OKINAWAN KARATE-DO ACADEMY MEIBUKAN GOJU-RYU TM
Interview with Anthony Mirakian Sensei
Part 2 of 3Qn: What was the attitude of the Okinawans towards foreign students in the 1950's?
Ans: The Okinawans were sceptical, and with good reason. The karate masters wanted to know the true intentions and characters of all their students. The masters were very observant, and I felt I was watched very closely at first. Eventually, after I proved that I could handle the physical and mental rigours of the training, I felt accepted. I had to show that I was sincerely and honestly interested in learning the art of Goju-ryu karate-do. I remember one time I represented the Meibukan at a large martial arts demonstration in Ginoza, Central Okinawa in 1958, with over 2,000 people in attendance. I was the only Westerner participating. When I got up to perform Shisochin kata, the crowd began booing and whistling. But when they saw me performing, and recognized that I was a serious student, they quietened down. When I finished, they gave me one of the biggest ovations of the day. Some of the attending Okinawan karate masters approached me after the demonstration and commended me on my performance. Okinawans were very gracious and friendly once they saw that you had a respectful and sincere attitude towards their national art of karate.
Qn: What differences do you find in the way Okinawans and westerners approach karate?
Ans: In Okinawa, and in Asia in general, one of the goals of karate training is to minimize ego. In the West, unfortunately, the emphasis in much of martial art training is in building the ego, which is quite the opposite of the training in Okinawa. There's a saying in Okinawa that when the rice grain is plentiful, the stalk bows. When empty, it stands tall. This saying is analogous to the Western saying, "An empty barrel is apt to make the most noise." The Okinawans are generally more disciplined, patient, and motivated than westerners in their approach to karate training. Also, the Okinawans have an initial advantage as karate is their national art. Therefore, the Okinawans have a better awareness of the goals of karate training than Westerners. In the beginning, self-imposed discipline will make the karateka feel uncomfortable and restricted. Okinawans understand and accept this, while most Western karate practitioners are unwilling to endure this initial hardship. After a while, of course, the self-imposed discipline brings tremendous inner freedom and harmony to the practitioner.
Qn: What were the major styles of karate practiced in Okinawa when you lived there?
Ans: The major, official styles of Okinawan karate, as recognised by the Zen Okinawa Karate-do Remmei, were Goju-ryu, Uechi-ryu, Matsubayashi Shorin-ryu, and Kobayashi Shorin-ryu. These were the four preeminent styles. This is still true today.
Qn: Were relations between the major styles friendly?
Ans: Yes, I frequently attended the meetings of the Zen Okinawa Karate-do Remmei in Naha City, where the leading masters and their top students would come together and discuss matters of mutual concern: how best to enhance and present the development of Okinawan karate, how best to present it, standards of etiquette, and standards of promotion. I attended these meetings with my second karate master, Ryuritsu Arakaki, and also on occasion with Grandmaster Meitoku Yagi. These were very polite, dignified gatherings. The masters were courteous to each other and presented their views in a dignified, respectful manner.
Qn: Did you meet the leading masters of the other styles?
Ans: Yes. I met many of them. The head of the Kobayashi style of Shorin-ryu was the late Grandmaster Chosen Chibana, I met him several times at the Okinawa Karate-do Remmei meetings. These were held at the dojo of Grandmaster Shoshin Nagamine, who was the head of the Matsubayashi style of Shorin-ryu. I also visited the dojo of Grandmaster Kanei Uechi many times.
Qn: How did you happen to visit Grandmaster Nagamine's dojo?
Ans: I was invited by Goju-ryu karate master Ryuritsu Arakaki to attend one of the meetings. At that time, Master Arakaki introduced me to Grandmaster Nagamine and I also met many of his students.
Qn: Did you ever visit his dojo again?
Ans: Yes I would visit his dojo periodically, as the meetings of the All-Okinawan Karate-do Association were held there. I was the only Westerner present at these meetings. As time went on, I became friends with many of his karate students. Some of them were brown and black-belt students who were very impressive and powerful. Grandmaster Nagamine is one of the most respected and skilled grandmasters on Okinawa, and it was a great honour to have met him.
Qn: What were the workouts like at his dojo?
