Hawaii Karate Seinenkai.
The following article is printed here with the permission of the author, Graham Noble. Copyright © Graham Noble. All rights reserved.
The Cat of Goju Ryu
by Graham Noble
This article, or biograhical essay, is part of a chapter of the book I am hoping to complete, someday, on the history of karate and its masters. It's also an update of an article I wrote over 20 years ago for Terry O'Neill's "Fighting Arts" magazine. Since that time a lot more material has become available and so this updated version includes more detail on the early days of Japanese Goju and the development of jyu kumite, the relationship between Gogen Yamaguchi and Chojun Miyagi, and the historical context of Yamaguchi's six years in Manchuria, or Manchukuo as it then was.
It ends in 1945, just before the end of the Second World War. A couple of months after Yamaguchi's battle with the bandits in "U City" the Soviet Army invaded Manchukuo. In "The Gulag Archipeligo"Alexander Solzhenitsyn wrote that "In 1945, even though Russia's war with Japan didn't last three weeks, great numbers of Japanese war prisoners were raked in for urgent construction projects in Siberia and Central Asia". Yamaguchi was one of those taken prisoner and he spent two bitter years in a forced labour camp in Mongolia before he was finally able to return to Japan. But then he was so upset by what he saw that he resolved to commit ritual suicide and he was only saved by "a divine revelation".... And that was the start of his second life, really: the formation of the Goju kai, his re-emergence as a leader in the Japanese karate world, and the development of Goju-ryu as a major Japanese and worldwide karate style.
Since I took an interest in the history of karate, I would often ask karate people about the famous masters of the art they might have met, and one thing I noticed, everyone who had met him seemed to speak well of Gogen Yamaguchi. But then, Ingo de Jong, who had spent a lot of time with Yamaguchi Sensei in his later years, and who was very fond of him, remembered too that he was "tough!", with strong opinions on karate and on life. I guess he had to have been tough.
In those later years Yamaguchi turned more to spiritual matters and his synthesis of Goju, shinto, yoga and zen. But he was still a presence in the dojo, and as Ingo remembered he still loved to see a good, strong kumite match. He died in 1989, and there is a video of his funeral commemoration. It includes demonstrations of Goju kata, and at the end of one kata a woman student steps forward to give a speech to Yamaguchi's portrait. As she begins to speak her voice is nice and strong, but then, just for a moment, she chokes up and her eyes begin to fill with tears. She recovers and finishes the speech...and although I don't understand anything she has said, and I don't know exactly why, I'm touched every time I see this.
Quite a lot of material was used in putting this article together, and all the references will go into the history book when it's completed. The main resource for Gogen Yamaguchi's life story, though, is his classic book "Karate. Goju-ryu by the Cat". Two invaluable sources in Japanese were "The Late Gogen Yamaguchi", a memorial booklet published for Yamaguchi's funeral, which includes an interesting round table discussion between several Goju-kai veterans, and a two part feature on Nei-Chu So which appeared in "Karate Do"magazine in 1995. I am particularly indebted to Brian Sekiya who did all the translations from the Japanese which appear in this artcle.
Over thirty years ago there was a film, "Way of the Sword", a short documentary on Japanese martial arts. It was only about thirty minutes long, a supporting feature, and I can't remember much about it at all. The only thing that has stayed in my mind all these years later is the segment on karate, because this featured Yamaguchi Gogen, "The Cat", the famous master of Goju-ryu.
I had read about Yamaguchi, of course, but this was the first time I had seen him, or Goju-ryu for that matter. He would have been in his mid-sixties then and he didn't do too much, just Sanchin-Tensho, one of the slow breathing forms of Goju. I was unfamiliar with Goju then and I thought the breathing looked forced and unnatural, and it was just a simple kata, not that impressive; in fact, I thought that some jyu kumite by two younger black belts which followed Yamaguchi's kata was more impressive.
