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What is Motobu Udundi?

Sunset Beach, Okinawa

Is it a form of aikido or ju-jitsu? Maybe its a type of karate. Tai Chi? Chin Na? Jigen-ryu? People who come to the Kodokai often ask questions like these. Motobu Udundi includes elements similar to all of these martial arts, but it is actually none of the above. The fact that it seems to resemble so many other martial arts testifies to the diversity and breadth of this old treasure. Motobu Udundi practice includes a plethora of weapons as well as striking skills with the hands and feet, throws, joint locks and a few secrets. It is an amazing product of the cultures of Okinawa, China and Japan. Motobu Udundi, known also as Palace Hand is seldom observed beyond the shores of Okinawa. There are only a handful of schools in the entire world.

Misinformation There is little reliable information describing this martial art to the English-speaking world. There is, however, no shortage of misinformation. On the internet, guesswork and speculation have filled the information void with theories seldom founded in fact or experience. On-line commentaries and opinions regarding Motobu Udundi, written by folks who have never been to Okinawa, never stepped foot into a Motobu Udundi Dojo and never experienced the actual techniques, are often irresponsible and always good for little.

Taira Ryosyu, Seidokan Dojo, Okinawa

Information The information in this paper comes from my personal understanding of Udundi. I still have a lot to learn, but for now, here are some basic points that might clear up some misconceptions regarding Udundi.
Toma Seiki, Outdoor Practice, Okinawa

Copyright 2008 Kodokai Dojo

Motobu Udundi at the Kodokai Dojo

Motobu Udundi is for defense against multiple enemies. Techniques, strategies, body movements and frame of mind are taught with this concept in the forefront. It is for both close-range and long-range fighting. Punches and a variety of hand strikes and kicks are included in Udundi training. These strikes are typically used to set up an opponent for a throw or restraint. Power for strikes is generated by using the hips and movement of the body, but in a way quite different from karate strikes. Empty hand karate-like kata is not included in Udundi practice at the Kodokai Dojo or in the Seidokan Dojo on Okinawa. No karate, whatsoever, is taught at the Seidokan. Mai Kata consists of dances unique to Motobu Udundi as well as old dances that are widely practiced on Okinawa. The dances contain techniques exactly as they are performed in self-defense practice.
Takamiyagi Tetsuo of the Seidokan Dojo Kodokai Dojo, Rhode Island, USA

Techniques can gently control an adversary or change to become devastatingly painful with the smallest movement. A simple restraint can easily break or dislocate bones, if needed. Weapons techniques are no different from empty-handed techniques. This makes it very easy to pick up anything to use as a weapon. Practice is less regimented and more fluid and spontaneous compared to karate (karate on Okinawa). This helps to avoid developing stiffness and regimentation in thought and movement. There is the appearance of being unprepared since no fighting stance is used. This is both deceptive and practical. (I have had to defend myself with karate on several occasions- I never was in an on-guard position when assaulted. Each time I was working or otherwise occupied.) Ukemi, receiving the techniques and throws, is an essential part of Udundi practice. Rolls, rather than break falls, are preferred. Udundi has countless restraints including tying an enemy with rope.

The head is held high and the eyes watch the opponents face and surroundings.

There is no kamae in Udundi, no preparatory stance. When in action, however, we rise to the balls of our feet and stand erect with the head held high and chest out. We are taught to stand confident, proud. As Taira Sensei says, there is no different between animals and man when faced with an enemy. We rise up, just as an animal raises its hackles, to face a threat.

D. Branchaud of the Kodokai Dojo, Buck Hill, RI

Copyright 2008 Kodokai Dojo

Udundi throws are not usually forceful like judo throws. They, instead, make an adversary feel like he is being pulled into a void. They are deceptive and therefore difficult to avoid. And they hurt. A lot. The posture of uprightness allows for fluid movement in any direction since the center of a person is directly above his feet. Body movement is important since there are no blocking movements like those in karate. Deep stances and long steps are avoided. Udundi was created by people who wore kimono. They could not easily move with exaggerated steps. This is very practical for the modern world where our clothing and shoes may not be well suited for many modern (sport) martial arts techniques.
He falls into the void. She escapes.