Ans: The practice at his dojo included a lot of weight lifting. They had a full range of barbells, dumbells, and other free weights, and they practiced many different weight-lifting techniques. Grandmaster Nagamine told me that he encouraged his students to engage in strength building as well as karate training. Even though the students were muscular, I noticed they had excellent speed and reflexes. They were powerful karateka. I still remember seeing one of Grandmaster Nagamine's top students, Omine, throwing sequences of punching techniques. I could hear the sound of his punches breaking the air all the way across the dojo.
Qn: Was free-fighting practiced there?
Ans: No. Everything was prearranged. The emphasis in the karate training was very traditional, the kata, the drills, the prearranged kumite.
Qn: How was the training at the dojo of Grandmaster Kanei Uechi?
Ans: I visited the dojo of Grandmaster Kanei Uechi in Futenma City many times. He is a highly respected and very powerful grandmaster. Uechi-ryu and Goju-ryu karate systems have a natural affinity. They both were influenced by the martial arts of Fukien Province in China, and have a common geographical background. The Uechi-ryu karate training was very intense, and the students were superb karateka. They had a controlled form of free fighting, using classical Uechi techniques. They exercised enough control that they stopped their techniques short of full contact.
Qn: What was your impression of their unusual method of kicking. . . I'm referring to their toe kicks?
Ans: Their toe kicks were devastating, very impressive. They toughened their toes by hitting them against baseboards and other hard objects. I saw one student break five wooden boards held by another student by kicking just with his big toe.
Qn: I've seen films of their Sanchin testing. Perhaps it was only because of the camera, but it looked extremely hard. Were the students really being tested that hard?
Ans: Yes it was hard. I remember seeing two-by-four boards broken over the students' arms, legs, and abdomens. I saw Grandmaster Kanei Uechi testing the Sanchin by hitting the students in the abdomen with hard punches thrown out of a horse stance. The students looked rugged and highly conditioned. It appeared as if their entire bodies had been hardened through the Sanchin training and testing.
Qn: Did you meet other eminent Goju-ryu karate masters?
Ans: Yes, Several. I met the late Grandmaster Seiko Higa many times. He was an excellent teacher and had been the assistant to Grandmaster Chojun Miyagi. When I met Grandmaster Higa he was in his late fifties. When he performed the Goju-ryu kata, he had great power speed, and control. As a master gets older, the techniques do not depend as much on physical technique as on internal strength.
Qn: The two most famous students of Grandmaster Kanryo Higaonna were Chojun Miyagi and Juhatsu Kiyoda. Did you ever meet Grandmaster Kiyoda?
Ans: Yes. I had the great honour of meeting him in 1958 at his home in the city of Beppu, Kyushu in Japan. He was in his early seventies when I met him, and he was an extremely powerful man. His posture was erect. He had a strong voice, and his eyes were very sharp and penetrating. He was a large man. I saw a photograph of him in his younger years, and he was over six feet tall and perhaps 180 to 190 pounds. He had a very muscular build. Grandmaster Kiyoda told me that the study of kata should be supreme. He told me: "The true karate is in the practice of the kata, and the practice of kata is true karate." I will never forget those words. I also met his son who was over 6 feet tall and around 200 pounds. They showed me their photograph album which went back many years. They had a variety of group photographs with Grandmaster Kanryo Higaonna that included Juhatsu Kiyoda, Chojun Miyagi, Kenwa Mabuni, Higa Seiko, and many other great Okinawan karate masters. There was one particular photograph of Juhatsu Kiyoda wearing the traditional black uniform used in Okinawan festivals. He was holding a thick wooden pole about six feet long. I asked his son what Grandmaster Juhatsu Kiyoda was doing. He said that in Okinawa around 1920 when practicing karate, two advanced students would sometimes be paired in a controlled version of free-fighting; fighting designed to practice the techniques of a specific style. When the students engaged in the kumite, two masters would stand on either side of them, and when the action got too fierce and there was the possibility of severe injury or even death, the masters would cross the poles in front of the students and end the fight. He said that this was a very fierce form of kumite practiced only by highly trained karateka.
Qn: The foundation of Goju-ryu karate was laid by Grandmaster Miyagi's teacher, Grandmaster Higaonna, who trained in China for over twenty years. Is there one particular Chinese style to which Goju-ryu is related?
