A great read if you have the time.
(Article credit to Robert Hunt – The Art and the Way – https://www.facebook.com/TheArtAndTheWay/)
The Karate Tapestry Part 21 By Robert Hunt
We think of Goju Ryu as an “unfinished” style. But why so, asks Jon Crain, a fellow traveler?
It’s a great question, one who’s answer touches the entire spectrum of the human experience – war, peace, love, hope, triumph and despair. In truth, every teacher’s style is completed the day that person dies. Up until then, we study, practice, expand our knowledge and pass it all on. Any teacher worth the title does that. If we don’t grow and change, we are little more than parrots.
But Miyagi’s tragedy was unique in the world of our arcane martial art. He was different. Most of the early karate leaders were politicians. Miyagi was a karate teacher. Miyagi inhabited the first half of the 20th century, a time when mankind went from buggy whips to rocket ships, from Pony Express to Fax machines. No time in our history has seen greater and faster technological expansion.
It was also a time of world wars, devastation and death beyond imagination. Two countries, Japan and Germany, tried to dominate the world by military conquest. Two deranged men, Tojo and Hitler, initiated a conflagration that claimed 70,000,000 lives. Hardly a human being on earth went untouched by their insanity. Pray to God it never happens again.
To look at that madness through the prism of Miyagi’s life brings it all home, especially for those of us who pursue his art.
Adopted into a wealthy family, Miyagi spent his entire life (he died in 1953) studying the martial arts and crafting a “style” out of what he learned. The first third of the 20th century was a period of martial intensity in Okinawa. Karate, much of it inherited from China, was essentially the only gift Okinawa had to offer the world and people like Higashionna, Itosu, Aragaki, Funakoshi, Miyagi and Mabuni were making a great effort to uncover, expand and preserve it.
But Tojo invaded China in 1937 with the “Rape of Nanking” and the further pursuit of any “Chinese” based martial art was, for the most part, doomed.
As regards Miyagi’s lineage, some would like to draw a straight line from Lu Lu Ko to Higashionna to Miyagi to some modern Goju dojo or “Master” in Okinawa. But karate, like every other human endeavor, is not linear. We don’t even know who Lu Lu Ko was, and Higashionna probably only passed on four kata to Miyagi. It was Miyagi who took up the gauntlet, studied with contemporaries, traveled to China and laid out the framework for a style he saw blossoming in front of him.
Miyagi is said to have amassed voluminous notes and information about the history of his art and the Chinese/Okinawan martial arts in general, information he intended to include in the system he was honing. It never happened. At the end of the war, Tojo used Okinawa as a diversion to keep the United States at bay, while he figured out how to forestall surrender. The island was obliterated. Over 100,000 Okinawans, one fourth of the population, died. Miyagi’s home, his treasured research, much of his family and many of his students, specifically Jinan Shinzato, were lost to the insanity of military conquest.
Some who knew him say he never recovered and spent the final few years of his life trying to somehow bind his world back together.
We call his style “unfinished” because of that catastrophic event and how it so violently interrupted his life and work. There is so much we don’t know about what he intended and so many strings of training that were left incomplete, so many stories untold.
We can only speculate, for example, where katas like Saifa, Seipai and Kururunfa originated, and why he taught them. They probably weren’t part of Higashionna’s syllabus, otherwise Juhatsu Kyoda, Miyagi’s dojo mate, would have included them in Tou’on Ryu. They may have come through a man named Kuniyoshi Shinkichi. Who was he?
If Miyagi created or dug up those katas, are there others he intended to include? Mabuni included 40 katas in his style, Shito Ryu. Are the modern Goju katas all Miyagi intended to include or did time run out?
Miyagi created Tensho and the Gekisai katas. It is believed that he was going to create 10 more introductory katas before introducing the Chinese ones.
What about Shisochin? He began it with open hands, like Higashionna did. Why? Where did it come from?
If Miyagi’s style is based on White Crane, what about Hakutsuru? Miyagi was a friend of Go Kenki, who taught Hakutsuru and traveled to China with Miyagi twice. Hakutsuru means “White Crane”, and it floats around some Goju dojos along with the tale that Miyagi had possibly included it, or so intended, in some of his teaching.
