Yagi Meitoku & Miyagi Chojun

Goju-ryu founder Miyagi Chojun had several senior students that carried on his legacy. The most prominent were Higa Seiko, Miyazato Eiichi, and Yagi Meitoku. In 2000, Yagi published his autobiography in Japanese entitled, “The Life Drama of the Man, Meitoku”. In it he recounted his life including his time spent learning Karate-do under Miyagi Chojun. The following is a translation of pages 132 to 134 from that book which I think readers will find interesting.

I think it was around 1927 when the [Toudi Kenkyu Kai] dojo closed due to financial problems, and for a while we continued practice at the Naha high school where we used it on breaks and holidays. Sensei had moved from Wakakusa township to a house behind city hall and was living on the second floor. We used the garden to practice which was about 20 tatami mats in size. At that time there were only 4 or 5 of us who would come to practice.

Nowadays people use the terms Nahate, Shurite and Tomarite for Karate, but back then we didn’t say Nahate, we simply said Toudi. Compared to Nahate, other styles taught the advanced kata in succession, but Chojun sensei would make students practice preparatory exercises (junbi undo), supplementary exercises (hojo undo) and basic kata for several months. I felt that Miyagi sensei had few students because he taught the advanced kata so sparingly. Sensei would frequently say that a lioness would throw her cubs off a cliff and only those strong enough to survive she would raise.

Miyagi sensei’s way of teaching was a little different. After the day’s practice, he would tell you what date and day to come back. On that date you would come and he would tell you to move that stone in the garden, plant that tree, or fetch some water. Then he would say, “You must be tired. Go in the house and have some tea”. He would go on to say, “You must be tired. That’s enough practice for today”. Then he would tell the student to come back on a particular day and date. He often would teach this way, 30% training and 70% conversation.

After I graduated from Junior High School and before I joined the army, I practiced as much as I could. But even in the army where I had no time or space to practice, I would practice Sanchin and Tensho kata in the toilet. After my term in the army finished, about three years later, I returned home. Around 1937 while I was studying for the patrolman’s exam I would go by myself to sensei’s home to practice. I kept this up until I passed the patrolman’s exam and was posted to Itoman. There weren’t many buses that ran from Itoman so I would practice by myself at home and travel to sensei’s house 2 or 3 times a month.

Once when I asked sensei, “Please correct my kata”, he praised me and replied, “There is nothing for me to correct, just continue to practice at home and that will suffice.” Sometimes he would say, “Let’s have a game of Chunji (Chinese chess). So we would sit in sensei’s house, have tea and play a game of Chunji. I am a confident Chunji player, but I always had the feeling that sensei was a better player than I; as was the well-known crane master Go Kenki. Afterwards, I didn’t go to sensei’s house so much, but would receive a letter at least once a month telling me to come and visit, there I would be asked my opinion about different things.