An Interview with Miyazato Eiichi Sensei

The following questions and answers were taken from various interviews with Miyazato Eiichi Sensei conducted by Michael Clarke, Bob Honniball, and Richard Barrett, and are used here with their permission.

Did Miyagi Chojun Sensei teach specific bunkai to each move or sequence in a kata?

Miyazato Eiichi: No, he did not teach that much bunkai in the old days. Bunkai is based on a karate-ka's ability and knowledge, everyone is at a different level of understanding. Also, if set bunkai are taught it would be like saying 1+2=3, and karate-ka would not have to think for themselves. Because everyone is different both physically and mentally you have to find bunkai that suits yourself, without altering the kata.

Miyagi Chojun - Miyazato Eiichi - bunkai
Miyagi Sensei practicing bunkai with his student Miyazato Eiichi.

Can you give us an idea of your early training, and what it was like to train with Miyagi Sensei?

ME: Well we didn't have a nice comfortable dojo like we see in our days. There were no wooden floors, we trained on the dirt, on the ground. However in our dojo (Miyagi Sensei's back garden), we had sashi and chi ishi and all the training tools for hojo undo. The training was very severe, but after the training Miyagi Sensei was so kind to us. I remember that we would often go for a run, and then back at the dojo Miyagi Sensei would train us in Sanchin kata.

How many students were training at the dojo?

ME: There were about ten students training.

Yagi - Miyagi - Miyazato - Toguchi - Miyazato
Miyagi Sensei overseeing kumite practice in 1952.
Students: Yagi Meitoku, Miyazato Eiichi, Toguchi Seikichi and Miyazato Eiko.

How long were the sessions?

ME: There were no set classes, but the dojo was open from 6 pm to 10 pm.

Is there much difference in the way we practice kata now and the way kata was practiced in olden times?

ME: Long ago there were a lot more hidden movements in kata.

Miyazato Eiichi - Saifa kata
Miyazato Eiichi performing Saifa kata.

Can you please tell us the difference between Sanchin and Tensho kata?

ME: Tensho is the last kata of the style and it may take as long as 50 years to understand it. But the main difference is in the breathing. However, Sanchin kata is the basic kata of Goju-Ryu and the most important.

Miyazato Eiichi - Tensho kata
Miyazato Sensei performing Tensho kata.

How important do you consider conditioning training to be?

ME: Conditioning training is for making your Karate technique practical and effective and is therefore very important. Miyagi Sensei would always stress this.

Miyazato Eiichi - makiwara
Miyazato Sensei training with the makiwara.

What was Miyagi Sensei like?

ME: Miyagi Sensei didn't like students to ask questions. He believed in practicing a lot of repetitions of technique and kata so that the students can discover things for themselves. Above all, Miyagi Sensei stressed that all karateka should be humble.

Miyagi Chojun
Miyagi Chojun Sensei.

How much of Kanryo Higaonna Sensei's Naha-te is in Goju-Ryu?

ME: All of it.

So did Kanryo Higaonna Sensei's Karate look similar to Miyagi Chojun Sensei's Goju-Ryu?

ME: Yes it looked the same as far as I can ascertain. Only some small differences, but the FEELING is the same.

Higashionna Kanryo
Higashionna Kanryo Sensei.

Sensei, many people today from different styles say they practice Goju-Ryu kata, but do you think it is Goju-Ryu?, For example both Shito-Ryu and Kyokushin Karate practice Sanchin kata as well as other Goju-Ryu kata.

ME: No it is not Goju-Ryu. If people use the movements but they are doing it in some way differently, then it is no longer Goju-Ryu. Only Goju-Ryu people do Goju-Ryu Karate and kata. Not people from other styles. For example Shito-Ryu, Mabuni Sensei was only training for a short time in Naha-Te and Shuri-Te, a few years that's all. Then he mixed things together to make Shito-Ryu. That's why they do some of our kata, but they can not be said to know Goju-Ryu Karate from the way they do their kata.

With your own students, do you teach according to an individuals ability or do the students learn everything exactly the same?

ME: Yes I teach to each student the things I think they need to get better at Karate. This way of teaching comes from the old days when communication was not as good as today. Also there were not many books about Karate, so you could not go down to the local book shop and buy a few books on Karate. The only way to learn was to find a sensei and stick with him. Each sensei had his own way of teaching and so the students would be able to learn what they could. But the sensei would always look out for the really serious students and often they would be taught more.
In modern times I teach shodan and nidan in one way, but I teach a little more to the yondan and godan students. Each person needs to know certain things, but they must also be allowed to discover things for themselves. This is how my teacher, Chojun Miyagi Sensei taught me. The secret is to study kata. This will give you all your knowledge and understanding about Karate. Also you have to take into account what people do for an occupation outside Karate, this will also effect the way a person trains.

Miyazato Eiichi - Tokumura Masatami - shime
Miyazato Sensei checking Tokumura Masatami's kata.

If a person trains for a long time in Goju-Ryu, what kind of person do they become?

ME: Well you know the whole of mankind is different, and no one can say what the effects will be on a person who trains in Goju-Ryu, even for a long time. All the karateka in the world are different, some good and some bad. The choice is always with the individual person, if they want to do Karate for the good of mankind, or just for their own good.

Finally, is there any advice you would like to give any karateka reading this?

ME: There are a lot of bad instructors around, so it is very important to seek out a good one. Students should also read and understand the Dojo Kun (Jun Do Kan) as this has been created through the teachings of Miyagi Chojun Sensei.

Miyazato Eiichi
Miyazato Eiichi Sensei
(1922-1999)

“No matter how you may excel in the art of Karate, and in your scholastic endeavors,
nothing is more important than your behavior and your humanity as observed in daily life.”