As for Yamaguchi himself, it was a little difficult to know what to make of him. He wore his hair long, which didn't make him look modern, but more like some yamabushi (mountain warrior) from days gone by, transported incongruously to modern day Tokyo. He was shown sitting in front of a crystal ball and looking deeply into it. According to the narration he would use the crystal ball to communicate with the spirits of fighters past and present . . .who gave him their secrets. In his 1966 book "The Karate Dojo" Peter Urban wrote that Yamaguchi had once been employed as a human lie detector by the Tokyo Police, ("not even once was the karate master wrong in his evaluation"), and that he had once killed a tiger with his bare hands in Manchuria in the 1940s. "Young students", Urban wrote, "must realize that even the grand old masters practice and meditate on the kata every day of their lives. Only by such dedication have they reached their superb degree of skill and understanding. The renowned professor, Gogen Yamaguchi, exemplifies this spirit of devotion. Through his profound study and understanding of the kata, he has developed an uncanny knowledge of movement so that, when he is fighting, all forceful moves directed at him seem to be carried along as if on a current of air, the sensei directing them away from himself or against his opponent with effortless will. After seeing a karate man of such excellence, the serious martial arts student invariably does his best to perfect his kata." Urban was a romantic, and this was a romantic view of karate - and probably of Yamaguchi's abilities too. But then, this was the mid-1960's and the early days of karate in the west, when it was still possible to believe in the idea of the karate master as a rather mysterious person possessed of unusual mental strength and the ability to kill or disable with one blow. With his distinctive appearance and his interest in Zen, Shinto and yoga, Yamaguchi seemed to be the living embodiment of that idea.
And he had that striking nickname too, "The Cat." No one seemed to be sure where that came from but Sonny Palabrica suggested that it came from western students, who found that Yamaguchi walked so softly in the dojo that he had glided up behind them without them being aware. Other suggestions were that it came from his long hair - very unusual in the 1950's and early 1960's - which resembled a lion's mane, or from his use of the cat stance in kumite, or his cat-like movements in the dojo. Yamaguchi himself wrote that it was because in his early days of karate he had trained himself "in the fundamental alertness of a cat". But then he also reportedly told Roland Gaillac, the editor of the French magazine "Karate", that "Even today, young man, if you were to face me in combat, I would be able to determine in a second the strength of your 'ki'. Immediately I would know if you were a good opponent. It is this quality, and no other, which has given me the name of 'The Cat'."
Yamaguchi became known as the charismatic headmaster of Goju-ryu in the 1950s and 1960s, when he was in middle age. Before that . . . well, in the pre-war period he was one of the pioneers of Japanese karate and the founder of the Ritsumeikan University karate club, and from the late 1930's and throughout World War 2, he served in Manchuria as a propaganda and intelligence officer. At the end of the war, as the Soviet Army swept through Manchuria he was taken prisoner and then held in a forced labour camp in Siberia. When he was released and returned to Japan he had been so depressed by the destruction and lassitude of post-war Japan that he had determined to commit hara-kiri, ritual suicide - but had then experienced a mystical revelation that led him to begin teaching Goju-ryu again, to teach the youth of Japan, as one writer nicely put it, "the flavor of combat, or simply of life." He was an interesting person, and a major figure in karate history. .
He was born Yashimi Yamaguchi in 1909 in Kagoshima in the South of Japan. He was one of ten children, six boys and four girls. His father, he wrote, sold miscellaneous goods and opened a private school, so there doesn't seem to have been an immediate tradition of martial arts in the family, but there was a strong samurai tradition in that region and, as Yamaguchi wrote, "In those days, Kagoshima had many organizations which helped to develop young boys in the brave traditions of their Japanese heritage. Young boys would belong to an organization until the age of eighteen. Satsuma province, in this way, maintained its traditions...They trained boys physically, and spiritually through 'Martial Arts Meetings' and 'Bravery Test Meetings' etc. During the month they celebrated the 'Revenge of the Forty Seven Ronin' with zen-zai (sweet red bean soup)."
