Chojun Miyagi was born on April 25, 1888 in Naha, Okinawa and was the adopted son of a wealthy businessman. He began his martial arts training at the age of 9 with Aragaki Ryuko Sensei who then introduced him to Naha-te Master Kanryo Higaonna when Miyagi was 14. Under Higaonna Sensei, Miyagi underwent a very long and ardous period of training. Higaonna Sensei was very demanding of his students so much so that Chojun Miyagi Sensei would pass out during class from overexertion.
After the death of Master Kanryo Higaonna, Miyagi travelled to the Fukien Province in China as his teacher had done before him. In China he studied the Shaolin and Pa Kua forms of Chinese boxing. Whilst in China, Chojun Miyagi noticed a crane sitting on a roof, which was made of tile. As Miyagi approached the huge bird, the crane became alarmed and flew away. As it was flying away, the frightened crane flapped its wings against the tile roof, breaking some of the tiles in the process. Miyagi was amazed that the soft feathers of the crane were able to break something as hard as tiles. Inspired by this, he devised a whole new approach to Karate, mixing in the hard techniques with many soft ones to be used in countering hard blows and kicks.
From the blending of these systems, the hard linear/external form of Shaolin, the soft circular/internal form of Pa Kua, and his native Naha-Te style emerged a new system. However, it was not until 1929 that Chojun Miyagi named the system Goju-ryu, meaning hard-soft style. He named the system “goju-ryu” (hard-soft style) from the Old chinese book Wu Pei Chih (Army account of military and science) by Yuan-I Mao published in 1636 and from his earlier experience of the crane. Miyagi travelled several times to China after Higaonna Sensei died and remained a few years at a time to train in the Chinese martial arts. Miyagi’s unusual dedication to the martial arts earned deep respect from the Chinese kempo Masters. He was considered an outstanding karate Master of great skill, strength and spirit. Miyagi further improved and developed the theory and techniques of Naha-Te before renaming the style and scrutinized it scientifically for martial arts training in Okinawa.
In addition to his personal training and development of Naha-te, Miyagi Chojun Sensei spent a great deal of his time promoting the art. In 1921, he performed a demonstration of Naha-te in Okinawa for the visiting Prince Hirohito, Emperor of Japan, and in 1925 for Prince Chichibu.
As the Naha-Te styles exposure increased, many became interested in Miyagi Chojun Sensei’s art. One of Miyagi Chojun Sensei’s senior disciples, Shinzato Sensei, gave a performance of kata at a Japanese martial arts tournament. Afterwards, a master asked the name of his school. Shinzato Sensei had no answer for him, upon his return to Okinawa he told Miyagi Chojun Sensei about this encounter. In order to promote his art as well as cooperate with other schools of Japanese martial arts, it was then that Miyagi Chojun Sensei decided it was necessary to name his art. It became known as “Goju-Ryu” karate, meaning “hard and soft.” He was the first among different schools of karate to name his art and in 1933 his art of Goju-Ryu was formally registered at the Butoku-kai, the Japanese Martial Arts Association.
During the 1930’s, Miyagi Chojun Sensei actively developed and promoted karate-do in Japan and throughout the world. In 1934, a Hawaiian newspaper company invited him to Hawaii for the purpose of introducing and populating karate. In 1936, Miyagi Chojun Sensei spent two months in Shanghai, China, for further study of Chinese martial arts. In 1937, he was awarded a commendation by the Butoku-kai for his kata and is also known as employing scientific methods in the development of goju-ryu. In 1940, he created the kata “Gekisai Dai Ichi” and “Gekisai Dai Ni” with the purpose of popularizing karate and improving the physical education of young people. He also created “Tensho” kata emphasizing the softness of the art whereas “Sanchin” kata emphasizes the hardness.
A tragic period ensued in the 1940’s as a result of World War II and Miyagi Chojun Sensei stopped teaching. During this period he lost a son and a senior student while enduring the devastations of war and poverty. After the war, Okinawan karate spread rapidly throughout mainland Japan with Miyagi Chojun Sensei teaching karate in Kansai, Japan, for a short time. In 1946 however, he started teaching karate at the Okinawan Police Academy as well as in the backyard of his home in Tsuboya where his son still lives today.
From the beginning, Miyagi Chojun Sensei recognized karate as a valuable social treasure of Okinawa. He devoted his entire life to the study, development and transmission of Okinawan karate for the sake of future generations and is truly known as the founder of Goju-Ryu karate-do. During his lifetime, Miyagi Chojun Sensei was known and respected by everyone not only in Okinawa but also respected throughout the world as one of karate’s greatest authorities.
Miyagi Chojun Sensei also used the “Eight Precepts” of traditional Chinese Kempo found in the document “Bubishi” when he renamed Naha-Te to Goju-Ryu that reads as follows:
- The mind is one with heaven and earth.
- The circulatory rhythm of the body is similar to the cycle of the sun and the moon.
- The way of inhaling and exhaling is hardness and softness.
- Act in accordance with time and change.
- Techniques will occur in the absence of conscious thought.
- The feet must advance and retreat, separate and meet.
- The eyes do not miss even the slightest change.
- The ears listen well in all directions.
These eight precepts are the essence of the Goju-Ryu way of Karate till this day. Chōjun Miyagi was a man of extremely mild temperament and it is said that he was a very humble man. He lived according to the principles of martial arts (i.e. that of non-violence). Master Miyagi died in Okinawa on October 8, 1953 from a second heart-attack (the first took place in 1951).
Some of his more notable students were Seiko Higa (also a student of Kanryo Higaonna), Seikichi Toguchi (founder of the Shorei-Kan dojo), Ei’ichi Miyazato (founder of the Jundokan dojo), Meitoku Yagi (founder of the Meibukan dojo) and in Japan, Gogen Yamaguchi (founder of Goju-kai).
Miyagi was teaching and promoting goju-ryu karate-do up to the time of his death at the age of 66. He was called the last great samurai warrior of Okinawa because of his legendary strength and skill as well as his intense dedication to the martial arts. His legacy lived on through his followers, most notably through one of his best students Gogen Yamaguchi of Japan.