Ans: Yes. Okinawan Goju-ryu karate is related to Chinese Chuan-fa style. Kanryo Higaonna sailed to Foochow in Fukien province, China, when he was fifteen. There he met the famous Chinese Chuan-fa Grandmaster, Liu Liu Ko with whom he studied for over twenty years. Kanryo Higaonna became Grandmaster Liu Liu Ko's top student. Little is known about the actual style that Liu Liu Ko taught. Some karate masters say it was the Hung style; others say it was another style that had been indigenous to Fukien province for over one thousand years.
Qn: Who was Grandmaster Liu Liu Ko?
Ans: There isn't much written information on Grandmaster Liu Liu Ko. I was told that he was of the Chinese nobility and had been tested to become the equivalent of a knight three different times. He failed the imperial test at age 37 and again at age 50. On his 73rd birthday he was tested again, before the Emperor of China, after walking hundreds of feet carrying a rock weighing 180 kilos strapped to his back. When Grandmaster Liu Liu Ko arrived in front of the Emperor, he performed Sanchin kata and passed the test. Then he was knighted by the Emperor. Grandmaster Liu Liu Ko's training was said to have been very arduous. Anyone who aspires to practice karate must keep in mind the Chinese character "Nin" which means "to endure." There is no easy way of attaining mastery. It was through this long and difficult kind of training that Grandmaster Kanryo Higaonna was able to develop his exceptional skills. In 1890, he returned to Okinawa and began teaching in Naha. His skill, knowledge, and dedication soon became legendary.
Qn: When he returned to Okinawa from China did Grandmaster Higaonna make changes to the Chinese martial art that he learned from Grandmaster Liu Liu Ko?
Ans: Yes. Grandmaster Higaonna did make changes to the Chinese martial art that he learned in Fukien Province, China. Even though the style that he mastered in China was superb, he felt the need to revise and adapt some of the techniques to make his art suitable to the Okinawan lifestyle and culture. Also, Grandmaster Higaonna for some unknown reason changed the name of the highest kata from the Chinese pronunciation Yepatlinpa (meaning 108) to Suparinpe.
Qn: Was Grandmaster Higaonna a strict karate master?
Ans: Yes, a very strict teacher He would not allow or teach any student with a violent nature in his dojo. He was very selective as to whom he accepted. His training was very strenuous. The Sanchin kata was practiced for three to four hours during each session. A new student was taught only the Sanchin kata for as long as three to four years before going into another kata. While practicing the Sanchin, some of the students would collapse from sheer exhaustion. That was the intensity of Grandmaster Kanryo Higaonna's training. The Sanchin kata taught at that time by Grandmaster Higaonna was performed open-handed. When Grandmaster Higaonna demonstrated his Sanchin breathing kata, he would occasionally allow four Okinawans to try and dislodge him from his standing position while performing. They could not move him. When he finished the Sanchin kata the floor where he stood would be heated by the friction of the gripping of his toes.
Qn: Who were Grandmaster Higaonna's top students?
Ans: His top students were Juhatsu Kiyoda, Chojun Miyagi, and Kenwa Mabuni: Miyagi founded Goju-ryu karate from Nahate; Kiyoda founded Toon-ryu, a karate system named after the first Character in Grandmaster Higaonna's name, and Mabuni founded Shito-ryu karate.
Qn: Did Grandmaster Miyagi make any changes in the Naha-te system that he inherited from Grandmaster Higaonna?
Ans: Yes, Grandmaster Miyagi studied with Grandmaster Kanryo Higaonna for thirteen years, and upon his master's death went to China for two years to conduct further research into the martial arts. While he was in China, he met and befriended the Chinese White Crane Master, Go Ken Kin, and travelled around with him to several provinces studying with a number of great Chinese masters. When Chojun Miyagi returned to Okinawa, he decided to take the art of Naha-te and expose it to scientific scrutiny. His approach was very critical, and he discarded the techniques that did not meet strict scientific standards. Chojun Miyagi incorporated many Chinese martial arts techniques which he had learned while in China to the Naha-te system of Okinawan karate. He refined the existing kata and developed his own kata Gekissai I and II and Tensho. Chojun Miyagi designed the auxiliary exercises, kata bunkai kumite, and other forms of kumite that are performed in traditional Goju-ryu karate training dojo. He modernized the training and developed the structures that we still follow. He also changed the practice of open-hand Sanchin to closed-hand Sanchin.
