There are aspects in the personal lives of personalities associated with a particular area, which often escape us and tend to disappear from the studies about them.
Chojun Miyagi is a great Karate master and the acclaimed founder of Goju-ryu style, therefore it will not be surprising, that almost all of the studies will be limited to this issues. Nothing more natural and normal since this is the area wherein distinguished.
Anyone should be able to find dozens of studies on the founder of Goju-ryu, in that particular area, but will some achieve to find studies on other aspects of Master's life?
Many will say that this might be irrelevant, since it is not the core of his activities, but irrelevance is something inexistent for any historian in search of view of man as a whole.
How was the man Miyagi, which private habits did he possessed? What did he liked? We know, by some scarce references that was an avid reader, an attentive and caring father, an educated and respected person and, as a matter of fact, very little else.
The aim of this brief paper is to trace in Chojun Miyagi’s life one of its passions. As indeed as in his Karate, the Master pursued a search for perfection in the art of Japanese calligraphy: Shodō (書道), literally “the writing path”.
As an attentive educator to his kids we can trace on his daughter Thuruko Miyagi, interview on March 30, 1978, a double concern with organization and shodo. Thuruko recalls, “He got angry when I did not put my books on the shelves correctly. When I knew not read Kanji (Chinese character), I put hiragana (Japanese alphabet) along the Kanji. He was angry that I cannot even memorize the Kanji”. So we can clearly see the importance the Master give to writing kanji, something considered vital to one’s education.
Although we do not have many examples of Master’s writing we can see them on the cover of his first essay, Karatedo Gaisetsu (唐手道概説/1934), written still with the Tang character, perfectly and carefully done.
It is without surprise that in order to pursue the path of writing perfection he studied shodō with his Sensei Yamashiro Tadashi, a renowned calligraphy master, someone we can inferred was very closed to him, since we can trace him in two photos taken with the master’s in Japan mainland during the 30’s.
To have a shodō Sensei clearly attests he wanted to surpass in skills and deep understanding the writing skills any Japanese boy (I know Okinawans do not consider themselves properly Japanese, but they legally were by then) could get at school. Chojun Miyagi was a grown men by then and he could only had one objective: excellence and mastery in the art. Chojun Miyagi was a true perfectionist in any aspect of his life. Shodō was no exception.
A third and important connection with shodō can still be traceable. Hōhitsu Gushimiyagi (1892 – 1966), a young fellow pupil of Miyagi under Kanryo Higaonna, latter studied Karate from Miyagi (for a length we could not trace), while studying japanese calligraphy in depth and gathering know disciples on the art.
Nevertheless he was Miyagi’s friend for life. It is know that after the war he regularly visited Master Miyagi at his home in Tsuboya. The two were so closed that he nicknamed Miyagi his “big brother pine tree”. It is know they chattered for long hours, like good friends they were, about martial arts, classical music (they both were fond of) and a variety of other things, among them the shared passion for calligraphy. It is recorded that Master Miyagi one day asked Gushimiyagi to tell a story about calligraphy, he explained that
“When writing a straight horizontal line with a brush in calligraphy, you don't just write a straight line. You write it while breathing from the tanden with a breathing method which is similar to that of Sanchin. It is also not merely that simple, but you write with brush, breathing, and mind in harmony”.
Clearly we can understand that Gushimiyagi apart from being a skilled calligrapher was also a skilled karateka that could clearly understand that the way (道) of the brush and the fist are one and the same. And that was also the path Master Miyagi pursued all his life.
(With deep gratitude to Andreas Quast. It was one translation he send me that raised the idea of this paper).
Morio Higaonna Morio and Tooru Kadekaru. “Gushimiyagi Hōhitsu 𤘩宮城芳弼 (1892 – 1966)”. In: Shigeru Takamiyagi, Katsuhiko Shinzato and Masahiro Nakamoto. 2008. Okinawa Karate Kobudō Jiten. Tokyo: Kashiwa Shobō, 2008, p. 426
Thuruko Miyagi (Yasuko Kojiro). 1978. The memory of my father, Chojun Miyagi (Interview). March 30, 53rd year of Showa (1978). http://www.hgweb.nl/isshinryu/history/miyagi.htm