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Chibana Chosin

Sensei: An Interview
With Pat Nakata
Sensei In March
Posted On: April 24, 2013, 01:14 AM
Listing Detail Below is an interview I conducted about Shorin Ryu founder Chibana Chosin
Sensei with my instructor Pat Nakata Sensei, who was his direct student. This
took place in March of 2010.

John Oberle (JO): Let us begin by discussing a little about the life of
Chibana Chosin Sensei. I have seen many variations of the name of his
birthplace, such as Torihori, Tottori-cho, toribora, etc. What can you tell
us about his hometown?

Pat Nakata Sensei (PN): Chibana Chosin was born in Torihori village, which is
located in the Shuri area of Okinawa. In Okinawa, I heard only Torihori and
those that pronounce it as Tori-bori were usually Naichi (mainland Japanese). It
is humorous when so-called Chibana Shorin-ryu practitioners say that Sensei
was born in Tottori-cho, which is in mainland Japan.

PN: Before I go any further on this particular subject, I would like to say that
much of my information is from Masahiro Nakamoto and his book, "Okinawa
Traditional Old Martial Arts". I consider Nakamoto Sensei the foremost authority
on teachers from the Shuri area, especially the ones from Torihori. Nakamoto
Sensei writes that originally Torihori was called Tunjumui. Torihori was a
residential area where many of the nobility lived.

PN: Around 1868, during the Meiji Restoration, the king was deposed and the
nobility, which included most of the Torihori residents, were without a job or
support. At the time, the neighboring Sakiyama Village was the most
prosperous since they previously enjoyed exclusive rights under the King to
brew awamori (Okinawan Sake). The Torihori families decided to become sake
brewers. Torihori then became known for its sake brewing.

JO: That is an area known for many martial artists. What can you tell us
about Chibana Sensei's family?

PN: The foremost authority on teachers from Torihori is Nakamoto Masahiro
Sensei. According to Nakamoto Sensei, Chibana Chosin Sensei's family
lineage was called the family of Sho Ko Toku, the fifth son of King Sho Shitsu.
Chibana Sensei's father was one of the most successful sake brewers. Chibana
Sensei's uncle, Chibana Choso, was a student of Matsumura Sokon and was a
well-known Karate teacher.

PN: During the Second World War at the time of the American invasion,
Chibana Sensei lost his wife and son. Chibana Sensei later took a second wife,
but this tragedy had a lasting impact and Chibana Sensei rarely spoke of the

JO: How did Chibana Sensei begin his training?

PN: Chibana Sensei told me that he started training when he was thirteen years
old, but I am not sure who his teachers were. As he has stated in most of his
interviews, at fifteen years old, he dropped out of school and went to request
tutelage from Itosu Anko Sensei.

JO: What can you tell us of his training with Itosu Sensei?

PN: I will touch on it. Talking about his training with Itosu Anko Sensei would fill
a book. When Chibana Sensei started training with Itosu Sensei, he was first
taught the Naihanchi no Kata Shodan. This was the only Kata that he was
taught for 6 months. He was required to practice this Kata for 6 months and
perform it 200 times a day. This was Itosu Sensei's way of testing his will and

JO: It is often noted that Chibana Sensei ended his formal education
early. Have you heard of him receiving any other kind of education after

PN: Yes. Itosu Anko Sensei was a very educated man, having formerly been
the king's scribe. Since Chibana Sensei was with him every day, he taught
Chibana Sensei reading, writing (including calligraphy), and arithmetic in
addition to Karate.

JO: How did Chibana Sensei run his classes? I heard towards the end of
his life, he only taught Naihanchi Sandan and Pinan Godan. Is this true?

PN: I am not sure how Chibana Sensei ran his classes in the early days. When
I trained with him at the dojo, we as a group would do the Kihon no Kata
Shodan, Nidan, and Sandan, followed by Naihanchi no Kata Shodan, Nidan,
and Sandan. I use the "no Kata" in Kihon "no" Kata, but Chibana Sensei would
just say the Kata name such as Kihon Shodan. If it were your first night,
Chibana Sensei would have you follow him as he performed Kihon Shodan,
immediately after the class performed the opening series. If it was your second
night, you would do the Kihon Shodan with the class, then Chibana Sensei
would have you follow him on Kihon Nidan. Kihon Sandan would be the same.
On the fourth night, you would start the Naihanchi Shodan and move on to the
Naihanchi Nidan after a month. There was a 1 month interval for each
Naihanchi Kata and Pinan Kata. For the Patsai Kata, Kusanku Kata, and
Chinto, there were 2 month intervals.

PN: After the opening series with the whole class, Chibana Sensei would work
with everyone individually, except for those that had completed all of the Kata.
After you finished the Kihon Kata, Chibana Sensei would not correct you
individually. It would be same with Naihanchi. After you completed the Pinan
series, Chibana Sensei did not call on you to perform the Pinan Kata. If you
wanted to review the Pinan Kata, you would join in with the student(s) at that
level as Chibana Sensei called them up.

