6. Teaching (A)

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emattson
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6. Teaching (A)

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By Graham Noble

Genkai Nakaima, who had taken part in those 1920s demonstrations for Prince Takamasu and Jigoro Kano, had begun learning from Chojun Miyagi in 1923, when he was fifteen years old. This had actually been suggested by a friend of his, Bunshun Tamagusku, whose uncle was Jinan Shinzato, one of Miyagi’s earliest and best known students. Another two youths who began to study with Miyagi at that time were Tatsunori Sakiyama and Kiju Azama, who were with Nakaima in the early demonstrations. Jinan Shinzato, who was a neighbour of Nakaima, had already graduated from Naha Commercial High School and had begun studying with Chojun Miyagi a couple of years before, in 1921. The stories are that Shinzato was a weak child but had been determined to change his nature and build up his strength, and he showed Nakaima, Tamagusuku and Sakiyama how to do pull ups on the bar of the gate on his house. He could do many repetitions of regular two hand chins and according to Nakaima, Shinzato taught him and the others how to do one arm chins, and it’s not every Tom, Dick or Harry who can do a one arm chin. Shinzato also taught them how to do exercises on the horizontal bars such as swings, somersaults and other advanced techniques. Later they would often get together to practise at the school playground of Naha Jinjo Koto Shogakko (an elementary school) in the evening. It wasn’t long after this that Shinzato joined the police.

Incidentally, Meitoku Yagi described Jinan Shinzato as Chojun Miyagi’s oldest student. We don’t know, there may have been a few others before him, but he was the one who stayed with the training, and if we do take Shinzato as Miyagi’s first real pupil then then Nakaima’s account gives us 1921 as the effective start date of Miyagi’s teaching.

Anyway, Nakaima’s father was delighted that he was going to study with Bushi Miyagi and gave him permission to attend the classes. As Nakaima recalled, ”At that time Miyagi Sensei was already famous for his karate, so my father thought he was an ideal teacher for me.”

Anyway, the four friends, Nakaima, Tamagusuku, Sakiyama and Azama began to train with Chojun Miyagi. Lessons were held three times a week (Monday, Wednesday and Friday) after school at Miyagi’s house and ran from three till eight. After a while Bunshun Tamagususku stopped coming to practice. According to Nakaima the early stages of training consisted of the preparatory exercises, the supplementary exercises and the foot movements of Sanchin, so maybe Tamagusuku just got bored.

There are several photos from the 1920s and ‘30s of Miyagi teaching classes. There are a couple of him looking over a group performance of Seiunchin, boys and youths of varying ages. This was a relatively large class of about twenty, and presumably Miyagi would also have taught similar size groups at other places, such as the Okinawan Police Academy, where he gave a six month training course to new entrants. I imagine such training would have been quite limited in its range and for the real training in his own dojo the groups were small, and instruction largely individual.

Meitoku Yagi, who said he started training with Miyagi at age thirteen (1925), wrote in his 2000 autobiography: “Nowadays people use the terms Naha-te, Shuri-te and Tomari-te for karate, but back then we didn’t say Naha-te, we simply said Toudi. Compared to Naha-te, other styles taught the advanced kata in succession, but Chojun Sensei would make students practice preparatory exercises (junbi undo), supplementary exercises (hojo undo) and basic kata for several months. I felt that Miyagi Sensei had few students because he taught the advanced kata so sparingly. Sensei would frequently say that a lioness would throw her cubs off a cliff and would only raise those strong enough to survive.”

The earliest photograph of Chojun Miyagi teaching seems to date from the 1920s. It shows him supervising a small class: one pair of students face each other in a preparatory mawashi-uke posture with another pair applying technique possibly from Saifa kata: a double level block and counter front-kick. Miyagi is in normal Japanese dress and the trainees are for the most part bare chested and wearing either everyday trousers or shorts. It all looks rather makeshift, but that was the informality of the karate scene back then.

