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Wednesday, January 18, 2012


Lessons from the History of Goju Ryu
Karen Mulligan
December 2011

Lesson #1: A cardboard box could be your dojo.
Chojun Miyagi was the founder of Goju-Ryu karate. He trained in his garden, although he called it a dojo. Seko Higa, one of Miyagi's first students and one of the three students certified to open a dojo, made his living room and hallway his dojo. The cardboard box statement may have been a bit of an exaggeration, but needless to say, if a garden and a living room were good enough places to train for the earliest teachers of Goju-Ryu, then one needs only sufficient floor space and a willing mind to train.

Lesson #2: You must accept you will travel no faster than a snail
A student of both Miyagi and Higa recalls it took one to two years to learn each kata, and students were not permitted to move forward (within a kata) until given approval by Miyagi. Generally, kumite was not taught until after ten years of training. While our current training does not adhere to such strict standards and timing, the principle of patience should still hold. Moving to a higher kata prior to mastering the foundations will only result in poor technique and lack of mastery. I am grateful that I did not have to spend one to two
years just learning gekisai dai ichi, but I am aware that in moving forward sooner, I must constantly return to the foundations and work out each move and sequence until everything is fully mastered.

Lesson #3 Three steps forward and three steps back isn't quite enough
Sanchin as we study it is the same Sanchin as Miyagi taught until after the war when his health declined. It is said that he then taught from a chair, and so students were not permitted to turn their back on him since it was a sign of disrespect. At this point, Sanchin was modi ed to take three steps forward and then three steps back rather than incorporate the two 180 degree turns. The modi ed Sanchin is missing the key principle of making a turn, which is a key priniciple of Sanchin as pointed out by Miyagi in an article. In essence,
modified Sanchin serves little purpose for advanced training without the turn since many of the other katas contain similar turning techniques (Sanseiryu comes to mind as an example).  We are fortunate to belong to a dojo that practices Sanchin as it was meant to be practiced so that we receive the full benefits of the kata.

Lesson #4 Names don't matter until someone asks you for them
A senior student of Miyagi was giving a demonstration in Japan and was asked the name of his style. He was unable to respond since Miyagi had not given it a formal name. The student then returned to Miyagi in Okinawa to ask him, and Miyagi decided to call it Goju-Ryu.  Unlike the senior student, we have to know the names and meanings of our style and techniques.  Within our dojo, perhaps names are unimportant so long as the techniques are correct and fully understood. However, outside our dojo, it is our responsibility to know and understand names so that we can explain them to others in order to promote Goju-Ryu karate.

Lesson #5 Not everybody wants to know the secret
Miyagi understood the importance of making people aware of the benefits of studying Goju-Ryu. He knew retaining the original kata and their bunkai was important for keeping the art intact (since so many Goju-Ryu kata contain secret bunkai unrecognizable to the untrained eye). He created Gekisai dai ichi and Gekisai dai ni in order to help make the art more accessible to the public. One might argue that Tensho also served this purpose since according to Miyagi the focus is on posture, breath, skeletal alignment, and muscular
development (in other words, physical and spiritual development) rather than the practice of clearly defined self-defense. While Tensho clearly has applications, it was named a kihon kata, which generally place focus on developing breathing and internal energy. Hiding the applications of Tensho may have served to help the general public view Goju-Ryu in less violent light and more of a "health benefits" light, but to the practitioner of Goju-Ryu, both aspects are apparent.

[1] Hopkins, G. \Politics and Karate: Historical Influences on the Practice of Goju-Ryu." Journal of Asian Martial Arts. 16(2007).

[2] Porta, J. and McCabe, J. \The Karate of Chojun Miyagi." Journal of Asian Martial Arts. 3(1994).

[3] Toguchi, Seikichi. Okinawan Goju-Ryu. Website accessed 11/30/11.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Student Essays

As part of our tradition of physical and mental training in karate-do, we require our students, beginning at brown belt (3rd Kyu) level, to submit a paper on a martial arts topic from their reading.  These papers are not meant to be academic papers as much as they are conversational in nature about something personal the student has learned, or further investigated, from what they read.

These papers are shared with the dojo so that we all might learn from them.

Please enjoy.