Born on April 25, 1888 in Haigashi, Naha, Miyagi Sensei came to inherit the fortune of one of the wealthiest families on Okinawa. Thus independently wealthy, he was able to devote his life to the exclusive study of the martial arts. He began his training at the age of eleven under karate master Aragaki Ryuko and in 1901 Chojun Miyagi was introduced to Master Kanryo Higashionna. Under Master Higashionna students would learn only one kata suited to their temperament and body type, becoming highly proficient. Chojun Miyagi however was able to learn all aspects of Naha Ti. He was the only student of Master Higashionna to learn all the katas of Naha Ti. Because of his great wealth Chojun Miyagi was able to house Master Higashionna and so he remained in his constant company. Miyagi Sensei studied under Master Higashionna for fifteen years until the Masters death. After his masters death, Master Miyagi journeyed to China twice to study and collect further teaching and literature on the martial arts. A pioneer in internationalizing karate, he also travelled to mainland Japan and Hawaii to spread its doctrine.
It was during a demonstration on the Japanese mainland by Master Miyagi’s senior student Jinan Shinzato, that the styles name came into question. Back then in Japan all recognized styles had to have a name. Jinan Shinzato was unable to give an accurate reply when he was asked so upon his return to Okinawa he consulted with Master Miyagi. Master Miyagi came up with the name Goju Ryu taken from a line of the Bubishi, a record of the eight precepts of Chinese Kempo. Go Ju appears in the sentence, “Ho Go Ju Dont” ( the way of breathing is hardness and softness), describing the hard and soft of his style. Thus Goju Ryu was the first style of karate not named after the city of its origin.
In 1933, when Dai Nippon Butoku Kai (the largest martial arts organization recognized by the prewar Japanese government) was established, Master Miyagi, as the representative of the Okinawan martial artists, presented his article, “An Outline of Karate-do”. As a result of his presentation karate received formal recognition as a Japanese martial art. Master Miyagi himself was awarded the title, Karate-Jutsu Master, the first master in the karate world so designated.
Although Master Miyagi’s command of the art was profound, his greatest achievement was the organization of karate teaching methods. He introduced preparation exercises, supplementary exercises, Hookiyu Kata (unified kata), Kihon kata (basic forms) and relaxing exercises, all truly epoch-making developments in karate teaching. In addition, his classes in junior high and police schools helped redefine karate’s public image. At that time, public opinion held that karate would make a person poor or fond of quarreling. Master Miyagi’s work, however, disproved these myths and presented a more accurate picture of karate as a martial art and physical exercise.
Master Miyagi was called the last great samurai warrior of Ryukyu (Okinawa) and held the title of Bushi. Master Miyagi died of a heart attack on October 8, 1953 at the age of 65 and because of his sudden death no official successor was named. After Master Miyagi’s death various schools of Goju Ryu were opened by his senior students, Seiko Higa teaching at his Shodokan Dojo, Meitoku Yagi at his Meibukan Dojo, Master Seikichi Toguchi at his Shoreikan Dojo, and Ei’ichi Miyazato at his Jundokan Dojo.