In Udundi, we use continuous motion, walking into the impending attack without waiting for it to unfold. We may make the first move.

The throws require only a light touch allowing one to move to another opponent rather than remaining occupied with one person. The opponent is not blocked and then countered- this takes too much time and the assumption is that there are many attackers. Instead, the opponent is attacked while he attacks rather than after the attack is blocked. Warm-up exercises focus on relaxing the muscles rather than stretching the muscles.

Techniques are not taught or practiced in a step-by-step manner. Techniques must flow and the mind must not stop.
Throw the opponent then move to the next one.

Techniques are performed with a relaxed body and a calm mind. Relaxed movements make it very difficult for an enemy to detect techniques before it is too late. They also make it difficult to counter the techniques since the Udundi person does not apply (provide) force that could easily be used against him. There should be no expression on the face- not anger or excitement. A stoic relaxed look as the result of the right frame of mind is appropriate. Zanshin (remaining mind) is important to the practice. After the opponent is dispatched the attitude of the mind and body does not disengage. It remains in the proper frame of mind to continue fighting. Breaking the opponents balance, redirecting their force or momentum and causing pain through joint manipulations or by attacking pressure points are the typical ways of throwing an attacker. Udundi was created with strategies and techniques designed for the ancient battlefield. Throws are followed-up by walking toward the thrown enemy, by walking in the opposite direction to escape, or by walking toward another enemy. One does not stop moving once engaged.

Copyright 2008 Kodokai Dojo

The attitude of superiority is encouraged. Doubt must never enter the mind. The Udundi person must believe that his skills are superior to his opponent. Techniques for receiving attacks while sitting (seiza) and standing are part of every class. Attacks come from the front, side and from behind. Many techniques are counters to Judo-type grabs and throws. Techniques against punches and weapon attacks- especially the knife (tanto) are also a large part of Udundi. Motobu Udundi has secrets. Many details of technique are omitted when performing in front of non-practitioners. At the Kodokai, we have been advised to avoid certain techniques when others are watching and to modify other techniques. Drills against many attackers are a trademark Udundi practice.
Throwing from seiza.

Humility- As a Strategy When visiting martial arts schools it is quite normal for the teachers and students to try to make a favorable impression on the visitor- particularly in America where martial arts are often more about business than martial arts. My experience with Motobu Udundi has been different. Little effort is made to avoid being underestimated or misunderstood. In fact, the most interesting and eye-catching techniques are practiced behind closed doors. While spectators are not deliberately duped, they are allowed to form their own conclusions based upon the little they will actually see and understand. This is where strategy, philosophy and technique merge. The gentle appearance of the techniques and lack of a fighting stance, the unperturbed mind, humble attitude and willingness to be underestimated all support the strategy of appearing unprepared to do violence. This not only can help diffuse a hostile person, it can deliver a powerful and deceptive surprise should action be necessary. Motobu Udundi was confined to exclusive circles for centuries. Though it is more accessible now than it was even a decade ago, practitioners on Okinawa keep a low profile. There is no effort to make it widespread. The lack of interest in impressing the world will continue to leave an information void. Nave and gullible folks will fill the void with statements criticizing the art, comparing it, analyzing it, underestimating it and distorting it. This is okay. While this hardly gives you a definitive idea of Motobu Udundi, it might help those of you who sorting through the conflicting ideas that you may come across. If you wish to know more, come to the Kodokai Dojo in North Smithfield, Rhode Island, USA. Our Udundi Kai is a small group who find this martial art a refreshing, practical and fascinating alternative to modern martial arts.


Copyright 2008 Kodokai Dojo