The Chibana Project

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

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Road Blocks

A friend and fellow karate history enthusiast has had an exchange with an unidentified karate history enthusiast named "Jim" regarding Chibana Sensei's succession (click here to read). This exchange seemed to highlight to me one of the major road blocks he and I face (aside from spare time); and as this project develops with feedback between me and all of you, I hope to preempt the same kind of venom that has been fired at my friend - I know in time someone will disagree with something I post here.

The problem with oral tradition is that it cannot be verified. It must be credible, aka believable, in order to be adapted as authoritative. Unfortunately, much of the research I do relies on oral tradition that has simply been put in print. For example, in Hokama Tetsuhiro's 100 Masters of Karate, he mentions that when Motobu Choki first began teaching in Japan, he called for Chibana Choshin to join him. Chibana Sensei did not want to leave Okinawa and politely declined. Mabuni Kenwa went instead. This is attributed to oral tradition as told to Hokama Sensei by his father. At present, I have no way of verifying this piece of information; what makes it credible is whether or not it is believable. (As an aside, I personally I think it is.)

Another problem with oral tradition is the agenda of the orator. Only a neutral, or at least less interested third party can convey oral tradition in a manner free of politic. A karateka who spent his life studying Goju Ryu under, say, Seikichi Toguchi who learned under Miyagi Chojun will speak of Toguchi Sensei as the avatar of Goju Ryu. He has an emotional and egotistical investment in his tradition; and thus he will benignly neglect Higa Seko who studied first under Kanryo Higaonna and then under Miyagi Chojun as the avatar of Goju Ryu. Perhaps a judoka intimately familiar with karate history will have no problem acknowledging Higa Seko's place in the annals of Goju Ryu history. (This specific example is illustrative only; my Goju Ryu circle is small and I know of no one who says this).

I promise to do two things when presenting information here based on oral tradition. First, I will vette it for credibility of the person passing the tradition and the believability of the oral tradition. Second, I will consider the agenda of the person passing the tradition as well as spell out my own. My agenda is simple: I wish to uncover as much information about Chibana Sensei as possible. I am biased positively towards him because the sum total of my karate experience has been dedicated to studying a form of his Shorin Ryu, either from the Shorinkan derivative of Nakazato Shuguro or the karate of Pat Nakata the youngest recipient of a shihan teaching license from Chibana Sensei.

When presenting information here as feedback, I ask that you do as I have promised to do. Let's keep it civil, shall we?

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

More Translation, Less Time

It's been a while since I've been able to free up some time and update everyone on my research efforts. Truth be told, my job keeps me far too busy to research, and developments in my private life have started to eat away at what little free time I have.

The good news is that there was a recent magazine article in Gekkan Karatedo magazine on Chibana Choshin. I am working on translating the article, and to the right is a picture of the magazine featuring Chibana Sensei on the cover. If you are interested in acquiring a copy of this magazine and can navigate Amazon in Japanese, follow this link to purchase a copy:

In other translation work, a friend of mine referred me to a Japanese Wikipedia article on Chibana Choshin which draws largely from Murakami Katsumi's Okinawa Karatedo to Ryukyu Kobudo. I have since roughly translated the article on the website and present it below for your review.

Chibana Choshin

Chibana Choshin was from just before and just after the war a celebrated karate master on Okinawa. He was the founder of Shorin Ryu.

Personal History

Chibana Choshin was born in Meiji 18th year (1885) at Shuri Tori-Hori Village (at present, Naha Shuri Tori-Hori Town). His uncle, the Chibana family patriarch, Chibana Chosho (1847-1927) served in a political role as a founding Shuri head ward man and learned tote from Matsumura Sokon. The Chibana family was a royal Shuri warrior family from the Katsuren Court (1), descended from King Shoshitsu’s (Tei)(2) fifth son Choharu, Prince of Kochinta (3), and in the era of the Ryukyu Kingdom they were a distinguished family know as Chibana-dunchi, or “House of Chibana.” Motobu Choyu and Motobu Choki are distant relatives as the House of Motobu is of similar descent from King Shoshitsu (Tei) (4).

Martial History

In August of Meiji 32nd year (1899), when he was 15 years old, Chibana began learning tote from a Shuri-te expert, Itosu Ankoh. According to Chibana, at first he was not permitted to train; but after pleading three times he received Itosu’s approval to train. This was Itosu’s deliberate plan to test the young boy Chibana’s spirit. Under Itosu, Chibana studied tote for 13 years until age 28. Afterwards, for 3-4 years, Chibana went on a characteristic martial pilgrimage training in isolation (5), and in Taisho 7th year (1918) at age 34, he opened a dojo in Shuri, establishing a dojo in Naha’s Kumoji Town the following year.

In October of Taisho 15th year (1926), he established the “Okinawa Tote Brotherhood” where Hanashiro Chomo, Motobu Choyu, and Kenwa Mabuni all participated. The Okinawa Tote Brotherhood was established with the aim of becoming a joint research organization, and in that time many of Okinawa’s various tote experts participated in the organization. In Showa 8th year (1933), Chibana christened his karate Shorin Ryu.

After the war, Chibana immediately returned to Shuri’s Gibo Town and resumed karate leadership (6). On Showa 23rd year (1948), he formed the Okinawa Shorin Ryu Karatedo Association and assumed office as its first president. In the four years between Showa 29th year (1954) and Showa 34th year (1958), he was also an instructor for the Shuri Police Station.

Final Years

On Showa 31st year (1956), he established the Okinawa Karatedo Federation an assumed office as its first president. In Showa 39th year (1964), he conducted the 50th anniversary memorial of Itosu Ankoh’s death, and played a pivotal role in erecting the Itosu monument at the Itosu family gravesite; in Showa 43rd year (1968), he was awarded the Kunyontouzuihousho (7). In Showa 44th year (1969), he died at age 83. He was noted for his Patsai kata. Choshin Chibana’s students include Katsuya Miyahira, Nakazato Shuguro, Higa Yuchoku, Nakama Chozo, and Murakami Katsumi.

Now, Wikipedia is not the most scholarly or reliable of source as it is subject to edit by anyone with access to the internet. Still, this article is an interesting addition to what little literature exists on Chibana Sensei.

(1) More research is needed on my part, but from what little I understand Katsuren was the wealthiest province of the Ryukyu Kingodm. In the mid Sixteenth Century, Amawari, Lord of Katsuren, conspired in a plot to overthrow the Ryuyku King. He was discovered and exposed. As members of the Katsuren Court, where did the Chibana family loyalties lie during this plot, and what part did they play remains unknown, but an interesting question.

(2) Upon looking up the kanji for this king's name, I discovered it can be read as shitsu, but in the Okinawan history books I've encountered, it is read tei. I include both readings.

(3) Kochinta was the ancient name for present day Chatan.

(4) There is a theory that the Motobu family was a descendant of one of Choharu's older brothers.

(5) Chibana Sensei's family was a wealthy sake brewing family, and there is speculation that during this time he served as a yojimbo, or bodyguard, for his family business.

(6) Following the end of World War II, Chibana Sensei was the most senior karate practicioner left alive. The others had been killed or died before the war.

(7) Fourth Order of the Imperial Sacred Treasure. See the notes in "Some Preliminary Translation Work."