7. Travel (C)

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7. Travel (C)

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By Graham Noble

In 1934 Miyagi made the long sea journey to Hawaii to teach karate there. The visit had been sponsored jointly by Chinyei Kinjo, an Okinawan and the editor of the “Yoen Jiho Sha”, an Okinawan newspaper published on the island of Kauai; the Lihue Young Buddhist Association’s judo club, and the Okinawan Ken-In Kai (Okinawa Prefecture People’s Club). As Bruce Haines explained in his 1968 “Karate’s History and Traditions”, there had been quite a lot of Okinawan immigration to Hawaii prior to this time, mainly in the period 1880 – 1910. The Okinawan population in Hawaii in 1924 was given as 16,536. Okinawans were classified as Japanese and made up almost 14% of the Japanese population in Hawaii. It wasn’t a huge number, but it was significant enough to make Miyagi’s visit a practical proposition, and there was a certain amount of interest in karate among the Japanese/Okinawan population anyway: Kentsu Yabu had taught in the islands in 1927, Choki Motobu had landed in Hawaii in 1932 but had been refused entry, and in 1933 Mizuho Mutsu and Kamesuke Higaonna had taught in the islands for several months. The Mutsu and Higaonna visit, in fact, led to the establishment of a karate group, the Hawaii Karate Seinenkai (Hawaii Karate Youth Association). Chinyei Kinjo, apparently, had also been a student of Miyagi for a year or two at high school back in Okinawa.

Haines’ book included the translation of a brief article from the “Yoen Jiho Sha” newspaper dated 1 May 1934 announcing Miyagi’s visit. According to the article, Miyagi had left Japan on 26 April and would be arriving soon. He was expected to give one or two demonstrations in Honolulu, and then it was hoped that he would go round the island of Kauai and perhaps then visit the other islands. The newspaper had also been approached by the Waimea Police Department asking if Miyagi could give a demonstration of karate for the island’s policemen. The writer, maybe it was Chinyei Kinjo himself, wrote of Miyagi that in terms of skill, “no one in all of Okinawa prefecture can equal him.”

Charles Goodin, the historian of Hawaiian karate, looked through the old newspapers to try and find material on Miyagi’s visit to the islands. Charles found that Miyagi arrived in Hawaii on 3rd May 1934 and was met in Honolulu by Chinyei Kinjo and other well-wishers. A week later, on Thursday the 10th a welcome party was held for him at the Pan Pacific Club, and on the following weekend he gave a couple of lectures and demonstrations. One of the sponsors was the Hawaii Karate Seinenkai, whose members assisted Miyagi in the demonstrations. The first demonstration, on Saturday the 12th, was held at the Young Men’s Buddhist Association (YMBA) in downtown Honolulu and then on Sunday afternoon there was another demonstration at the Japanese Social Club.

There were a couple of pieces in the newspapers about the upcoming demonstration at the YMBA, including an advertisement in the “Hawaii Hochi” of 10th May. This described Miyagi as the leading expert on kempo karate, and stated that he would be giving a demonstration of Goju Ryu karate. The admission fee was to be 25 cents. The “Honolulu Star Bulletin” the following day also contained a short article headed “Karate Expert Will Conduct Classes Here”. After describing Miyagi, again, as Japan’s leading expert in karate, the article noted that he planned to stay in the islands for about six months, adding that “Miyoki (sic) who is chief instructor in karate to the police department at Naha, Japan, plans to leave for Kauai Monday and will return to Honolulu in about a month. During his stay in the islands Miyoki will conduct classes in karate. He will give an exhibition at the local YMBA at 7.30 pm, Saturday.” Another brief article in the “Hawaii Hochi” of 11 May, also announced the YMBA demonstration, adding that Miyagi was planning to stay on the islands for about three months, giving exhibitions and lectures. Charles Goodin wrote that over two hundred people attended the YMBA event, but unfortunately there do not appear to be any contemporary records of the demonstration, its content, or the audience’s reaction to it. The same applies to the following day’s demonstration at the Japanese Social Club.

