Chojun Miyagi was born in the district of Higashi-machi, Naha,
on 25th April 1888, second son of a local
aristocratic family of wealthy businessman dedicated to the
import/export business. His father Chosho Miyagi was owner of
2 ships which made regular trips to mainland China.
Miyagi began his study in Shuri-te Karate at the age of
eleven, in the dojo of Ryuko Aragaki (1875-1961). But it was
only at the age of 14, in 1902, that he became the student of
Naha-tee’s Master Kanryo Higashionna (1851-1915). It was under
the tutelage of his Master, that Miyagi underwent a very long
and arduous period of training, along with his colleague
Juhatso Kyoda (1887-1967). Like his teacher before him,
because of his great natural talent and fierce determination,
he amazingly progressed. The training was very severe and
beyond belief, with a lot of running and strength exercises.
It is said that he sometimes passed out performing Sanchin
kata, so demanding was Sensei Higashionna on his student's
In 1910 he was incorporated in the army for two years were he
studied judo and Okinawan sumo, different from the Japanese
one. His attachment to the medical corps determined somehow
his study of the physical aspects.
Chojun practiced even harder with an enthusiasm unmatched by
any of the other Higashionna students. Due to this enthusiasm
Chojun Miyagi became "uchi deshi" (private disciple) of Kanryo
Higashionna, with whom he studied until the death of his
Master, 14 years latter, in 1915,
developing himself into a powerful karateka.
He continued to train in the methods he learned from Sensei
Higashionna, always under severe and demanding conditions. He
did not confine his training to the dojo, either. Every waking
moment was spent in pursuit of his Masters art, always
remaining vigilante to his surroundings, always planning and
ready for whatever might occur.
He made his first travel to China from 1904 to 1908, no doubt
an opportunity afforded him by the nature of the family
business, not to mention the luxury that wealth gave him in
being able to pursue his art full-time.
Chojun Miyagi, as successor to Naha-te pushed himself to the
limits of endurance in his desire to emulate the extraordinary
skill of his teacher. To this end, that same year (1915) he
travelled to Fuzhou, Fukien Province, China. Fuzhou was the
main centre of south-Chinese fighting arts (Nan Quan). His
quest was to locate Master Ryu Ryuko, whom Higashionna had
studied with. He was unable to locate him, though, but did
pick up some of the local arts, notable the kata Rokkishu,
which was instrumental in his creation of Tensho kata. Like
his teacher had done he studied the martial arts of Shaolin
and Pa Kua forms of Chinese boxing, to further his research.
For two months together with his friend Aisho Nakamoto
(1881-1945) he trained there and also visited the Julianshan
Fujian Shaolin Temple. This was one of three trips he made to
China during his lifetime. After two years in China, in 1917,
he returned to Okinawa and opened his dojo
out of his home in
Naha. In Okinawa
he became friend of two Fuzhou tea merchants Wu Xianhui
(1886-1940), know in Japanese as Go Kenki, and Tang Daiji
(1887-1937), know in Japanese as To Daiki (from Tiger Boxing –
Hu Quan) both famous martial arts teachers. Wu Xianhui was in
Naha since 1912 and came there to teach the White Crane
Later, he also taught at the Okinawan Prefecture Police
Training Centre, at the Okinawan Master's
College, and at the Naha Commercial High School
(where his teacher had once taught).
From the blending of these systems, the hard/external form of
Shaolin, the other the soft circular/internal form of Pa Kua,
with his largely Chinese influenced native Naha-Te a new
system emerged. However, it was not until 1930 that Chojun
Miyagi named the system Goju-ryu, meaning hard-soft style.
In 1921, he was chosen to represent Naha-te in a presentation
in Okinawa to the visiting crown prince Hirohito, on his way
to Europe (that would become Emperor in 1926), and gave an
impressive performance, among other masters of toudijutsu
(China hand art).
He repeated this in 1925 for prince Chichibu. He began to
visualize the future of the Okinawan fighting arts, and in
1926, at the age of 38, set up the Okinawa Karate Kenkyu-Kai
(Okinawa Karate Research Club), along with Chomo Hanashiro (Shuri-te),
Kenwa Mabuni (Shito Ryu) and Motobu Choyo (Tomari-te),
spending the next 3 years training in basics, kata, fitness
Jigoro Kano (the founder of Judo) began visiting Okinawa in
1927, and was so impressed with Sensei Miyagi’s toudijutsu.
Kano was particularly impressed with grappling, locking and
throwing techniques and the correct use of breathing. Kano
invited him, along with Mabuni, to Japan in 1930 and 1932 to
demonstrate at several tournaments.
was at one of these demonstrations in Tokyo, in 1930, that his
senior student, Jin'an Shinzato (1901-1945) was asked which
school of karate he belonged to. Unable to answer (styles were
only known by their geographical reference at that time),
immediately, and imagining that a lack of name would be
considered unqualified for his “naha te” he called his school
“Hanko ryu” (half hard school). On his return to Okinawa he
reported this incident to Chojun Miyagi. After much
consideration, Chojun Miyagi chose the name Goju-Ryu (go -
hard and ju - soft school) as a name for his style. This name
he took from a line of the Chinese text "Bubishi", a very
popular historical reference, on martial arts and other
subjects, among karateka of the day, in the Eight Poems of the
The mind is one with heaven and Earth 2. The circulatory
system of the body is similar to that of the sun and moon 3.
