Goju-Ryu is among the most popular style of Karate in the world today. It is the only style with full recognition by the Dai Nippon Butokukai, World Karate Federation, and the All Okinawa Karate-Do. This is quite an achievement considering that its founder, Chojun Miyagi passed on his knowledge anecdotally due the widespread illiteracy of that generation. Chojun Miyagi had many students throughout his years as a Karate Sensei. Among his top students in Okinawa were Juhatsu Kyoda, Jinan Shinzato, Seiko Higa, Meitoku Yagi, Seikichi Toguchi, and Eiichi Miyazato. Gogen Yamaguchi and others at the Ritsumeikan University in Kyoto were also students of Grandmaster Miyagi.
Miyagi began accepting students at around 1916. He taught in his backyard and it was not unusual for students to do odd physical jobs around the yard for up to 2 years before formal Karate training began. Only the most dedicated student would remain. There are many stories to support the zeal that Miyagi had for Karate before the WWII. For the next 10 years, Miyagi demonstrated Karate in Kyoto and became president of the Okinawa Physical Education Association.
In 1926, Meitoku Yagi began learning Karate from Miyagi at the age 14. By the age of 18 (1930), Meitoku Yagi became the first student to learn all Kata of Miyagi. This was not typical considering the strictness of Chojun Miyagi. It was also during this time that “Goju-Ryu” became recognized as the first official name of a style of Karate. For the next 10 years, Karate took on a direction towards what we see it today. The kanji for Karate as Empty-hand became accepted, a ranking system was adopted from the Judo model, Karate became a part of the Japanese educational system, and Chojun Miyagi defined Karate in Osaka in his speech “What is Karate-Do”.
Around 1937 Chojun Miyagi was awarded the title of Kyoshi by the Dai Nippon Butokukai. In 1940, he became the senior ranking karate-ka to be on Okinawa’s special committee for Karate-do. This committee was unique since it the first officially group created by the Okinawan government and its membership criteria did not include age seniority. It’s membership consisted equally of both Shorin and Naha practitioners and headed by a neutral Kendo master and school teacher. The Governor Hayakawa of Okinawa created this group as a bold step as an answer to the reorganization of Karate taking place on the main island of Japan. The group was to create promotional kata that was an equal representation of Tomari, Naha, and Shuri.
The group adopted a promotional kata that is known today as Geki Sai Ichi in Goju-Ryu and Fukyu Kata Ni in Shorin-Ryu. The creation of this kata is attributed to Chojun Miyagi. A junior member of the committee at the time was Shoshin Nagamine who worked closely with Chojun Miyagi in this committee. Nagamine used this promotional kata to form Fukyu Kata Ichi and Chojun Miyagi used it to create Geki Sai Ni which is said to be closer to Naha-te.
During WWII, the Battle of Okinawa took a toll on all Okinawans. Many karate masters fell victim to the tragedies of war including Jinan Shinzato, one of Miyagi’s senior students. There was much devastation and Okinawa was need of dire infrastructure and cultural repair at war’s end. It was a tough time for everyone including Miyagi and it was at this time that the Americans establish military bases on Okinawa. It wasn’t until the 1950’s when the practice of Karate became common again.
The formation of associations began in the 1950’s with the creation of IKGA by Gogen Yamaguchi. It is uncertain if Chojun Miyagi was aware of Yamaguchi’s initiative. In 1952 though, Chojun Miyagi created the Goju-Ryu Advancement Society and became its first president. This was also the year that Meitoku Yagi received permission to formally open his own school/organization which he named Meibukan. In 1953, Chojun Miyagi suddenly passed away without the opportunity of assigning a successor. Meitoku Yagi was immediately installed as president of the Goju-Ryu Advancement Society and the former students of Miyagi began opening their own schools and organizations. In 1953 Seikichi Toguchi opened Shoreikan, Eiichi Miyazato opened Jundokan in 1954, and in 1960 Seiko Higa formed the Shodokan.
In 1956, the Okinawa Goju Kai was formed and Meitoku Yagi became its first President. Through the Meibukan Hombu Dojo, he maintained the standards of Goju-Ryu as taught to him by Chojun Miyagi before the turmoils if the war. In 1963, the Miyagi family awarded Meitoku Yagi as the successor or Menkyo Kaiden of Chojun Miyagi. Along with the title is Meitoku Yagi received Miyagi’s gi and obi.
Goju-Ryu has a rich history with each modern master leaving his own mark. For decades after Chojun Miyagi’s death, Meitoku Yagi worked diligently with other styles of Karate and Kobudo to preserve the cultural significance of Okinawa Heritage. His efforts led him to the creation of the All Okinawa Karate-do Association which he co-founded with Master Shoshin Nagamine of Matsubayashi Shorin-Ryu. Because of his selfless dedication to Karate, he is the most decorated of all Goju-Ryu masters. During his life he was even awarded the title of National Living Treasure by the Emperor of Japan. His lifetime dedication to Goju-Ryu has influenced Goju-Ryu worldwide.
Meitoku Yagi has become known forever as the Dai Sensei (top teacher). Click Here for Dai Sensei’s legacy.