Motobu Choki’s first book on Okinawan karate titled “Okinawan Kenpo Karate Jutsu” was published in 1926.
Although thin in content (only 128 pages long with a lot of blank space throughout), the book tells a lot about Motobu Choki and his karate style. What is included in the book is just as telling as what is omitted.
What we can deduce from this short book is that Motobu Choki seems to think three things are important in the making of a good fighter: using a practical stance, daily makiwara practice, and mastering a small number of practical and effective kumite drills.
Below is my brief review followed by a summary of the book.
Review of “Okinawan Kenpo Karate Jutsu”
The context of “Okinawan Kenpo Karate Jutsu”
“Okinawan Kenpō Karate Jutsu” was published in May 1926, four years after Motobu Choki moved from Okinawa to mainland Japan looking for work and accidentally found fame there after defeating a foreign boxer.
“Okinawan Kenpō Karate Jutsu” was, perhaps, Motobu Choki’s attempt to help spread traditional karate in Japan.
In the preface of the book, Motobu Choki said he was supported and encouraged by others to promote traditional Okinawan karate in Japan but was somewhat unsuccessful.
It wasn’t until Crown Prince Hirohito watched a karate demonstration in 1921 at the Great Hall of Shuri Castle in Okinawa and was so impressed by it that karate was brought to the spotlight.
Following his victory over the foreign boxer, Motobu Choki became a household name in Japan and people began seeking to train under him. He also opened a dojo in Tokyo later on.
“Okinawan Kenpō Karate Jutsu” was Motobu Choki’s view on what is the essence of traditional Okinawan karate.
“Okinawan Kenpo Karate Jutsu”’s focus on kumite
In the preface, Motobu said that “there was no documentation on karate left by masters, not even wills containing the secrets of karate… therefore, I decided to write a book on kumite which is the essence of karate, drawing upon my knowledge gained from previous training and experience”.
And the book indeed reflects Motobu Choki’s view (and rightly so) that kumite is the essence of karate for the majority of the book is devoted to the 12 kumite drills that Motobu Choki had developed.
There is brief information on the origin of karate, basic posture, Kempo rules, how to make and use the makiwara, and treatments for injuries, however, kumite drills are the main focus of the book.
What makes Motobu Choki the greatest karate fighter of his generation?
Motobu Choki was 56 years old at the time of the book’s publication. He was well known in Okinawa as an unbeatable and strongest karate fighter there and was also well known in Japan for his highly practical and effective karate style after defeating a much younger and bigger foreign boxer.
So, what makes Motobu Choki the greatest karate fighter of his generation?
What we can deduce from this short book is that Motobu Choki seems to think three things are important in the making of a good fighter: using a practical stance, daily makiwara practice and mastering a small number of practical and effective kumite drills.
1. Practical stance
The only stance that Motobu Choki mentioned and emphasized in the book is the hajichi dachi stance or character 8 (八) stance.
He believed this is the most practical stance which was derived from the natural way of human walking.
He also discarded all other stances that he believed would not work in practice.
There are no stances such as neko-ashi, zenkutsu or kokutsu in my karate.
Neko-ashi is a form of “floating foot” which is considered very bad in bujutsu. If one receives a body strike, one will be thrown off balance.
Zenkutsu and kokutsu are unnatural and prevent free footwork.
The stance in my karate, whether in kata or kumite, is like Naihanchi, with the knees slightly bent, and the footwork is free.
When defending or attacking, I tighten the knees and drop the hips, but I do not put my weight on either front or back foot, rather keeping it evenly distributed.Motobu Choki
2. Makiwara practice
Motobu Choki went into detail about how to construct and use a makiwara and noted that “the makiwara is a must equipment for a karate student to exercise his skill“.
This view is consistent with karate being the art of empty-hand fighting.
Without weapons, karate fighters have to turn their hands, feet, and other body parts into weapons and makiwara practice is the key to achieving that goal.
