Master Motonobu Hironishi Interviewed
Extracted from a Shotokai Spain Newsletter
Master, where and when were you born?
I was born January 1st 1913 in the city of Kyoto
When did you begin your karate practice?
I began practicing Karate-do in 1931, I was 19 years old, at the Waseda University
Who were your classmates?
They were Egami and Noguchi. Gichin Funakoshi as Shihan and Takeshi Shimoda as assistant. Later on O-sensei’s son took his place. I also remember that at that moment at the Takushoku University, Nakayama trained, with whom met some times.
How did the friendship between yourself and Egami appear?
I can’t say exactly how, but from the first moment we had a very spontaneous communication, a type of unity that even included other daily life aspects. This maybe was due to our different character and constitution. Mr. Egami was possibly more nervous and alive whereas I may have been more quiet.
We have heard Mr. Hironishi, that in your youth you obtained a first prize in a contest organized by the Asahi Newspaper
Yes, in those youthful days I possessed a very strong constitution, thus after numerous exams and under the medical concepts of that moment, I was elected as the prototype body-build.
Could you tell us about Karate-do, its beginnings and later developments?
Before it’s expansion it was a very minority art. In those years Japan was gripped in times of high nationalism, considering that Karate-do had arrived from Okinawa, it was considered inferior when compared with Judo and Kendo, that were traditional martial arts. After studying books and traveling abroad we understood that in all the Islamic and Buddhist areas of the world there existed an art of similar characteristics compared to Karate-do. It searched to attain truth through bodily practice. This art and religion held a very intimate symbiosis. On the other hand, in primitive times, the clash between different tribes created different types of struggles that later became very specialized before being introduced in Japan. It’s further evolution was begun by Gichin Funakoshi and his son Yoshitaka, together with his most notorious students.
How was Master Funakoshi and his son Yoshitaka?
The Master was somewhat smaller than the average height. He had a very kind and serene character and a very constant humor. He was furthermore a very quiet person who liked to write poems and practice calligraphy. His image and attitude were of an intellectual. Technically his tsuki was very strong and his uke very heavy something we experienced painfully when we attacked him. Yoshitaka, his third son, had a very strong character and technically was very orthodox, he had a karate that was very much based on the offensive.
What relationships existed between the Masters Funakoshi, Mabuni and Miyagi and nowadays how are they?
Today they do not exist. Formerly the east part of Japan centered in Tokyo practiced the Karate of Master Funakoshi. The western part centered in Osaka practiced the Mabuni style. This Master was much younger than Master Funakoshi, he felt a profound respect towards him. Miyagi centered his influence in Okinawa.
In the olden days, before the Second World War, each year a Martial Arts presentation was organized in the honor of the Emperor. Master Funakoshi was the only one that had the honor of performing it not once but twice, thanks to this Karate-do won importance and prestige.
We are interested in knowing how competition began.
As a method of extending Karate-do a free sparring type of Kumite was studied and used only in exhibitions. Later on, this kumite method began changing in character that separated it from the Budo spirit. In 1940, Master Funakoshi banned it and in 1941 he ratified this prohibition, he even told his students that they would be expulsed if they participated in championships.
In those years nationalism was about to start a war, there was a very aggressive atmosphere, Master Funakoshi wanted to keep his students distanced from that situation.
Between classmates and as a study method he permitted it but never with the goal of winning championships. Anyway, that type of kumite was much harder and rougher than what is practiced today in competition.
What is Shotokan-Shotokai?
Shotokai is an association founded by Master Funakoshi and it unites the students that practice his method. Before the II WW this association included 90% of the Karate-do participants. Today it is the only association that has Master Funakoshi’s Family permission to use the SHOTOKAN name.
We would like to know why there were separations within the school.
The main motive was the wish of some instructors of developing the idea of sport within Karate-do.
Mainly due to the confusion produced during and after the Second World War, new styles arose influenced by the image of change and modernization that appeared in the country. They were methods that attracted youngsters due to the strong sports and competitive character they proposed, something very much in fashion under those circumstances.
Master, could you please explain what Shotokai searches for and what is it’s main characteristic?
Shotokai searches to follow the line established by Master Gichin Funakoshi, specially emphasizing the idea of do.
Technically, as Shotokai officially does not participate in competitions, kicks and blows should penetrate after contact. All techniques are based on natural, continuous and heavy movements, having as a fundamental point the contraction at the hara and being able to adapt to various adversaries.
