Part Two: The Miyagi Legacy

The more I look at the Okinawan Martial Arts the more depressing the historical record becomes. The available documentation in English is painfully inadequate. It rarely addresses more than names or dates. Only a handful of texts go beyond this point.

The best text I've found regarding the founding of Goju-Ryu is "The History of Karate" by Higaonna Morio. But even in its rich descriptions there is a great deal of Goju-Ryu history not shown. I believe it is a fair treatment of Hiagonna Kanryo and Miyagi Chojun and Hiagonna Morio's instructor Miyagi An'ichi.

I am aware other Goju-Ryu stylists find fault with Hiagonna's writing, but as far as I know this is based on their oral traditions. If I am presented with reasonable counter evidence, I certainly would re-evaluate my own thinking. On the other hand Hiagonna appears to have a great many Miyagi former students applauding his efforts.

No, there is no mention of Shimabuku Tatsuo in this text, nor in any formal Okinawan History I'm aware of. But I believe the Higaonna/Miyagi/Shimabuku legacy is rich.

Perhaps if you read Hiagonna's words you might find some of them relevant to the efforts of Shimabuku Tatuso and his development of the Isshinryu, too.

"Higaonna Sensei told Miyagi about another well-known teacher in Fuzhou named Wan Shin Zan who taught the same style as Ryu Ryu Ko. The two were often confused, but Hiagonna Sensei explained the distinguishing features in the technique and training of each. For example, he explained that Ryu Ryu Ko was an unusually tall man and when he assumed Sanchin dachi, the dimensions for the stance could be measured by Ryu Ryu Ky lowering the knee of his back leg to the heel of his front foot, keeping his feet stationary; when standing in position his knees would be in a straight line vertically over his toes. Wan Shin Za, on the other hand, was a much shorter man and his Sanchin dachi was a good deal wider and longer." P 14-15

- This is uncanny for the description of forming the correct Sanchin Dachi is the same as Lewis Sensei taught for Seisan Dachi. No doubt as Sanchin and Seisan come from the same concept. But the explanation goes back a long ways.

"In the early days Master Higaonna taught Sanchin exactly as he had learned it from Ryu Ryu Ko Roshi. The breathing method was rapid and the hand movements were performed with nukute (spear hand) rather hant with the closed fist, as it is practiced today.

Sanchin kata was practiced with nukite when Chojun Miyagi first learned it from Higaonna Sensei. Chojun Sensei related to An'ichi Miyagi that during Sanchin practice, when executing nukite, Higaonna Sensei would tell him to blow hard as he trust out his hand quickly.

It is not certain exactly when nukite in Sanchin changed to the closed fist, but An'ichi Sensei did say "From olden times in China, nukite has been practiced and tempered to be a strong and dangerous technique. In Okinawa on the other hand, tijikun (Okinawan Fist) has been practiced for centuries. Punching the makiwara is natural for Okinawans. It is most likely for this reason the nukute strike changed to the closed fist.

Kanryo Higaonna's adoption of the closed fist was very likely related to his teaching at the Commercial High School, where his emphasis moved from the martial aspects of karate to the development of the human spirit. With the adoption of the closed fist the breathing method was slowed down, enhancing the development of physical strength and health." P 37

- So we find even Hiagonna Kanryo felt a reason to change that which he was so exactly taught. It confirms my basic premise that almost everyone changes their instructor's system, or at least in Okinawan Karate in this Century.


"An'ichi Sensei told me that Chojun Miyagi practiced Sanchin kata repeatedly, but would not take the normal three steps forward as in the formal kata. Instead, he continued stepping from one end of the room to the other, while Kanryu Sensei repeatedly struck his shoulders and other areas of the body. From this constant shime training, Miyagi's shoulders became as calloused as his knuckles and arms." P 38

"Following Sanchin kata training Kanryo Sensei would teach each senior student a different kata depending on their ability, body type, experience and age. "

"Kanryo Sensei taught as he had been taught. Not until a student had earned the trust of his teacher, would he be given the essence of the art. Kanryo Sensei came to trust Miyagi and chose him as the one who was to learn the complete system of Naha-te." P 39

"Through Kanryu Higaonna's method, the regular students learned Sanchin kata and one other over a period of three to five years." "This was the traditional teaching method. At the very most, Higaonna Sensei would teach two other kata to a student after Sanchin."