The “Hawaii Hochi” noted that Miyagi left for Kauai on the 14th May, accompanied by Chinyei Kinjo. “The Guardian Island”, a Kauai English-language newspaper, reported the following week (week beginning 21st May) that Miyagi planned to stay about a month on Kauai and would be giving lectures and exhbitions over the island. The newspaper gave Miyagi’s itinerary as: Tuesday (22nd May?) Wahiawa; Wednesday, Kapaa; Thursday, Makaweli Camp 4; Friday, Kalaheo; Saturday, Koloa; Sunday, Kekaha, and Monday, Waimea. The starting time for the demonstrations would be 8pm and the admission charge 25 cents. The article added that “The program for other communities has not been completed as yet, but every community wil have the chance to see Miyaki (sic) in exhibition.”

Charles Goodin couldn’t find a date for Miyagi’s return to Oahu but noted that on Sunday, 29th July, a gathering was held for him at the Waipahu Hongwanji. On that occasion a group photograph was taken of Miyagi and his supporters and well-wishers. This was the only photo Charles was able to find of Miyagi’s eight month stay stay in Hawaii.

He was in the islands from May 1934 to mid-January 1935, but once he had left there was little visible trace of his stay. By the time Charles Goodin began his research, copies of the “Yoen Jiho Sha” for the period covering Miyagi’s stay had been lost, or destroyed. Charles also noted that the coverage of Miyagi’s visit in the other newspapers had been less than that given to Mutsu and Hgashionna the previous year. Bruce Haines wrote that “apart from Thomas Miyashiro’s karate classes in Professor Okazaki’s judo gymnasium which continued to 1936, Miyagi’s return to Okinawa in 1935 virtually ended the short but dynamic period of karate establishment and growth in Hawaii. . . . The Hawaii Karate Seinen Kai ceased to exist after Mr. Miyashiro’s retirement and for several years following 1936 there were no known karate instructors openly teaching the art.” Incidentally, Miyagi’s Okinawan and Japanese students seemed to know almost nothing about his Hawaiian visit. Gogen Yamaguchi, for example, told the 1950s “Gekkan Karate Do” magazine that “although Miyagi Sensei went to Hawaii there is no record that he taught there.”

It seems a little strange that Miyagi’s Hawaiian teaching disappeared so quickly. His eight months on the islands was much longer than any of his teachng visits to mainand Japan, where, in contrast, Goju Ryu became a flourishing style. And a base for Hawaiian karate study had already been established with the Karate Seinenkai. Although no written record of Miyagi’s teaching on Hawaii remains, Bruce Haines did quote from a 29 May (1934) article in the “Yoen Jiho Sha” which advised that students wishing to learn kempo karate should apply immediately for such instruction. That would have been while Miyagi was on his four week tour of Kauai. After that he returned to Oahu and the consensus is that this is where he carried out most of his teaching. Haines didn’t, or couldn’t, give any more information. He did estimate that Miyagi had taught over a hundred students in Hawaii, although he gave no source for that number. He conducted his researches into Hawaiian karate around 1960 so he may have been able to talk to a few old timers about it. A hundred sounds reasonable, but we have no way of knowing how accurate it is, and if it is more or less correct, what happened to the teaching?

It’s a bit puzzling. Apart from the Kauai itinerary we seem to have no record of Miyagi’s movements on the islands after the first month or so; we do not know where he may have taught, who he taught, or what his instruction consisted of. Presumably some of his one-time students continued to practise on their own, but in effect, after Miyagi left Goju Ryu in Hawaii disappeared until it was reintroduced a quarter of a century later by karateka such as Mitsugi Kobayashi, Kenneth Murakami and Masaichi Oshiro who had studied the art in the 1950s and 1960s in Okinawa and Japan. Of course, Okinawa was a long way from Hawaii, and for whatever reason, the links made on Miyagi’s visit were not maintained; and maybe Miyagi’s teaching itself was too limited to sustain long term practice. We don’t know; it’s intriguing.

