8. A Revival (A)

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8. A Revival (A)

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By Graham Noble

After almost three months of desperate, terrible fighting the Japanese were defeated and the American forces occupied Okinawa. According to Morio Higaonna, Miyagi and his family were moved to a displaced persons camp in Hentona, and then a week after that they were moved to Haneji, where they remained for nine months. That would take things up to early 1946.

Eichi Miyazato told Mike Clarke, in a 1992 interview: “After the war Okinawa was completely destroyed. Naha was in ruins. Even by the time Miyagi Sensei moved back to Tsuboya (in Naha) it was all anyone could do to find enough food to eat each day. This was what was on everyone’s mind, not karate training. I was the first to return after the war and resume my karate under Miyagi Sensei. Later a few others came back, and there were even some new students, although they were only young boys.

“Unfortunately, Miyagi Sensei was not feeling very well for a long time after the war. He had lost members of his family in the fighting and also his best student, Shinzato Sensei. As time went by the training did start to return to its pre-war ways, but then Miyagi Sensei died very suddenly.”

Seikichi Toguchi was another student who returned to Okinawa soon after the end of the war and went to see Miyagi and Seko Higa. They were delighted to see him, but “were exhausted and miserable, as were all of the surviving Okinawans.” Toguchi recalled that all Miyagi’s assets and wealth had been destroyed and he was finding it difficult to survive. “His health began to fail,” Toguchi wrote, “(but) even though he was distraught he began to teach karate at the police academy in Gushikawa right after the war in 1946.” Toguchi remembered Miyagi’s students getting together around this time to plan a demonstration to help him, “using his name to increase interest.” Miyagi, though, said he did not want a demonstration and none took place. That may have been, as Toguchi said, because he didn’t want to take any of the money a demonstration might bring – Toguchi wrote that Miyagi never charged any fees for his instruction - but it may also be an indication of his depressed state of mind during those post-war years.

Toguchi also wrote that Miyagi’s students got together to build a house for him. That was in 1950 and around that time there was a meeting between Miyagi and his students, about ten of them, to discuss the future of Goju. There were various suggestions from the students about how to promote the style, such as advertising, or putting on demonstrations. “The Master was listening to all this without a word,” Toguchi remembered, “but when everybody had finished talking, he said slowly: ‘What you have all said is futile.’ Then he explained his reasons, the thrust of which was this: ‘Right now, you all have worked as hard as possible to build me this house and dojo. So, now don’t think of anything else, but try to establish a firm basis for your own living. After that is done, what you have said here will come very easily.’ We didn’t know what to say to him.”

Miyagi returned to Naha in 1947 (?) and he took up his old position as instructor at the Police Academy, but apart from that it’s not clear how much direct teaching he did. One thing that has stuck in my mind is the recollection of Yuchoku Higa that Miyagi was not really doing any teaching during those early post-war years. Higa had done Goju Ryu in the 1930s with Jinan Shinzato, so he was quite an experienced Goju karateka, and he had wanted to continue in the style after the war. However, because of Miyagi’s inactivity he began to study with Chosin Chibana instead and switched to Chibana’s Shorin Ryu.

Goju was slowly being picked up by others, though. In late 1947 Seko Higa’s students built a dojo for him and Toguchi remembered Miyagi coming to that dojo. “We were usually asked to perform kata in front of him one at a time,” Toguchi wrote. “Miyagi Sensei’s eyes were intimidating during practice, but warm afterwards.”

In 1951 Miyagi began to teach at his home, in the back garden which served as his dojo. According to Koshin Iha (1925 – 2012) he and Eichi Miyazato were asked to teach there because of Miyagi’s weakness at this time. Miyazato recalled that there were about ten students attending this garden dojo, and that Miyagi would come out from the house, sit on a chair, and say, “Miyazato San, please teach him.” Seikichi Toguchi also remembered Miyagi sitting on a chair while teaching and “orally instructing” the students one at a time: “He would make comments such as: ‘Ah, the hand is too high, lower it,’ or ‘Bend your elbow and turn it inward.’ He would also have the senior students physically correct the juniors.” Morio Higaonna wrote that Miyagi would still walk the couple of miles to the Police Academy three times a week, but as his health deteriorated he would have to stop at times to rest. Still, we do have some technical photographs of Miyagi from this post-war period. In a couple of sets of photos, partnered by Eichi Miyazato he shows a few basic techniques such as elbow strikes, kansetsu geri, a knee to the groin. Ironically, these are the only technical photos we have of Miyagi since those very early photographs of him as a young man with Juhatsu Kyoda, and that was five decades before.

Eichi Miyazato recalled that Miyagi’s health had been deteriorating since the end of the war. We can’t track his state of health on a year by year basis, but Toguchi noted that his condition “severely declined” at the start of 1952: “His blood pressure was very high and I noticed that his strength and stamina were low.” He died late the next year, in October 1953. Miyagi’s second daughter, Yasuko Kojito, who was was living in Tokyo, had heard sometime before that he had no more than three years left to live. A year before he died she had received a telegraph from him and travelled back to Okinawa to see him. He had brought together his students for her visit and she was surprised to see “all those people” around him. Yasuko wrote that “the third year (after) the first attack seems most dangerous” and that her father had died within that three year period, which means that he must have had an earlier heart attack some time before he died. “He was too young to die,” Yasuko wrote. “I wanted him to live longer. He used to say to my mother, ‘The people who do karate in Shuri live long lives, but not those in Naha. So I really want to live a long time.’“

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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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