Kimete: The Strength and Power of Traditional Kempo Karate

by William Durbin, Soke of Kiyojute Ryu

So little is understood about the ancient art of Kempo Karate, mainly because the purpose for its existence has changed so radically in just the last seventy years. Prior to the mid nineteen hundreds, Karate was little known outside of Okinawa, and unknown outside of Japan. Honestly speaking, there were no masters of Kempo Karate outside of Okinawa until at the very earliest, the 1930s.

          On Okinawa the art was practiced as a hidden weapon of self defense. At that early date there were no competitive forms of the art, though the Okinawan martial artists were known to have engaged in a type of wresting match in order to test the strength they had developed in their martial arts training. They felt that the actual striking aspect of their Kempo Karate was entirely too dangerous to play with in any form of competitive activity.

Kempo Karate Today

          When we look at the typical Kempo Karate practitioner today, and the common attitude towards martial arts in general, we will see a radical difference between the current point of view and that held in the past. First of all, in the past, a Kempo Karate practitioner was a person of honor, peace, and integrity. Generally, in the early years of the century, a Kempo Karateka was a person who was of the royalty, whose job it was to protect the royal family and maintain the peace of the nation. Those who were not of the royalty would have been trained by the first of the Kempo Karate masters, which would have been men trained by those of past royal descent.

Sakugawa’s Lineage

          Sakugawa, whom we are told was the first public Kempo Karate teacher on Okinawa, taught Matsumura, whom it is believed trained Yasutsune Itosu, Yasutsune Azato, and Kanryo Higashionna. These three men then taught those who introduced Karate to the twentieth century generation. Among those being; Gichin Funakoshi, Choki Motobu, Kenwa Mabuni, Chomo Hanashiro, Chotoku Kyan, Chojun Miyagi, Kambun Uechi, and Kentsu Yabu.

          Some of these men specifically helped transform Kempo Karate into a form that kept the original Okinawan art hidden from outsiders while making it more of a form of physical culture. This began with Yasutsune Itosu, who introduced Kempo Karate into the school system as a form of physical fitness. Later his main students were to introduce his method of teaching to the Japanese public. These men were specifically; Gichin Funakoshi, Kenwa Mabuni, and Choki Motobu. Itosu also helped Chojun Miyagi create the modern teaching curriculum used in the Goju Ryu schools of instruction.

Japanese University Clubs and Competition

          It is said that competition grew out of the interaction, which took place between the Japanese university clubs. According to the late Masatoshi Nakayama, when the schools would get together for training sessions, the young men would begin engaging in Yakusoku, prearranged, Kumite. Those throwing the attacks would do their best to actually hit their visiting partners from other colleges. They of course would respond in kind by actually hitting their attackers back during the counter. Eventually these would turn into brawls. Therefore, many Japanese instructors, rather than correcting the behavior of their students, started developing rules for a form of free sparring. By 1936, there were fairly formal rules for competing, some crediting Gogen Yamaguchi with the best methods, most appropriate, and safe set of rules.

          It was right after Kempo Karate had been introduced to Japan, that they began using the term Karate, empty hand, by itself for the Okinawan weapon.  Prior to modern times, Karate, better known in the ancient times as either; Bushi Te (the warrior hand), Kempo (the fist law), or Tode (Tang hand); was in fact deadly. What, may be asked is the difference between real combat Karate and modern sport Karate? The answer would best be phrased; Kimete.

          During some of the modern, so called full contact or realistic fighting competitions, what we are really seeing is how little skill the competitors actually have in martial arts ability. Some of these martial artists get in clean punches to their opponents, yet inflict little damage. Yet if we look at some of the verified stories of Karateka of the past, we will find that their skills were considerably greater than these modern gladiators.

Examples of Kimete

          The first story deals with the great Kempo Karate master Choki Motobu. At age fifty six, Choki was visiting Tokyo, seeing his good friend Yamaguchi. At the time there was a heavyweight boxer from Europe visiting Japan, putting on boxing exhibitions, where he would take on all comers. Motobu and Yamaguchi went to an exhibition, where the boxer was defeating all comers. Yamaguchi asked Choki if he thought there were any fighters on Okinawa who could defeat the boxer and Motobu responded in the affirmative. His friend expressed disbelief in the fact that Okinawa could produce such fighters when Japan did not.

          Motobu took such a doubt as an insult to Okinawa, Okinawan martial arts, and to Choki himself. When the promoter asked for any volunteers from the audience, Choki stepped into the ring. After a brief feeling out period, Choki ended the fight with a hard blow. He inflicted so much damage that the man never regained consciousness and ended up dying.

          The next story deals with a young man by the name of Ankichi Arakaki who was a very thin and slight man. Yet he was totally devoted to martial arts training. Once when out with a group of his friends, he was attacked by a Sumo wrestler, who was well over six feet tall and extremely heavy. Arakaki did his best to avoid the fight but the Sumo would not relent, physically assaulting the much smaller man. Finally, Ankichi delivered one kick to the Sumo’s abdomen, which hurt the man so much that he stopped fighting. Six months later the man died due to complications caused by the kick.

