Motobu udundi is the ancient martial art of the Ryukyu palace guards. Its techniques were kept secret, and reserved for those who would risk their lives for the royal family.
On September 15th 2016 we visited the beautiful dojo of Seihan Shiroma in Sashiki Town. Sadly, Shiroma-sensei passed away in 2012 at the age of 71. We were never able to photograph Seihan Shiroma, so it was touching to meet his widow and be introduced to his top student Isao Yagi.
Yagi-sensei now imparts the knowledge taught to him by his master to students at the Shiroma dojo. It was an honor to be able to photograph him as part of the Karate Masters Portrait Project.
Motobu udundi blends te (the precursor of karate) kobudo (weapons) and Ryukyu dance. In other dojos I had seen nunchaku, bo, sai and other weapons, but this was the first time to see a master demonstrating the use of various swords.
I’d read that the movements in Okinawan dance could be used to hide fighting techniques, and Yagi-sensei deftly demonstrated. He showed first on his student, and then on James, how the graceful circular hand motions of Ryukyu dance can be used to catch then trap an opponent’s hand.
After taking the portraits, Yagi-sensei said he’d show us some techniques that can be used to defend yourself from armed attackers when you’re weaponless. His two students then in quick succession attacked him, the first with nunchaku, the second with swords.
It all happened so fast that I didn’t realize what happened until I could view the photos on my camera. Both men rushed him with weapons swirling. He waited for the right moment, sprang towards them, and disarmed them. The glasses of the second student went flying as he was brought to the ground. If the attacks and swords were real this would have been the least of his worries, as he’d have been dispatched by his own blade.
A huge thank you to Yagi-sensei and everyone at the Shiroma dojo for making us welcome.