The Chibana Project

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

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Gekkan Translation I

As the year draws to a close today, I want to wish everyone a healthy and happy New Year.

Before returning home for the holidays, I paid a second visit to Hokama Tetsuhiro's famous Karate Museum. With permission from my instructor, I gave him a copy of the following photo pictured at right. Featured in both Classical Fighting Arts magazine and Nakamoto Masahiro's Okinawa Dentou Kobudo, it is a picture of Chibana Choshin taken around the year 1913. Chibana Choshin gave this photo to my instructor around 1965 as a gift.

I've been working a translation of the August 2007 edition of Gekkan Karatedo magazine article I mentioned in "More Translation, Less Time." Again, it's the same story with me as always; time is a precious commodity. Most of the translation was accomplished in the mountain of free time I've had at home for the holidays away from my job.

The actual article in the magazine is four parts with the first part delineating some biography and history, the second part being an interview of the author of the article, the third part featuring photos of Chibana Sensei doing Naihanchi Shodan, and the fourth part being detailed bunkai based on the author's analysis of the kata. The author frequently refers to Chibana Sensei as Choshin. I do so where he is mentioned for consistency's sake. When Chibana Sensei is implied as the subject of a sentence when a subject is omitted I refer to him as Chibana rather than Choshin. I broke the article into chunks that will not be congruent with how the article is broken up in the magazine. I did take some liberties with the translation, and I humbly submit my translation for your review.

Born Into a Distinguished Family

Chibana Choshin was born a little over 120 years ago from today. It was the 18th year of Meiji (1885). His hometown was Okinawa's Shuri Tori-Hori Village (at present, Naha City, Shuri Tori-Hori Town). His family lineage originates from a branch of the Katsuren Court (via an udun royal family) descended from Choharu, Prince of Kochinta (the fifth son of King Shoshitsu [Tei](1)). During the time of the Ryukyu Kingdom, these distinguished family descendants were called "House of Chibana." Motobu Choyu and Motobu Choki are distant relatives of the same descendants of King Shoshitu (Tei).

Choshin's encounter with karate was when he was around 15 years old. It was August Meiji 32nd year (1899). As a descendant of a Shuri royal family and because his uncle the Chibana family patriarch Chibana Chosho (1847-1927, the first mayor of Shuri after the Meiji era transition from Han to Ken (2)) had studied under Matsumura Sokon, Chibana knew about Te (3). So, he beat down the gate of Itosu Ankoh, the man who introduced Te into physical education and worked diligently to modernize karate.

Applying Three Times

However, learning in the present day is different from learning in those times. Choshin was not easily allowed to study under Itosu. This was in order to ascertain Chibana's true feelings. Ancient bujutsu families who feared the use of karate for evil denied students many times, and in the many months after acceptance, students had to consistently clean and perform miscellaneous tasks. Of course, there was meaning in seeing an admirable youth with earnestness, perserverance, and a slow temper. In that era, Choshin was no exception. In the beginning, Itosu didn't teach him anything. Instead of teaching, Itosu first questioned Choshin.

Itosu asked "Why should you learn Te?"

At the time, Choshin was 15 years old when he answered, "Because my body is weak." (4)

"If that's the case, you can do gymnastics at school."

"I think karate is best for my health."

That day, they continued their dialogue and Itosu said, "Why don't you come back later?"

When Chibana returned some four or five days later, he again had a dialogue with Itosu.

"You aren't learning Te so you can go around picking fights are you?" Itosu asked.

Chibana's answer to this question from Itosu was, "No, it's for the purpose of making me more healthy."

After this, Itosu asked about Chibana's family. This was to investigate Chibana's background. However, at the end of the dialogue Itosu's vital answer was again, "Come back later." After this, Chibana said he became angry. However, when he was invited to Itosu's home on his third visit, things were different.

"Do you truly think you can improve your health? Can you do it with zeal?" When Chibana answered this correctly, Itosu accepted him as a pupil. The perserverant Chibana was allowed to train after his third visit. Afterwards, for 13 years until he turned 28, he learned under Itosu. Choshin was of weak constitution, but after passing through the raw karate training, his body later changed to become healthy and strong.


(1) Again, the Okinawa history books I've seen in english read the character for this king's name as "Tei", but it can also be read "Shitsu." I include both readings.

(2) Toyotomi Hideyoshi, the eventual successor to Oda Nobunaga, succeeded in tentatively unifying Japan in the late 16th Century, and as kampaku, or imperial regent, de facto ruled Japan in the stead of the emperor and Ashikaga (Muromachi) shogun. During Toyotomi's term as kampaku, he organized Japan into a series of han, or fiefdoms, associated with the geo-political limits of a feudal lord's power. During the Meiji Restoration in 1868, han were quickly absorbed into the Meiji government as local arms of the central government. In 1872 the Meiji government replaced han with the current ken, or prefecture, system. At the time, there were more than 300 han. By the time the ken system was finalized and political boundaries redrawn, there were 47 prefectures.

The Satsuma clan invaded The Ryukyu Kingdom in 1609. In 1872, while all other Japanese districts were redrawn as ken, the Ryukyu Kingdom was renamed Okinawa and relegated to a feudal era han organization. It was during this tumultuous reorganization that Chibana Choshin's uncle, famed martial artist Chibana Chosho, became the first mayor of Shuri. Okinawa was not a prefecture until its formal annexation by Japan in 1879.

(3) Te is a reference to karate and is the Japanization of the Hogen term ti, which simply means "fist."

(4) In Patrick McCarthy's translation of "Converation" from the 24 and 25 September 1957 editions of Okinawa Times, Chibana Sensei complained of having chronic stomach problems as a child.


Blogger noel wheeler said...

Terry, I am very interested in the Chibana Project as I am part of Shugoro Nakazato's style of Shorin Ryu. Charles Goodin helpfully directed me to your site. I would like to contact you off line via email if possible and ask you some specific questions about Chosin Chibana. Thank you, Noel Wheeler

8:47 AM  
Anonymous Greenwood Jiu Jitsu said...

Really enjoy reading your blog. Very interesting! You knowledge on the Chibana Project is very insightful.

10:39 AM  
Blogger HOPLOblog said...

Still an excellent work. Thank you for sharing this. Who was the writer of the Gekkan article?

6:46 AM  

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