of Morio Higaonna
Dan, Hanshi, Goju Ryu
Times Issue #10
of Morio Higaonna sensei was first published in issue No.10 of Dragon Times.
It is republished here for the benefit of the karate world in general, and
for those in particular who may have been confused by the latest campaign
of rumor, innuendo, and misinformation aimed at discrediting this very senior
not go unnoticed that, despite being treated universally with derision by
the serious martial arts journals, the stories continue to make the rounds
with monotonous regularity. It should be concluded therefore that this campaign
is not so much designed to discredit Morio Higaonna, but rather an attempt
to bring to the attention of the public a number of insignificant instructors
by linking their names with his.
this interview was first published, Tetsuji Nakamura has moved to Canada where
he opened an IOGKF Dojo. Dragon Times has obtained legal documents showing
that the allegations made against An'ichi Miyagi were categorically denied
by the source of record. We will publish them in a future edition with a new
interview of Higaonna sensei.
Sensei, I would like to ask you about some of the criticisms of yourself and
your teacher An'ichi Miyagi. Specifically it is said that An'ichi sensei was
only a child when he trained with Chojun Miyagi Sensei, that he learned only
part of the system, and that his character is, shall we say, flawed.
If it wasn't so funny this would make me very angry. It's also very ironic.
People seem unwilling to accept my word that my teacher is the little known
An'ichi Miyagi, but willing to accept the claims of one of my former students
that his teacher was Chojun Miyagi the founder of Goju Ryu. This despite the
fact that he would have been barely more than an infant when Chojun sensei
died. They ignore the truth but accept the ludicrous.
fact of the matter is very simple. When, full of
nervous excitement and with the money my mother
had given me clenched in my fist, I first went to
the garden dojo of Chojun Miyagi sensei as a boy
of sixteen, I was told by Koshin Iha, a student
of Chojun Miyagi sensei, "if you want to train seriously
An'ichi will teach you." He has taught me ever since;
I only have the one teacher.
first I was not particularly impressed by An'ichi
sensei. Although his movements were very smooth
and powerful, I was more impressed by the naked
power of the younger students, Saburo Higa particularly.
You could feel the rush of wind when he kicked and
punched and the physique he developed from Sanchin
training was awe inspiring. It was only as I progressed
and began to understand Chojun Miyagi Sensei's Goju
Ryu that I became aware of An'ichi Sensei's mastery
I've seen it quoted that An'ichi sensei was only twenty when Chojun Sensei
died, the implication being that he was not old enough to have developed any
People should check their facts before they speak publicly When Chojun Sensei
died on October 8th, 1953 An'ichi sensei was in fact twenty two years old;
his birth date is February 9th, 1931. His formative years, from 1948 until
1953 were spent in intense personal training with Chojun sensei on a daily
basis, at times he was the Founder's only student. How better to learn Goju
Ryu karate than to acquire it from the founder at a young age and spend the
rest of your life perfecting your skill!
Other instructors have claimed to be your primary instructor; how do you respond
to this suggestion
Why would they suggest this? I know who taught me and even now, when I need
my kata checked, I return to the same source, An'ichi Miyagi. There is no
doubt in my mind, so why would there be doubt in the minds of others.
course when I started karate all the sempai taught
us. Training was very different them, it was more
like an extended family arrangement, older brothers
helping younger brothers. If you really stretch
the point, all of them could say that they taught
Actually I was hoping that you would address the question of your training
at the Jundokan after the garden dojo of Chojun Sensei was closed.
It seems like only yesterday that An'ichi sensei would call at my house and
ask me to help him repair makiwara at the Jundokan dojo, or clean up the yard
and the hojo undo equipment. It was at the Jundokan that An'ichi sensei really
started to teach me seriously. He explained to me every tiny detail he had
learned from the Founder about our method and I was fascinated by his knowledge.
When I think of it I experience the thrill and excitement again of my training
in those days. An'ichi sensei gave everything he had when training, and expected
us to do the same. Unfortunately this led to disagreements with Miyazato sensei
the dojo cho. Miyazato sensei felt that An'ichi sensei was much too tough,
and his iron discipline, together with the physical demands he made on students,
would lose us members and therefore income.
