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The Karate of Choki Motobu
by Chosei Motobu

In the course of our professional duties we are exposed to a wide variety of martial arts/karate videotapes ranging from the really bad to the outstanding, a category into which the subject of this review falls. Our editorial guidelines dictate that we only chose products for review that we feel are exceptional, (because we are constrained from publishing negative reviews), that are unique, and that we feel would be of special interest to readers of this publication. The Karate of Choki Motobu meets all these requirements.

The legend of Choki Motobu was constructed, for the most part, by his rivals and is full of distortions, half truths, and propaganda. Conse-quently, the picture of the man that has come down to us is one of an illiterate, psychopathic Neanderthal who was a stain on the image of karate, and an embarrassment to the better bred and educated karate pioneers such as Gichin Funakoshi.

To support this concept, amateur historians have promoted the myth that Motobu was inordinately large with huge hands and a desire to use them on any unfortunate who opposed him. Peter Urban described him as a giant of over seven feet tall who liked to "grab his enemies and chop them to death." Robert Trias, who claimed to be a student of Motobu, moderated this slightly by stating that he was only only 6'- 8" tall. Richard Kim told English historian and author Graham Noble that Motobu was a mere six feet tall and weighed around 200 pounds. However, it is perfectly clear from photos with people of known height (notably Yasuhiro Konishi) that he was 5'-2" or 5'-3" and weighed around 170 lbs., which makes it difficult to comprehend how the "experts" got it so wrong especially the one who claimed to have known him. At a time when the average Okinawan stood around five feet tall and weighed approximately 140 lbs., somebody should have asked themselves why a seven-foot-tall (300 lbs.?) Choki Motobu would even need to study karate.

The suggestion he was an illiterate peasant is also widely accepted due to the tendency of contemporary "historians" to reiterate the errors of their predecessors. In reality he was a member of a prominent aristocratic family of such status that Gichin Funakoshi would not normally have come into social contact with him, let alone been regarded his equal. We also now know from his handwriting that he was by no means illiterate, in fact his hand is strong and polished suggesting a powerful mind polished by an extensive education in the liberal arts as befitted a person of his rank.

His karate, however, has remained a mystery as the only widely available technical source was his small book Watashi no Karate (My Karate), published in 1932. The photos in this volume give a powerful impression of the style but little more. Like the savory odors wafting through a kitchen window, they do a great deal to whet the appetite but nothing to satisfy the hunger. Choki Motobu returned to his homeland late in life and died there in 1944. Therefore, as those of his senior students who survived the war would now be in their seventies and eighties, it seemed the "living" style had become a casualty of time and neglect.

That was until the diligent research of Kimo Ferreira and his wife Kiko led to the "discovery" of Chosei Motobu's youngest son, a retired police officer living in Osaka, Japan. If you have been following the column Charles Goodin writes for this publication, you will know what happened next: a trip to Hawaii for Motobu sensei and his colleague Takegi Inaba, followed by a trip to California, and soon the publication of this new video by Chosei sensei demonstrating and explaining his father's unique karate method.

Watching the two of them train in the Los Angeles Suiho En Dojo was like watching come alive after seventy years. Apparently simple blocks (in the book) became sliding, pounding arm attacks; what appeared to be a simple short range straight punch in a vintage photo, was revealed to be an explosive thrust coupled with a debilitating kick to the inside of the opponent's knee. It was very soon apparent that while the character of Choki Motobu had been sadly misrepresented, the effectiveness of his karate had not.

This is a very close form of fighting that is dynamic and fluid. There are no blocks as such-a block in Motobu Ryu is a crippling strike to the opponent's attacking arm or leg, a swerve followed by a lock, a grasp followed by a takedown. The principle seems to be that if you block an attack you are being reactive, in other words you are responding to or being controlled by your opponent. On the other hand, if you strike your opponent's attacking arm (proactively) on the way to your target (his head, body) you have the advantage of speed, timing, and range. This gives Motobu Ryu a tremendous efficiency and effectiveness as movements are short, the techniques natural and continuous, and the range so short that most opponents would be overwhelmed. Just as importantly, the techniques and their applications do not take an act of faith to embrace. They make such perfect sense that one wonders why it wasn't completely obvious in the first place.

Motobu Ryu has a small curriculum, Naihanchi one and two as well as the famous "twelve true fighting techniques" of Choki Motobu. However, what it lacks in quantity it makes up for in quality. The techniques are easy to learn and apply which is why, presumably, the dojo rules of the 1930s Daidokan dojo reminded students: "You are not supposed to reveal our secret techniques to others."

We watched this video as it was having the soundtrack added and it is an impressive piece of work. The historical section is very strong, and illustrated with rare and unusual images and artifacts including a lot of new material from the Motobu family collection. The techniques are filmed from both sides and therefore easy to follow. The explanations are clear, relevant, and given in English over the voice of Chosei sensei. All in all a very fine program that will be of interest to anyone who has ever wondered what karate was really like a century ago when Choki Motobu was a student.

A word of warning: this is not modern/sport/recreational karate and extreme care should be exercised when practicing these techniques. The locks will easily break the elbow or dislocate the shoulder if applied with even moderate force and the blows to the inside of the knee are extremely painful and can have long term repercussions. These techniques were developed by Choki Motobu from countless confrontations with other fighters and are designed to be get the job done. Treat them with respect!

The Karate of Choki Motobu with Chosei Motobu and Takegi Inaba.
Running 54 minutes, includes the history of the Founder and his style, Naihanchi 1 & 2 and the Ju Ni Hon Kumite techniques. $39.95 Strongly recommended!

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