Thursday, 25 April 2013

In the name of the Father...

Chojun Miyagi practising his bunkai on Eiichi Miyazato
One hundred and twenty-five years ago today, Miyagi Chojun sensei was born. It was no big deal really, he was one of many born that day in Okinawa. His fate was to become a world-famous karateka, not that he ever aspired to that; still, you know what people are like, if they can't do something well themselves, they look around for someone to adore and then claim to be a close follower.

When Miyagi sensei passed away on the 9th of October 1953, he'd lived a life few would envy; suffering the death of two daughters, Tsuneko and Shigeko, as well as loosing his senior student Jin'an Shinzato in the utter devastation that engulfed Okinawa during the closing months of WWII.  That so much focus on Miyagi regularly ignores the man, seeing only the karateka, is it any wonder that many today have a very strange idea of who he was.

When he died, in October 1953, he had only a handful of students training with him in his backyard; but within a few short years there would be many thousands outside Okinawa laying claim to his karate. Gogan Yamaguchi in Japan was quick to claim that he was the successor to Miyagi's karate, but no serious karateka today accepts his story. Besides, you only have to observe the direction the Yamaguchi school of karate has taken with it's training, to appreciate just how far they have moved away from the karate of Chojun Miyagi.

Miyagi Chojun with his students - circa 1952
Chojun Miyagi never awarded a grade to anyone, he never appointed a successor, and he never had more than a handful of students training in his backyard at any one time. I can only wonder therefor at the depth of insecurity that must exist in the minds of some in Okinawa, and around the world, who insist on using Miyagi sensei's name to endorse their karate. If you are sincere in your efforts to understand Miyagi's nature as well as his karate, then I think it can be argued that you are his successor.

History is written by those who write it, and seldom by those who make it. A big part of Miyagi's life was spent investigating karate, he was trying to make it his own, to understand not only what and how he did the things he was doing but, perhaps more importantly, why he did them. On this day, maybe everyone reading this who uses the name Goju-ryu to bolster their karate, should give a thought to their true nature. If you're claiming a connection with Chojun Miyagi, then at least have the integrity to study his character and his life, as well as the training methods he developed, and have the strength of character to develop your own understanding of the karate he left behind.

Within the parameters of Goju-ryu there is room for personal interpretation and growth; but, a few (half) remembered kata, and a bunch of fancy bunkai, wont make you a student of Goju-ryu: regardless of what grade you're claiming!