At the risk of repeating myself, can I say that you were never taught by anyone
except An'ichi sensei?
However, it's true that others would offer their advice from time to time
even as I got older. For example, Miyazato sensei checked my sanchin perhaps
two or three times in all the years I was at the Jundokan, but my teacher
was, and is, An'ichi sensei. I have to say that Miyazato sensei was always
kind to me personally but had a habit of saying unkind things about people
behind their backs which always made me feel uncomfortable.
Is that why you left the Jundokan?
There were a number of reasons for leaving the Jundokan.
sensei was not shown the respect he deserved. Also,
when Miyazato sensei would change details of the
kata, An'ichi sensei would protest and a heated
discussion would then take place which was very
didn't like the board that was displayed publicly
with the names of those who had not paid their dojo
fees, I thought this was demeaning, and then there
was the matter of the loan that was taken out to
build the Jundokan. An'ichi sensei paid for the
Jundokan building lot to be cleared with his own
money and didn't expect to recover anything. However,
the actual building costs were paid for by a loan
guaranteed by Harno Kochi and this, I understand,
was never repaid which angered An'ichi sensei a
great deal. He left to join the merchant marine
and the Jundokan changed a lot for me as a result
but I stayed on even after that, for a while at
Is this where the accusation came from that An'ichi left Okinawa to avoid
paying his debts?
Exactly! In fact things were the other way around. He spent a lot of his own
money on the Jundokan then left to join the merchant marine in order to earn
a decent living-life was still very hard in Okinawa at that time. When the
source of this allegation-that An'ichi sensei had left Okinawa to avoid paying
his debts-was confronted about this quite recently he denied saying anything
of the sort!
This allegation seems to have become something of a cultural tradition in
Okinawan karate society. Gichin Funakoshi's critics claimed, also in the absence
of any credible evidence, that he left Okinawa to avoid paying his debts.
Perhaps this is an inevitable result of being a successful karate master,
particularly if you train students that became internationally famous.
You may be right.
An'ichi sensei told me that Miyazato sensei was upset when he heard that my
Yoyogi (Tokyo) dojo was busy because he assumed that I was making a lot of
money. In fact all the fees went to the owner of the dojo and I only received
a small salary and a place to sleep. The salary was only paid for the | days
I taught, if I went away for a gasshuku, for example, I was not paid.
didn't realize what the problem was, or that there
was a problem about money or anything else until
in July 1981 Ryosei Aragaki asked me to come back
to the Jundokan. I told him that I had made up my
mind and I couldn't change it. Then in August 1981
at the championship in Osaka I was asked to attend
a meeting and was surprised to find Miyazato sensei
complained that when I went home to Okinawa I never
went to see him. I really didn't understand what
he was talking about as I had no reason to go and
see him. While I respect him as a student of Chojun
sensei, he wasn't my teacher or anything like that,
and I really didn't know what to do under the circumstances.
Mr. Arimoto who was also at the meeting said that
I should apologize to Miyazato sensei, so I did,
and thought no more about it.
Another accusation is that you don't have a dojo in Japan or Okinawa, and
are unknown there.
I don't know how or where these stories come from. My dojo in Okinawa was
established in the Makishi district of Naha in 1981 and has operated continuously
since. Tetsuji Nakamura who used to be my assistant in the U.S. now runs our
dojo in the busy Shinjuku district of Tokyo, and in fact, I am leaving tomorrow
for a gasshuku in Japan. The Makishi dojo became particularly well known because
the British Broadcasting Corporation made a television documentary about Okinawan
karate there in 1982.
That's why I asked the question. I saw the BBC documentary and while I admire
your modesty, it was more about your karate than anything else. Dennis Waterman
was the narrator which meant that the BBC must have spent a lot of money on
the show, and I remember that most of it was shot in the Makishi Dojo and
the surrounding area.
fact your dojo appears to be so well known in Okinawa
that a British karateka who went to train there
wrote about it in in Fighting Arts International
magazine. He said that after clearing immigration,
when he asked how he could get to the Higaonna dojo
he was actually put in a taxi by the officials who
had processed his visa, and the driver given directions
to the Makishi dojo.
