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Katsuya Miyahira


Many Years Have Passed Since Starting to Learn the Way of Karate

In 1989, Master Katsuya Miyahira, the president of the Okinawa Shorin Ryu Shidokan, was honored by the Japan Martial Arts Association as a person who has contributed distinguished services to the martial arts. To commemorate this occasion, I would like to write about Master Miyahira's martial arts career from it's beginning. Master Miyahira was born in Nishihara, one of the villages directly controlled by the King's court, where martial arts had always been popular among the residents. He first learned martial arts from his father who had graduated from the Toyama Army School and was good at swordplay and gymnastics. Entering the First Junior High School, Master Miyahira began focussing on karate.

He became a student at the dojo of Choshin Chibana Sensei, which was located at Nakijin Goten of Yoshitsugu Teishi; there he received influences from the dojo's senior pupils, such as Kangi Shoya, Yasuyoshi Kamikosu, Tsuguyoshi Miyagi, Chozo Nakama and Shinji Tawada. I have heard that Master Miyahira also learned karate at the First Junior High with Anbun Tokuda Sensei and his teacher who taught him the spirit of martial arts that has kindness among rigor. Both Chibana Sensei and Tokuda Sensei were among the best students of Anko Itosu Sensei, the master of the Shuri style (Shuri-te). This situation enabled Master Miyahira to learn the traditional katas of the Shuri-te both at the town dojo and at school.

Traditional Shuri-te focuses on Atemi. The central idea is that blocking (uke) means not only to defend oneself against an attack by his opponent, but also to simultaneously crush the attack. Idealistically, one should train the hands and feet so as to achieve the condition in which strength and flexibility coexist, just as steel has both hardness and springiness in it. Thus, using a punching board (makiwara), one should hit it more than two hundred times a day with each hand, mixing several kinds of punching (tsuki) methods, aiming at simultaneous occurrence of offense and defense.

Master Miyahira trained himself, closely following the Shuri-te's traditional methods. In 1948, soon after the end of the World War II, he opened a karate dojo in his hometown of Nishihara, intending to train the youth to be strong persons who could live through any difficulties. Master Miyahira set his dojo's rules as follows:

  • Try to perfect one's own personality

  • Cultivate the spirit of making constant efforts

  • Admonish one's own youthful ardor

  • Value good manors

Based on these rules, he created his basic concepts of karate: "Following the reason and the law" and "coexisting and co-flourishing". He named his dojo Shidokan, hoping to instruct the youth who aspired to learn the way of karate. After moving to Naha City in September, 1952, he continued his effort to popularize the Shuri-te, and also visited the Philippines to teach and propagate karate there. In June, 1974, Master Miyahira participated in the First Karate World Championship and received an award for his distinguished service in karate.

During the same period, Master Miyahira took office as the president of the Okinawa Shorin Ryu Karate Association and strived to make the association grow. Invited by the Brazil Shorin Ryu Karate Association, the Argentina Shorin Ryu Karate Association, and the North America Shorin Ryu Shidokan, he energetically visited these places to teach and popularize karate overseas. In 1982, he became a councilor of the Japan Karate Federation and devoted his energies to help make Japanese karate grow. He also took part in the Japan-China International Martial Arts Tournament as the leader of the Japanese team, making an effort for the goodwill exchange. In the karate division at the 42nd National Athletic Meet in 1987, the Okinawa team led by Master Miyahira, finished first overall, the victory earning Master Miyahira a special award for his distinguished service by the Okinawa Amateur Sports Association. Then came this year's award for distinguished services in martial arts.

For the past several decades, I have been inspired by Master Miyahira's persistent effort to attain the higher ground in karate and in karate only, wishing to some day surpass him. It seems, however, that every moment I feel as if I can catch up with him, he is already gone far ahead of me; it is like building a ladder to reach the sky. I wonder if Master Miyahira is teaching me, with his own way of life, that there is no end for the quest for perfect karate.

As an elder in the world of karate, Mr. Miyahira is in charge of the Okinawa Karate Conference and still gives his students lessons as well. In several symposiums held by the Karate Shinbun newspaper and the Ryukyu Shinpo newspaper, and also in his lectures, Mr. Miyahira has openly stated his own ideas about the future of Okinawa karate. Since those ideas are very suggestive, we will quote one of them here:

"During the World Uchinanchu Tournament, the Karate/Ancient Martial Arts Exchange Festival was a big success. This is a big step for a future full-scale world championship" (From the symposium "The Future Okinawa Karate", The Karate Shinbun: September, 1990 ).

