Motobu Choki and Stopping Attacks with “Blocks”


Motobu Choki, posing in meotode-gamae

“One cannot use continuous attacks against true karate. That is because the blocks of true karate make it impossible for the opponent to launch a second attack”

The above quote comes from Motobu Choki, as translated by Joe Swift, and is one of many somewhat enigmatic statements from the famed Okinawan fighter about the nature of karate. Some of his quotes, such as “when punching to the face, one must thrust as if punching through to the back of the head,” are quite straight-forward. Others, however, can be interpreted a number of ways. Since Motobu Choki is no longer alive for us to ask him for clarification, the best we can do is look at the written and photographic material that he produced, the work of his contemporaries, and the work of his students. With that in mind, we may never know for certain what he meant in this quote about blocks, but we can piece together some reasonable assumptions.

Jodan-uke vs. jodan-tsuki

Jodan-uke vs. jodan-tsuki

The most popular interpretation of this quote that I have seen is that Motobu is suggesting that you block so hard that you hurt the attacker’s limb, and the pain stops their attack. Personally, I don’t believe this was Motobu’s intent. Certainly, it is possible to apply traditional blocks so hard that it causes a great deal of pain, particularly to those who are not conditioned to receive them. Those who have practiced kote-kitae (forearm forging) with partners tougher or weaker than themselves will have experience with this. That said, Motobu was known to be a fighter, who tested himself and his karate by getting into real fights, and he would be well acquainted with the physiological effects of fighting. Among these is the adrenal response, which dulls pain. Additionally, Motobu tended to find fights in Tsuji, which was a red-light district of bars and brothels, so he likely fought opponents who were drunk on awamori or high on opium, from time to time. Such people would also be numbed to the pain of a hard block. As a highly practical person with a lot of fighting experience, I doubt he would have relied on pain, alone, to stop an opponent.


Motobu Choki demonstrating chibudi/kyusho-waza

That said, Motobu Choki does teach some techniques, such as the one pictured, above, that attack the limbs, but they are meant to physically disable the limb, rather than simply hurt it. In this case, he is applying chibudi/kyusho-waza (vulnerable point techniques) by striking to the nerve running along the inside of the bicep, which is painful, of course, but can also temporarily deaden the arm, making it difficult to use. This is a much more reliable method of attacking the limb, but it still doesn’t fit Motobu’s quote about blocks, because it only deals with one attack, and not any further attacks. So what, exactly, was he talking about? Well, before going further, it should be noted that the “blocks” mentioned in the English quote were probably called “uke-waza” by Motobu, which, as I’ve discussed previously, doesn’t actually mean “block.” With that in mind, we can explore Motobu’s statement as being about receiving methods, rather than “blocks.” This is a much larger category, so it gives us more material to consider.

I believe that the first sentence in the quote is the key to understanding the second, although it is often left out of people’s considerations. Motobu isn’t talking about someone throwing boxing-style combinations of punches–he is talking about a “continuous attack.” A continuous attack is one that doesn’t stop until the attacker is satisfied, and that means that it is fully committed. This could be punching with the same hand over and over, or it could be alternating hands, or kicking, or any number of other methods. The key is that the attacker does not have an intended stopping point, unlike a trained striking combination, which has an intended pattern. You can see an example of this type of fighting in the video, above, where both people are continuously trying to beat the other down. This is something that must be dealt with differently than fighting someone who is using controlled combinations, and Motobu addressed this, saying; “When fighting a boxer, it is better to go with his flow, and take up a rhythm with both of your hands.”

Motobu Choki demonstrating techniques from a Variety-Ryu perspective

Motobu Choki demonstrating simultaneous blocking and countering

From my perspective, there are two primary methods of stopping a continuous attack–breaking rhythm, and evasion. What you do with those methods can vary greatly, depending on your training. In looking at breaking rhythm, it is fairly clear that Motobu favored strikes. He said that “real bujutsu presses forward and blocks and counters in the same motion,” which coincides with the old Ti concept of kobo ittai (simultaneous attack and defense). In other words, uke-waza (receiving techniques) are not solely defensive–they are both defensive and offensive at the same time, as can be seen in the images of Motobu, above. If you block your attacker’s initial attack and simultaneously land a significant strike of your own (particularly to the head, as Motobu often suggested), you stand a very good chance of stopping the attacker. The reason for this is two-fold. First of all, you are interrupting a committed attack, which the attacker expects to be overwhelming, so you have a psychological effect. Second, your attacker will likely be moving forward, meaning that they will be moving into your strike. As combat sports pundit, Jack Slack, often says, “creating collisions” like this is the best way to knock someone out. By interrupting your opponent’s attack, and creating a powerful collision, you can end the fight entirely by knocking them out, or daze them enough to cause them to stop their continuous attack and have to reset.

Motobu Choki demonstrating tuidi-waza from Naihanchi Shodan

Motobu Choki demonstrating tuidi-waza from Naihanchi Shodan

Tai sabaki (body evasion) is certainly a component that can be incorporated into breaking your opponent’s rhythm, but it isn’t strictly necessary if your timing is good. There are many techniques where evasion is vital, however, which can be used to deal with a continuous attack. Most of these will result in trapping and tuidi-waza (seizing hand techniques), and will generally have you on the outside of the opponent’s attack. By evading to the outside, you force the attacker to have to turn to follow you, which gives you time to apply a joint lock or throw. In the case of a joint lock, you can simply wrench it and disable the arm, or you can use it to control the attacker, as seen in the image of Motobu, above. You will notice in this image that Motobu is not only applying a lock to his opponent’s right arm, but he is also trapping the left arm so that it cannot be used to attack. This successfully stops his attacker from continuing, at least momentarily. Even if the lock doesn’t succeed, it should place you in a position where you have an angle from which to defend and counter if the attacker resumes their offense. In the case of a throw, of course, the attacker is instantly stopped (if successful), because they will have to get up off the ground and cover the distance between you to resume their attack. Once again, even if it isn’t successful, it should at least partially off-balance the attacker, making their strikes less effective until they recover, giving you time to respond.

ulf karlson strike noah

Ulf Karlsson demonstrating a Tachimura no Naihanchi application on me during his visit in 2014

To me, these are the ideal methods of fulfilling Motobu Choki’s statement about “blocks.” Of course, I truly have no way of knowing if I’m right, so this is just my personal interpretation. Perhaps someone who has trained with one of his students would be able to shed more light on it. Regardless, whether it was his intention or not, I believe that these are concepts that are integral to karate, and should be studied thoroughly. Too often, karateka practice against just single attacks, or attacks that are carefully choreographed. If we want to be effective, we must train for the chaos of reality, and returning to the roots of Ti will help us to do this, if we know where to look.

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About Noah

I began training in karate (Shuri-Ryu) in the Summer of 2006. Subsequently, I started training in judo, kobudo, and iaijutsu within the next 6 months. During my training there, I earned the rank of Sankyu (3rd Degree Brown Belt) in Shuri-Ryu, Gokyu (Green Belt) in judo, a certification in the use of the bo, and passed proficiency tests for the four tachigata of Shinkage-Ryu iaijutsu. I moved to Arizona in the Summer of 2008, and continued training and researching karate at home. I continued regular training in judo at a local club until 2010, when I was able to start training in Shorin-Ryu with Sensei Richard Poage. I have been training with him ever since, and currently hold the rank of Shodan (1st Degree Black Belt) in Shorin-Ryu under him. In addition, I began studying KishimotoDi under Sensei Ulf Karlsson in 2014.