Then there are the Miyagi students. Yagi, Iha, Higa and Toguchi all spent time with Miyagi before the war and hung around Goju Ryu after. Higa even has a menjo signed by Miyagi naming him an instructor of Goju, the only one Miyagi ever issued. But the Goju of Yagi and Higa differ from each other and both differ from Miyazato’s Jundokan, the main post-war following and all three differ from the various other Goju versions that have sprung up.
Why didn’t Miyagi wrap it all up, tie a ribbon around it and award someone a teaching certificate? Because, for Miyagi, it wasn’t complete?
For Mabuni and his Shito Ryu, the process was fairly straightforward. These are all the kata I have included, change the back-stance into cat-stance and memorize them.
Funakoshi left Okinawa with a volume of information and spent the rest of his life delving into it. He knew early on the breadth of knowledge he had to teach. That knowledge eventually became Shotokan.
The Okinawan Shorin Ryu styles passed on what their forebears had been doing for centuries, working to find the “correct” way to perform it all.
But Miyagi was different. He never got caught up in Japanese rank and hierarchies. He spent his lifetime studying and practicing the Chinese based martial arts and expanding on them until the day he died and was carried through the streets on the back of a U.S. Army supply wagon, with policemen and soldiers lined up along the way snapping salute.
Miyagi avoided politics. The others embraced it. They defined themselves and their styles politically, strove for recognition, position, a large following of kowtowing acolytes and money.
All well and good. People need money to live and karate is a commodity to sell. But Miyagi was adopted into a wealthy home, he didn’t need to sell his art. He had the luxury of practicing and teaching simply for the satisfaction. He didn’t even have a name for his style until Shinzato was approached about it.
But it seems that when the heart attack hit, he wasn’t finished.
He had changed the opening stance of all of his katas from the pre-war open leg stance to the post-war heels together, attention stance. Why did he do that? Where was he going with it?
Why is the opening move of Seiunchin different in the Jundokan than the other styles?
Why are Mabuni’s versions of Miyagi’s katas different than those of the man who actually created them.
What’s the story with Pichurin and Suparempai?
What historical treasures were lost to bombs?
I will be surprised if we ever know.
I believe Miyagi was a great, kind, humble man, dedicated to revealing for the world the intricacies of an ancient martial art, un-swayed by Japanese titles, accolades and positions. I believe he was crushed by what Tojo did to his homeland and his life and went to his grave trying to make some sense of it all. But who could? Who could possibly make any more sense of that war than we can make of what insane men are doing to our world today, in the name of some religion in which they don’t even believe?
Miyagi had more to offer. He wasn’t finished. There are too many questions left unanswered.
As Goju Sensei Lee Gray says, we define karate, it doesn’t define us. If we are sloppy and undisciplined, that’s what karate becomes. If we work hard and try for some modicum of mastery, that is what karate will be.
Miyagi defined Goju. His life and his Goju style, that we strive so hard to comprehend, stand as timeless reminders of the fragility of human life, our inseparable connection to the good and evil of the world we inhabit and the triumph of one good man.
One last thought.
There are those who believe Goju should stop evolving as of 1953 and that we are obligated to remain faithful to what Miyagi had put together at the moment of his death. Besides the fact that it is virtually impossible, since there are so many claimants to authenticity, do we think that Miyagi would have expected it? Do we think that a man who spent his entire life expanding on karate ideas from a dozen sources would want it all to calcify into some sort of martial religion upon his passing?
These articles were assembled from personal research and interviews, as well as the work of John Sells (Unante), various works of Patrick McCarthy, Mario McKenna, Hawaii Karate Seinenkai, Meibukan Magazine, Joe Swift, Sal Canzonieri (Natural Traditional Chinese Martial Arts articles), Benny Meng (Ving Tsun Museum), Earnest Estrada, Andreas Quast, Scot Mertz, the internet and Takao Nakaya (Karatedo History and Philosophy).
These articles are included in a free monthly newsletter emailed by the Scottsdale Martial Arts Center. If this came from some other source and you would like to receive the newsletter, send your email address to email@example.com.
Contact Robert Hunt directly at firstname.lastname@example.org
Facebook: The Art and the Way
Scottsdale Martial Arts Center: www.smacus.com