When the karate lecture series for the general public took place for the first time (February~October, 1991), Master Katsuya Miyahira (President of the Okinawa Shorin Ryu Karate Association) taught the Shorin Ryu to about seventy people in one of the medium sized conference rooms of the Ryukyu Shinpo. Despite such a difficult theme as the lecture about karate, the seemingly small conference room was filled with eager karate fans and athletes. Master Miyahira explained to his audience the history of the Shorin Ryu and its characteristics by speaking about Choshin Chibana, his own master. The main difference between Mr. Miyahira's lecture and others' was that he mentioned Choshin Chibana's family tree in great detail. Choshin Chibana came from Suridennai and belonged to the high-rank warrior class. Out of his family line appeared many talented men who later became leaders of the society in different fields. One reason why Mr. Miyahira talked about the details of Chibana's life is to let his audience clearly understand the Shorin Ryu; another reason is probably based on his own unique philosophy for karate.

Mr. Miyahira often teaches the "virtue of martial arts" to young people. At the end of his lecture, he explained the value of karate, quoting the "Seven Virtues of Martial Arts" from one of the Chinese military strategy books. The quotation reads as follows:

"Martial arts forbids violence, suppresses an uprising, keeps one from corruption, establishes honor for one, pacifies the public, makes harmony among people, and makes one rich. These are the seven virtues of martial arts".

The martial arts (karate) can, according to Mr. Miyahira, be a helpful tool for one's life: it adds value to one's ability, secures a sure means of living, and even makes one rich. This interpretation may sound vulgar, but it shows that Mr. Miyahira focuses not only on the spirituality of karate, but also on its practicality. Even today, many karate experts tend to hold on to the volunteer spirit as their mottos, believing that one should not use karate as a tool for making a fortune, or as a means of living. This kind of Puritanism has been preventing Okinawa karate from flourishing in popularity and achieving economical success in dojo management.

The teaching of Itosu, however, does not insist on such Puritanism in karate; it seems to say that the more respectable a karate expert is, the more successful he should be socially and economically. Here we can see the will of Master Miyahira who, by having learned from Master Itosu, now instructs his students in accordance with his ideas: "Following the reason and the law" and "coexisting and co-flourishing".

Mr. Miyahira speaks about the Shorin Ryu as follows. In 1908, his teacher Anko Itosu submitted a petition to the prefectural officials of Okinawa to introduce karate into the regular public school curriculum. This petition of Itosu is called the "Ten Articles of Karate". Mr. Miyahira says that this is all one should know about the Shorin Ryu. Though it may be a little too long, we would like to present its contents here:

In the introduction, Itosu tells the history of karate ( China Hand ). It begins with the following sentences: "Karate came from neither Confucianism nor Buddhism. It started as the Classic Shorin Ryu and the Shorei Ryu, both of which came from China. Since these two methods have their merits and demerits, it is important to preserve and inherit them as they are". The paragraph continues as Itosu describes the purposes and training methods of karate, insisting that it be taken into the school education.

His first article says that though karate's aim is to strengthen one's body, the main reason for this is not to meet one's own needs, but to serve the society. Thus a karate athlete has to know that even if he were to be confronted with violence, he should never hurt his opponent.

The second article tells that karate strengthens bones and muscles of the body, making it as strong as iron and stone, so as to use the hands and feet in place of a spear or a sword. Itosu claims that such achievement is possible if one begins training his body when he is still in elementary school. Itosu then says that it would help Japan to build the society of soldiers, the ideal of Itosu's time when the whole nation was working hard to enrich and strengthen the country.

The third article explains that though one cannot be a karate expert in a short time, a mere one to two hours vigorous daily training would make one's physique incomparable to a normal person in three to four years. From that point on, many would continue pursuing the career of karate for life.

The fourth article claims that since the hands and feet are the most essential weapons in karate, one should train his by punching a makiwara every day. The point is to punch it one to two hundred times a day.

Itosu thus keeps explaining the essence of karate. His fifth article describes the correct positions; another points out the wrong training methods, warning, for example, that too much tension in muscles can harm the blood circulation. We can understand Mr. Miyahira's claim that this letter of Itosu alone works as the bible of the Shorin Ryu.

Shorin Ryu

Originally, there was no clear distinction among various schools of karate (ryu). The style developed and handed down from generation to generation in Shuri has been called the Shuri-te, the one in Naha the Naha-te, and the one in Tomari the Tomari-te. Shuri flourished as Okinawa's capital city for a long time. As the center of history, culture and politics, Shuri has produced many famous martial artists such as Kanga Sakugawa AKA Karate Sakugawa, Choken Makabe AKA Makabe Chansho, Sokon Matsumura AKA Warrior Matsumura, and Master Anko Itosu. Master Choshin Chibana learned one of the traditional ways of karate from Master Anko Itosu, who in turn had learned it from Master Sokon Matsumura. In 1933, Master Chibana named the said way of karate the Shorin Ryu in order to distinguish it from the Shuri-te's other ryus and thus became its founder.

