Chōjun Miyagi (宮城 長順 Miyagi Chōjun, April 25, 1888—October 8, 1953) was an Okinawan martial artist who founded the Goju-ryu school of karate by blending Okinawan and Chinese influences.
Early life and training
Miyagi was born in Higashimachi, Naha, Okinawa on April 25, 1888. Miyagi began his study in Karate-do at the age of nine (or fourteen). He first learned martial arts from Ryuko Aragaki, who then introduced him to Kanryo Higashionna (Higaonna Kanryō) when Miyagi was 14. Under his tutelage, Miyagi underwent a very long and arduous period of training. His training with Higaonna was interrupted for a two-year period while Miyagi completed his military service, 1910–1912, in Miyakonojo, Miyazaki.
Training in China
In May 1915, before the death of Higaonna, Miyagi travelled to Fujian Province. In China he visited the grave of Higaonna’s teacher, Ryu Ryu Ko. In this first trip he travelled with Eisho Nakamoto. After Kanryo Higaonna’s death ( in Oct, 1915) he made a second trip to Foochow with Gokenki. In this second trip he studied some local Chinese martial arts. (Some sources claim he studied Shaolin Kung Fu in Fuzhou, although historical records indicate that Southern Shaolin was razed to the ground by Qing government forces more than 300 years prior to his visit, and the modern day Fuzhou Shaolin Temple is a recent reconstruction based on a popular movie). It was in this second trip that he observed the Rokkishu (a set of hand exercises rather than a formal kata, which emphasizes the rotation of the forearms and wrists to execute offensive and defensive techniques), which he then adapted into the Tensho Kata. From the blending of these systems, and his native Naha-Te, a new system emerged. However, it was not until 1929 that Chojun Miyagi named the system Goju-ryu, meaning “hard soft style”.
Return to Japan
After several months in China, Chōjun Miyagi returned to Naha where he opened a dojo. He taught for many years, gaining an enormous reputation as a karateka. Despite his reputation, his greatest achievements lie in popularization and the organization of karate teaching methods. In recognition of his leadership in spreading karate in Japan, his style, the Goju-Ryu, became the first style to be officially recognized by the Dai Nippon Butokukai. He introduced karate into Okinawa police work, high schools and other fields of society. He revised and further developed Sanchin – the hard aspect of Goju, and created Tensho – the soft aspect. These kata are considered to contain the essence of the Goju-ryu. The highest kata, Suparinpei, is said to contain the full syllabus of Goju-ryu. Shisochin was Miyagi’s favorite kata at the end of his years. Tensho was influenced by the White Crane kata Ryokushu, which he learned from his long-time friend Gokenki. With the goal of unification of various karate styles which was in fashion at that time (see Gichin Funakoshi for his works in Japan), he also created more Shurite-like katas Gekisai Dai Ichi and Gekisai Dai Ni in 1940, taking techniques from higher forms (notably Suparinpei, and upper blocks uncommon for Goju-ryu at that time) and incorporating them into a shorter forms. It is said he created these kata to bridge the gap between Sanchin and Saifa, which contains much more complex moves compared to Sanchin.
Death and legacy
Miyagi had his first heart attack in 1951, and died in Okinawa on October 8, 1953 from a second heart attack. Some of Miyagi’s more notable students were: Seko Higa (Also a student of Kanryo Higaonna), Miyazato Ei’ichi(founder of the Jundokan dojo), Meitoku Yagi (founder of the Meibukan dojo, who eventually accepted Miyagi’s karategi and obi from Miyagi’s family), Seikichi Toguchi (founder of Shorei-kan Goju-ryu), and on the Japanese mainland Gōgen Yamaguchi who was the founder of the International Karate do Goju Kai Association and who after training with Miyagi, became the representative of Gōjū-ryū in Japan. At a later date Gōgen Yamaguchi invested much time studying Kata under Meitoku Yagi. He also trained other students who went on to create their own styles, such as Seigo Tada (founder of Seigokan) and Shimabuku Tatsuo (Isshinryu).
“Let me first say that I was not named the successor of goju-ryu by Miyagi, but nor was anyone else. There are some goju-ryu teachers who claim to have been privately appointed successor by Miyagi. These claims are ludicrous and disrespectful of his memory. He never publicly named anyone as successor. Common sense would dictate that if he were to appoint someone, it would have been a longtime student and it would have to be of public record to have any value. Miyagi was not a man to do things in a haphazard manner – everything was very deliberate and precise.
It would also be logical to assume that since Miyagi would not grant dan ranking, how then would he be inclined to name a successor? I feel Miyagi would be rolling in his grave with the plethora of ridiculous claims about this matter.” – Seikichi Toguchi
In popular culture
The character of Keisuke Miyagi in the The Karate Kid film series, written by Goju Ryu student of Toguchi – Kayo Ong lineage, Robert Mark Kamen was inspired by Chōjun Miyagi.
- Miyagi, Chojun. “Karate-Do Gaisetsu. Outline of Karate-Do”. March 23, 1934 (Showa 9). Reprint published in 1999 by Patrick McCarthy. Translated by Patrick and Yuriko McCarthy, 1993. Also in: Higaonna, Morio. “The History of Karate: Okinawan Goju-Ryu”.
- Miyagi, Chojun. “Historical Outline of Karate-Do, Martial Arts Of Ryukyu”. January 28, 1936. Translated by Sanzinsoo. In Japanese: “Ryukyu Kenpo Karatedo Enkaku Gaiyo”, essay appeared in “Okinawano Karatedo” by Shoshin Nagamine (1975, Shinjinbutsu Oraisha) and “Okinawaden Gojuryu Karatedo” by Eiichi Miyazato (1979, Jitsugyono Sekaisha).
- Miyagi Chojun et al. “The Meeting of Okinawan Karate Masters” Fragment of the 1936 meeting records. Published as an Appendix of “Karatedo Dai Hokan”, by Kanken Toyama. Pages 377-392 (Tsuru Shobo, 1960). (translated by Sanzinsoo)
- Miyagi Chojun. “Breathing In and Breathing Out in accordance with Go and Ju , a Miscellaneous Essay on Karate”. First published in “Bunka Okinawa” Vol.3 No.6, August 15, 1942. Republished in “Chugoku Okinawa Karate Kobudo No Genryu” written by Masahiro Nakamoto, April 1, 1985 by Bunbukan. Translated by Sanzinsoo.
- Miyagi, Chojun: Toudijutsu Gaisetsu (Outline of Karatedo ) Chojun Miyagi, Original publication. Okinawa ©1933 – Japan. International Ryukyu Karate Research Society Yokohama Japan © 1934.
- Nakaima Genkai. “Memories of my Sensei, Chojun Miyagi”. In: “Chojun Miyagi the Karate Master. His kindness is infinite. He preaches morality.” in: local monthly magazine “Aoi Umi” No.70 February 1978 issue (pages 99–100) published by Aoi Umi Shuppansha. That special issue featured Okinawan karate masters. Fragment translated by Sanzinsoo.