Qn: What is known of Master Go Ken Kin?
Ans: He was a Chinese White Crane Master whom Master Miyagi met in Fukien Province, China in 1915. They travelled together for two years visiting and training with Chinese masters of various systems of Chuan-fa (kempo). Master Go Ken Kin introduced Master Miyagi to many great Masters. In 1936 Grandmaster Miyagi visited China again and studied Chinese martial arts at the Seibu Dai Iku Kai (Great Gymnastic Association, Pure Martial Arts Spirit) in Shanghai. Years later Master Go Ken Kin moved to Japan and lived there under the name Yoshikawa. He passed away in 1940 in Japan at the age of 55.
Qn: There are many versions of the origin of the name Goju-ryu. Where did the name come from?
Ans: From the old Chinese book 'Wu Pei Chih' ('Army Account of Military Arts and Science') by Yuan-i Mao, published in 1636. Grandmaster Miyagi named the system of karate "goju-ryu" (hard-soft style) from the term "goju" which appears in the sentence: "The successful method requires both give and take (go-ju)." When Grandmaster Miyagi was asked why he gave this specific name to his style of karate, he replied that goju defines the hard and soft nature of his style. Grandmaster Miyagi named his style of karate Goju-ryu around 1932. He was teaching and promoting Goju-ryu karate-do up to the time of his death on October 8, 1953 at the age of 65. He was called the last great samurai warrior of Okinawa because of his legendary strength and skill as well as his intense dedication to the marital arts.
Qn: On what principles did Grandmaster Miyagi base the foundation of Goju-ryu karate-do?
Ans: Grandmaster Miyagi subjected the art of Naha-te, as received from Grandmaster Kanryo Higaonna, to strict scientific examination. Originally, a martial arts expert was trained for killing an enemy with one blow. Karate as such was unsuitable for the contemporary world. Miyagi studied the basic "go" of Sanchin and the six rules and formed the "ju" or tensho form, thus combining soft and hard movements. He also organised the auxiliary movements designed to help develop karate techniques by strengthening the body through calisthenics. He organized these exercises in preparation for Practicing the kaishu kata. Thus, he determined the theory for the practice of karate and organized it as a martial arts educational subject, an art of self- defence, and as a spiritual exercise. Grandmaster Miyagi spent his entire life contributing to the improvement and proliferation of karate-do. Before his intervention, karate had been considered a very mysterious practice, but by using a scientific approach, Miyagi created, through his Goju-ryu karate-do, a clearly defined and universal platform for the art which gave it a basis for mass acceptance.
Qn: Did Grandmaster Chojun Miyagi receive any awards for his contribution to karate?
Ans: Yes. In 1936 he received a medal for "Excellence in the martial Arts" from the Ministry of Education of Japan.
Qn: Did he hold any official positions?
Ans: Yes. In 1928, Grandmaster Miyagi travelled to Japan and instructed karate at Kyoto Imperial University, Kansai University, and Ritsumeikan University, Kyoto. Miyagi is credited as the first master to introduce karate on an international level. (Editor's note: i.e. outside of Japan). In 1930, Grandmaster Chojun Miyagi became chairman of the Okinawan-ken Taiiku Kyokai Karate-do (Okinawa Prefecture Athletic Association Karate Division). In 1934 he became permanent officer of the Okinawan branch of the Dai Nippon Butokukai (Great Japan Martial Virtues Association). As a result of his great efforts, karate was first recognized officially as one of the martial arts of Japan with the formal establishment of the Dai Nippon Butokukai, Okinawa Branch, in November 1933. In May of 1934, Chinei Kinjo, editor of the Okinawan newspaper Yoen Fiho Sha, invited Grandmaster Miyagi to Hawaii. There he gave lectures and taught in order to promote Okinawan Goju-ryu karate-do. He returned to Okinawa in February, 1935. In May of 1937, Prince Moriwasa Nashimoto, Commissioner of the Dai Nippon Butokakai, authorised Miyagi with the headmaster of Shinto shizen-ryu (jujutsu) and the headmaster of kushin-ryu (also jujutsu) to form the Dai Nippon Butokukai Karate Jukkyoshi (Great Japan Martial Arts Karate Teachers' Association). They inspected and regulated karate throughout Japan until the dissolution of the association. In 1937, Miyagi received the Kyoshi degree from the Dai Nippon Butokukai. In 1946, Grandmaster Miyagi was promoted to an official of the Okinawan Minsei Taiiku Kan (Okinawan Democratic Athletic Association). In 1953, Miyagi was instructing at the Ryukyu Police Academy in Naha City, Okinawa.