When Morio Higaonna visited Hawaii in 1989 he could find no trace of Chojun Miyagi’s one time Hawaiian students: all had died, apparently. Higaonna did speak to Tomu Arakawa, a senior karateka on the islands. Arakawa had started karate training around 1960, so he was too young to remember Chojun Miyagi’s visit, but apparently he had spoken to Chinyei Kinjo about it. According to Arakawa, Miyagi had taught mainly in Honolulu and his Hawaiian students included Kizo Teruya, Uehara, Tamanaha, Okishikina, and Mitsugi Kobayashi. On Kaui, Miyashiro had also been a student. Arakawa thought that during his time on Hawaii Miyagi may have emphasized the teaching of Seiunchin rather than Sanchin, Sanchin training being considered too hard. He also told Higaonna that there were occasional demonstrations and that one female student would always perform Seiunchin on these occasions, earning her the nickname “Miss Seiunchin.”

Of the list of student names given by Higaonna, Uehara was probably Seishin Uehara, who was one of the founders and instructors of the Hawaiian Seinenkai. Uehara was born in 1901 in Okinawa and came to Hawaii age thirteen. With Mizuho Mutsu and Kamesuke Higashionna, the two Japanese instructors who came to Hawaii in 1933, he established the Hawaii Karate Seinenkai, and he continued to teach karate after Mutsu and Higashonna went back to Japan. He would have been thirty three at the time of Miyagi’s visit and was probably the senior karateka in the Seinenkai. Miyashiro of Kauai was probably Shigeru (Thomas) Miyashiro, although the reference to Kauai is puzzling since he seems to have been based on Honolulu and was also a founding member of the Seinenkai. As Bruce Haines noted, at one time Miyashiro taught karate classes at Henry Okazaki’s Kodenkan ju-jutsu dojo until ill-health forced him to retire. Presumably both Uehara and Miyashiro were among those karate students who assisted Miyagi at the YMBA demonstration in May 1934. Miyashiro would have been just nineteen at the time.

Kizo Teruya (b1896) was another Okinawan who had come to Hawaii as a youth, in 1912. He settled originally in Kauai but eventually moved to Oahu. He had learned some karate (Itosu style?) back on Okinawa and he continued to practise in Hawaii. There is no other record of him studying with Miyagi in Hawaii, but it’s possible.

Tamanaha is a little harder to place. There is a reference in the March 13, 1932 edition of the Hawaiian newspaper “Nippon Jiji”, which announced the imminent arrival of Choki Motobu, noting that he had been invited to the islands by Yoshimatsu Tamanaha. A little more information was given by Bruce Haines in his 1962 thesis for the University of Hawaii, “Karate and Its Development in Hawaii to 1959.” Haines noted that “in the late 1920’s and early 1930’s in Hawaii it was common for boxing promoters etc to match judo men aganst boxers. Seeing that these matches proved interesting and profitable, a group of Okinawan men headed by a Mr. Choso Tamanaha decided to put a karate man against a boxer. This group selected Choki Motobu, the well-known Okinawan master who had defeated a Russian heavyweight boxer in a bare handed bout in 1924.” As it happened, Motobu was held briefly at the immigration station at Ala Moana Boulevard before being sent back to Japan, and so he never had a chance to demonstrate his karate in Hawaii. However, Tamanaha and his associates still harboured the wish to show karate in Hawaii and in 1933 they brought over Japanese instructors Zuiho Mutsu (Mizuho Takada) and Kamesuke Higaonna, who taught karate for several months on the islands. Haines got the information about Tamanaha from Thomas Miyashiro. It seems that Haines had also wanted to speak to Tamanaha himself, but found that he had returned to Okinawa some years before and had died there.

The inclusion of Mitsugi Kobayashi in the list of Miyagi’s Hawaiian students is probably a mistake. Kobayashi was a Goju Ryu practitioner but his training came later, in the 1950s when he was working in Okinawa. He was actually one of the post-war karate pioneers in Hawaii and began teaching the art around 1960. Before the war he had trained in judo, but at the time of Miyagi’s Hawaiian stay he would have been just eleven years old. Pre-war karate training doesn’t feature in his biography, although it is possible that he attended some classes with Miyagi. However, it’s unlikely that an eleven year old boy would be considered one of Miyagi’s senior Goju Ryu students on Hawaii.