The way of inhaling and exhaling is hardness and softness
4. Act in accordance with time and change 5. Techniques will
occur in the absence of conscious thought. 6. The feet must
advance and retreat, separate and meet. 7. The eyes do not
miss the slightest change. 8. The ears listen well in all
This line reads, "Ho
wa go ju o tondo su". It is necessary to point out that these
precepts have a much greater importance than simply as the
source for the naming on Goju-ryu. They present great insight
into the indispensable knowledge and application of the
sciences practiced by the martial arts masters of this time.
Without proper and complete research and study of these
paradigms, the true essence of Goju-ryu can never be truly
And this was the birth of the art of Goju-Ryu.
In 1933 his toudi was officially registered as such at
the Dai Nippon Butoku-Kai, the Japanese all Martial Arts
This was a milestone for karate as it meant that it was
the first Okinawan martial art to be registered and recognized
on a level with the highly respected martial arts of Japan. On
the occasion Chojun Miyagi was given the honorific title of
Kyoshi. It was the first master in Karate’s history to receive
Chojun Miyagi worked hard to spread karate throughout Okinawa
and mainland Japan, and to earn Naha-te a status equal to that
of the highly respected Japanese martial arts of Judo and
Kendo. To achieve this he travelled frequently to mainland,
for some months to Japan where he was invited to teach karate,
from 1928, at
Kyoto University, Kansai University and
Ritsumei Kan University.
Thus Goju-Ryu Karate Do was the first and eldest karate form
recognized by the Dai Nippon Butoku-Kai, allowing its founder
to acquire an outstanding position in Karate Do history.
In the year of 1933, he presented his fundamental article "Historical
Outline of Karate-Do".
In 1934, Sensei Miyagi was appointed as head of the Okinawan
branch of the Dai Nippon Butoku-Kai Association, and in May he
travelled to Hawaii to introduce karate there, were he stayed
until February 1935.
Introduced by Wu Xianshui, Chojun Miyagi met in February 1936,
in Shangai, the famous Luohan Quan monk master Miao Xing
(1881-1939), with whom he trained for some months as well as
other masters associated with the Jingwu Athletic Association.
In the occasion he also attended the national martial arts
On the 25th of October 1936 the well known Okinawa
masters, Asatada Koyoshi, Chomo Hanashiro, Chotoku Kyan,
Chokei Motobu, Chosin Chibana, Eigo Shio, Juhatsu Kiyoda,
Kentsu Yabu, Mashiga Shiroma and Chojun Miyagi, assembled and
changed the name toudijutsu into Karate-Do. Upon his return to
Naha, he was awarded a commendation from the Ministry of
Education for outstanding service in the field of physical
culture and excellence in Martial Arts.
In May 1937, prince Moriwasa Nashimoto recognised Miyagi the
capacity to organise the Dai Nippon Butoku Kai Karate
Jukkyoshi (the Association of Karate and Martial Arts Teachers
In 1940 he created the new katas Gekisai Dai Ichi and Dai Ni.
The Allied occupation of Okinawa was a very turbulent time in
the history of Okinawa and the art of karate. Many lives were
lost, including one of Sensei Miyagi's sons and his senior
student, Jin'an Shinzato. He was forced to forget much of his
training while his homeland was restructured after the war.
In 1946, he was appointed director of the Okinawan Civil
Association of Physical Education, and resumed his training,
teaching the Police Academy and opening a backyard dojo, known
as the Garden Dojo.
Chojun Miyagi dedicated his whole life to karate, since he
taught for many years. He was responsible for structuring
Naha-te, later called Goju-Ryu, into a systemized discipline
which could be taught to society in general. This teaching
system which he formulated enabled karate to be taught in
schools for the benefit of the young, and to reach vast
numbers of people throughout the world. As a matter of fact
until then no group teaching method was used (in spite of some
popularization introduced by Higashionna and Itotsu).
Predicting the future of Karate he has introduced “shi-ho
kumite” (one against several opponents, the original “san dan
gis”, “daruma taiso” (warming up and preparation for basical
techniques: tsuki, ukes and geris), “Fukyo kata” (kata
adaptation for physical education), “Heisho kata” (breathing
kata: Tensho), hardening techniques of body and hands (“kaishu
kata” and “kakie ohyo”) and relaxing exercises.
However, his private teaching at his home remained strictly in
adherence to the principles of his teacher, Kanryo Higaonna,
and his teacher before him, Ryu Ryuko. Powerful training that
grants him by his senior students the nick-name of Busamagunka,
samurai in the Okinawan dialect. His classes were hardly
bearable even for the strongest ones (Shihan Eiichi Miyazato
told me that even for the most strong and fit, those were very
hard trainings) and sometimes students were driven to
exhaustion. His students were easily recognised by the
bruisers on their bodies
Chojun Miyagi was a man of extremely mild temperament and it
is said that he was a very humble man.
lived according to the principles of martial arts, that of
died, of either a heart attack (the most popular explanation)
or a cerebral haemorrhage at the age of 65, on Okinawa on 8th
October 1953. He left undoubtedly a great legacy behind.
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 countries of the world.
The Last Teachings by Chojun Miyagi
"Do not be struck by others.
Do not strike others.
The principle is the peace without incident."
Humberto Nuno de Oliveira
(with the help of several internet Goju sources)