Sunday, January 8, 2017

Motobu Kumite, Reflections On


Required Reading : It will help to better understand what Motobu taught.

Now I am as dense as anyone. I first saw this video 20 or more years ago, as a copy of the Japanese original.

Almost since that time I could have broken them down with screen captures. This is something I just realized and doing so made me think more closely about what they show.


But having seen many videos of the Motobu Kumite, as well as various books, Japanese reprints as well as several English versions, I ignored there is a real difference between seeing something and knowing something.


According to the Motobu people, there are approximately 50 Yaksuoku Kumite taught by Motobu. In the books he published there were a dozen or so. Representative enough to describe his karate, but never close to the whole thing either.


At some level the idea is similar to what Shimabuku Tatsuo did developing his own kumite for Isshinryu.


Even though a small number they say a lot about what Motobu Choiki felt should be shared with students.


Here are some observations I make about what is shown. They are in no particular order. I have included some of the sayings Attributed to Motobu Sensei.

1. From the first I felt that the Kumite were much about ending a grappling attack. No doubt influenced that many Okinawans had trained in some local Sumo, and might try to grapple with someone. So one concern was to give students a means to stop a grappler.


2. The techniques that are employed are simple in the manner in which they are employed.

3. Observing the attack begins is critical. Almost immediately the counter/attack is entered. Moving into the attacker dynamically.

Motobu explained 13. One cannot use continuous attacks against true karate. That is because the blocks of true karate make it impossible for the opponent to launch a second attack.

4. At times you attack  to make them counter your attack, which becomes a way to control them to create an opening to attack.

From the Motobu sayings. 1. Everything is natural, and changing. 6. In a real confrontation, more than anything else one should strike to the face first, as this is the most effective. 17. When fighting a boxer, it is better to go with his flow, and take up a rhythm with both of your hands.

8.”Karate IS Sente” (Here, sente means the initiative, or the first move. c.f. Karate ni Sente Nashi – there is no first move in karate).

19. It is OK to take two steps forward or back in the same kamae, but over three steps, one must change the position (facing) of their guard.


5. Engaging both arms to kick into the legs, either the forward leg, of the rear leg. Use of a knee kick to set up a stomp kick. However

Motobu also said; 7. Kicks are not all that effective in a real confrontation.

I believe this caution was meant not to overemphasize kicking.

6. Use of lead hand backfist strikes.  Concluding the opponent with elbow strikes.

Note Motobu said:16. When punching to the face, one must thrust as if punching through to the back of the head.

7. Even attacks from the rear are openings to attack.

More Motobu - 5. One must develop the ability to deflect an attack even from behind.


8. Blocking was shown to also be striking

Again Motobu: 12. The blocking hand must be able to become the attacking hand in an instant. Blocking with one hand and then countering with the other is not true bujutsu. Real bujutsu presses forward and blocks and counters in the same motion. 11. One must always try and block the attack at its source (i.e. block not the attacking hand, but deeper on the arm). 9. The position of the legs and hips in Naifuanchin no Kata is the basics of karate.
10. Twisting to the left or right from the Naifuanchin stance will give you the stance used in a real confrontation. Twisting ones way of thinking about Naifuanchin left and right, the various meanings in each movement of the kata will also become clear.


9. Knowing is not enough. Practing with different partners of different sizes and shapes to develop skills at reading different types of attackers.

Motobu adds: 3. One must develop the ability to read how much striking power any person has in one glance.

Other Motobu saying of importance:

4. One does not have to take care to block every single attack by an opponent with weak striking power.

20. When I fought the foreign boxer in Kyoto, he was taller than me so I jumped up and punched him in the face. This is effective against people who are taller than you.

I close with what may be seen as Motobu Choiki’s last wore on all things.

18. It is necessary to drink alcohol and pursue other fun human activities. The art (i.e. karate) of someone who is too serious has no “flavour.”

Further thoughts on the Motobu Karate

Looking at the Motobu contributions about what was karate in the past, the first things that strikes me is how much he did share with us.


For one thing, when we look at his Naifanchi Shodan kata, we see something different from what many have seen.


The kata was a live tool for the practitioners of the Motobu system.


It appears simple, but they study it either beginning to the right, and also beginning to the left. Of course the kata itself changes direction ½ way through the kata. But doing it in differing directions you a help the mind not to assume a fixed attitude toward the kata.


Then the section of the kata in application are not fixed either.


For one thing stepping in the kata, can be an opening for kicking. Something not seen with the standard kata performance.


Then the moves are studied for an entire range of possible application. One movement section may have a half dozen answers, and don’t make assumptions there are not more. What is being shown is more than a fixed number of applications, rather that the movement opens many potentials. Again work to not assume a fixed attitude about what a movement may be used for.


While not as many possibilities are shown for subsequent movements of the form, the statement the opening section is used for suggests there are more.


Anther thing is that what is being shown are movements to be used on an attack coming straingt on towards you. The applications are not bound from attacks from the side. Again this makes sense as most attacks would be coming right at you. Of course that does not preclude using those sections against attacks coming from any direction. Just you would change your orientation to face that attack with your answer.


But  the system Motobu does not just consist of kata and its applications. There is also the Motobu Kumite.


Where those within that tradition may have 50 or so kumite for training, We are fortunate to have had Mobobu’s own example of 12 or so of them.


So apparently there also was a tradition of these Kumite, showing a different tradition from the kata. Involving an entire range of options, and this training was used as the tool to teach them.


We have also been blessed that the Motobu Choiki oral tradition has been saved.   Suggesting how what was shown should be used.


If anything I see a much richer tradition than I had previously seen.


I look forward to learning more.

An even more observation comes to me, this juxtaposition of the Motobu Naifanchi (includine the applications shown in this video) and the Motobu Kumite raises some new observations.


Namely that the older karate may not have depended on just kata as the source of the art. There seems to be a rational case, that traditions such as the Motobu Kumite are also an important part of the karate transmission.


One can assume there was much more to the karate of the past that was shared that was not kata, too.




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