Motobu Choki’s teachers were who’s who of the pioneering Okinawan karate masters and not many were fortunate enough to study under such caliber of teachers. This post covers brief information about those karate masters and their impact on shaping Motobu Choki as a fighter.
Table of Contents
Matsumura Sōkon (1809 – 1899) was born in Yamagawa Village, Shuri, Okinawa to an upper class family.
Some source says that Matsumura trained for five years with Kanga Sakugawa (1786 – 1867), a martial art master and pioneer in the development of Okinawan te who was also born in Shuri. However, some say he studied under a Chinese attache and traveled to Fuzhou to study with a master there. [1, 2, 3]
Given the fact that his father had Chinese ancestry and him having a noble birth, Matsumura could have done all of the above. It is said that Matsumura had shown promising quality of a great martial artist from a young age. In addition to karate studies, Matsumura is also known as a master of kobujutsu (weaponry), a brilliant calligrapher and having an in-depth knowledge of literature and Chinese classics. A great brushwork by Matsumura managed to survive and is still exhibited at the Okinawa Karate Kaikan today. [4, 5, 6]
Matsumura was recruited into the service of the Ryukyu government and went on to serve three kings: Shō Kō, Shō Iku, and Shō Tai until the abolition of the Ryukyu Kingdom by the Japanese government in 1879.
It is not clear how long Motobu Choki had studied under Matsumura Sokon but Motobu seems to have credited his progress in martial arts and his victory over his older brother to his training with Matsumura.
Since I was bullied by my elder brother every time, I’ve been continuously thinking about how I could win against him. In the end, I was not satisfied with it, I went to study under Sakuma Sensei from Gibo and Matsumura Sensei from Yamagawa. I secretly went back and forth and studied various things and, from the age of about twenty years, I was confident that I could gain victory against my brother…
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.Motobu Choki
Matsumora Kosaku (1829 – 1898) was born in Tomari village to a noble family with direct lineage to the first Sho king. He was given a traditional education that included social etiquette and fighting skills and was also sent to a specialist school where he was educated in Chinese classics and Confucianism. 
Matsumora underwent three years of training under Uku Giko (1800-1850), where he focused on developing a strong foundation and learning to use his legs for mobility and hips to generate power. Master Uku also instructed him in the three kata, known in Tomari as Naihanchi. 
Matsumora then trained under Teruya Kishin (1804-1864) who saw Matsumora’s talent and took him in a deshi (disciple). Matsumora learned Passai and Wanshu as well as meanings of kata techniques and applications from Teruya. 
Matsumora is said to have also trained with a recluse who lived in a cave near the Tomari temple of Seigenji. Today, the cave has become a popular tourist destination. [10, 11]
Matsumora is known for showing true Bushi spirit by standing up against the injustice that Satsuma officials brought upon the locals after their invasion of the Ryukyu kingdom. There is a tale of Matsumora disarming a Satsuma swordsman using just a wet towel and throwing the sword into a nearby river afterward. 
Matsumora is also credited with saving the ‘Nēwagumuchi’ funds and property that had been donated by a benevolent man, Yamazato Choken, for the welfare of Tomari villagers. After the Ryukyu Kingdom was abolished and Okinawa prefecture was annexed to Japan, Japanese government officials wanted to seize the fund and property and make them public property. However, at the risk of his life, Matsumora Kōsaku organized and train a group of young men to foil this plan and it was ultimately abandoned. The Neewagumuchi is still being utilized for the benefits of the Tomari people to these days. [13, 14]
According to Motobu family’s website, Motobu Choki trained with Matsumora Kosaku from the age of 19 and made a good impression on Matsumora thanks to his fighting skills. Matsumora is said to have remarked that “for a young man, he is extremely talented in the martial arts“. 
Motobu had the following to say about Matsumora in interviews published in the Ryukyu Shimpo in November, 1936.
Among all these instructors, the two with whom I was closest and shared emotional bonds with were Matsumora from Tomari, and Sakuma from Shuri.
I was scolded a great deal during my training with them. However, Sakuma Sensei taught me a lot by both complimenting me at times and scolding me at others. I started to get real ability and competence by practicing irikumi with him, and thus began to treat my friends like small children (with regards to their skill level).