The characteristics of the Shorin Ryu are detailed in the "Ten Articles of Karate", the petition submitted in 1908 by Master Anko Itosu, Master Choshin Chibana's teacher, to the education department of Okinawa Prefecture. The Shorin Ryu teaches stances and breathing methods that are natural and relaxed. It also teaches a unique method of taking in power and releasing it: one takes in power from inside outward. This method makes concentration of power easy, which, combined with the quickness of movement, increases the force of an attack. The basic training is the Naihanchi: one trains his hands mainly by punching a makiwara to increase the destroying force of an attack. Also when attacked, one should smash up the opponent as well as defend himself; this enables one to learn the technique of attack/defense combination.

In Okinawa Prefecture, there are currently 24 dojos that belong to the Okinawa Shorin Ryu Karate Association, for which Mr. Miyahira acts as the president. More branch dojos exist outside of Okinawa and abroad, as the popularity of the Shorin Ryu is increasing worldwide.

At the Bick Symposium Mr. Miyahira said: "It is important to develop the unique characteristics of each ryu of karate, but the most important thing today is to create an instruction plan that can be applied to any ryu. In order to achieve this, we have to educate our future instructors and found a karate university. It is possible to hold a world championship in three to five years. We should organize a task force to make the idea come true".

Career Outline

April 1933

Instructed by Choshin Chibana Sensei.

September, 1933

Instructed by Anbun Tokuda Sensei.

January, 1937

Instructed by Choki Motobu Sensei.

October, 1948

Opened a dojo at Kanehisa in Nishihara.

October, 1953

Becomes a karate teacher at the Ryukyu University.

April, 1958

Receives the title of Kyoshi from the Dainippon Butokukai.

February, 1967

Receives kudan as a karate Hanshi.

March, 1969

Takes office as the president of Okinawa Shorin Ryu Karate Association.​

September, 1978

Receives judan as a karate Hanshi.

April, 1982

Becomes both a first rank judge for the qualification committee and a councilor.

April, 1986

Takes office as the president of the Okinawa Prefecture Karate Federation.

January, 1990

Receives the 1989 award for distinguished services in the martial arts from the Japan Martial Arts Conference.

April, 1990

Leaves office as the president of the Okinawa Prefecture Karate Federation; takes office as the advisor to said federation.

By Morinobu Maeshiro, Secretary-General of the Okinawa Shorinryu Karate Association, and a long-time friend and devoted student of Miyahira Sensei, to commemorate the occasion of Mr. Miyahira's receipt of the 1989 Award For Distinguished Services from the Japan Martial Arts Council

Miyahira Katsuya (Shorinryu)

The following are the teachings of Miyahira Katsuya, the present president of the Okinawa Shorin-ryu Karate-do Association and one of the senior most students of Chibana Choshin. Miyahira teaches in Naha, Okinawa, and has contributed a number of outstanding students to the shorin-ryu system. Miyahira Sensei began training with Chibana Sensei in 1933 and was promoted to 9-Dan Hanshi in 1967. Upon the death of his teacher, he formally received the HANKO (official seals of the organization) and was voted president of the Okinawa Shorinryu Karatedo Kyokai in March of 1969.

Thoughts on Sparring

I believe that free style sparring is essential to the advanced development of a student but only after the student's techniques are a part of their self. I must also state that the karate student's sparring techniques must come from the kata. This takes many years to develop and I do not allow a student to spar until they reach the sandan (third degree black belt) level. At this stage of their development, sparring can be helpful. Below the sandan level, free style sparring is too dangerous and will even hinder a student's development.

I teach my students to be concerned with the mastery of the traditional kata and unless they master the kata they can never hope to become proficient in the study of karate-do. When a student reaches a point in their development where they have a good understanding of the kata, I then introduce the techniques of semi-free sparring. These are prearranged techniques that test the student's ability to judge distances and application of blocks and counterattacks. Later we introduce a limited type of free style sparring where we limit the areas to be attacked.

Thoughts on Correct Attitude

Some modern-day teachers are trying to develop the karate attitude through methods of tournament competition. The old way has always been self-competition and self-study. One might become a good fighter but we cannot say that they are practicing budo karate. This type of individual is much too limited. A student's training must always be in balance.

Thoughts on Kata

Kata is never concrete in performance or interpretation. It changes either knowingly, unknowingly or through the passage of time. Sometime the changes are small -- like changing the emphasis of punching to kicking or to quick movements or to slow, steady movements. An instructor may favor one technique over another and tell his students to emphasize it more than it was originally taught. The kata is still the same but a change has now taken place either consciously or unconsciously. These minor changes have not really changed the style. These changes cannot be prevented either, for in most cases the change occurs over a long period of time.

