From Karate to Karate-do 5: Chojun Miyagi and the Goju-Ryu (Kyoto, 1929)

Master Chojun Miyagi, the founder of the Goju-Ryu system of Karate-do.

From Karate to Karate-do 5: Chojun Miyagi and the Goju-Ryu (Kyoto, 1929)

Master Chojun Miyagi, the founder of the Goju-Ryu system of Karate-do.
Master Chojun Miyagi, the founder of the Goju-Ryu system of Karate-do.


He was the founder of the Goju-ryu school and his arrival in the city of Kyoto, Japan would significantly accelerate the growth of Karate. Chojun Miyagi Shihan was born in Higashimachi, Naha, Okinawa on April 25, 1888, the adopted son of a wealthy businessman.  He began his study of Karate at the age of nine under Ryuko Aragaki, who then introduced him to Kanryo Higashionna (Higaonna Kanry?) when Miyagi was 14. Under his tutelage, Miyagi underwent a very long and arduous period of training. His training with Higaonna was interrupted for a two-year period while Miyagi completed his military service, 1910–1912, in Miyakonojo, Miyazaki Prefecture.

In May 1915, before the death of Higaonna, Miyagi travelled to Fujian Province. In China he visited the grave of Higaonna’s teacher, Ryu Ryu Ko. In this first trip he travelled with Eisho Nakamoto. After Kanryo Higaonna’s death (in Oct, 1915) he made a second trip to Foochow with his friend, Gokenki. In this second trip he studied some local Chinese martial arts.  It was in this second trip that he observed the Rokkishu (a set of hand exercises rather than a formal kata, which emphasizes the rotation of the forearms and wrists to execute offensive and defensive techniques), which he then adapted into the Tensho Kata.

From the blending of these systems, and his native Naha-Te, a new system emerged. However, it was not until 1929 that Chojun Miyagi named the system Goju-ryu, meaning “hard soft style”. A product of Miyagi’s studies of the two martial arts, Goju-Ryu is based on the oriental concept that all hardness and stiffness is not always good, but softness and too much gentleness aren’t good either. There should be a good balance between the two techniques when applying in different situations. Go means “hard” and refers to the closed hand techniques or straight linear attacks which was derived from the Naha-te system, while Ju, which means soft and refers to open hand techniques and circular movements was derived from Chinese martial arts. G?j?-ry? incorporates both circular and linear movements into its curriculum, combining hard striking attacks such as kicks and close hand punches with softer open hand circular techniques for attacking, blocking, and controlling the opponent, including locks, grappling, takedowns and throws.

Master Gogen "the Cat" Yamaguchi practicing with his son Goshi in 1949.
Master Gogen “the Cat” Yamaguchi practicing with his son Goshi in 1949.

Another noteworthy feature of Goju-Ryu training is the katas. The Sanchin and the Tensho katas, for example, with its emphasis on stress/tension and then relaxation, are very good for body conditioning. Both katas are very good for one’s health in layman’s language.

When Miyagi died in Okinawa on October 8, 1953, he was succeeded in the Japanese mainland by a very dedicated student named Gogen Yamaguchi. Nicknamed “the Cat”, Yamaguchi would turn Goju-Ryu into one of the most popular Karate-do styles. By 1966, his organization, the International Karate do Goju Kai Association had more than 1,200 dojos worldwide and 600,000 members within the Goju-kai system. Today, Goju-Ryu has large numbers of followers in the Unites States as well as in other Asian countries like the Philippines. Like the Shito-Ryu, it is recognized as one of the four major styles by the JKF and the WKF.

Note:  The character of Keisuke Miyagi in the Karate Kid film series, written by Goju-Ryu student Robert Mark Kamen was inspired by Chojun Miyagi.

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About George M. Hizon

George M. Hizon was the former Karate-do head instructor of Claret School. This was during his college years at the De La Salle University from 1980-81. He would later become the head instructor of the University of the Philippines from mid 1983 to 1984.
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