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Miyagi, Chojun (1888-1953)

Founder of Goju-Ryu Karate

Miyagi Chojun was born on April 15, 1888 in Naha-Shi, Okinawa. He was born into an aristocratic family that enjoyed the fortunes of a successful import /export business. Their two boats, which embarked on regular voyages to China, made them among the richest families in their community. (1 - p. 46), (3 - # 1)

As with Higaonna Sensei, Chojun's interest in the arts developed at an early age. In 1900, he began his formal training with an Okinawan named Aragaki Ryuko; later, in 1902, he was introduced to Higaonna Sensei. After earning his way by doing chores for the master, he was accepted as a student. (1 - p. 44), (3 - # 1)

His training with Higaonna Sensei was very severe. A lot of wind and strength training was involved from the start. Higaonna Sensei was so demanding, it is said, that Miyagi would sometimes pass-out while performing Sanchin Kata. Chojun continued to train with Higaonna Sensei until the master's death. Miyagi Chojun, now Miyagi Sensei, had developed into a karate-ka of great skill and power. (1 - p. 48)

Because of his great love of karate (formerly known as tou-di or tou-ti), Miyagi Sensei trained with an undying enthusiasm; by virtue of his superior skill and loyalty, Miyagi Sensei was Higaonna Sensei's primary deshi (devoted student) and successor to his system. (1 - p. 48)

The same wealth that allowed him to devote all of his time to training in the arts also enabled him to travel to China, in 1915, to search of his teacher's teacher, Master Liu Liu Ko. Although unable to find the Foochow master, he was able to study other arts of the Fukien Province. There are many conflicting stories about which systems Miyagi Sensei may have studied; among the arts that he may have trained in while in China are Bakua Chang, Hsing-i, and Tai Chi Chuan. Another theory states that he may have learned a system called "Ngo Cho Kun," which translates into "Five Ancestor Fist" style. Others say that he studied the "Rokkishu" Kata, which is said to have been instrumental in his development of the Tensho Kata. (1 - p. 46), (3 - # 1), (6 - p. 31, 32)

Miyagi Sensei, under severe conditions at several different schools, continued to train in the methods he had been taught by Higaonna Sensei. His training was not confined to just his time in the dojo. Every aspect of his life took on an element of training and he remained alert to his surroundings at all times. It is said that Miyagi Sensei's very existence was consumed by the desire for self-actualization in the martial arts. (3 - # 1)

Again living in Okinawa, word of his prowess as a karate-ka spread throughout Okinawa. In 1921, he was chosen to demonstrate Naha-Te to the visiting future Emperor, Crown Prince Hirohito. He gave an impressive performance and was asked to repeat the performance for Prince Chichibu in 1925. In 1926, at the age of 38, he visualized the future of Okinawan martial arts and set up the Karate Research Club. Along with Hanashiro Chomo (Shuri-Te), Mabuni Kenwa (Shito-Ryu), and Motobu Choyo (Motobu-Ryu - Udun-Di), he spent the next three years training in kihon (basic techniques), kata, conditioning, and philosophy. He was invited to Japan in 1929 by Yamaguchi Gogen, who would eventually promote his own interpretation of Miyagi Sensei's Goju-Ryu system in Japan (Japanese Goju). (3 - # 1)

Kano Jigoro (founder of Judo) began visiting Okinawa in 1927, and was so impressed by the demonstration of karate technique that he invited Miyagi Sensei to Japan in 1930 and 1932 to demonstrate at several tournaments. Unable to attend one of these tournaments, Miyagi Sensei sent a senior student, Shinzato Jin'an, in his place. At that tournament, Shinzato was asked, "what is the name of your kenpo?" Not having an answer beyond the geographical location of the school (typical method of naming styles at the time), it is thought by many that he could not answer. Another theory states that he may have implemented the temporary name of "Hanku-ryu." He approached Miyagi Sensei with the question. Miyagi Sensei agreed that a name should be chosen for their style. (1 - p. 44, 47), (3 - # 1)