Qn: What is the origin of the term "karate"?
Ans: Originally this Okinawan fighting art was simply called "Te". Then the Okinawans made a strict distinction between their native art "Te" and "Tode", which meant "Chinese hand" for the Chinese art of Ch'uan Fa or Kempo. The Chinese ideograph "To" of "Tode" means "Chinese" or "Tang" (The Tang dynasty ruled China from 618 to 906 AD). A tremendous cultural revival occurred during the Tang Dynasty which was symbolic of the finest Chinese culture and enlightenment. Since Chinese culture was highly respected in Okinawa, anything labelled "Chinese" was regarded as superior. The word "To" is very elegant and raises the value of everything it is applied to. There is a certain snob appeal in calling anything "To." Gradually, the Okinawans came to apply the term "To" to all "te," especially those of Chinese influence. According to Grandmaster Miyagi, Karate, written in this way is the special word used only in the Ryukyus and it came from the Chinese Ch'uan-fa (Kempo).
Qn: When was Tode changed officially to Karate?
Ans: On October 25, 1936 a karate symposium sponsored by Mr. Choju Ota, Chief Editor of the Ryukyu Shimpo Newspaper was held in the Showa Kaikan, at Naha City, Okinawa. Among the Okinawan karate Grandmasters present were Kentsu Yabu, Chotoku Kyan, Chomo Hanashiro, Chokei Motobu, Chojun Miyagi, Juhatsu Kiyoda, Chosen Chibana, Mashige Shimma, Asatada Koyoshi, and Eijo Shin. At this conference it was agreed that the Okinawan martial art which previously was called "Te" or "Tode" be called karate or "empty hands." From 1936 on the practitioners of this Okinawan martial art began simply to refer to it as karate, using the ideograph meaning empty hands. In this way the emphasis shifted from technique alone to spiritual values as well.
Qn: At what age did Meitoku Yagi start his training with Grandmaster Miyagi?
Ans: Meitoku Yagi was 13 years old when his paternal grandfather took him to Grandmaster Miyagi, who was thirty seven years old at the time. His grandfather told Grandmaster Miyagi, "Meitoku Yagi is a descendant of the leading samurai of Okinawa and the first minister of the three ministers of Okinawa, Jana Oyakata." His grandfather also said: "Meitoku Yagi has Okinawan samurai blood in him, and I think he will be able to take over your place some day in the future, so please teach him your karate." That is how Meitoku Yagi was able to start training under Grandmaster Miyagi in 1925.
Qn: Who was his ancestor Jana Oyakata?
Ans: He was a very important official in Okinawan history. He was so influential that he escorted the king of Okinawa when the king had to go to the Peace Talk after the defeat of the Okinawans by the Shimazu clan of Satsuma Province, Japan at the conflict of Keicho in 1609.
Qn: Was it Meitoku Yagi's own decision to start training in karate?
Ans: No, it wasn't. He didn't have any intention of starting to train in karate. But he had to follow the order of his grandfather.
Qn: I gather he came from a strict, traditional background?
Ans: Yes. Grandmaster Meitoku Yagi has been a life-long resident of Kume village. The Okinawans said they were more afraid of the people from Kume than the military.This was because the religion of the people of Kume was Confucianism. They were very strict and had a discipline exemplified by the saying: "Stay three feet away from the master, but don't step on his shadow."
Qn: Did Grandmaster Miyagi have a formal dojo when Meitoku Yagi started practicing karate in 1925?
Ans: No. According to Grandmaster Yagi, Grandmaster Miyagi did not have a formal dojo; he taught karate in his backyard, and when it rained, he taught inside his home.
