3 posts / 0 new
Last post
Adam M.
Adam M.'s picture
1920s karate from Mutsu Mizuho

Hi everyone, I have been reading this forum for quite a while but first time posting!

I recently acquired a copy of Mutsu Mizuho's book - The complete karate kenpo. I’d like to share some of the contents of the book as I think they may be of interest to those interested in practical and/ or historical karate.

Mizuho was a student of Funakoshi and published this book originally in 1933, apparently as the result of a trip to Okinawa in 1929. As such, the book offers insight into the type of karate being practised on Okinawa in the late 1920s.

I can’t read Japanese, but luckily the book is filled with pretty detailed illustrations. After first flicking through the pages, I was pleasantly surprised by some very un-3K drawings of men being thrown and having their heads smashed against walls.

The book contains over 400 pages and is divided into several sections, the largest of which is a walkthrough of some typical shurite kata- the pinans, naihanchis, kushanku etc. The latter third or so is made up of combative drills with a partner. There are over 180 of these sequences. Some are relatively straightforward combinations, think Motobu’s drills. In fact, 9 of Motobu’s 12 drills make an appearance in this book, albeit somewhat altered (e.g. some are done on the opposite side, others with extra strikes added etc). However, a lot of the sequences are presented as multiple options to a given scenario. For example: the enemy grabs you with both hands, Mizuho then presents half a dozen or so possible follow up options.

The book seems to start at long range and works its way in. For example, the first 19 pages of the kumite section cover slipping and countering e.g. slipping to the outside of a lead jab and countering with your own jab or coming under a strike and throwing an overhand right. It’s also structured with the simpler techniques towards the start, not unlike some kata. The first technique shown is a retreating step to avoid a jab and the last technique is some kind of complex looking backward fireman’s carry applied against a guy with a sword. For a less extreme example, at one point a throat grab is shown and a few pages later a simple throw is shown as a follow up.

The book is not without some “dead hands” but there is also active use of the hikite, seizing limbs and hitting with the other hand. For example, one of the early sequences begins with blocking a strike from the inside and grabbing that arm, then 5 follow up options are suggested:

1. Punch the body

2. Palm heel the chin

 3. Grab the throat

4. Shuto the neck

5. Punch the head

There is quite a lot of grappling in this book and I was delighted to see use of the over-under clinch. Unlike in modern shima, they do not grab the belt but overhook the arm and grab the back like the more usual form of the clinch. Several strikes and throws such as sumi gaeshi are shown from this position.

Other throws in the book include a kneeling shoulder throw, stepping behind their base and tossing them, osoto gari/ stepping past their legs to throw, getting a straight arm bar kicking the legs and pulling them over and so on. By my count there are over 20 takedowns, but they’re spread out and are not in a dedicated throwing chapter.

Surprisingly few stereotypical close-range strikes show up. There are a few knees and a couple of headbutts but the majority of impact, even at close range is done with punches. The elbows illustrated are all delivered to the body which I’m beginning to suspect is a hallmark of early 20th century karate (come on! Just show one to the head!).

Almost all the kicks are front kicks. None of the kicks appear to be applied higher than groin/hip height including the nidan geri in kushanku and chinto in the kata section.

Also, in the book is groundwork which I found really fascinating. Aside from one or two photographs and a paragraph here and there I have never seen any “traditional” karate groundwork before. There are a lot of kneeling defences which remind me of Japanese jiu jitsu, there are also some escapes from pins and controls on the ground. The system makes a lot of use of knee on belly while grabbing the throat with one hand and controlling the enemies near-side arm with the other.

Most of the locks in the book are straight arm bars, pressuring the elbow with the forearm (like an outside to inside block or gedan bari) or the hands (like a gedanbari or the lock at the end of chinte). Mizuho shows waki gatame a fair bit which is used as a response to being gripped, as a take down and to reverse position on the ground. Also illustrated are wrist locks like kote gaeshi and a manji uke style neck crank.

Strangles make an appearance as well. Most are single handed collar chokes from behind with the free arm grabbing the enemy’s arm. A pseudo rear-naked-choke is also shown.

There is a surprising amount of weapon defences, 45 of the sequences are against an enemy with a knife or katana. These usually consist of blocking/ jamming the attacking limb or jamming a draw and then following up with a strike/takedown/lock/strangle/disarm. Much of the groundwork involves weapons, the only 2 mount escapes shown are against an enemy with a wakizashi.

To be clear, I don’t think this is some ultimate practical karate manual and have reservations about some of what is shown (there’s one unironic vertical sword hand block against a two-fingered eye poke!) I also don’t regard this as some kind of perfect representation of old school karate or the karate of the kata. I do think it provides a very interesting look at the transitionary karate that was being practiced by some during the 1920s.

Apparently, Joe Swift is working on an English translation of the book which I will be on the lookout for. I’m 100% sure I’ve misinterpreted some of the illustrations and google translate can only get you so far.


Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

Hi Adam,

Great first post and thanks for sharing that! You did well to get a copy because my understanding is that there has only been a very limited modern print run (less than 1000 copies).

I’m sure that Joe Swift’s translation will be hugely popular when it comes out.

Adam M. wrote:
To be clear, I don’t think this is some ultimate practical karate manual and have reservations about some of what is shown … I do think it provides a very interesting look at the transitionary karate that was being practiced by some during the 1920s.

I think that’s one of the issues with ALL karate books. No one makes books until there is an audience for them, and hence all books are from the period where the “budoisation” of karate has been underway for some time. In short, there were all written for what would be a largely 3K audience. Where the books are useful is for the bits of information they represent on the older incarnations of karate. This means there is always some discrimination needed when reading them.

From what you describe, there is plenty to consider in this book!

Thanks once again for sharing!

All the best,


Mark Powell
Mark Powell's picture

Thanks for giving me the heads up on this one, it sounds really interesting! I'll watch out for the translation.