"Miyagi was clearly a significant exception to this rule, for in addition to Sanchin kata, Hiagonna taught him Saifa, Seiyuchin, Shisochin, Sanseru, Sepai, Kururunfa, Sesan and Suparinpei. Being the chosen one, the one to whom the tradition of Naha-Te would be passed, he was the only student to learn these kata directly from his teacher." P 51

"During the Club years, Chojun Miyagi had two methods of teaching: individual training and group training. The individual method of training always began with yobi undo (warming up exercises) , and then the students practiced hojo undo (supplemental exercises with equipement) individually. While one trained with chiishi, another trained with makiwara, another with nigiri game, and so on, with Miyagi overseeing them one by one. When they finished with one implement they moved to another. After this, Miyagai taught Sanchin kata to each student individually while another continued to practice on their own.

Sanchin training was said to be extremely severe under Chojun Miyagi. First the body was strengthened and developed through the hojo undo execises: then the rigorous Sanchin training began, with Miyagi Sensei performing shime. Following repetitive training of Sanchin kata he had the student perform his tokuigata, the kata which he had assigned the student for his particular study. Meanwhile the other students practiced their own tokuigata over and over again.

Miyagi did not teach his students all the kata of the system. Rather, after several years of Sanchin kata training, he selected one of two kata he felt suited that individual student which he called tokuigata. If there was time, the students practiced ude taren (arm conditioning), uke harai (block training), yakusoku kumite (prearranged sparring) and kakie (push hands).

In group training, the students lined up, and Miyagi, a logical and scientific teacher, would teach yobi undo, then basics, then kata. Employing his knowledge of the physical and medical sciences, he concerned himself with even the minutest details of training, such as ways to improve a student's reflexes and motor functions." P 63

- Hiagonna Morio repeatedly stresses how Miyagi Chojun kept the same Junbi (Yunbi) Undo exercises for every class. I can make a case in my mind that might not this have given some consideration in Shimabuku Tatsuo's development of the Upper Body and Lower Body Charts.

"In 1927 the founder of judo, Jigoro Kano Sensei, came to Okinawa at the invitation of the Okinawa Judo Yudansha Kai (black belt club). During Kano Sensei's visit, the Okinawan Butokukai held a meeting to promote good interlations. Various demonstrations, including one by Chojun Sensei, took place at this meeting.

Kano Sensei was impressed by Miyagi's demonstration. When they spoke later Kano Sensei asked, "Are there ne waza (ground techniques) in karate?" Miyagi explained that there are, along with nage waza (throwing techniques), shime waza (choking techniques) and gyaku waza (joint locking techniques). He then demonstrated some examples explaining the continual importance of harmonizing and focusing the breath.

Kano was surprised to find that karate was much more than just punching and kicking techniques, but that it encompassed the depth of a complete martial art." P66

- I find it interesting in 1927 Miyagi Chojun described his karate as far more than just punches and kicks.

"In 1930 Chojun Miyagi extensively researched irmi kumite (free sparring) training and incorporated it into his own instruction. From a supplier in Osaka, he ordered protective equipment for his students consisting of head, hand, chest and groin protectors. The head protector was similar to a baseball catcher's helmet, unwieldy, with a heavy metal grid to protect the face. The chest guard was like that of kendo armour.

Miyagi's students from both Shogyo High School and the former Karate Kenkyu Club, responded with eagerness to exchange full power punches and kicks. The training however, resulted in concussions and numerous other injuries, particularly to the neck and toes. It gradually became clear that the protective equipment was not suitable for this type of full contact training and after a year or so, Miyagi discontinued the practice." P 68-70

- Might this have been the source of Shimabuku Sensei's use of Kendo Gear for Sparring practice and demonstrations?

