The Battle of Okinawa: Great Sacrifices
A few years before the war, while my father was teaching me the Sanseiru (サンセールー) kata, he suddenly said to me, “with your body, remember what I have taught you.” In his words I tasted the fear of war, yet, in that moment, I also felt like my father was entrusting me with the future of his Karate.
At that time, my father also placed great faith in a disciple named Shizato Jinan (新里仁安); so much so that he asked Shizato to demonstrate Goju Ryu Karate at a conference held by Japan’s premier martial arts organization, The Dai Nippon Butoku Kai (大日本武徳会, English: Greater Japan Martial Virtue Society). My father always told me: “If anything should happen to me, consult with Shizato Jinan.”I grew up calling him uncle Jiru and resolved to follow my father’s advice until Shizato Jinan died in the last year of the war. I believe his death deeply discouraged my father.
After the war, my father continued to offer public classes at the Okinawan Police Academy, and to oversee the training of his disciples. However, the destruction wrought by the Battle of Okinawa—the tremendous sacrifices of our people, the loss of life—had left my father deeply depressed. After the army demobilized, I continued to live in Tokyo; however, my father and I exchanged many letters. My father had dedicated his whole life to Karate-do, and I could feel this in his letters; he wrote extensively about the future of the art; I believe this was always on his mind. In a 1952 letter, he wrote of his intention to visit me in Tokyo, but in the following year, on October 8th, 1953, he died unexpectedly of a heart attack. This was a great tragedy for the Karate world.
A New Method for Teaching Karate
The purpose of traditional Karate-do was to kill one’s enemies in battle; however, this is not a good foundation for a modern education program.
For this reason, Miyagi Chojun-sensei turned to the Chinese martial arts in order to develop the internal principles of Karate. He studied the movement and breathing principles prescribed for a southern Chinese martial arts form known as Rokkishu (六機手, English: Six Hands): the last two Chinese characters—or kishu (機手)—refer to a series of hand techniques found in some Southern Chinese martial arts. These same techniques were described in a Chinese text called the Bubishi (武備志, Mandarin Chinese: Wǔbèi zhì) as a series open-palm hand forms for manipulating an opponent’s keiketsu (経穴): the same network of pressure points used in acupuncture. Chojun-sensei incorporated these Chinese concepts into Goju Ryu Karate, one result of which was the“soft”kata known as Tensho (テンショウ). In a similar way, Chojun-sensei refined the stances and the patterns of movement employed in Higaonna Kanryo-sensei’s original Sanchin (サンチン).
The Sanchin and Tensho kata are unique to Goju Ryu Karate-do; other schools of Karate do not have them. The practice of these kata center on formalized breathing patterns and the internal sensations associated with them. Practitioners must learn to control varying degrees of muscle tension and relaxation in coordination with their breath; the task of the instructor is to constantly check that this is being done correctly. Through practicing these two kata diligently, practitioners can learn three core principles of Goju Ryu:
1. Jutsugi no henka (術技の変化, English: changing technique)
2. Kisoku no donto (気息の呑吐, English: breathing from the center)
3. Jushin no ido (重心の移動, English: moving with the center)
Miyagi Chojun-sensei divided the Goju Ryu kata into two categories: kihongata (基本形, English: Basic Kata) and kaishukata (開手形, English: open-hand kata); the sequence of preparatory exercises he developed—yobi undo (予備運動)—were for the purpose of training the specific muscle groups necessary to perform these kata correctly. The yobi undo sequence contains many of the basic movements found in karate-do; practicing it is of immeasurable importance. In fact, my father once told me that Kano Jigoro-sensei (嘉納 治五郎, 1860 –1938), the founder of modern Judo, once visited Okinawa, and was so impressed by the efficacy of yobi undo that he incorporated it into his Judo curriculum.
In addition, my father created the two Gekisai (ゲキサイ) kata, which contain many important elements of Goju Ryu while remaining accessible to laypeople. In total, there are 12 kata in the Goju Ryu system: the kihongata, which consists of Sanchin, Tensho, and the two Gekisai kata; and the kaishukata, which consists of an additional eight kata.
My father had deep knowledge of geography and history, as well as of both Chinese culture, and the broader cultural forces shaping Asia. The image of him pouring over dictionaries is something I will never forget; I swear he used them as a pillow! He also had great knowledge of Chinese medicine and human anatomy—in fact, he counted many doctors as his friends—and integrated this knowledge into the presentation of his Karate system. He truly developed Goju Ryu to be a modern, scientific training system based on his years of experience training in Naha-te and other martial arts. My father intended his karate to be taught as a systematic approach for developing physical health, mental strength, and moral character.