Qn: You studied with the senior student of Grandmaster Miyagi and met many of his other students. How did they describe the Grandmaster as a person and a teacher?
Ans: Grandmaster Miyagi's nickname in Okinawan dialect was "Busamagunku" or "Samurai" Miyagi. He was a very demanding and strict teacher. Meitoku Yagi began studying with him at age 13, after undergoing an eight-month probationary period, during which he had to perform chores around Chojun Miyagi's house and backyard. Grandmaster Meitoku Yagi said that Grandmaster Chojun Miyagi had fierce eyes. "When you saw them," he said, "you wouldn't be able to say a word. You would never dream of telling him something that wasn't true." Grandmaster Miyagi was hard on his students. While doing Zazen (sitting meditation) he would not allow his students to relax as some of the other karate teachers would; instead he would make the students sit and meditate for one to two hours without moving. Sanchin was taught one step at a time. Sometimes a single movement would be practiced over and over again for several months, nothing but one movement for hours a day. When Meitoku Yagi would go to the communal bathhouse, people would see the bruises and welts on his shoulders from Sanchin testing and say: "Aha, you have been training with Chojun Miyagi." Grandmaster Chojun Miyagi placed great emphasis on developing the character of his karate students. He only kept those students who had high moral ethics. He was a strict disciplinarian. One day one of the students arrived for karate training with a towel wrapped around his neck, singing a popular song. Grandmaster Miyagi expelled him from the school. The student tried to apologize for his careless behaviour but Grandmaster Chojun Miyagi felt that if a student behaved in front of him in such a careless and disrespectful way, then he would do even worse things away from the master's presence. Grandmaster Meitoku Yagi said that an average person could not have tolerated the very intense karate training given by Grandmaster Miyagi. You had to be highly motivated. Grandmaster Miyagi would often tell his karate students: "Lions push their cubs over a cliff and they raise only the cubs that are able to struggle back up the cliff. That's how I teach here in my dojo." Grandmaster Miyagi taught only those students who could withstand the rigours of the training. If a student dropped out, he made no effort to draw him back.
Qn: What were Grandmaster Miyagi's favourite kata and techniques?
Ans: I was told in Okinawa that Grandmaster Chojun Miyagi's favourite kata was Shisochin. He had exceptionally powerful open-hand techniques, especially nukite (finger-tip strikes). Open-hand techniques take much longer to master than closed-hand techniques. His other favourite kata was Sanchin and Tensho. Grandmaster Miyagi had very strong punching and kicking techniques. His punches and kicks had explosive power. He was said to have superhuman strength. Grandmaster Miyagi was renowned for having a vice-like grip. It was said that he could put his hand on a four or five pound piece of raw meat and squeeze it into hamburger. When he was in China, I was told that he dropped his wallet in a rickshaw. When he went back to get it, the rickshaw driver refused to hand it over and tried to strike him. Grandmaster Miyagi instantly grabbed the forearm of the driver and squeezed so hard it paralyzed his arm, forcing the driver to give the wallet back.
Qn: Did Grandmaster Miyagi teach different versions of the kata to students according to their level of development?
Ans: Yes. As Grandmaster Chojun Miyagi kept teaching, he kept refining the kata. Also, he taught beginners simplified versions of the kata. Later, as they practiced longer and learned more, they were taught more refined, advanced versions. Therefore, in evaluating the level of any Goju-ryu kata, you have to know how long the master studied with Grandmaster Chojun Miyagi. He taught slowly and patiently. Clearly, someone who studied with him for a few years would not have kata and techniques as sophisticated and advanced as someone who studied and practiced with him for decades.
Qn: Who was the top student and successor of Grandmaster Chojun Miyagi?
Ans: Grandmaster Meitoku Yagi was the top student and successor to Grandmaster Miyagi. He studied with him from 1925 to 1953. He learned the most advanced and sophisticated versions of the Goju-ryu kata and techniques. The Meibukan Goju-ryu kata of Grandmaster Yagi are unique. They have a flair, elegance, and fluidity all of their own. Grandmaster Miyagi passed away on October 8, 1953. Ten years later in 1963, his widow and family gave the Grandmaster's karate uniform and his black belt to Mr. Yagi. According to a speech given on the Twenty-fifth Anniversary of the death of Grandmaster Miyagi on October 8, 1978, his daughter Suruki said that her family had decided to give her father's karate uniform and black belt to Mr. Yagi because he contributed the most and trained the longest with Grandmaster Miyagi. She said: "Mr. Meitoku Yagi was with my father for the longest time practicing karate. I think my father would be glad to see Mr. Yagi getting his uniform."