Matsumora from Tomari was about 5 feet, 4 inches tall, about 1 inch taller than us, and weighed about 159 pounds. He looked just like a huge jug! His karate was totally different than Itosu’s. When it came to power, Sakuma was just like Matsumora and a truly powerful martial artist, a bushi.Motobu Choki
In his book “My Art and Skill of Karate“, Motobu noted the following about Matsumora’s teaching method:
Matsumora Sensei’s teaching methodology was to continually have his disciples thoroughly reflect on the best way to do things … The teaching method of karate from Ryukyu is generally so that the technique of those who do not thoroughly reflect on the best way to do things does not quite progress, and usually, they only succeed in strengthening their bodies.Motobu Choki
This is still very much true to these days. If you only drill techniques for the number of repetitions per se without thinking about how to continually improve the techniques, you will become fitter but probably won’t see much technical progress.
Miyahira Katsuya, one of Motobu Choki’s student, recalled the following about Motobu’s study with Matsumora Kosaku.
In 1914, he petitioned Matsumora Kosaku, the great Bujin from Tomari, to teach him, but was turned down. However, his persistence finally caught his attention and Matsumora offered Motobu a position as a servant in his residence. Despite his effort to intimidate Motobu, he humbled himself to learn karate from the great master.
Matsumora explained to Motobu that before he would ever teach anyone, the ego had to be controlled. A familiar story in old-school martial arts, Motobu worked diligently in the Matsumora residence expecting nothing until he gained the confidence of the great master. Despite not receiving a single lesson for nearly six months, Motobu was able to secretly observe others being taught by Matsumora.
Once when Motobu was actually caught observing a private lesson, Matsumora admonished him and asked why he should not be physically punished and thrown out for breaking his bond of confidence. Without even blinking an eye, Motobu humbly responded by saying, “I will happily accept the physical punishment but please do not expel me.” With that, Matsumora sensei finally realized Motobu was ready to begin his lessons.
In 1916, after two years of instruction and accumulating much, Matsumora suggested that Motobu begin an analysis of his knowledge by himself. Sadly, Motobu misunderstood the intention of his teacher and went back to fighting in Naha’s Tsuji district.Recollections of Motobu by Miyahira Katsuya
Itosu Ankoh (1831 – 1915), (also known as Itosu Yasutsune), was born in Gibo, Shuri, into a noble family and was raised in the traditional settings of the kemochi (a family of position). Like other karate masters of his time who came from upper class families, he is said to have also been well-educated in Chinese classics and calligraphy. 
Itosu studied karate under Sokon Matsumura, Nagahama Chikudon Peichin of Naha, and Gusukuma Sensei of Tomari. [17, 18]
After passing civil service exams, Itosu worked as a clerk for the Ryukyu government. He later rose to a more prominent position, the Secretary for the Administrative Office of the Ryukyu Kingdom and held this role until the abolition of the Ryukyu monarchy by the Japanese government in 1879. [19, 20]
According to Motobu Choki, Itosu first studied under Sokon Matsumura, but Matsumura disliked him and didn’t teach him much because he considered Itosu to be a slow learner. Itosu then left and trained under Nagahama sensei who emphasized building a strong body but not practical fighting situations. As his death approached, Nagahama told Itosu to go back and study under Sokon Matsumura. [21, 22]
However, it appears that after Nagahama’s death, Itosu did not return to Matsumura but went on to study under Gusukuma Sensei of Tomari village. 
Itosu is considered by many as the grandfather of modern kata because he was the one who formalized the method of teaching karate techniques and introduced karate to the general public for the first time. Before Itosu began teaching it at local schools, karate was only passed down within noble families or trusted individuals in Okinawa and was never taught to the general public. 
Amongst Itosu’s students were many influential karate masters including Yabu Kentsu, Funakoshi Gichin, Hanashiro Chomo, Motobu Choki, Kyan Chotoku, Chibana Choshin, Tokuda Anbun, Oshiro Chojo, Mabuni Kenwa, and Gusukuma Shinpan. 
Perhaps thanks to the royal status of the Motobu family, Itosu Ankoh was recruited to teach Motobu Choki and his elder brother, Motobu Choyu, and he would come to their house to teach them every day. Motobu Choki studied under Itosu for 7 to 8 years. However, as quoted above, Motobu felt that training with Itosu wasn’t enough because he constantly lost to his older brother. So, he went to study under Sakuma Sensei from Gibo and Matsumura Sensei from Yamagawa. [26, 27]
Motobu Choki learned his favorite kata, Naihanchi, from both Sokon Matsumura and Itosu Anko and noted in his second book that he wanted to follow Matsumura’s view on how the Naihanchi stance should be performed.
