The Chibana Project

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

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Chibana Stories

The following are stories from Katsuyuki Shimabukuro, a student of Higa Yuchoku who was a student of Chibana Sensei. Katsuyuki Shimabukuro claims that these are stories told to him by Higa Yuchoku. These are found on pages 14 and 15 of Gekkan Karatedo, August 2007, Vol 445. These translations are not entirely accurate due to my tenuous Japanese abilities:

Interviewer: If you have any legendary hero stories about Chibana Sensei, please share.

Katsuyuki: I first heard this story from Higa Yuchoku Sensei. One day after lunch, three gentlemen who were studying judo and kendo were on a world-wide martial arts pilgrimage and came to see Chibana Sensei (1). The three gentlemen had just come to Okinawa from Taiwan and asked Chibana Sensei, "Will you please have a match with us?"

Of course, in order to avoid a meaningless fight, Chibana Sensei courteously refused. However, the three gentlemen insisted that it was absolutely necessary. This troubled Chibana Sensei and he answered, "I don't care if you hurt or maim me, but if you're okay with getting hurt or maimed, please join my class" (2). With that, the three gentlemen departed (3).

To truly understand the story, let me explain. Okinawan Te (Ti) is a martial art. It took discipline to live a life with the purpose of kill or being killed. That's why researching hidden techniques that are forbidden in modern matches today was in vogue, and those who could uncover them were masters. It's impossible to use those techniques today without changing them to something completely different. Even kicking, researching the golden standard of kicking, and exploring hidden vital places including the most unpleasant vital spots (thrusting with your fist to a vital spot on the back of the head for instance) were practiced.

Of course, the main principle was to make your hands and feet weapons to defeat your opponent with a fatal blow. Since Okinawan martial arts were for the purpose of protecting one's life, dealing with any kind of weapon was a life and death situation one keeps in mind and devotes time to studying.

So with this understanding, when the gentlemen said, "Let's have a match. But, we know from our world travels about forbidden techniques, and because those techniques are dangerous, please don't use them," you can see how that troubled Chibana Sensei.

However, is there ever a time when you should use your fists? I remember Chibana Sensei saying that the answer was this: "This is when you should use karate. You should use it to save someone from misfortune or to protect the ones you love."

Interviewer: Do you have any other stories about Chibana Sensei?

Katsuyuki: Here's another story again from Higa Yuchoku Sensei. This story was when Chibana Sensei was in his 70's, that's to say after the end of the war. There was a request from the American military garrisoned in Okinawa to give a karate demonstration on one of the American military bases. At that time, I think little Chibana Sensei saw the request and considered it for a little while.

There were some skeptical individuals with submission wrestling experience in the audience. And so Chibana Sensei took one soldier on stage and with three fingers pointed at the soldier's chest said, "Come." If Chibana Sensei's tempered fingers moved before they were supposed to, the soldier could encroach. In addition, Chibana Sensei said, "You can tackle me or throw me too." The soldier started to savagely tackle him, but Chibana Sensei immediately repelled the soldier's arm with his forearm (4).

In those days, Chibana Sensei said, "Your arms must be like iron. If you don't train, even if you have fat arms, they will only be as hard as wood. But, if you train, even slender arms can become as hard as iron." Of course, I personally train to make my forearms like iron.

In the twinkling of an eye, the soldier's arm began to swell up. As the soldier stood in awe of such power, even as his hand turned purple, [Sensei] said, "I can teach you that technique," and invited the soldier to his dojo that evening.

(1) The simplest explanation of 武者修行 or mushashugyou (what I've translated as "martial arts pilgrimage") was when an individual traveled to various locations to hone their fighting/warrior skills. Training, matches, and bodyguard or mercenary work were common facets of that lifestyle.

(2) I had a hard time translating this sentence into English, even with expert help (who had a hard time making it make sense in English). While I think I've captured the essence, here's the sentence in its entirety: "さすがの知花先生も困り果て、「あなた方は首を絞めても、何をしてもかまいません。しかし、こちらも同様のことを了解して頂ければ立ちを会いましょう」と答えました."

(3) The verbiage in the article was, "すると、三人組はそのまま帰ってしまった." Katsuyuki Sensei was trying to point out that the three of them promptly left when Chibana Sensei became serious.

(4) I suspect that the blow the soldier suffered was an uchi-uke, one of Chibana Sensei's alleged go-to techniques around that time. I've heard two stories of other individuals who, wanting to test Chibana Sensei, were rendered similarly helpless with an uchi-uke. Regardless, the most important things to take note of are (1) Chibana Sensei used a "block" as a strike and (2) his power was that of ippon kowashi - "one blow to destroy the opponent." Note how the soldier stopped attacking after his arm had been struck.


Anonymous Anonymous said...


Rough translation could be:

[Chibana] answered, "You may do anything [technique] you want, even chokes, but I want you to understand that the same [techniques] will be done to you. If you are all right with this, then we can fight."

P.S. Great post BTW.

11:16 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Excellent post! I appreciate everything you're doing with The Chibana Project.

I posted two videos of Katsuyuki Shimabukuro. Search naihanchi ju no kata on YT. I don't know where the open handed version he does comes from or whether, or not he learned it from Chibana or Higa.

Thanks again,
Larry Kientz

5:03 PM  
Blogger gijoe said...

Mr. McKenna: Thank you very much for the translation!

Mr. Kientz: Interesting video. I've never seen Naihanchi performed that way.

6:40 AM  

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