When Miyagi Chojun met Motobu Choyu

“To judge the personality of an individual we only teach part of the technique, then they will adjust it to their own Way and reveal the true heart of their karate.”

“What influence has Syuri-ti had on Goju ryu?” From a conversation with Higa Kiyohiko at his home during the summer of 2017.

During the Taisho Era (1912-1926), Miyagi Chojun, the founder of Goju ryu karate, travelled with his brother disciple Teruya Kamesuke to the home of Motobu Choyu, seeking instruction in his unique method of torite (taking hands). At that time Motobu Choyu was considered the most noted bujin of Okinawa; his family having been instructors to the Royal House for over 400 years.

Choyu himself had received instruction since childhood from a number of prominent bujin in the capital, most of whom had served at Shurijo palace in an official capacity before the dissolution of the monarchy. These included Matsumura Sokon, deshi of master Sakugawa, Matsumora of Tomari and Itosu Anko, as well as from his father Choshin Motobu.

Teruya was a deshi to Higashionna Kanryo and also a close neighbour to Uehara Seikichi, Choyu shinshii’s deshi; they knew each other very well. However, Kamesuke never really established a group of his own and so today he is not known.

Miyagi Chojun developed Okinawan Goju ryu karateWhen Miyagi Chojun arrived Choyu agreed to only teach them in a particular way “Watch one, feel one, do one.” This method is less frequently practiced these days but serves as a means of guarding a style’s particular methods.

Choyu shinshii would first show the technique against a trainee, then apply one so they could feel it, then he would watch them do one on each other. He always taught a different technique, never the same thing twice, so as to make it difficult to learn. When they ‘felt’ the technique it was always too late and they were thrown.

Between them they hatched a plan. Teruya would watch Miyagi being thrown and pay particular attention to Choyu shinshii’s technique. Then, when they returned home, they would continue to practice together and try to replicate the feeling of success.

Motobu Choyu once told Uehara: “Miyagi is very powerful and should not teach his nage-waza to others as it could be dangerous for them to learn.”

He went on to explain that, “If you teach techniques easily the people might see a wrong Way and use them to do harm. So to judge the personality of an individual we only teach part of a technique, then they will adjust it their own Way and reveal the intent of their karate.”

This episode reminds me of the time I was introduced to a teacher of Motobu Udundi. He told me to grab him anyway I chose, however no sooner had I grabbed him then I was thrown. The harder I tried the further I was tossed. What struck me most was the peculiar feeling I experienced. It felt as though there was no resistance whatsoever, as if I were holding an empty shirt to hang on the line.

In that episode it was the same as that described with Miyagi and Choyu. First I was shown the technique against another trainee, then it was applied to me, then I had to practice with the trainee to get it. No technique was shown twice as it was our first introduction. For the longest time the method eluded me.