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?


Anonymous Joe in Tokyo said...

Re: Hokama's book on Motobu, Mabuni & Chibana - you need to know that the Hokama family is related to the Mabuni family (via the Ufugusuku/Oshiro Kenyu family line). This could be one way in which Hokama's father heard of this incident - directly from his relative. :)

1:24 PM  
Blogger Bujutsu Blogger said...

Oh, good to see you're back in business!

9:43 PM  
Blogger gijoe said...

I'm assuming "Joe in Tokyo" is none other than Mr. Joe Swift?

I figured the story was probably true as it sounds pretty characteristic of events in those days and the relationships each of the karate teachers had with each other.

I have some down time before my next business trip, and I'd like to make it out to Hokama Sensei's karate museum. I haven't been able to go yet, but I'm assuming your endorsement will get my foot in the door?

John: I never stopped researching... it just slowed down to a crawl. Work and a girlfriend will do that.

11:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Please let me know (or post for the world to see) if you hear anything about Chibana's student, Chozo Nakama (1899-1982), during your research. He was my teacher's teacher, and he sounds like a remarkable man.

8:05 AM  
Blogger gijoe said...

Well, Rick, you'd be pleased to know that your "grand" teacher was one of who I would consider to be the elite few of Chibana Sensei's students - that is, he was awarded a Shihan teaching certificate from Chibana Sensei. Nakama Sensei was the second student (Higa Yuchoku being the first) to be awarded a Shihan teaching certificate. Others receiving this honor include Higa Yuchoku, Miyahira Katsuya, Nakazato Shuguro, and Pat Nakata. Nakama Sensei was also the second of Chibana Sensei's students to be awarded a kyudan (again, Higa Yuchoku being the first). Being closer in age to Chibana Sensei than the rest of the students, he also enjoyed what I understand to be a fairly close friendship with him.

Nakama Sensei studied with Chibana Sensei while Itosu was still alive and Chibana Sensei was dai sempai of the Itosu dojo. After Itosu's death and during Chibana's "martial pilgrimage"/suspected yojimbo duty, he studied briefly with Motobu Choki. Motobu Sensei urged him to resume training with Chibana Sensei.

That's the data download albeit most of it from Pat Nakata. I've run across Nakama Sensei in some of the things I've been reading, but with my focus on Chibana Sensei, he's been a bit peripheral. I'll relay more as I come across it.

5:08 AM  

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