by Genkai Nakaima
Remarks: This is a translation of the original article “Chojun Miyagi the Karate Master. His kindness is infinite. He preaches
morality.” written by Mr. Genkai Nakaima which appeared in the local monthly magazine “Aoi Umi” No.70 February 1978 issue (pages 99-100) published by Aoi Umi Shuppansha. This special issue featured Okinawan karate masters. The magazine was already discontinued. The original Japanese title is “Ontaku Muryo, Ningen No Michi Wo Toku Bujin Miyagi Chojun”.
Translated by Sanzinsoo
One day in the spring when I had just moved up to the second grade of middle school, my classmate, Bunshun Tamagusuku said to me, “Why don’t we learn karate from Master Chojun Miyagi?” He had been asked by his uncle, Jin-an Shinzato. Those who were asked to learn karate from Master Chojun Miyagi by Jin-an Shinzato were Tatsutoku Sakiyama (his name at that time was Tatsutoku Senaha), Kiju Nanjo (his name at that time was Kiju Azama) and me.
Jin-an Shinzato was my next door neighbor. He had already graduated from Naha Commercial High School, so he was my senior. He resided in a rented house of Mr. Yukei Kuniyoshi.
In the evening Shinzato wearing white bandage around his neck appeared in front of the wooden gate of Mr. Kuniyoshi’s rented house. Bunshun Tamagusuku, I, and sometimes Tatsutoku Sakiyama, got together there.
Shinzato hung from the bar of the wooden gate and pulled himself up until his chin was above the bar. He showed us how high his chin was above the bar. He demonstrated us many repetitions of chin up. He also taught us one arm chin up.
Later we often got together at the school playground of Naha Jinjo Koto Shogakko (= an elementary school) in the evening. We enjoyed doing various exercises on chin-up bars or horizontal bars. Thanks to Shinzato, we could perform Giant Swing, Backward Giant Swing, Somersault and other advanced techniques.
Before long, Jin-an Shinzato enrolled in the police academy.
The four of us, Bunshun Tamagusuku, Tatsutoku Sakiyama (= Tatsutoku Senaha), Kiju Nanjo (= Kiju Azama) and I (= Genkai Nakaima), decided to learn karate from Master Chojun Miyagi.
I had to ask for permission of my father first. My father was ten years old when Shuri Castle was occupied by Japanese troops, Ryukyu Kingdom was abolished and became a prefecture of Japan in 1879 (Meiji Era 12). He was three years old when Japanese Government established the Ryukyu Clan as an initial step in their program to abolish Ryukyu Kingdom and establish Okinawa prefecture in 1872 (Meji Era 5).
Because my father was born in such a time of transition and the ancestors of our family had come from China, our family did not
allow him get an education of Japanese system called “Yamato Gakumon”, so he did not go to school. However, he built up a powerful and flexible physique because of the hard work. I heard he was a strong Okinawan style sumo wrestler. He was very delighted when I received a big prize at athletic meeting.
It was Spring in 1923, I was 15 years old, when I told my father that I was going to learn karate from Miyagi Sensei (= Master Chojun Miyagi). He said to me “It’s great if you learn from Bushi Miyagushiku (=Miyagi the Karate Master)!” and gave me permission. At that time Miyagi Sensei was already famous for his karate, so my father thought he was an ideal teacher for me.
We, Kumemura community people in Okinawa, were proud of Chinese lineage. We believed our ancestors came from China to Okinawa, so we highly respected not only Chinese literary arts but also fighting arts. As to literary arts, we established a school, “Meirindo” which was something like a college today, where the youth were educated. As for fighting arts such as karate and Bo (=staff fighting), I think we practiced individually in accordance with each physical strength and other conditions.
According to a program of the cultural festival at “Meirindo” school, there were performances of Bo (=staff fighting), Tesshaku or Tiechi (=Sai), “Sesan”, “Chishokin”, “Tohai” and “Suparinpe”. Most performances of karate were the same as what Miyagi Sensei had taught us.
Well, lessons by Miyagi Sensei began. We had lessons three times a week, Monday, Wednesday and Friday, after school from 3 p.m. until 8 p.m. at Miyagi Sensei’s home, not at Dojo (=a training hall) like these days. Some time later, quitted my classmate, Bunshun Tamagusuku whose uncle was a famous karateka Jin-an Shinzato, so remained three members: Tatsutoku Sakiyama whose family name at that time was Senaha, Kiju Nanjo whose family name was Azama at that time, and myself.
The process of our training consists of the preparatory exercises, the supplementary exercise and the foot movements of Sanchin.
According to the explanation of Miyagi Sensei about the preparatory exercise, by doing physical exercise, we can prepare for the formal karate training such as Sanchin and other Kata exercise. It also has an element as a warm-up.Another meaning of the preparatory exercise is building up our physical strength by training all the necessary muscles so that we can use the muscles in any situation. In short, we build up karate body by the preparatory exercise.The supplementary exercise is a kind of training mainly for learning basic technical components of Kata. It helps us to understand science and logic of karate, and at the same time, our skill of karate will be created with the development of our athletic ability and physical strength. In this way, we can lay the foundations for karate by doing the preparatory exercise and the supplementary exercises.