Anyway, all six Yamaguchi boys took an interest in martial arts such as judo and kendo, probably none more so than the young Yashimi who began practicing Jigen-ryu kenjutsu (sword art) as a schoolboy. Jigen ryu was the powerful fencing style of the Satsuma clan and Yamaguchi took to it enthusiastically. And then, he wrote, he met an Okinawan carpenter, a Mr. Maruta, who began to teach him karate. Working from dates within Yamaguchi's autobiography, this seems to have happened in 1921, though a memorial book for his funeral gives the date as 1923. Gichin Funakoshi had only just introduced karate to Japan in 1921, so either way the young, twelve or fourteen year old Yamaguchi would have been one of the very first Japanese to study karate. The problem for any historian is, we don't know who Maruta was, or what he taught. Yamaguchi himself said it was Goju-ryu, but Goju wasn't actually named till 1930, or a little after. We can't even verify that Maruta ever existed. Morio Higaonna wrote that "Yamaguchi sensei told me that prior to his studying under Chojun Miyagi he had received instruction from another Okinawan; he did not specify the style. He said 'After meeting Miyagi sensei I changed over to Goju-ryu'." It would have been unusual for that time, but it's possible that the young Yamaguchi did meet an Okinawan who taught him the rudiments of karate. How long the training lasted he didn't say, but apparently he went to Kansai University in 1928, so if it started in 1923 that's a maximum of five years, up to the age of nineteen. Maybe it was a much shorter period.
In any case, Yamaguchi recalled that he devoted his teenage years to martial arts practice, training in Jigen-ryu at the Kanra-sha group during the day, and then "karate practice at home until late at night... My only interest at that time was to get stronger and become the strongest. I devoted my whole being to hard training." He would constantly strike "walls or trees or anything which looked very hard",and he developed his own training method: hanging up a three foot long piece of wood suspended in the middle by a rope, he would hit one end and then have to instantly defend as the other end swung round to hit him. "I found my physical condition entirely changed after a few years of karate training", he wrote. "My legs and loins became stronger and my muscles and bones were greatly developed. Above all I found myself ready to defend and counterattack at any instant. Today some people outside of Japan call me 'The Cat'. I believe I trained myself in the fundamental alertness of a cat in these early days."
In "Goju-ryu by the Cat" Yamaguchi wrote quite a lot about his university days. He studied at Ritsumeikan University, although he had previously been expelled from Kansai University after less than a year. He had been known there, apparently, as "Rough Yamaguchi", which suggests that he was a volatile character when he was younger. Originally when he went to Ritsumeikan he joined the sumo club and acted as a cheerleader, "cheerleader" in this context having "a very masculine connotation". He set up an unofficial karate club but there was no dojo so initially the training was held in an empty property next to his house in Shinyo-Machi. That didn't work out too well ("We broke things such as making holes in the floor." Osaoki Iwagami, an early student, recalled) so he moved the dojo to an old courtyard in Mibu. This had been the headquarters of the famous Shinsen-Gumi, a group which was active during the 1860s, a time of political unrest when the Shogunate had instructed one of its vassals, Kondo Isami, to set up a militia. This militia was made up of ronin with high martial arts skills, and according to one writer, its purpose was to assassinate opposition politicians, and "with its attacking strength, freedom to act, and the determination with which it conducted its actions, this militia terrified not only its opponents but also the general population of Kyoto, who feared being taken for friends of the anti-government movement." Yamaguchi called his group the Showa (Showa era) Shinsen Gumi and he must have been aware of the historical precedents. During this period, he wrote, his group was "constantly involved in fights with marital arts students and gangs... There were many bloody fights. In the city, as soon as our shoulders touched the shoulders of a gang member, we would fight. The martial arts experts challenged us more formally and we were glad to fight against them... I thought that strength alone would show that karate was a martial art and I was very rough with my opponents. When I look back upon those days, I think my actions were the expression of the eagerness of youth and were necessary for progress."
At that time then, he seems to have been something of a street fighter, and he wrote of an occasion when he became involved in the eviction of some tenants who were protected by the local criminal gang. He was asked to help by the landlord, and enlisted the help of fifty members of another group, the Sui-Hei-Sha at Kyoto. He went down to the property to face the sixty strong Hashimoto-Gumi, (Hashimoto Gang), who ran the Shimabara red light district The issue was settled without violence when Hashimoto, the gang leader, backed down. Yamaguchi also referred to an occasion when he and his karate students drove "leftist groups"off the Ritsumeikan University campus.