In addition, makiwara practice helps karate students to work on their techniques and kime and develop incredible destructive power thanks to its ability to provide progressive resistance.
This is also the key to making karate practical and deadly effective: only through diligent daily makiwara practice, one is able to deliver ikken hissatsu (“one fist, certain kill”, “one killing blow” or “to defeat an opponent with one blow”).
3. Kumite drills
Motobu Choki included only 12 kumite drills in his book which are all practical close-quarter fighting techniques.
“This legendary karate fighter only knew 12 kumite drills?” I hear you ask.
It’s possible that he knew a lot more but perhaps from his 50-odd years of experience training and testing them out in actual fights, these were the most practical and effective to him.
This shows that to be a good fighter, you don’t need to know hundreds of techniques superficially. You just need to know a few techniques but know them really well to the extent that you can actually use them in combat.
A shodan blackbelt in Shotokan is required to know 10 kata and around 40 different kumite sequences. Motobu Choki would have considered it to be a waste of time to learn so many katas and kumite drills, many of which are unlikely to ever be used in real fights.
What “Okinawan Kenpo Karate Jutsu” left out
What Motobu Choki left out of the book also tells a lot about his karate style.
While he mentioned the name of a few katas, he did not detail any of the katas in this book.
This is a stark contrast to Funakoshi’s first book on karate “To-Te Jitsu” published in 1922 which heavily focuses on kata (covering 10 Shotokan kata) and details Funakoshi’s opposition to sparring.
This does not imply that Motobo Choki thought that kata is not important. However, to him, it seems kata is of secondary importance compared to kumite.
In his second book “Karate – My Art”, Motobu Choki did give step-by-step instructions on the Naihanchin kata but only this kata.
Again, this goes to show that one does not need to know dozens of kata or more to be a good fighter. One kata can be enough if one knows it well enough to be able to apply what one learns in actual combat.
A Summary of “Okinawan Kenpo Karate Jutsu”
As mentioned above, the book is relatively thin, it has only 128 pages and a lot of which have one or two paragraphs per page or only include photos.
Below is a summary of the book by chapter.
Choki Motobu – A Historical Perspective
This is an in-depth introduction about Motobu Choki’s life and his karate written by Ken Tallack Hanshi (a 9th-degree Black Belt in Karate and a Grand Master instructor in Kung Fu).
Motobu Choki writes about why he wants to write a book on karate.
Chapter 1 – Origin of karate
This chapter covers very briefly (less than 2 pages) the meaning and origin of karate and various karate styles.
Chapter 2 – Basic Positions and the Hips
This chapter has just two paragraphs that emphasize that the basic body position is with the feet in the shape of the Japanese character 8 (八) and that you should stand up in this position with the body weight placed on your hips.
Chapter 3 – Kempo Rules and Kumite
This chapter has two sections on Kempo rules and kumite.
(i) Kempo Minor Rules
This section is just 2 pages long and lists 7 rules that Motobu Choki thinks karate students should follow such as training both sides of the body, the basic hachiji dachi stance, the importance of daily training regardless of circumstances, and the need to have the correct martial spirit for a karate student.
(ii) Comments on Kumite
This section is just one page long and talks about how kumite should only be practiced by very advanced students of karate after having been thoroughly trained in basic karate techniques and kata.
Chapter 4 – Makiwara
This chapter shows how to make a makiwara and use it and includes photos demonstrating the techniques but the content is really thin. This chapter is 11 pages long but some pages just have photos or one paragraph description.
Chapter 5 – Kumite Drills
This chapter lists 12 kumite drills and includes brief explanations and photos demonstrating the drills.
These kumite drills are not explained in-depth. Each drill has one to a few sentences and a few photos of Motobu Choki demonstrating the technique with a student.
Chapter 6 – Treatments and Remedies
This chapter (over five pages long) provides Motobu Choki’s secret family remedies and treatments for blows, wounds, or vomiting of blood due to internal injuries sustained during karate practice.
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