Master Choki Motobu was born the third son to the Motobu family in Okinawa. The Motobu family was of Samurai class, which meant that the first son of the family was taught the family fighting methods. The story is told that Choki Motobu, being disappointed and frustrated by this, would sneak in and watch his older brother’s training.
The story goes on to say that Choki Motobu soon found that this was too slow and frustrating for him, so he began to lift heavy rocks and punch the punching post or Makiwara. After a while, he became so strong that he earned the name “Monkey King” because of his tremendous leaping ability and general agility.
In his youth, Master Motobu became earned a reputation as a brawler and a trouble maker, and stories say that many Karate masters refused to have him as a student because of this. Master Itosu, however, did accept him as a student and he eventually became one of the most famous Karate masters of his day.
Master Motobu, after moving to Japan, in or about 1922, challenged many men. However, the defeat of a Russian boxer may have garnered him the most fame after the Russian boxer died as a result of injuries received in the ring, fighting with Motobu. In 1922, Master Motobu helped Master Funakoshi start the teaching of Karate to the Japanese. Having evolved beyond his violent tendencies, Master Motobu returned to Okinawa in 1936 and began training with Master Kentsu Yabu. Master Yabu was the only man to have ever defeated Master Motobu.
Master Motobu became a great instructor in his own right. Many noted modern-day masters, such as Shoshin Nagamine, Tatsuo Shimabuku, and Kosei Kuniba all trained with him at some time. All of these students became highly regarded Karate masters and teachers, and several founded their own styles of Karate.
Motobu-Ha Shito-Ryu literally means Shito-Ryu of Motobu. Master Choki Motobu lived from 1871 to 1944 and trained many Karate people, among those people was Master Kosei Kuniba. His Seishinkai Karate dojo originally taught Motobu Ryu (the original style taught by Choki Motobu). However, people such as Mabuni, and Sakagami, also taught at the Seishinkai.
They were Shito-Ryu masters, however, in those days there was a free exchange of information and ideas between the various karate factions. Shogo Kuniba, Kosei Kuniba’s son trained diligently with these famous teachers.
The result was a combination of Mabuni kata and Motobu fighting techniques that came to be known as Motobu Ha Shito-Ryu. Shogo Kuniba was named Soke Dai of Motobu Ryu after his father’s passing and Soke of Motobu ha Shito-Ryu which he probably founded in the mid-fifties, although written records alone do not confirm this. The Dai Nippon Budo Kan Kai accepted Motobu ha Shito-Ryu as a legitimate style at about the same time.
Motobu ha Shito-Ryu was born out of the combination of Mabuni kata, Motobu fighting techniques all brought about by a lineage that started with Itosu. Master Itosu (1813-1915) taught the following people in Okinawa: Gichin Funakoshi (considered the father of modern karate; Chosin Chiban a (Founder of Kobayashi Shorin-Ryu); Shinpan Gusukuma; Kentsu Yabu defeated Motobu in a match and eventually became Motobu’s third instructor); Kenwa Mabuni (Mabuni trained under Itosu and Higaonna, and from that training formulated the Mabuni system of Seito Shito-Ryu); (Mabuni also taught at the Seishinkai) and Kanken Toyama. Master Motobu studied under Anko Itosu; Kosaku Matsumora; and Kentsu Yabu. All of these people directly or indirectly influenced the karate style developed by Shogo Kuniba, Motobu-ha Shito-Ryu.
After moving to Japan in 1926 Master Motobu began teaching in Osaka, at the Seishinkai, and, from time to time, in Tokyo. Master Motobu, acknowledged as one of the greatest fighters of his time, had very limited knowledge of Karate Kata and he believed mainly in Makiwara training and Kumite. At the same time, Kuniba Soke also trained with many Shito-Ryu practitioners, including Kenwa Mabuni, who was acknowledged as the greatest expert on Karate kata during his lifetime.
Motobu-ha Shitō Ryu was designed to be an effective fighting system. People considered Motobu as one of the greatest fighters of his day, and Kenwa Mabuni developed Shito-Ryu after a long career as a policeman, where he quickly discovered what worked and what did not in a real confrontation. After training in the schools of both of these masters, Soke Kuniba incorporated several key ideas into Motobu-ha.
“To study Karate-Do is to become like bamboo:
Empty—purity of heart, mind, spirit;
Flexible—able to bend when opposed, without breaking;
Strong—character forged with experience;
Rooted—solid foundation of technique and tradition;
Straight—clear purpose in growing, high ideals”