Miyagi Chojun, Sensei: The Founder of Goju Ryu Karate-Do
Chojun Miyagi was born April 25th 1888 in Higashi-Machi (Naha-shi) Okinawa. When Miyagi Sensei was 11 years old, his mother took him to a karate master named Aragaki Ryuko. At the dojo of Aragaki Sensei, he trained mainly on makiwara, chishi, and nagiri-game, which were used to strengthen and develop the muscles.Later he introduced the young Miyagi to Higaona Sensei. After watching the young Miyagi carrying out all of the chores around the house (the traditional way of being accepted by an instructor), Higaona Sensei decided to have him as a personal disciple, and started to teach him his art.
Miyagi Sensei's training was not confined just to the dojo. He ran every day from his High School, where he had enrolled previously, and a few times he was seen at the harbor as well. Miyagi did a lot of body conditioning before he went to Higaona's dojo, but still found the training extremely hard and demanding. Higaona's training was exhaustive, and Miyagi would pass out many an evening. Although the training was very hard, Miyagi was enthusiastic about his karate, and Higaona Sensei was already thinking of him as his successor. Both were already working on the practice of kata and on the improvement of Naha-te. They stayed together for 15 years. After training with Higaonna Sensei, Miyagi sailed to China in May of 1915 in search of his Higaonna's teacher. This was one of three trips he made to China during his lifetime. During his quest he studied Chuguko Kempo (Chinese Fist) in Fouchow, Fukien Province, from 1915 to 1917. He studied not only the building blocks of his teachers art Hung Gar-Shaolin Chuan Chi-Chi, but also I-Chuan, Pa Kua Chang and Tai Chi Chuan. All of these were softer however highly skilled and effective styles. It was at this time he learned the Kata Rokkishu, which later became the building block on Kata Tensho. With this additional martial art training Okinawa-te, Naha-te and the Chinese arts, Sensei Miyagi developed a refined form of empty hand, and even today its Whooping Crane Chinese Kung Fu roots can still be seen in its forms or Kata.
In early 1917, Higaonna Sensei died, and Miyagi returned to Okinawa. After he buried his beloved teacher, he began to teach his Karate at a number of places in and around Naha, and to lecture and demonstrate throughout Japan. Chojun Miyagi's students primarily studied four Kata: Sanchin, Sesan, Seiunchin and Tensho. These Kata are called the Kaishu forms but the Kata Sesan and Seiunchin were actually considered the training Kata of Goju-Ryu
Miyagi-Sensei subjected the art of Naha-te, as received from Kanryo Higashionna, to scientific examination. He studied the basic Go (Sanchin) and the six rules and created the Ju (Tensho) form, combining soft and hard movements. Later, he created the katas Gekisai Ich and Ni. He also organized the auxiliary movements to strengthen the body through calisthenics. He organized these exercises in preparation for practicing the classical Kata. It can be said, he formulated the theory for the practice of Karate and organized it as an educational subject, an art of self-defense, and as a spiritual exercise.
During this time he also becomes a permanent officer of the Dai Nippon Butokukai (Great Japan Martial Virtues Association). By 1936 Mr. Chojun Miyagi was truly recognized by the Government of Japan with being awarded the medal for "Excellence in the Martial Arts" from the Japanese Ministry of Education. That same year he went to train at the Chinese martial arts in Shanghai at the Seibu Dai Iku Kai or Great Gymnastic Association - Pure Martial Spirit. On May 5th, 1937 - Miyagi Chojun Sensei performed Kata at the Butoku Sai for the Dai Nippon Butoku-kai.
To describe his system, Miyagi compared it to a willow tree standing against the wind, remaining stable because of its strong roots, while the branches flow and give with the force.With this concept he envisioned a new approach to Karate, combining it with hard and soft techniques to be used in countering hard blows and kicks.
The naming of Goju-Ryu came about more by accident than design. In 1929 one of Chojun Miyagi Sensei disciples, Jinan Shinzato, was in mainland Kyoto, Japan for a large martial arts convention to demonstrate Naha-te. After the performance he was asked to what school of karate he belonged. As Naha-te had no formal name he could not answer this question (styles were only known by the area in which the art was practiced. Feeling his art would be looked down upon he answered "Hankry-ryu", which means the Way of Half Hard. Unable to accurately reply he returned to Okinawa and consulted Miyagi Sensei. He chose the name"Goju Ryu" (the hard-soft style), inspired by the "Eight precepts" of Kempo, written in the Bubishi. Quoting from the third verse of a Chinese Bubishi poem, Eight Poems of the Fist: "The way of inhaling and exhaling is hardness and softness." It is from this that the art Miyagi studied and taught got its name. Goju-Ryu, the way of hard and soft.
Following what is now known as the Meeting of the Masters, Mr. Miyagi along with others who attended formed the 'Great Japan Martial Arts Karate Teachers Association' or 'Dai Nippon Butokukai Karate Jutsu-Kyoshi'(1937). Before the Second World War, Chojun Miyagi traveled widely and was involved in many projects to spread karate throughout mainland Japan and the rest of the world. However, from 1948 until 1953 he remained in Okinawa. Before the war he had been dedicated to his own training and research, to further develop the art of Goju Ryu Karate, but his purpose in life had now changed. He was intent on passing on Goju Ryu, and the "gokui" (secret principles) of Goju Ryu to the next generation. Master Miyagi taught at his home, outside in his Garden Dojo. But he didn't teach regularly outside his own personal students other than his municipal duties (Police and education Miyagi Sensei's instruction was not limited to physical training. He also lectured his students on history, culture, society, human relations as many senior Sensei of today do. During these 'sessions' Miyagi Sensei would teach the kata (forms) in great detail and explain the "bunkai" (kata applications) thoroughly.
Chojun Miyagi passed away October 8th, 1953. He had not conceded a successor at the time of his death. Leaving an unprecedented mark in the world of Karate-do and from his famous Garden Dojo and enough legendary students to carry his name into the history books of Martial Arts as the 'Master". He predicted that during the twentieth century karate would spread throughout the world. Today we can see that this prediction has been realized, karate is not only practiced in Japan, but it can be found throughout the world. Karate can no longer be referred to as a solely Okinawan or Japanese martial art, it has become an art with no boundaries, an art for all people all over the world.