The Enigma of Miyagi Chojun

Chojun Miyagi, Goju, Karate, Vancouver, BC, Kitsilano, Lessons
Chojun Miyagi

The more I read and learn about the Miyagi Chojun, the more of an enigma the man becomes. He was definitely innovative in the creation of his Goju ryu, but at the same time venerated his teacher Higaonna as the “source” from which everything came. The man was somewhat of a contradiction, but this sort of behaviour is not unusual in Japanese / Okinawan culture where one’s “tatemae” and “honne” may be completely at odds with each other. And yet the person finds no conflict or distress in the difference between the two.

I say this because I think Miyagi was heading towards a major paradigm shift (whether he was conscious of it or not) in the creation of Goju-ryu. He seems to have introduced forms that were more circular, flowing and symmetrical compared to the aggressive and more direct kata he learned from Higaonna. This “softer” subsystem consisted of Seiunchin, Saifa, Shisochin, Seipai, Kururunfa, and the jewel Tensho. This subsystem was then married to the “harder” Higaonna kata he had learned. My colleague Fernando Camara and I have speculated in an article for the Journal of Asian a Martial Arts that this is what Miyagi meant when he named his system “Goju-ryu” Go – Higaonna; Ju – Miyagi).


Furthermore, in a discussion with fellow Karateka and friend, Fred Lohse, Fred pointed out quite accurately that Miyagi could and was culturally conditioned to state that his karate came from Higaonna Kanryo without apparent contradiction. Fred goes further by arguing that Miyagi (and Kyoda for that matter) could do this and maintain a very real belief that he had preserved and passed on the true core of his teacher’s karate.