Kenwa Mabuni published three photographs from the Karate Kenkyu Club era in his 1934 “Goshin Jutsu Karate Kempo”, apparently taken in the garden of the club premises. The first photo shows the array of supplementary training equipment available at the club and the second shows Miyagi supervising students as they work out on the equipment. A third shows students working in pairs on kumite techniques, again with Miyagi supervising. There are relatively few students, seven in the equipment-training photo, and ten (five pairs) in the kumite. These are posed photographs, but they may reflect the fact that Miyagi usually taught his Goju Ryu in small groups, something that comes over in the reminiscences of his senior students too. Meitoku Yagi, for example, remembered that after the Tode Kenkyu Club closed down around 1927 practice continued at the Naha High School, which was used on breaks and holidays, and then after that at Chojun Miyagi’s home. At that time Miyagi had moved to Wakasa and was living on the second floor of a house. “We used the garden for practice,” said Yagi, “about twenty tatami mats in size.” At that time, Yagi recalled, there were only about four or five students coming to practice, although on busy days there might be ten. New students were taught supplementary exercises and Sanchin. Miyagi only taught kata a section at a time, and he almost never showed a full kata in front of his students; if he did, he would simply demonstrate Tensho or Sanchin.

Eichi Miyazato who began training in karate some years after Yagi, in the late 1930s, also remembered training in Miyagi’s garden and classes of about ten students. The dojo was open from 6pm to 10pm, but there were no set classes, and no group training, students being taught individually. Miyazato noted that “Miyagi Sensei didn’t like students to ask questions. He believed in practising a lot of repetitions of technique and kata so that students could discover things for themselves. Above all, Miyagi Sensei stressed that all karateka should be humble.”

There is another reminiscence of 1930s Goju Ryu teaching, by Seikichi Toguchi, who began learning from Seko Higa around 1933. Toguchi recalled that the first thing he learned from Higa was how to walk in Sanchin stance, an exercise he found “monotonous and boring” but which had to be repeated numerous times. As students learned more they would perform their kata in front of Higa one at a time, and when he had finished teaching a section of the kata he would call for the next student. When they were not being taught by Higa the other students would be practising by themselves in the garden doing either kata or working on hojo undo, (the makiwara, sashi (thrusting stones), chishi, etc). Toguchi wrote that students would study the kata one at at a time and it might take a year or two to learn each one fully. “Over the course of many years” Toguchi was taught the kata in the following order: Saifa, Seiunchin, Seisan, Sepai, Shisochin, Sanseru, Kururunfa, and Suparimpei, although he didn’t learn Suparimpei until the post-war years. “Both Higa and Miyagi were very strict and questions were not permitted during training. When we practiced, we were not allowed to perform the kata beyond the part they had taught us. In essence, you were not allowed to learn a new sequence of the kata until the initial section or techniques were approved. However, we often learned these later sequences beforehand because our sempai showed us . . . No explanation of techniques was given. We simply followed instructions. We were not even permitted to utter a word in response to their commands during training.” When Anthony Mirakian, an American serviceman, began learning Goju Ryu from Meitoku Yagi in 1950s Okinawa he found that “There was very little explanation of the meaning of the kata. And there was no discussion of terminology. There was very little talking at all. The emphasis in the training was in doing rather than discussing.”

There is a nice old film of Okinawan life and customs dating from 1940. The footage was taken by a Japanese professor, Muneyoshi Yanagi, and amazingly it features about 30 seconds of Goju Ryu karate. The students are first shown training in hojo undo with the tan (barbell), sashi ishi, nigiri game and chishi; short sequences from Tensho and Kururunfa kata are also shown, and there are a few seconds of a class group, almost thirty students, practising Seiunchin. The performances of Kururunfa and Tensho are quite strong but the technique is a little rougher than in today’s performances of the kata. It’s a great pity that other footage must have been left on the cutting room floor.

