The Chibana Project

A blog where I post my research on a certain Okinawan named Chibana Choshin.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Progress Report

Fortune has given me the great opportunity to live in Okinawa for at least the next two years. This gives me the unprecedented chance to really dig into my research on Chibana Sensei. Unfortunately, the nature of my work has kept me extremely busy that I haven't had the time to research as much as I'd like.

In spite of the limitations on my free time in Okinawa so far, I have managed to make some limited progress. My translation of the section on Chibana Sensei in Nakazato Shuguro's Okinawa Traditional Karate: Shorin Ryu Kata has neared completion. Unfortunately, it has not been as fruitful an endeavor as I imagined it would be; very little information on Chibana Sensei can be gleamed from this section of Nakazato Sensei's book. I can post my translation of the section upon request, but most of the biographical information on Chibana Sensei appears in the section that I previously translated.

I also made a somewhat sheepish pilgrimage to Chibana Sensei's house in Tori Hori. The Okinawans looked surprised and confused to see a gaijin roaming the back alley streets of Shuri Tori Hori in the mid-day as opposed to gallavanting on Kokusai Dori at night like they're used to seeing. I received quiet smiles and even spoke with an elderly lady in my butchered Japanese, enlisting her aid in helping me locate Chibana Sensei's house.

Progress stops for nothing, apparently. Following the general direction she pointed, I discovered to my horror an empty, bulldozed lot where the Chibana home used to be. Directly across from the lot was a brand new apartment building. I had actually spotted several new apartment buildings during my trek in the back alleys, silently praying that none of them stood in the spot Chibana Sensei's house once stood. I left and returned the next weekend, thinking and hoping that I found the wrong place and that I just didn't know where Chibana Sensei's house was. However, passing by the empty lot several times the following weekend, I began to recognize landmarks and terrain features from the very first time I had visited the Chibana home, chronicled in my previous post, "Tadaima!" A sinking feeling settled.

The nail in the coffin was when I met with my karate instructor, Nakata Sensei, in Naha this last weekend. Hearing my panicked rumor, one of his first orders of business upon his arrival was to trek to Chibana Sensei's house. Disappointed, he confirmed what I had long suspected. The Chibana home stands no more.

In terms of more upbeat, interesting information, I have discovered three new pieces of data concerning Chibana Sensei that will require some further investigation. First, according to Mr. Nakamoto Masahiro, Chibana Choshin and Chibana Chosho don't have the same family name written with the same kanji by pure coincidence: Chibana Chosho was Chibana Choshin's uncle (1). Second, the Chibana family are descendants of the fifth son of Ryukyu King Shoshitsu, confirming their keimochi status. This last bit actually appeared in a recently released karate book in Okinawa that I am currently trying to track down. Third, the relationship between Tawada Shimbuku, Itosu Ankoh, and Chibana Choshin is not how I originally interpreted in my previous post, "A Family Affair." The disconnect concerns Tawada Shimbuku's younger sister (new information suggests that probably a cousin of Tawada married Itosu's chonan - again imouto and itoko sound the same if you say them fast enough...) and Chibana Sensei's older sister. These pieces of information will be investigated.

My instructor has returned to Okinawa and is graciously opening doors for me to establish invaluable contacts for my research, which I am forever grateful. Without his personal knowledge, impeccable memory, skill, and the friends he has made over his four and a half decade karate career, scholarship on the life and karate of Chibana Sensei would more than likely have died with Chibana Sensei.

So, while little has transpired on The Chibana Project website, my research continues. If I had to give myself a progress report, I'd give myself a B-.

I apologize for any inconsistencies or contradictions one may encounter parousing some of the "articles" I've written. Two things must be taken into consideration: first, the majority of karate is oral history that when passed on and retold differs depending upon whom you speak with and what sort of "agenda" (if any) he or she may possess. Second, in terms of written data, some of it is just plain wrong. Karate history is not suspect to the same kinds of scrutiny and vetting traditional academic history is suspect to, and depending on who writes what, that information becomes canon. I urge you not to take anything I may "publish" here as gospel truth and encourage you to investigate for yourself if you feel so inclined.

(1) I highly doubt I was the first to ask this question, especially when I got a look at the kanji for their names. Chibana Chosho was a student of Sokon "Bushi" Matsumura and born within the same time period (~1839), making him a probable contemporary of Itosu Ankoh. A superficial study of karate history indicates that karate was a family affair. While Itosu Ankoh undoubtedly tested Chibana Sensei before accepting him as a student, I postulate that there were likely family connections that made Itosu more willing to accept Chibana. The first involved the Itosu-Tawada-Chibana triad of intermarriage; the second probably involved Chibana Chosho. Perhaps there is a third I have yet to uncover.