Thoughts on Karate Styles

If you really look at the various names of the modern styles, it has no real meaning. Styles are based on the teachings of an individual. If the individual is good, then of course the style will be good. In the end, group styles are meaningless. You say that your style is better then this style or that style, let us see if you can prove it! A punch or kick can only be done in a limited number of ways that are combative. It is like a rifleman who shoots at a target. If he hits the target do you say that the rifle is a good shot or do you say that the man is a good shot? The rifle may be the most expensive and best rifle made but if the shooter is no good then the rifle will not hit the target. The rifle is the style and the shooter is the practitioner.

Miyahira Katsuya, Chibana Choshin's senior student, has no children. He has one brother who studied karate but he is a company president and has very little to do with karate. Miyahira still teaches Monday, Wednesday and Friday nights. He has always taught like that and has not changed his teaching times in over thirty years. On Okinawa, Miyahira is a recognized training partner of the great Motobu Choki.

Miyahira Katsuya has a habit of punching the tatami when bored, tired or nervous. This habit goes back to his childhood. In the 1930's Chibana took Miyahira to visit Itosu's granddaughter that still lived in the Itosu family home. They sat and talked at great lengths about the great Itosu. Finally, they started talking about the difficult times at the time of Itosu's death in 1915.

At this, Miyahira began to lose interest and unconsciously began to pound the tatami with his fist. The granddaughter immediately stopped her conversation with Chibana and looked at Miyahira. She then said, "That's a funny habit you have there. My grandfather use to do the same thing when he was bored!"

The Toe-tipped Kick

The two major styles of shorin-ryu (often referred to as Chibana style shorin-ryu and Matsubayashi-ryu) perform 85% of their front kicks (shomen geri) with what is called "tsumasaki geri" (toe-tipped kick). Of the kicks that are performed in basics and in kata, 85% are chudan shomen geri (middle area front kicks) and are done with the toe-tipped kick.

The other 15% are called jodan shomen geri (high front kicks) and are performed with the ball of the foot. The toe-tipped is usually not performed or practiced in Japan due to the difficulty of the kick. The Japanese prefer the ball of the foot kick and the instep kick due to the fact that they feel it is easier to master. Nowadays, it is also rare to find an American Okinawan stylist who works on the toe-tipped kick. They, too, have sought to learn the easier way.

Even today in Okinawa, the native practitioners still prefer the toe-tipped kick with the instep kick as a standby technique. Both of these kicks are diligently practiced on the makiwara and with training partners. The toe-tipped kick is performed straight in with the back and head straight. Tradition also indicates that when bringing the foot up for the kick, that it must be brought up to the opposite knee with the kicking foot pointed to a 90 degree angle forward (toward your opponent) before actually snapping the foot outward.

Shorinryu Maxims

The following also comes from the teachings of Miyahira Katsuya, Shorin-ryu Hanshi 10th Dan and president of the Okinawa Shorin-ryu Karate-do Kyokai. These maxims are written on the wall of his dojo and are a guide to help his students in a better understanding of the "Proper Spirit in Karate-do Training."

Proper Spirit in Karatedo Training

  1. You should thoroughly understand and pay strict attention to your teacher's corrections and apply them correctly.

  2. You can attain perfection by exercising patience and through constant training.

  3. In learning the basic techniques, learn to apply them, adopt them and finally transform them to your own taste but always according to the correct theory of basic techniques.

  4. You should listen to and accept the corrections of the more senior or advanced students.

  5. Try to assimilate everything good in your peers and use it to correct that which is inconsistent in you.

  6. When teaching you should always be kind but firm and strict with your juniors.

Shorinryu Conduct

The following is taken from the teachings of Miyahira Katsuya (Okinawa Shorin-ryu Karate-do Hanshi 10-Dan) and are found on display in his karate training hall located in Kokuba Naha, Okinawa:

Proper Conduct in the Dojo

  1. To acquire experience and understanding, take seriously all advice given to you.

  2. Never judge or take a person lightly.

  3. Accept with an open mind the opinions and remarks of others, if they prove to be earnest, just and correct.

  4. Be honest, fair and true whenever you ponder over or reason out a problem or theory.

  5. When you are not training, quietly sit by the edge of the dojo and watch the activities of your fellow students and how they are corrected.

Submitted courtesy of Ernest Estrada, Okinawa Shorinryu Kyoshi

© 2018 Beikoku Shidokan Karatedo Association. All rights reserved.

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