Whatever may have been edited out, the inclusion of the supplementary equipment in the final version suggests its importance in the practice of Goju Ryu. Miyagi seems to have had a liking for this kind of physical training as a way to strengthen the body for karate techniques, and he took care to pass on that idea to his students. Eichi Miyazato stated that “Conditioning training is for making your karate techniques practical and effective and is therefore very important. Miyagi Sensei would always stresss this,” and Yoshio Kuba told “Classical Fighting Arts” magazine that the use of the chishi, for example, is essential for developing the muscles used in karate. “Without these muscles,” he told the magazine, “it is not possible to to apply the bunkai (of the kata) effectively. I would go so far as to say that unless you train with ch’ishi and so on you are not doing traditional karate.”

The Karate Kenkyu Club photos in Kenwa Mabuni’s 1934 “Goshin Karate Kempo” show the full range of training equipment: chishi, sashi, stones, geta, nigiri kame, the hanging makiwara (bag, actually), makiwara, bamboo sheaf, kakete-hiki (wooden dummy), and tetsuwa, (iron rings). Drawings and descriptions of these items were included in the book and those illustrations were subsequently recycled in many other works, both pre- and post-war.

Those iron rings, incidentally, are intriguing pieces of equipment. Iron rings are used as a training aid in some Southern Chinese styles: usually a number are put round the forearms and the forms are then practised with the rings as added resistance. Their use in Miyagi’s teaching isn’t clear because all we have is that 1920s Kenkyu Club photo which shows Keiyo Madambash with an iron ring resting on each bent arm. The rings shown in this old photo are larger and heavier than the rings used in Chinese styles, and actually they don’t quite look circular: they appear to be a kind of rounded rectangular shape, and they don’t seem to have been used in quite the same way as in China. The only information we seem to have on their use is a description in Mabuni’s book, in which he explains that you should practise “alternate punching with your left and right arms using the iron rings as illustrated in figure A”.

Unfortunately, although Mabuni refers to a Figure A, it doesn’t appear in the book. His 1938 “Karate Do Nyumon”, does include an illustration – possibly the illustration intended for the 1934 book - a drawing made from the photo of Keiyo Madambashi using the tetsuwa at the Karate Kenkyu Club, in fact. “Nyumon” has drawings of all the usual training equipment, including the tesuwa, which are described as (two) oval rings made of iron, about 1.5 to 2 inches thick and about 18 inches (?) wide at the longer diameter. This sounds quite a substantial piece of iron, and although the book does not show any specific exercises, it does say that use of the rings strengthens the arms and grip. A drawing of the tetsuwa is also included in Nakasone’s 1938 “Karate Do Taikan” with the simple explanation that “These are held in the hands and used to perform different exercises.” This doesn’t help much, but I suppose the idea was to practice punching and blocking while holding the tetsuwa in the same way that some boxers and martial artists practise punching with small dumbbells.

Interestingly, the tetsuwa seem to have fallen out of use, possibly in the late 1930s. It may be just a coincidence, but that is around the time that the kongoken, a much larger version of an iron ring, was introduced by Miyagi after his visit to Hawaii in 1934/35. The traditional history on the kongoken is that during his Hawaiian trip Miyagi saw an exhibition of wrestling in which the paticipants, American naval personnel, were exercising with a large iron ring from a ship’s anchor chain as a weight training device. After returning to Okinawa, Miyagi developed a more oblong version for use in Goju training. This was the kongoken, a piece of training equipment unique to Goju Ryu. Actually, the functions of the tetsuwa and the kongoken seem quite different, but if the disappearance of the tetsuwa and the introduction of the kongoken were connected then that could be seen as part of Miyagi’s ongoing development of training methods, the kongoken gradually becoming the favoured piece of equipment.

