A Review of:

“Karate, My Art”: Motobu Choki’s 1932 “Watashi no Karate-jutsu”

Translated and edited by Patrick and Yuriko McCarthy, 2002. 120 pages. (Originally published in 1932)

“Karate, My Art” is a collection from the International Ryukyu Karate Research Society featuring a reprint and English translation of Motobu Choki’s 1932 “Watashi no Karate-jutsu” as well as several related articles, essays and historical documents. This volume contains a wealth of information about Motobu’s karate, training methods, life and efforts in spreading karate-jutsu in Japan during the first part of the 20th century. Motobu, who has been the subject of renewed interest in recent years, was often the target of vilifications and rumors that overshadowed the wealth of knowledge and innovative training methods that he contributed to his study of karate. Essays by McCarthy, Nagamine Shoshin and Kinjo Hiroshi (as well as others) provide insights that effectively lay these claims to rest. Historical photographs of Motobu and several of his teachers and peers are sprinkled liberally throughout. Although slim, this collection is packed with information, including a translation of Kyan Chotoku’s (a cousin of Motobu’s) “Karate Training” which is a valuable historical essay in itself.

Several sections in particular have merited frequent return readings and earned the book a regular spot on my nightstand. The first is a reprinted compilation of Motobu’s favorite training sayings. A few highlights:

2. Kamae is in the heart, not a physical manifestation.

8. Kicks are not all that effective in a real confrontation.

12. The position of the legs and hips in Naifuanchin no Kata is the basics of karate.

15. The blocking hand must be able to become the attacking hand in an instant…

24. It is necessary to drink alcohol and pursue other fun human activities. The art of someone who is too serious has no “flavour.”

In these excerpts and in the text of “Watashi no karate-jutsu”, Motobu discusses several concepts that are generally cast as modern developments in the fighting arts (often followed by a spasmodic utterance of Bruce Lee’s name). Among these is development of awareness and control of the Center when fighting. “Mefotude” or “husband and wife hands” refers to the utility of using both hands together to support offensive and defensive movements, a skill which Motobu emphasizes as vital to his karate.

Of major historical interest is a translation of the 1925 “King” magazine article about Motobu’s victory over a European boxer/strongman. The piece describes how a 52 year old Motobu entered into an “all comers” Boxing vs. Judo match with a large foreign fighter in Kyoto and knocked him out after a few rounds of parrying. This article, while a bit sensationalistic, is important in that it established public recognition for the relatively unknown art of karate in Japanese culture. It also became a foil for the major feud of the embryonic Japanese karate scene: the accompanying illustrations of the match clearly depict Funakoshi Gichin as the victorious karate adept and not Motobu. This incident led to a bitter rift (and possibly a physical exchange) between the two men as well as many of the rumors about Motobu, whose karate Funakoshi vehemently disdained. The previously untranslated article is presented here for the reader to evaluate.

The center piece of this volume is a reprint of Motobu’s 12 “Jiyu Hon Kumite” fighting drills and the translated “Watashi no Karate-jutsu.” Dozens of clear photographs detail both the two-person drill sets as well as Motobu’s Nihanchi kata. The relationship of these drills to the Nihanchi kata is clearly visible in the photographs (for a more dynamic representation, check out “The Karate of Choki Motobu” by Tsunami Productions).The text of “Watashi” itself gives the reader a look into the mind of this supposedly “crude” karate practitioner- a detailed capsule history of karate, exhaustive notes on past and contemporary karate practitioners, references to several kata, and observations from Motobu’s checkered fighting past provide a wealth of information.

For overall content, historical value and production quality (and the fact that karate friends keep stealing it from me), TKRI gives Patrick and Yuriko McCarthy’s “Karate, My Art” :

5 out of 5 possible Bruised Knuckles.