PN: After you have completed all of the Kata, you would be called to perform
with the group, which would be 2 Kata selected from Patsai, Kusanku, and
Chinto. On the Naihanchi and Pinan, Chibana Sensei would have you perform 3
of these Kata. If you were learning the Kata, Chibana Sensei would perform it
himself and have you follow him. So, after the opening series, Chibana Sensei
would work with the beginners to the advanced. Completing the round would be
the group that had learned all of the Kata. Normally, there were 2 rotations, but
on a smaller class attendance night, he would do 3 rotations. To complete our
evening practice we would do the Kihon and Naihanchi as we did in the opening

PN: That I know of, Chibana Sensei taught all 16 Kata until his last class. I had
never heard of him doing otherwise.

JO: Was there any difference between the way Chibana Sensei taught his
classes and the way he taught privately?

PN: I am not sure what you mean by differently. There was a big difference in
intensity. At the dojo, the corrections were spread among 10 to 30 people, but
during the day, I was alone and each move was scrutinized by Chibana Sensei.
One-on-one Chibana Sensei could really explain the application and meaning of
the moves. Because of my limited Japanese, Chibana Sensei did a lot of
demonstrating so I could understand. On many of the Kata moves, he taught
me to perform it differently from everyone else, including himself. At the same
time he would explain the reason for the different methodology. In most cases it
was much more effective. I must admit though, that it took me many (10 to 20)
years to understand much of the explanations.

JO: What kind of advice did Chibana Sensei have for his karate students?

PN: Chibana Sensei gave much advice, but I would like to stress that Chibana
Sensei was not a philosopher. He did not go around philosophizing. Chibana
Sensei was a Confucianist. He was a "middle of the roader", a moderate. He
normally "preached" moderation. Like: "Train hard, but do not over do it", "You
can consume alchohol, but know your limits, and stop before you reach that
limit". In other word do not go to extremes.

JO: What was Chibana Sensei's attitude towards kata as a teaching tool?

PN: When I asked Sensei on how to improve my fighting skills? He said to
practice my Kata. To Sensei, Karate without Kata is not true Karate. Within the
Kata are the fighting techniques of the the past teachers. Through the Kata
practice one discovers the true meaning of combat.

JO: To what extent did Chibana Sensei explain the meanings behind
movements in the kata? Were these the meanings he learned from Itosu

PN: Sensei always said that if the basic movement was a punch, then do it
strong. If the movement is a block, then do a strong block and likewise for kicks
and strikes. Normally, he taught that most movements had 3 meanings. First,
there was the basic movements, followed by the grappling type techniques, and
ultimately vicious use of nerve points and/or joint breaking techniques. Most of
what Chibana Sensei taught came from Itosu Sensei.

JO: How did Chibana Sensei feel about making modifications to kata?

PN: Chibana Sensei often said, "Kata was created and refined by the great past
masters. Who am I to change such a great tradition?" As mentioned in Shuguro
Nakazato's book, Chibana Sensei tried to teach the Kata exactly how he
learned it from Itosu Sensei. Chibana Sensei repeated this to most of his direct

JO: What was your impression of the way Chibana Sensei performed his

PN: Chibana Sensei's performance of Kata was very precise and refined. There
were no extras, no frills, and no unnecessary movements. His Kata was very

JO: Did Chibana Sensei ever explain things in terms of “hard and soft” or
“circular and linear”?

PN: Chibana Sensei never explained techniques in the context of "hard and soft
" nor "circular and linear". In fact this type of discussion are more common with
modern day Karateka. In the old school, especially in Shorin-ryu, more time was
spent training than intellectualizing.

JO: Did Chibana Sensei ever explain how he came up with the name
"Shorin Ryu" for his style of karate?

PN: The Ti that was practiced in Shuri (Shuri-te ([ti]) was often referred to as
Shorin, which in Mandarin was Shaolin. These characters were sukunai (少
"small in number") and hayashi (林 "forest"). This read as sukunai hayashi or

PN: Chibana Sensei did not use the sukunai character, but instead he changed
it to ko (小 "small or young"), when he named his style. Chibana Sensei felt that
the ti practiced and taught in Shuri, were techniques that had become
indigenous to Okinawa or Shuri and no longer resembled the Chinese methods.
The Chibana Chosin Karate can be considered as orthodox Shuri-te.

JO: How did Chibana Sensei determine his kata curriculum?

PN: When Chibana Sensei contemplated teaching Karate, he approached his
teacher, Itosu Anko Sensei to discuss his Kata curriculum that he want were he
to teach. He apparently told Itosu Sensei that Itosu Sensei had far too many
Kata. Itosu Sensei must have agreed with Chibana Sensei and told him to teach
the core Kata, which came up to 12 Kata. He instructed Chibana Sensei to
retain the Matsumura Patsai and call it Patsai Dai and his (Itosu) Patsai would
be Patsai Sho, which brought the total to 13 Kata. Chibana Sensei considered
only these 13 Kata as "pure" Shuri-te.

PN: Chibana Sensei felt that he needed some introductory Kata, other than
Naihanchi. He developed 3 Kihon Kata which brought his curriculum to 16 Kata.