In a Chinese text, the Bubishi, there are the "Eight Poems of the Fists" (eight precepts). The third of these precepts reads "The way of inhaling and exhaling is hardness and softness." "Go" means hard and "ju" means soft. Since Miyagi Sensei's style was one utilizing both of these principles cohesively in one system, he decided to refer to his style as Goju-Ryu. 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," and he was also appointed the Chief Judge of Karate in mainland Japan and awarded the rank of Kyoshi 8th Dan. (1 - p. 47), (3 - # 1)

Miyagi Sensei was appointed as head of the Okinawan branch of the Butoku-Kai Association, and traveled to Hawaii to introduce karate there that following year. Upon returning to Naha, he was awarded a commendation from the Ministry of Education for outstanding service in the field of physical culture. (3 - # 1)

In 1936, he returned to China to further his studies of Chinese martial arts, this time choosing Shanghai instead of Foochow. Upon his return to Japan 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 Ichi and Gekisai Ni. (3 - # 1)

One of Miyagi Sensei's sons and his senior student, Shinzato Sensei, died during the occupation of Okinawa. The occupation claimed many thousands of civilian lives-one military journalist, Tetsuo Maeda, has researched this estimate to be as high as 100,000 people, one-third the island's population at the time. He had to give up much of his training and teaching time to the efforts of rebuilding Okinawa after the war. In 1946, he was appointed director of the Okinawan Civil Association of Physical Education and resumed his training. He taught at the Police Academy and opened a dojo in his back yard that would become known as the "Garden Dojo." It was here that Miyagi Sensei forged many fine men into great karate-ka. (3 - # 1), (5 - # 1)

Miyagi Sensei died on October 8th, 1953, at the age of 65 while serving his tenure at the Ryukyu Police Station. His legacy lives on through his senior students and countless others whose lives were changed because of his influence. Most notable among the students who carried on Miyagi Sensei's teachings after his passing: Yagi Meitoku (Meibukan), Higa Seiko (Shobukan), Toguchi Seikichi (Shoreikan), Miyazato Ei'ichi (Jundokan) and Miyagi An'ichi (IOGKF). (1 - p. 46), (3 - # 1)

Author: Original material from: Wade Chroninger-Chief Instructor, Meibukan Goju-Ryu, Okinawa Dojo, International Student Branch. Note: some wording modifications were made to insure clarity to students outside of the Meibukan Goju-Ryu organization.

Research Bibliography: Works Sited and / or Consulted

(1). Yagi Meitetsu, Carl Wheeler, and Brock Vickerson; OKINAWAN KARATE-DO GOJU-RYU MEIBU-KAN, (pages 17, 22, 43, 44, 46 - 49, 53, 54); Published by the authors, 1998; Printed in Prince Edward Island, Canada by Action Press.

(2). TRADITIONAL KARATE-DO-Okinawa Goju Ryu Vol.1 Fundamental Techniques, (pages 22 - 29); Published by Sugawara Martial Arts Institute, Inc. Of Tokyo, Japan, 1997, Eighth Printing, 1985, First Printing; ISBN: 0-87040-595-0; Printed in Japan

(3). Rob Monaco's Internet Site-pages: #1 , #2 , #3 ,

(4). John Porta's Internet Site-pages: #1 , Note: This article originally appeared in the Journal of Asian Martial Arts (Vol. 3, No. 3, 1994)

(5). Internet Web Site-page #1 , Article Title: OKINAWA: "Half a Century of American Military Bases and the Okinawan People;" Authored by: Tetsuo Maeda, Military journalist; (3/10/95)

(6). Alexander Lim Ko; FIVE ANCESTOR FIST KUNG-FU The way of Ngo Cho Kun, (pages 31, 32); Published by Charles E. Tuttle Company. Of Rutland, Vermont & Tokyo, Japan, 1997, first Tuttle addition; LCC Card Number 97-60011; ISBN 0-8048-3153-X; Printed in Singapore.

Reproduced with persmission from the Meibukan Website (Edited for punctuation and clarity)

To find more articles of interest, search on one of these keywords:

Aragaki Ryuko,Higaonna,Liu Liu Ko, Goju Ryu karate, Goju-Ryu,

Read more articles by Wade Chroninger

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