I want to follow the venerable Matusumura’s opinion. First, if you try to stand in the character-8-stance of the Itosu school, and squeeze the soles of your feet together, and another person just slightly pushes you from behind with the fingertips, you will easily fall over. Thus no matter how much strength is put into this posture, there is no effect whatsoever.Motobu Choki
Motobu Choki studied for a short period of time under Tokumine Pechin (1850 – 1910) who is said to be the best bo master in Okinawa of his time but also was well versed in karate. 
According to Nakama Chozo (1899–1982), a student of Motobu Choki, “During his time “few bujin achieved the unprecedented reputation that Tokumine had. Regarded as one of the most remarkable exponents of karate, his fighting skills were unparalleled, as was his penchant with a six-foot wooden cudgel“. 
Tokumine was also known to indulge in sake perhaps a little too much and that got him into trouble. One day when drunk, he was involved in a big fight with a group of policemen and injured some of them. Tokumine was then arrested and exiled to the Yaeyama Island where he lived for the remainder of his life.
Tokumine created a bo kata called Tokumine no Kon and taught it to a local villager elder named Kedahana Gisa (1843-1934) while living on the island. Kedahana Gisa later taught the kata to Kyan Chotoku (1870-1945) and the kata is still being practiced today. 
Motobu Choki mentioned that he studied with Sakuma sensei a few times in his book and interviews but there is not much information about this karate master.
Sakuma is said to have come from a noble samurai family and is known as a contemporary of Sokon Matsumura sensei and regarded as a pre-eminent Shuri-te master of the time. 
Motobu said the following about Sakuma in his second book:
Another revered martial artist was Sakuma. It is said that he could jump into a well and shimmy up or down using only the strength of his legs to support his weight without ever falling into the water below. Remembered for his feats of strength, Sakuma could also snap a tightly bound rope holding large straw mats around his torso by tightening his muscles and giving a fierce kiai.
Motobu referred to Sakuma sensei as “Sakuma the Wise” probably because Sakuma sensei’ deep knowledge as well as logical teaching methods that helped Motobu Choki develop his kumite abilities quickly. 
Kuniyoshi Shinkichi (1848-1926) was born in Kumoji Village (present Naha) to a samurai family. Kuniyoshi learned Nahate from Sakiyama Chikudun nu Peichin (who himself studied in China with Ru Ru Ko, a Fujian Kung Fu master, who taught many influential Okinawan martial artists of the time). 
Motobu Choki mentioned that he studied under Kuniyoshi in an interview. However, I could not find much information about this karate master apart from some brief information gathered by Andreas Quast, a karate researcher. 
Kuniyoshi was known as “Bushi Kunishi” (warrior Kuniyoshi), a man with the greatest physical strength of the day who also excelled in horsemanship. Kuniyoshi was a descendant of the Sa-clan, house Kuniyoshi. He lived in Naha Kumoji, which is why he was also called “Yanbaru Kunishi from Kumoji”. Being of the same age as Naha-te founder Higaonna Kanryō, they were the two masters in the East and West of Naha. They acknowledged each other with respect and as partners and rivals in the pursuit of being warriors. Around 60 years of age (i.e. around 1908), Kuniyoshi moved from Naha Kumoji way northward to Nago.Andreas Quast
Kuniyoshi’s most notable student was Nakamura Shigeru (1891-1969) who established Okinawa Kenpo karate style. 
Other posts you might be interested in
Motobu Choki’s Training Methods
Motobu Choki’s Wisdom in “My Art and Skill of Karate”
Motobu Choki’s Karate Principles Through Quotes
Motobu Choki’s Fight with a Boxer that Brought Him Fame
The Legendary Feud Between Motobu Choki and Funakoshi Gichin
“Okinawan Kenpo Karate Jutsu” By Choki Motobu – A Review
Tales of Okinawa’s Great Masters (Tuttle Martial Arts) by Shoshin Nagamine
“My Art and Skill of Karate” by Motobu Choki (1932), translated by Andreas Quast and Motobu Naoki
“Karate – My Art” By Motobu Choki, translated by Patrick and Yuriko McCarthy
Motobu Choki Sensei – MotobuRyu.org
Other references as noted in the post
"What is the best fighting stance?" is a common question that karate practitioners and other martial artists have. In this article, we cover the characteristics of a good fighting stance, what...
Building a strong body should be an essential part of a karateka's training program. No matter how good your techniques are, at the end of the day, size and strength do matter a lot in a fight. This...