Chojun Miyagi was born in Higashi-Machi (Naha-shi) Okinawa of a wealthy family whose business was import/export. Originally Miyagi Chojun was born as Miyagi Matsu however his name was changed to Chojun at the age of 5 by his uncle whom adopted him after the death of his father in 1893. His family owned two ships which made regular trips to mainland China, placing them among the wealthiest families in the area and enabled a young Miyagi Chojun Sensei to travel to China to study the style of his instructor and develop the style of Karate we call Goju Ryu today. However his original Martial Arts training started with his neighbor Ryu KO Aragaki (one of the very few fighters ever to beat the legendary Choki Motobu) at 11 years old. Ryu KO Aragaki Sensei, before moving his family to Taiwan, later introduced him to Kanryo Higashionna, and he began training at the age of 17 in the fall of 1905 after fulfilling a host of chores for his new sensei (the traditional way of being accepted by an instructor).
Because of his outstanding ability and incredible determination, he progressed very quickly. The training he received was rigorous beyond belief but he practiced ever harder with an enthusiasm unmatched by any of the other student. Chojun Miyagi became “uchi deshi” (private disciple) of Kanryo Higaonna. Chojun Miyagi, as successor to Naha-te pushed himself to the limits of ability in his desire to emulate the extraordinary skill of his teacher.
After training approximately 15 years with Higaonna Sensei Miyagi made his first trip to China to study Chuguko Kempo (Chinese Fist) in Fouchow, Fukien Province, from 1915 to 1917. Miyagi made many trips to China during his lifetime in order to further his knowledge of the martial arts. During his travels in China he studied not only the building blocks of his teacher’s art, Hung Gar-Shaolin Chuan Chi-Chi, but also I-Chuan, Pa Kua Chang and Tai Chi Chuan. It was at this time he learned the form (kata) Rokkishu which later became the foundation for the Kata he would later create called “Tensho”.
He returned to Okinawa in 1915 due to the sudden death of Higaonna Sensei. Miyagi Chojun Sensei arranged for Higaonna’s funeral and paid all expenses. A short time, later Chojun Miyagi decided to return to China in search of Higaonna’s teacher but was unable to find him or his dojo.
Upon his return to Okinawa, Miyagi began to teach from his home where he turned the garden into a dojo. Later, he also taught at the Okinawan Prefecture Police Training Center, at the Okinawan Master’s Training College, and at the Naha Commercial High School (where his teacher had once taught). However, his private teaching at his home remained strictly in adherence to the principles and traditions of the teacher, Kanryo Higashionna. Blending the strong snap techniques of the Okinawan style and the dynamic and free techniques of the soft Chinese Kempo, his style was complete with his extensive martial art training in Okinawa-te, Naha-Te and the hard-soft arts he learned in China. Miyagi Sensei developed a refined form of empty hand self-defense. He also organized the additional movements to strengthen the body through dynamic tension, exercise, and calisthenics.
He began to teach his new style of Karate to a large number of people in and around Naha, and to lecture and demonstrate throughout Japan. Miyagi-Sensei subjected the art of Naha-te, as received from Kanryo Higashionna, to scientific examination. He mastered the basic Go (Sanchin) and the six rules and created the Ju form (Tensho), combining soft and hard movements. The principals of Naha-Te and the hard and soft styles of Chinese martial arts became the basis of the Miyagi school of Karate.
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. He was unable to answer the question, since ‘Naha-te’ was not the name of a style. At his return he told Miyagi Sensei about the occurrence, who thought about the problem and decided that it should be advantageous to have a name for his martial art in order to promote and spread his system. 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.
Indeed, the term Goju means hard-soft. Go is the Japanese word for hardness and Ju is the word for softness. Go-Ju are also the numbers “5 and 10″, which could be interpreted as half and half (half hard and half soft). After many years of studying, teaching and utilizing the principles his Sensei taught him, the Miyagi school of Karate was now being called the Goju-Ryu school of Karate. This system is based on the Oriental concept that all hardness and stiffness is not good. At the same time, all softness and too much gentleness can also be harmful. The two should always complement each other as inseparable, but equal forces.
The teaching system, which he formulated, enabled karate to be taught in schools for the benefit of the young people, and to reach vast numbers of people throughout the world. In 1936 Miyagi became the first person in Karate to receive the “kyoshi” grade from the Dai Nippon Butokukai (Greater Japan Martial Arts Virtues Association).
The Second World War really took a toll on Miyagi, his family, and students. During the bombing raids in the battle of Okinawa he lost many of his books, manuscripts, and other martial arts relics. He also lost several students, one of them being his most likely successor Jin’an Shinzato, who was tragically killed during the bombings. Jin’an Shinzato was an exceptional talent, and the one whom Chojun Miyagi would have probably chosen as his successor to the Goju school in Okinawa.
Chojun Miyagi passed away October 8th, 1953, leaving his family of 10 children, wife and a great legacy behind. He dedicated his entire life and fortune to Karate. 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. Karate can no longer be referred to as a solely Okinawan or Japanese martial art, but it has become an art with no boundaries, an art for all nations and all peoples of the world. Even today its Whooping Crane Chinese Gung Fu roots can still be seen in its forms or Kata. He put great effort into spreading his knowledge, the ambition being to give karate the same status as judo and kendo.
After Miyagi’s sudden death there was much disagreement amongst the senior members over how Goju-Ryu should be taught and by no means did all accept Higa, Miyazato or Yagi as his successors. The senior students formed an organization named the All Okinawa Goju Kai, which was a reorganization of the old Goju Rui Shinko-Kai and established a promotional ranking system for the art of Goju Ryu Karate Do. Chojun Miyagi Sensei sought to teach because he believed that the more that people knew about self-defense, confidence, moral responsibility, the better it would be for all of Okinawa and eventually the world.
Eiichi Miyazato trained under Chojun Miyagi for the longest of all the seniors, since 1937, and took over as the head of Okinawa Goju-Ryu until he formed his own school called Jun Do Kan Goju in 1957. Seiko Higa temporally carried on as his successor (Higa received the “Renshi” grade from the Dai Nippon Butokukai in 1939). The leadership was then passed on to Meitoku Yagi, and in 1963 he received Miyagi’s gi and belt from the Miyagi family along with the Menkyo Kaiden (inheritor of a style) and was officially named the successor of Okinawan Goju-Ryu. Today Meitoku Yagi calls his organization Meibukan Goju Ryu. Seiko Higa formed the Shodokan Goju Ryu; Seikichi Toguchi formed Shorei-kan Goju Ryu. Other noteworthy students of Miyagi’s were: Yoshio Itokazu, Seikichi Toguchi, and his nephew Anichi Miyagi.
Debate continues to the present day as Miyagi’s other senior students opened their own schools as well. Gogen Yamaguchi had already been designated as Miyagi’s successor in mainland Japan and head of Japanese Goju-Ryu.