"Chojun Miyagi believed that once a dan rank was awarded, it would inevitably lead to trouble. He thought the ranking system would lead to discrimination within karate and that karate-ka would be judged by their rank and not by their character. For these reasons Chojun Sensei awarded ranks to no one, neither Okinawan or Japanese. It was only after his death, and the establishment of the Okinawan Karate Federation in 1956, that a dan ranking system was introduced on Okinawa. It was something that no one there would have attempted while Chojun Miyagi was alive." P 90

- I know it has been reported that Shimabuku Sensei didn't receive a Black Belt from Miyagai Sensei. Of course not, no one did!

"An'ichi Sensei recalled that Chojun Sensei often said, "You must practice yobi undo (junbi undo) correctly and with great care. If you practice in this way, then your punching and kicking techniques will come easily. The movements you have learned in the yobi undo exercises will also facilitate the performance of kata. Therefore you must concentrate fully on each movement as you perform it and practice with great seriousness." P 103

"Miyagi revised his teaching method when he began teaching large groups at Shogyu High School. There he taught Seiyunchin kata first, and Sanchin only occasionally." P 104

- Doesn't this suggest that Shimabuku Sensei may have trained when Seiuchin came first and Sanchin second.

"An'ichi also learned the method of shime. Miyagi Sensei explained that you must first check the student's condition, making sure that he is in good health and able to perform such training on that particular day. Even then shime should be introduced gradually so as not to shock the student.

Miyagi Sensei would begin at the feet, checking the soles were stuck to the floor as if rooted to determine the student's conditions; then on th the calves, knees, thighs and hips. He checked the spine for straightness, then moved on the shoulders, first feeling the area, then striking down hard with the open palm. He was careful to strike the shoulders themselves and not the area close to the neck.

Miyagi Sensei cautioned that the closed fist should not be used for striking the body during shime. He also explained that when pushing against an outgoing punch, the power exerted must be adjusted to the student's power. The purpose, he explained, is to make the student stronger, not make it impossible for him to perform. He also cautioned An'ichi, "When you practice Sanchin in my absence, do not let anyone else perform shime on you." P 109-110

- Doesn't the instructors need to personally evaluate a student with care shine forth in these words. This does not appear to be a process for mass instruction from Miyagi Sensei's teachings.

"He (Miyagi) spoke painstakingly about the proper execution of specific techniques; that when punching, one should use the back muscles and concentrate on generating power from the tanden; when performing tora guchi (tiger mouth - the last techniques in Sanchin kata), one should turn the hands using one's back muscles." P 115


"Chojun Sensei explained that when performing nukite zuki (finger thrust) and shotei zuki (palm-heel thrust) in Seiyunchin and Shishochin katas, the thumb is most important and has various meanings. If it is tightened together with the tanden and harmonized with the breathing, then the palm and fingers may be tightened easily and used in catching and locking techniques. He explained the importance of "opposite motion" in techniques such as the age zuki (rising punch) in Seiyunchin as the strike is thrust upwards the body drops down and simultaneously, shotei otoshi uke (descending palm heel block) is thrust downards" P 128

I apologize for going on in such length. There is much more in Hiagonna's book and it is really worth reading.

I believe this gives us a larger view of the impact Miyagi Chojun may have made on Shimabuku Tatsuo. It also give us much to consider.

My initial opinion, to understand Shimabuku Tatsuo without understanding the environment fostered by Kyan Sensei or Miyagi Sensei, is to leave us with a less complete picture of the forces which helped Shimabuku Sensei create his Isshinryu.

Unfortunately Shimabuku Sensei did not leave us this link. My efforts don't prove anything and I am always open to consider stronger sources. But I remain convinced these records do have merit.


The History of Karate - Okinawan Goju-Ryu By Hiagonna Morio Published by Dragon Books 1996