Martial Arts Wisdom



Chojun Miyagi



Chojun Miyagi was born in Naha City, Okinawa on April 25th, 1888 to an aristocratic family. They were in the import/export business, and owned 2 ships which made regular trips to mainland China, placing them among the wealthiest families in the area.

Chojun Miyagi

He began his formal training at age 11, in the dojo of Ryuko Aragaki. At the age of 14, he was first introduced to Kanryo Higaonna, and after a period of doing chores for Sensei Higaonna to earn his place, was accepted as a student.

Training was very severe, with a lot of running and strength exercises. It is said that he sometimes passed out performing Sanchin kata, so demanding was Sensei Higaonna on his student's performance. He trained for 13 years in this manner until the death of Kanryo Higaonna, developing into a powerful karateka.

Sensei Miyagi then travelled to China, no doubt an opportunity afforded him by the nature of the family business, not to mention the luxury that wealth gave him in being able to pursue his art full-time. His quest was to locate Master Ryu Ryuko, whom Higaonna had studied with. He was unable to locate him, though, but did pick up some of the local arts of the Fukien area of China, notable the kata Rokkishu, which was instrumental in his creation of Tensho kata.

One of his travelling companions during his time in China was the white crane stylist Gokenki, who moved to Okinawa in 1913. He became a close friend and training partner to Chojun Miyagi, and they would continue their association upon returning to Okinawa.

Chojun Miyagi in seiza
He continued to train in the methods he learned from Sensei Higaonna at several institutions, always under severe and demanding conditions. He did not confine his training to the dojo, either. Every waking moment (and while asleep, perhaps!) was spent in pursuit of the art, always remaining vigilante to his surroundings, always planning and ready for whatever might occur.

In 1921, he was chosen to represent Naha-te in a presentation to the visiting crown prince Hirohito (who would eventually become Emperor), and gave an impressive performance. He repeated this in 1925 for prince Chichibu. He began to visualize the future of the Okinawan fighting arts, and in 1926, at the age of 38, set up the Karate Research Club, along with Chomo Hanashiro (Shuri-te), Kenwa Mabuni (Shito Ryu) and Motobu Choyo, spending the next 3 years training in basics, kata, fitness and philosophy. Others who frequented the club included Johatsu Kyoda, Seikichi Uehara, Shimpan Gusukuma, and Gokenki. In 1929, he was invited to Japan by Gogen Yamaguchi, who would promote the Goju style in Japan.

Jigoro Kano (founder of Judo) began visiting Okinawa in 1927, and was so impressed with Sensei Miyagi, he invited him to Japan in 1930 and 1932 to demonstrate at several tournaments. It was at one of these tournaments that one of his senior students, Jin'an Shinzato was asked which school of karate he belonged to. Unable to answer (styles were only known by their geographical reference at that time), he approached Sensei Miyagi, who agreed that a name should be chosen for their unique style.

There is a Chinese text called the Bubishi, a very popular historical reference among karateka of the day, and in it are the Eight Poems of the Fists. The 3rd precept reads "The way of inhaling and exhaling is hardness and softness." Go means hard and Ju means soft. Since his style was a combination of these ideals, he began referring to his art as Goju Ryu, and in 1933 it was officially registered as such at the Butoku-Kai, the Japanese Martial Arts Association. In the same year, he presented his article "An Outline of Karate-Do".

The following year, Sensei Miyagi was appointed as head of the Okinawan branch of the Butoku-Kai Association, and travelled to Hawaii later the same year to introduce karate there. Upon his return to Naha, he was awarded a commendation from the Ministry of Education for outstanding service in the field of physical culture.

In 1936, he returned to China for more study, this time in Shanghai. After his return in 1937, he was awarded the Japanese equivalent to the commendation he had received at home. In 1940, he created the beginner's kata Gekisai Dai Ichi and Gekisai Dai Ni.

The Allied occupation of Okinawa was a very turbulent time in the history of Okinawa and the art of karate. Many lives were lost, including one of Sensei Miyagi's sons, two of his daughters, and his senior student, Jin'an Shinzato. He was forced to forgo much of his training while his homeland was restructured after the war. In 1946, he was appointed director of the Okinawan Civil Association of Physical Education, and resumed his training, teaching the Police Academy and opening a backyard dojo, known as the Garden Dojo. It is here where An'ichi Miyagi, Seiko Higa, Meitoku Yagi, Ei'ichi Miyazato, Seikichi Toguchi and, for a short time, Teruo Chinen trained, along with many other notable karateka

Chojun Miyagi died on October 8th, 1953, of either a heart attack (the most popular explanation) or a cerebral haemorrhage at the age of 65. His legacy lives on through his senior students and the untold karateka whose lives he continues to influence.