I saw that article as well, and I think he exaggerated a little. A case of
youthful enthusiasm perhaps.
I would like to move on the rather contentious subject of dan grades. I know
that you have rather strong views on this subject, but have publicly said
very little. May we hear your opinion?
Dan grades have only become important because they cause so many problems.
Chojun Miyagi sensei refused to award dan grades and the martial arts didn't
have dan grades until judo adopted them. I was given third dan by Miyazato
sensei at the first grading I attended when I was little more than a kid and
it meant nothing to me, then or now. I never wore the belt.
agree that for students they are a way of measuring
progress but at a high price. They cause discontent,
squabbles, and lead to excessive pride in self which
is the opposite of what martial arts training should
develop in a student. Every one has different standards
so, inevitably there are differences between the
level of students from different dojo even when
they have the same grade, and then the politics
start. I believe that there should be black belts
and white belts only, and that the focus should
be on training, not on accumulating rank.
On the subject of training, please tell me something about your own
I am pleased to say my training has hardly changed over the years. Recently
I started to study meditation with Sakiyama sensei who is a famous Zen priest.
Everyday I run, practice hojo undo, kata, and also meditation. My family is
as supportive as ever so I am free to train for at least six hours each day.
course you must remember that physical training
is just the gateway to mastery of the mind. That's
why you must strive to achieve true humility through
training. If you don't, it's difficult if not impossible
to rise above the purely physical because your mind
is forever clouded by thoughts of material things,
pride and scorn for others, and similar negative
karate makes good people, and I feel a responsibility
to pass on what was given to me as a way of thanking
my teacher, An'ichi Miyagi, and, hopefully, produce
more good karate people by doing so. Because I teach
so much I have a responsibility to train as hard
as I can to pass on my knowledge in as pure a form
as possible. If you do not train hard you should
Finally, we have all heard about the acceptance of Goju Ryu as an ancient
martial art by the Nihon Ko Budo Kyo Kai, how did that come about and what
does it mean?
It really doesn't matter how it happened, just that it did. The committee
of the Ko Budo Kyo Kai accepted, by a unanimous vote, that the Goju Ryu of
Kanryo Higaonna and Chojun Miyagi was a genuine and ancient martial art, and
that its history had now been correctly delineated as a budo and not a sport.
We are all delighted with the result as it records the work of our founders
in the most appropriate fashion.
One last question about the future. Is there anything else that we should
All being well my book will be published in Japanese with the cooperation
of my U.S. publisher and as you know I have just finished the Goju Ryu Technical
video series program. I am always very busy, but still feel that I have barely
begun what I set out to do.
would urge anyone who has the slightest doubts about
the ability, knowledge, character, or ethics of
Higaonna sensei to train with him and decide, based
on their own experiences, what is true and what
Higaonna is the instructor that Don Draeger referred
to as "The most dangerous man in Japan in a real
fight." Who Terry O'Neill, the famous European Shotokan
champion (kata and kumite) called "As close as one
can come to the model of the classical karate master."
Of whom our own Harry Cook said when asked; "Who
is the most complete martial artist you have seen?"
the Japanese teachers I would have to say Morio
Higaonna. Higaonna sensei can do it all; his basics
are very powerful, his kata are excellent and he
can demonstrate many bunkai for all the kata. There
is no doubt about his fighting ability and he is
exciting to watch. We used to watch him do demonstrations
in Tokyo and you were always glad that you weren't
his assistant! He's also very good at grappling;
when he gets you in close you are in trouble."
My assessment-the karate aside. When a man flies
thousands of miles just to do a brief demonstration;
has to be persuaded to get into the limo sent to
collect him from the airport (where he was waiting
in the bus line), then refuses payment and expenses
because "it was for a friend," that's the sort of
man Morio Higaonna is!