The Kongoken is a piece of training equipment unique to Goju Ryu. If wrestlers were using something like it to train with – a link, or links, of an anchor chain – then they must have thought it helped them in the tugging, pulling and turning movements of wrestling. I imagine Miyagi would have picked up on that and he may have thought he was making a more effective piece of equipment by changing the measurements and stretching it to be more or less human height. A Goju karateka who trained regularly with it told me that the kongoken was “a very unwieldy, awkward kind of thing to move around. It goes off balance quite easily so you have to struggle to hold it in balance . . . So in that sense I think it’s more directly applicable to (moving) an opponent than modern weight training would be.” The chishi too, “because of the way its loaded, when you whirl it around your head, and especially if it’s slowish, it puts different strains on your wrist, your forearm and shoulder, that you don’t seem to get with the weights. It kind of simulates the stresses you get when you’re grappling with people, where obviously a person will resist and go against your force, whereas with a normal weight it’s balanced, it’ll go with your force.”

This Okinawan tradition of using weights in karate training developed quite separately from western-style weight training, which began towards the end of the 19th century with the boom in professional strongmen and led to an established body of well designed exercises and lifts to develop size and strength in specific ways. And from this perspective, some of the Goju training exercises, with the tan, or barbell, for example, look rather strange and ineffective: holding the barbell lengthwise out in front of the body, swinging it from side to side, bending over and rolling it up and down the back, bouncing it on the arms and rolling it down the outstretched forearms. Unlike the targeted Western barbell exercises it’s not clear exactly what muscles these exercises are meant to develop and the weights used are generally quite light in weight training terms.

Athletes and sportsman today work out with free weights, machines, and various other items of strength and conditioning equipment, but goiing back into the history, for generations really, instructors in many sports, including boxing, wrestling and judo, were against training with weights, believing that it made you “muscle bound”; so historically speaking, you could say that Chojun Miyagi and his followers were actually ahead of the curve. In the last four or five decades, of course, things have moved on, and by modern standards the hojo undo equipment now looks old fashioned and rather quirky, but it’s interesting . . . Just in the last few years a weight training exercise has come into vogue, the use of the “landmine barbell”, which is basically a barbell loaded at one end with the other end fixed on the floor. One of the exercises using this is to take hold of the weighted end of the bar and move it from side to side across the body – a movement similar to one of the basic exercises carried out with the kongoken. Squats can also be carried out holding the weighted end of the barbell, and again this is similar to a kongoken exercise: in this case another student can stand on the kongoken to increase the training resistance.

There is a company too, Iron Mind Enterprises, which makes specialised strength training equipment - they’re the ones who make the super-strong hand-grippers – and they sell an item, the Hammer Leverage Bar, which is basically a dumbbell bar with the weight loaded at one end – a chishi, in effect. In an early company catalogue, (early 2000s) the text for the Leverage Bar noted that “Every year for over a quarter of a century, Petaluma, California, has drawn some of the strongest arms and wrists around - all to do battle in the World Wrist Wrestling Championships. One year up there, we heard about a fellow who had a favourite piece of training equipment: he had filled a coffee can with cement and stuck a handle in the middle . . . With the strength he had gained from the training on it he wreaked havoc and destruction at the wrist-wrestling table.”

The Okinawan view, of course, is that their old-style equipment training is karate-specific and designed to strengthen the areas needed for combat. In a 1970 edition of “Karate and Oriental Arts” magazine there was an article about Brian Waites, an English Goju Ryu stylist who had trained at Gogen Yamaguchi’s Tokyo dojo. Brian had also visited Okinawa to see karate training there, and the nigiri-game (grip jars) were mentioned in the article, among other things: “His main impression of the Okinawan karate men was of solid, strong and free style, but comparatively slow, with great power. The kicks were not so good, and the kata once more slow and strong, with plenty of breathing techniques. All-in-all, not a style for the lightly built man it seems. To give an example of strength in Okinawa, the normal method of strengthening the grip is to fill up a type of vase with sand. This is gripped at the rim and turned from side to side. In Okinawa they put a dumbbell in as well as the sand. Waites experienced some grips in Okinawa that would put a steel vice to shame.”


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