          This is the essential aspect of the ancient Okinawan style of Kempo Karate. True Kempo Karate is absolutely deadly. The Okinawans knew they could not ‘play’ with their art, for to do so was to invite death. Someone was going to die, or at the very least be seriously injured, if two Kempo Karateka fought. That is why it was not the Okinawans who invented competition, but rather the Japanese.


          Both Motobu and Arakaki had Kimete. Kimete is a quality that can be developed by martial artists today, but there must be a change of mind for this to come about. First of all, Karateka of today need to let go of the idea of competition. Only when a person stops wanting to fight is it possible for them to develop the true level of skills necessary for Kimete. For a person to participate in tournament play, they must water down their true combat skills, or else people will die in the tournaments. It calls to mind the police officer who had developed real street fighting ability through his Kempo Karate training, yet yearly he participated in a tournament held in his native state of Florida. The problem was that each year he generally did some damage to other competitors, one year seriously breaking and damaging the nasal area of his opponent.

          The more genuine Kempo Karate skills are, the less they can be used in a tournament. Kimete, accurately translated, means ‘the winning move’. It is made up of two Kanji, the first Kime and the second Te. Kime literally means ‘decision’ or ‘decisiveness’, but is generally used in the martial arts to stand for focus.

Sundome and Ikken Hissatsu

          Focus, in the martial arts sense, means that one decides where their punch or kick is going to go and then let’s nothing stop them from delivering that blow. In practice, the focus is one inch outside the opponent’s body. This is known as Sundome. In combat, the focus is one or two inches inside the body. This causes Ikken Hissatsu, one blow certain death, also known as, Naibu Hakai, inner destruction. When one has this type of ability, they cannot afford to engage in play, the skills are simply too dangerous.

          Te of course is hand, but also means, move or skill. Thus Te can refer to the individual technique or method a person is using. Te can also be translated person, so that in regard to the martial arts the person is the art or the skill.

          Kimete then means ‘a person who is decisive’, or ‘a person who wins’. In the old days on Okinawa, the idea was not to fight at all, for to do so was to endanger life. In order for the skills to be truly functional as serious self defense, they had to be deadly. Not only did they learn to use focus properly to transmit the maximum force into a target, but they also learned to focus on the vital points of an assailant.

          The power punches of Choki Motobu were still aimed at body cavities, such as the solar plexus, for maximum effect. When Ankichi Arakaki aimed a kick into the abdomen of an opponent, it was with an upward movement, which would compress and damage the internal organs. Slighter men, and women, were taught to target the eyes, or throat cavity, in order to be able to take down a much larger opponent.

The Winning Move

          Kimete meant the winning move. It was not in the sense of scoring a point, it was in the sense of Ikken Hissatsu. To do less than end a confrontation with one move, was to invite one’s own death. In true combat you may only get one chance to save your life.

          The Bushi many times used grappling skills in their jobs as guards to the royalty and protectors of the citizenry. But they were not the grappling skills we see today in the senseless competitions proclaiming the grappling moves of current competitors. Rather these were throws that were designed to end a confrontation by rendering the person helpless, injure them in the fall, or put them in a position to be finished off with a strike while the person was on the ground. Some of the grappling skills were used for restraining a person who was being arrested, but they were not the type that made a person helpless by having them tied up with the person they were grappling. The grappling skills of the Okinawa Bushi was such that they could hold the person helpless while using rope to type them up.

          For people wanting to compete and play the martial games or sports, Kimete is not important, but to those who want legitimate self defense skills, which can save their lives on the street, it is essential. Kimete is as much a development of the mind, as it is of the body. But the truth is, true Kimete is achieved when the mind and the body are unified. This is why there developed in China the martial art known as I Chuan, ‘will fist’. This art, by its very name, showed that martial arts skill must be mindful. As the great Okinawan stylist, Dr. Rod Sacharnoski, is fond of saying, “You hit with your mind, not your fist.”

Kimete – Development of the Mind

          Kimete is the development of the mind. It is focusing each technique, with the mind and body totally integrated, so that each move is guaranteed to do the maximum effect. Each throw, each hit, each move, is inexorable. It is a mind that is filled with Ki, freely directed through the body. Practice is simply in doing the moves with total focus. Whenever a move is practiced with focus, there is the development of Kimete.

          It is hoped that this article will inspire the practice of the martial arts in the ancient and traditional way. For those who want to play the martial arts game, it is important that they do not develop Kimete for the safety and sake of their fellow competitors. But for police officers, military personal, and for those citizens who truly want combat effective, personal skills of defense, then practice each move with focus, practice with Sundome and Naibu Hakai, and then you will develop the skill of Kimete, the skill of the ‘winning move’.

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