JO: I notice Gojushiho was not considered a pure Shuri-te kata so it was
not part of his curriculum, yet many of Chibana Sensei’s students teach
different versions of this kata. What can you tell us of Chibana Sensei’s
knowledge of Gojushiho?

PN: Gojushiho was not considered to be a core Itosu Kata, so it was not
included into Chibana Sensei's curriculum. Yes, Chibana Sensei considered it
as Naha-te (Number Kata and taught in China, then brought to Okinawa). Most
of the senior Chibana students trained with other instructors and learned their
Gojushiho from their respective teachers. I don't think that they teach different
versions, but rather do it with slight differences in interpretations. They all do
their interpretation of the Matsumura Gojushiho. Chibana Sensei taught me the
Itosu no Gojushiho. He showed me the difference between the Itosu Gojushiho
and the Matsumura Gojushiho.

JO: There are two versions of the Patsai and Kusanku kata in the Shorin
Ryu curriculum. Where did the different versions come from?

PN: Chibana Sensei said that originally there was only one Patsai. The original
Patsai was the Matsumura Patsai. How Matsumura Sensei came upon this
Kata is unknown. The Tomari (Matsumora / Oyadomori) version is a takeoff of
the Matsumura Patsai. Itosu Sensei's Patsai is a takeoff of the Tomari and
Matsumura Patsai.

PN: Before Itosu Sensei created the Pinan Kata, the Naihanchi Kata was taught
and immediately followed by the Kusanku Kata. Both of the Kusanku Kata were
too long and too difficult for the younger students. This is the reason for the
creation of the Pinan Kata.

PN: Chibana Sensei did not make any distinction between the Kusanku Sho
and Kusanku Dai. It is believe by most historians that the Kusanku Sho was
created by Itosu Sensei and the Kusanku Dai is originally from Tudi Sakugawa,
with the other being the Yara Kusanku. Both Sakugawa and Yara were brother
students of Kusanku.

JO: So Chibana Sensei learned both Kusanku Sho and Kusanku Dai from
Itosu Sensei?

PN: Of course, Kusanku Sho and Kusanku Dai were considered 2 of Itosu
Sensei's 12 core Kata.

JO: I have heard varying theories on the origins of the Pinan kata. Did
Chibana Sensei ever explain how they originated?

PN: Chibana Sensei said that the Pinan Kata was created, because when Itosu
Anko Sensei introduced Karate into the school system, he found that the
Kusanku Kata was too long and too difficult for the younger students. After
introducing the Pinan Kata, on the second year Itosu Sensei realized that
another Kata (Pinan) was needed for the students who had already learned the
Pinan (Shodan). Thus, the second (Nidan), third (Sandan), fourth (Yondan), and
fifth (Godan) were added. This may explain the reason that the Pinan Shodan is
about the most difficult of the 5 Pinan Kata.

JO: There is much talk about "traditional karate" versus the "modern
karate" that was first introduced into the Okinawan public school system.
During his lifetime, some would note differences between "Okinawan
karate" and "Japanese karate". Did Chibana Sensei ever discuss or
remark upon these differences?

PN: Chibana Sensei never discussed or made a distinction between modern
and traditional Karate. Contrary to what has been written, he never made a
distinction between sports Karate and traditional Karate. He strongly believed
that all Karate is Okinawan.

JO: Did Chibana Sensei ever use the makiwara post as a teaching tool?

PN: Chibana Sensei encouraged hitting the makiwara to develop power and
timing. For Chibana Sensei the makiwara was more of a training tool, rather
than a teaching tool.

JO: Did Chibana Sensei practice any weaponry?

PN: Chibana Sensei did learn weaponry, but we don't know from who (possibly
from Tawata Shinjo)? When I mentioned to Chibana Sensei that I was learning
Kobudo from Nagaishi Sensei, he told me to bring my weapons so he could
show me the basics. I bought a set for Chibana Sensei, since he did not have
any weapons. (set: Bo, Sai, Nunchaku and Tonfa) After about 2 weeks, I
suggested to Chibana Sensei that we concentrate on just Karate. Sensei
agreed and he returned the weapons. I told him that the set was for him. He
insisted that he had no use for the weapons and that I should keep it for my
own use.

JO: What were Chibana Sensei's thoughts on sparring?

PN: Chibana Sensei cautioned that sparring may be detrimental to actual
combat. For safety, in sparring we need to pull our punches, strikes and kicks,
which will handicap you in actual combat. Sensei never discouraged sparring,
as long as we understood that sparring and actual combat were two different

JO: Did Chibana Sensei ever express his wishes regarding his
organization after he passed away?

PN: Chibana Sensei in 1965, told me that upon his passing that his number 2
grandson, Akira would head Chibana Sensei's Okinawa Shorin-ryu Karatedo
Association and take the Chibana name (I believe that Akira's name was
Nakazato [not related to Shugoro]).

JO: What kind of person was Chibana Sensei outside of his karate

PN: Chibana Sensei was very kindly and approachable. Whether it was at the
dojo, at home, or in public, Chibana Sensei was always the same.