The Miyagi – Okishikina connection is intriguing. Okishikina too was an Okinawan immigrant, his family having come to Hawaii around 1912 when he was five. He was big for an Okinawan, eventually reaching 5 foot 8 and around 2,10 pounds. He was alwayas athletic and played football and baseball at school. He also took part in judo and sumo contests on the island with quite a bit of success. “When I was fourteen,” he once recalled, “I tried sumo because it was very popular in Hilo at that time. But in the beginning I was defeated by many wrestlers, even those who were smaller and weaker than me. So I decided to train. I became fairly good and when I was seventeen I was asked by Yomin Tasaka to try my luck in the worl of Grand Sumo in Japan, but my parents were opposed to the idea so I didn’t go.” He subsequently moved to Honolulu and became one of Oahu’s leading sumotori, and then in 1929 he was persuaded by the well known jujutsu man and wrestler Taro Miyake to try professional wrestling, which he did with some success. Over the years he wrestled against the top names in the game such as Jim Londos, Ray Steele and Gus Sonnenberg and in 1937 he won the Hawaiian Heavyweight Championship. He wrestled a lot in mainland America, but apparently he was in Hawaii in 1934 and met Chojun Miyag there. No doubt he would have had an interest karate as a new form of combat, but whether he had any formal instruction from Miyagi we don’t know. His time may have been limited by his pro-wrestling commitments anyway.

I may be imagining this, but I seem to recall reading, or hearing, somewhere, that it had been Okishikina who had taught the Japanese pro-wrestler Rikidozan his “karate chop”, a famous special technique that Riki used to win many of his matches. Supposedly this shuto technique was something that Okishikina had carried over from his sometime study with Chojun Miyagi, and so in this version of events Rikidozan became a kind of distant grand-student of Miyagi.

Actually, there was a strong Okishikina – Rikidozan connection which went back to Riki’s American wrestling tour of 1952/3. During that time Rikidozan had wrestled in Hawaii, which is where he met Okishikina. When Rikidozan returned to Japan Okishikina went with him and for some time he seems to have acted as Riki’s trainer. It’s doubtful, but who knows, Rikidozan may have got the idea for his karate chop from Okishikina. There are other versions of the origins of the technique, though. Gichin Funakoshi, in his “Karate Do Ichiro” (“Karate Do, My way of Life”) wrote that he had been told that Rikidozan had picked up the karate chop after studying some karate with Yukio Togawa, who had been one of the seniors at the Shotokan Dojo. Nei Chu So, one of the pioneers of Goju Ryu on mainland Japan, told “Gekkan Karate Do” magazine (1995) that he had taught karate techniques to the famous judoka Masahiko Kimura. “I taught him how to strike the makiwara, and shuto. When you hit the carotid artery it makes a resounding noise. I told him that he could knock an opponent down with that shuto strike alone. He began practising that often. . . . Later, Kimura, along with a man called Yamaguchi from the same pro-judo group, and (Mas) Oyama, went to Hawaii. Rikidozan was learning pro-wrestling there at that time and as a courtesy Kimura told him about the shuto strike. And that became Rikido’s ‘Karate Chop.’ Kimura was just calling it karate, but the gaijin (foreigners) were calling it a ‘Chop’, so Riki came up with the idea of combining the two words and calling it ‘Karate Chop.’“ Also, inevitably, there are some who claim that it was Mas Oyama who taught Rikidozan the shuto strike.

In the early 1950s karate had the air of a mysterious, deadly art, and the “Karate Chop” gave an exotic aspect to Rikidozan’s wrestling style. But really . . . . all Rikidozan had to do was raise his arm and then “strike” his opponent with the edge of his hand. The “karate chop” was a pro-wrestling gimmick, Riki’s trademark technique which he used to defeat his opponents in matches which were all worked (prearranged) anyway. In fact, there was no need for anyone to instruct Rikidozan in the mechanics of the strike.

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“Old minds are like old horses; you must exercise them if you wish to keep them in working order.”
- John Adams
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