The Real Mr Miyagi – Founder of Goju Ryu

The Real Mr Miyagi – Founder of Goju Ryu

Everybody of a certain age remembers the character Mr Miyagi from the hit 1980s movie The Karate Kid. However what many people do not realise is the wise old karate teacher was in fact based on a real life master from Okinawa who founded one of the most successful forms of the martial art, Goju Ryu karate.

Blending Kung Fu with Okinawan Karate

Sensei Chojun Miyagi (1888 – 1953) began his karate training at an early age and when he turned 14, he was sent to study under the great master Kanryo Higaonna.

While working in China, Higaonna had the opportunity to study kung fu and blended his new knowledge with the style he himself had been taught in his home town of Naha (later this style would become known as Naha-te). Though training was extremely hard, the young Miyagi excelled and through great determination and a large amount of raw natural talent and was able to progress in the art very quickly. 

After his teacher’s death in 1915, Miyagi also went to China and though he did not intend to learn kung fu, what he saw there piqued his interest so he began studying. He attended the Pakua Chan School that emphasised the soft aspects of the martial arts. He was particularly interested in the internal systems and breathing techniques they taught there that promoted inner peace and harmony of the mind, body and spirit.

He also studied at the School of Shaolin Chuan which had a more external focus on training. The ‘hard’ aspect of the style he developed incorporates open handed blocking with a circular motion along with strong punching and striking techniques.

The legs are also utilised effectively and while high kicks are getting more popular today, Miyagi taught that kicks should be kept low in order to maximise their effectiveness while minimising the risk (as high kicks are less likely to hit the target and may result in a loss of balance). Goju Ryu karate also incorporates the use of many other types of technique including; 

  • Sweeps
  • Throws
  • Joint locks
  • Grappling

The Development of Goju Ryu Karate

In the early twentieth century, Okinawan karate masters were in great demand in Japan which appealed to Miyagi, so he went and began teaching classes at Kyoto University. However after a while he became homesick and returned to Okinawa, taking some of his best students with him.

One of Sensei Chonju Miyagi’s students who did not follow him back to his homeland however was Gogen Yamaguchi, who instead stayed in Japan and became a very successful teacher there. Known as The Cat because of his agility, cunning and speed when fighting, he further developed the style by organizing it into the system that is used all over the world today, forming the association known as Goju Kai.

Miyagi spent the rest of his life developing and teaching Goju Ryu karate while Yamaguchi did likewise in Japan. On his deathbed, the founder of the style named Yamaguchi as his successor, before passing away on 8 October 1953 at the age of 65.

Today, his legacy lives on and he is considered a legend of martial arts history. His name will always be remembered through the style he created which despite some modifications down the years, is still easily recognisable as the karate of the real Mr Miyagi.