Qn: I understand the Japanese Government gave Grandmaster Meitoku Yagi an award.
Ans: Yes. On April 29, 1986, Grandmaster Yagi received the Imperial Award, Fourth Class Order from the late Emperor Hirohito in Tokyo. This award was in recognition of his great achievements in the field of karate.
Qn: Who promoted you to black belt?
Ans: Grandmaster Yagi promoted me to black belt. Before I left Okinawa, I was promoted by him to Sandan (3rd degree black belt). Grandmaster Yagi promoted me to Hachidan, Kyoshi (8th degree black belt) in Okinawa in 1985.
Qn: What was the occasion for your visit to Okinawa in 1985?
Ans: I was invited by Sensei Meitatsu Yagi to participate at a special celebration in honour of his father Grandmaster Meitoku Yagi's 73rd birthday on February 10, 1985. As the United States representative of Meibukan Goju-ryu karate-do, I attended this event and gave a congratulatory address and performed the 'Seenchin' kata on that day. My wife, Helen and my daughter, Doreen presented Grandmaster Yagi with flowers during the ceremony. Representatives from the United States, Japan, Brazil, and India were present for this birthday celebration as well as many prominent Okinawan masters. Grandmasters, Kanei Uechi, Shugoro Nakazato, Shoshin Nagamine, and Shinho Matayoshi all attended. The son of the late Grandmaster Chojun Miyagi, Ken Miyagi, was there, as was the son of the late Grandmaster Seiko Higa, Seikichi Higa. Hundreds of practitioners demonstrated kata and kumite in front of thousands of spectators. Afterwards a gala reception was held for special guests. This was a major cultural event in Okinawa, with radio, television, and press coverage.
Qn: What rank do you hold now?
Ans: Ninth degree black belt (Hanshi). Grandmaster Meitoku Yagi promoted me to the very high rank of Kudan, Hanshi (9th degree black belt) in Okinawa on October 21, 1990.
Qn: Why did you visit Okinawa in 1990?
Ans: To attend and participate in the 30th Anniversary celebration of the founding of the Okinawan Goju-ryu Karate-do Association. It was held on August 18, 1990 at the Shimin Kaikan in Ginowan, Okinawa. I was accompanied by my karate students who also demonstrated at this important event.
Qn: Are you the first person to receive the high rank of 9th degree black belt (Hanshi) from Grandmaster Yagi?
Ans: Yes. Outside of Okinawa, I am the first and only one who has received the 9th degree from Grandmaster Yagi, the Chairman of the Meibukan Goju-ryu Karate-do Association.
Qn: Your dojo in Watertown, Massachusetts is known as the most traditional Okinawan karate school in North America. Have you made many changes over the years in the way you teach karate?
Ans: No. I haven't made any changes Basically I am teaching in the same way I was taught at the Meibukan Honbu Dojo in Okinawa. I also keep the same attitude that permeated Grandmaster Yagi's dojo, - of respect, cooperation, discipline, and hard work.
Qn: Could you describe the benefits of traditional Okinawan Goju-ryu karate training?
Ans: Traditional Okinawan Goju-ryu training is very strenuous and disciplined. It develops a very strong foundation of fighting skills in the karate student. Traditional Okinawan Goju-ryu karate training emphasizes the repetitious practice of basic karate techniques, kata, and Sanchin training. Because of these intense and demanding training requirements, it develops and produces the best long-term results in the karate practitioner. Traditional day-to-day, continuous karate training strengthens the body, improves the health, cultivates the mind, and develops an indomitable human spirit that can be applied to any activity in life. Grandmaster Chojun Miyagi used to say that winning and losing are part of each other. "Don't be afraid to fail one day," he said, "because the next day you might win." Life is a constant struggle, and traditional Okinawan Goju-ryu karate training will prepare a person to face that struggle, to deal with life's ups and downs, in a very confident way.
End of part 2