As the Lineage Holder of Goju Ryu
I was born in August 1919 in Naha City, Okinawa, as the eldest son of Miyagi Chojun, the founder of Goju Ryu Karate-do. My father incorporated the teachings of Karate-do into every aspect of my life: he taught me how to be aware of the placement and articulation of my hands and feet, how to maintain awareness while doing such basic things as walking down the street, holding an umbrella, and so on. Such awareness naturally arises from the mental and physical training inherent to Karate-do.
My father was a highly educated person. He had a vast network of personal and professional relationships, and often told me stories about famous people living in Okinawa; he also introduced me to many government officials and intellectuals who visited Okinawa from abroad. As his son, I absorbed much of his view of life, his personality, and his Karate-do spirit.
My father was also open to learning from other arts. For example, he recommended that I spend a summer learning Kendo at the Butokukan Hall in Kyoto. The practice of kendo deepened my understanding of Karate-do training, just as my father knew that it would.
My father oversaw every aspect of my Karate training. I vividly remember his emphasis on the strict practice of yobi undo. I sometimes refer to this as "Goju gymnastics", and teach my disciplines to perform the sequence at the beginning of every Karate-do practice session. My father also strictly defined each of the Karate-do stances, or tachi (立ち) found in the Goju Ryu kata: such stances include sanchin dachi, shiko dachi, nekoashi dachi, and denkutsu dachi. Kata training integrates various elements: how to stand, how to use the hands and feet, how to change direction, and so on. My father taught me to contemplate the meaning of each movement of the kata deeply, and to hold that meaning in my mind as I practice.
The Goju Ryu style of Karate-do contains many useful techniques for close-combat fighting. These cannot be fully explained in words; the ability to understand the application of the techniques embedded in the Goju Ryu kata may, in part, depend on the capability of the individual student learning them. Nevertheless, I believe that being taught by a good teacher is essential to mastery.
After the death of my father, Miyagi Chojun, I inherited his position as the lineage holder of the Goju Ryu system. I opened the Komeikan Dojo in Tokyo and have been teaching Karate-do ever since. My teaching method is based on that of my father’s, yet, I have also tried to develop his system by incorporating new teaching and training methods that appeared after the war.
The Establishment of the Komeikan and its Educational Philosophy
I began teaching Karate-do in Tokyo around 1958. At that time, there was a movement to establish new Karate-do organizations throughout post-war Japan; a Karate-do association for the purpose of administering university Karate clubs was also formed. Through the activities of these organizations, Karate clubs remain active throughout Japan today. During that time, I was asked to support the establishment of some of these groups, but I fundamentally disagreed with their approach to Karate-do training. For this reason, I established my own Japan Karate-do Goju Federation for the purpose of maintaning the continuity of the Goju Ryu lineage; all of my teaching activities since then have been conducted through the Komeikan organization.
In 1963, I published two books on Karate: "How to Enjoy Karate-do" (空手道の楽しみ方) and "Orthodox Goju-ryu Karate-do" (正統空手道入門) (both volumes are out of print). The purpose of these books was to give laypeople a taste of the Goju Ryu system, as well as to introduce an authentic approach to the practice. I also appeared in a Japan Broadcasting Organization (NHK) program entitled "A Record of the Contemporary: Reconstructing the Spirit" (現代の記録・精神復興); I introduced the basic principles of the Sanchin (サンチン) Kata and performed the Seipai (セイパイ) Kata. Around this time, construction had just begun on the Japan Budokan; many people in Japan were interested in discovering new ways to educate the next generation. The goal of that NHK program was to explore the spiritual side of the Japanese martial arts. In 1966, I set up a new dojo in Kunitachi, Tokyo, and have continued to teach Karate-do with that same goal in mind.
My primary goal is to maintain continuity with the original teachings of Miyagi Chojun. At the same time, I have developed my own approach to teaching the Goju Ryu system so that students can more easily acquire the offensive and defensive techniques represented in the Kata.
Karate-do has spread throughout Japan, yet, much of the ancient knowledge that my grandfather synthesized into the Goju Ryu system has been lost. These days, many Karate-do instructors emphasize only those techniques necessary to compete in “Sport Karate,” as opposed to those that make traditional Karate-do both a formidable fighting art and a way of life. In Kata competitions, for example, it is quite obvious that many of the athletes have no idea about the purposes for which the techniques they are performing were created. This reduces the importance of Kata training in the eyes of the younger generation. If the judges of Kata competitions do not study the kata of each school of Karate deeply, they cannot evaluate the quality of an individual Kata by any meaningful standard. We must not forget the axiom that Karate-do begins and ends with Kata.