Miyagi Sensei told us various stories for two or three hours after the practice was over. The topics of his stories were not only technical matters of karate but also the general world affairs, the present situation of karate circles, the origin of karate, his studying attitude toward karate and Buddhism, karate and Okinawan traditional performing arts, and so on. At that time we were just junior high school boys, but Miyagi Sensei preached to us about the truth of karate, the soul of karate master, the Way of karate, namely the Way of man or morality. I still remember his bright face with sharp eyes in which I find the true karate master’s love and kindness.
Now I will tell you some of Miyagi Sensei’s words as follows.
“If you practice only Sanchin all your life, you do not have to practice any other Kata. Sanchin is so essential and important.” One
day I asked him, “How many times do you practice Sanchin to think that you performed well?” He replied, “I think I performed Sanchin well only once out of 30 times practices.” At that time he was young, 34 or 35 years old. His words are still impressive to me.
“The hand position at the ending of Sanchin is the same as that of a Buddha statue.” Miyagi Sensei often told us this story. I think the hand position at the ending of Sanchin is the most beautiful expression of praying. In fact I saw the same hand position of Buddha statues in some temples.
“Goju is the willow tree blown by the strong wind,” said Miyagi Sensei. The strong wind blows the willow. The willow never resists
the wind, just remains passive, but will never be broken or destroyed. In this way we take advantage of the opponent’s strength flow. It is a secret of the arts that we have to master through the practice.
I think it was 1926 when the National Athletic Meeting was held at the Outer Garden of the Meiji Shrine, Tokyo. Miyagi Sensei’s
disciple, Mr. Jin-an Shinzato participated in the Meeting to perform karate as a classical fighting arts. At that time he was suddenly asked by an official of the Meeting, “What is your style’s name?” then he replied “Goju-ryu style.” Later he explained this matter to Miyagi Sensei and Miyagi Sensei approved it. Since then we call ourselves Goju-ryu.
I asked, “Sensei, do you have eyes in the back of your head? They say that even if we follow you secretly and quietly, you immediately notice us and turn around quickly to find us.” Miyagi Sensei replied, “There is no one who have eyes in the back of his head. However, when I walk along the road, in some cases I feel something strange. I think it is the so-called sixth sense.”
“We should always be cautious when we turn at the corner of a road, walk along a rainy street and climb up and down a ladder etc. It will become useful for self-defense if we have practiced karate sufficiently hard and are accustomed to being cautious. As the result of a long time training of karate, we can obtain the so-called sixth sense and can notice if someone is following.”
“Studying karate nowadays is like walking in the dark without a lantern. We have to grope our way in the dark.” said Miyagi Sensei. He also told me, “There are so many things in karate which does not make sense and there are a lot of things I cannot understand. Therefore, while our grand masters are still alive, we have to see them and ask many questions. I think it is still very difficult to find the answers even if we did so.” I ever went with him to homes of the grand masters, Chomo Hanashiro Sensei and Itosu-No-Tanmee (=Itosu the Old Master) to hear their stories of karate.
In 1926 (the last year of Taisho era), karate masters got together and founded a club to research karate on the south side of Asahigaoka, Wakasamachi, Naha City. The masters who participated in the club were:
Ume of Motobu
Saru of Motobu (= Choki Motobu)
On the first day and fifteenth day of each month, they worshiped Bushin or the God of Martial Arts. Tatsutoku Sakiyama (= Tatsutoku Senaha), Kiju Nanjo (= Kiju Azama), Kogyu Tazaki, Kamade Yagi (= He is now in South America), Seiko Kina and I (= Genkai Nakaima) also went to the club and got training in karate there.
Miyagi Sensei approved the change of writing “karate” in Kanji (=Chinese charcters) from “China Hand” to “Empty Hand”. The kanji for karate: “China Hand” gradually was changed into the kanji for karate: “Empty Hand”.
Like Jujutsu became Judo, he devoted himself for evolving karate from “karate” of a fighting art to “Karate-Do”.
When Master Jigoro Kano of Kodokan judo visited Okinawa in 1925 (= Taisho 14), we demonstrated Goju-ryu karate for him at a public hall in Naha City. Miyagi Sensei himself explained it to Jigoro Kano. The friendly meeting of Kano and Miyagi, the two founders of martial arts, must be bright light for Karate-Do and good fortune for the development of Judo.
“Kenkoku Taiso” exercise was created in Japan during World War Two. In fact, the “Kenkoku Taiso” exercise consisted mostly of Kata of karate, so it might be a variation of karate.
As far as I know, Miyagi sensei has never tried to show off karate. Therefore, we also never talked about karate both at school and
outside school. We bore firmly in mind that we should not show karate to other people in public.
When the high-ranking judo instructors of Kodokan came to Okinawa on the way to Taiwan, they asked us to show them karate. Tatsutoku Sakiyama (= Tatsutoku Senaha), Kiju Nanjo (= Kiju Azama) and I (= Genkai Nakaima) demonstrated karate at the judo training hall of Second Middle School. After the judo instructors left the school, Miyagi Sensei visited Sochoku Nakachi, a teacher of Second Middle School, and asked him ÂgHow was the karate demonstration by my students?”
When Prince Takamatsunomiya visited Okinawa, Miyagi Sensei appointed me to show him Sanchin as a representative of Goju-Ryu. I performed Sanchin only wearing a pair of pants just like a daily practice. Miyagi Sensei did not demonstrate karate.
The rhythm of karate drawn in the air is the wisdom of the blessing from the heaven. It is same as the rhythm of traditional Okinawan dance or Ryukyu Buyo.