, Feb, 1978
Miyahira began his martial arts training with his father but later became a student of Choshin Chibana. Miyahira was also influenced by other senior students of Chibana and trained under Anbun Tokuda and Motobu Choki later on.
Miyahira opened his first dojo in 1948 in his hometown of Nishihara and named it Shidokan but moved to Naha afterward and continued to teach there. He also made considerable effort to spread karate overseas.
Miyahira was awarded 10th dan in 1978 and served as the president of the Okinawa Prefecture Karate Federation from 1986 to 1990.
Miyahira recalled the following about Motobu Choki’s practical approach to karate training and why he did not have a large following:
Unlike the schools of Japanese swordsmanship, having been handed down unchanged for many generations, Motobu realized that kenpo was never an exact study in Okinawa and set about to improve it. If the technique was not sound, obscure or did not work, he discarded it or improved its fundamental application…
What I remember most about him was that he would virtually do anything in an effort to improve both his skills and the practice. There are no shortages of riveting stories testifying his relentless efforts.
One reason why he had difficulty establishing a style was because he was constantly changing training methods. His idea of karate being ‘living experience’ was, in the midst of that inflexible social structure, very un-Japanese-like. In other words, it didn’t fit into the Japanese budo paradigm, and, therefore, was never widely embraced by the ‘powers-to-be’Miyahira Katsuya
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