Could you explain us your concept of Kime?
If a technique is to have kime, it must be able to transmit energy frontward. If a technique uses muscular contraction, movement is stopped, thus we do not consider this kime.
We search for the development of the internal energy, not only the external energy. Due to an optical effect, this energy is not visible. It would be easier to do techniques with muscular contraction, but this way the energy flow is cut.
Master Funakoshi used to say that in Karate-do there must exist an equilibrium between tension and relaxation, but nowadays there are styles that only search tension.
It is normally believed that when there is contact, the blow has finished but that is truly the moment when it begins. Shotokai uses the body’s complete movement, starting with the projection of the hips. To completely understand this, many years are needed.
What is the difference between Budo and sport?
The Kanji “Bu” means “to stop the spear”. This must be understood as the search of non-opposition, this is the reason why Master Funakoshi insisted on passing from “Jutsu” to “Do”, acting naturally, not going against nature and adapting to its laws, favoring man’s evolution. In Budo, technically, you change the “attack” with “non-attack”.
In sport you are taught to obtain victory. In Budo you must teach the concept of “losing”, which does by no means mean you must let yourself be hit, it’s a matter of learning a way of transcending victory or defeat, going beyond selfishness, the only way to become “one” with the opponent.
In Japan there is a saying “to lose is to win”. In Budo when you receive a blow, you must be grateful, because it teaches a lesson.
In competition there is a need of establishing rules and prohibit many dangerous attacks, just as military exercises rules are imposed in a certain space, forgetting that in actual war there are no rules; you are attacked from all sides. Many rules are established but in a real confrontation, those things that are prohibited are those most important & I practice what the rules do not permit.
In competition you only concentrate on your front side, if you concentrate on your back it’s a waste of time. In Boxing you fight in a very upright position because blows directed to your lower section are prohibited. In competition, just as in Boxing, because low blows are not permitted, the guard goes up, this due to the fact that you are sure nothing will happen. In Budo, where the concept is integral, the guard (kamae) changes….
If we observe sports Judo, we see that combat begins by grabbing, without pondering the possibility of an attack before that point in time, there is no study of ma-ai (distance and timing). In Kendo, in the past, the training position was kokutsu-dachi. In our days, due to sports rules, the guard has risen and there are no longer gedan level attacks. In the past blows were delivered obliquely from the neck, with the intention of going through the body. Today you only attack the head with sharp blows and without using the hips.
With respect to tsuki, the intention was to hit and penetrate in large body areas, due to the fact that it is very hard to hit small areas. Considering the difficulty in protecting your legs, many joint attacks were studied. Today those techniques are prohibited precisely because they are very hard to guard against attacks.
In any normal sport the judge only assures himself that rules are followed and has no power to decide who wins, something that does not occur in sports karate where the judge can decide who has won.
You can see that there are many differences between real combat and sport and this is visible in kamae (not only the physical guard but also the attitude). Kamae expresses itself in a way that denotes the mental state and attitude (level of ki), and even though sports competition blows may hurt, their goal is not to kill the opponent. Actually, analyzing competition in terms of real combat, it is better to receive the blow and afterwards strike with the idea of going through the physical barrier. Under those circumstances, do not be afraid, let yourself be hit and enter with decision.
From competition to the real form everything changes.
What is Karate for you?
As years pass by I like Karate-do more and more. As I grow older I understand things in greater depth.
When I started, I wanted to be strong for fighting. I later understood that not much technique was needed to fight.
Most youngsters want to be strong and fight; instructors must respect this idea in their students, but educating them and guiding them adequately With time and practice they will understand correctly.
Who were your disciples?
I can say with a certain pride that most of the great instructors today in one time or another have trained with me.
What advice could you give us?
I would emphasize that within the practice (keiko) of Karate-do the ultimate goal of Budo should be to obtain the spirit of non-resistance, non-profit (mushotoku), searching for union, unity…
We must always search for the relationship that exists between a mother and son; even when the son may hit the mother, she does hate him for that.
Between men, when a blow does not hurt, there is no anger; when it hurts there is anger. Observe the attitude of older men with their grandsons, they are more kind & condescending due to their maturity and their better comprehension capacity. There are no offenses and there is truly great comprehension.
Therefore it is basic to have good relationships, friendship, get along together and progress. As one progresses technically, the idea changes.
In Shotokai it is fundamental to study and train the kata.
Men (and women) have whims and attachments, the more you work and progress in kata you free yourself of these whims and bad habits.