Osaoki Iwagami recalled that the courtyard in Mibu was "a really dirty, dusty dojo. Whenever we cleaned it with a dust cloth the cloth turned completely black. There were cobwebs everywhere. There were many textile machines left inside. We took them out and made our dojo". But it was quite a long way from the university, and that was a problem too. So the group began to train on the rooftop of of the university building and then Yamaguchi made the acquaintance of Kyosaburo Fukushima, an 8th dan judo teacher with the Butokukai. Fukushima allowed Yamaguchi to use a place next to his own dojo and the students brought in old tatami and set up a sign outside saying "Shinkokan dojo". There were about thirty members of the club at that time. A little later, apparently, they were able to use Fukushima's main dojo, the Giho-kai. That was a dojo of around 200 tatami and Nei-Chu So, one of the seniors in those days, recalled that the space was so big that karate training could be split into three groups doing kihon, jissen-kumite, and kata.
When the club was set up it was a doho kai, an association of like minded people, and not an official university club. Yamaguchi worked hard to get official recognition but there was resistance from the established sumo, judo and kendo clubs who saw the karate group as a threat to their position. In his biography he wrote that to try and get official recognition of the club, he and his stuudents set up ten makiwara in front of the University main gate. "Each of us took a makiwara and practiced at it all day long. President Nakagawa of the University, a few days later, observed us and discusssed our request with us. Later, various leftist groups started to cause trouble for the University authorities. My students and I drove them from the campus and kept them off the premises. Thus President Nakagawa finally permitted the establishment of our karate club formally." Nei Chu-So added the story that "we decided to fight for real against the judo and kendo clubs." He and Mitsuyasu Okamura represented the karate students and went to fight at the arranged place, a courtyard near Ritsumeikan, but "both the kendo and judo members backed off after recognising our strong fighting spirit". According to So, President Shojuro Nakagawa heard about the incident and subsequently gave official recognition to the karate club.
Reading the reminiscences of this time there seems no doubt that Yamaguchi was the leader of the club. "I just observed the karate during the first couple of months",Osaoki Iwagami remembered "I thought it was rather a strange art. For the novice outsider it didn't look very impressive. But when I saw kata performed by by Yamaguchi Shihan I thought the movements were very logical... Shihan's explanations were something like not blocking the attack straight on but going off at angles like 45 degrees. And the use of the foot and the fist were so logically made up".
The Yamaguchi of this time "had serious penetrating eyes and was very hard on us during training. However, once the practice was over he took care of the club members. Gogen Sensei was rigid and and very strict when it came to training, but at the same time he was very warm and always cared about his students". Several members of the club recalled how Yamaguchi would take hungry students to a restaurant and pay for the meal." He was an extremely warm person"said Nei-Chu So, "A person of abundant humanity".
This was also the time when jyu-kumite (free sparring) was introduced to karate training, and Yamaguchi is often given the credit for that develoment. He wrote that, at that time "Karate people practiced only kata and yakusoku kumite (pre-set kumite practice) and were unable to have matches between each other. I started jyu-kumite and established rules to decide the winner of the match. In this way I tried to help my disciples how to fight." Nei-Chu So agreed that jyu kumite "was created largely due to Yamaguchi Sensei's hard work...He said it should be called Jissen kumite. Members of other karate clubs saw it and began imitating us. Therefore Yamaguchi Sensei originated the idea of jyu-kumite and we put it into practice." So added that that early jyu-kumite (he called it tegumi) was very rough, "like streetfighting"and that "At first we were criticised for doing tegumi because it could harm kata. However, tegumi was necessary back then. I talked to Miyagi Sensei and explained to him about the importance of tegumi. He understood my point of view".
Gosei, Yamaguchi's eldest son, said that when his father started jyu-kumite practice in the 1930s, "Other schools thought it was 'street fighting' and wouldn't spar with them... My father started free fighting when all the other styles stayed with the traditional workouts. In the Goju style my father wanted it to be more practical. He invented his own way of working out. You used your head, elbow, anything. You used what was effective." And in his 1998 book on Goju-kumite, Goshi Yamaguchi wrote of this early time that "It was referred to as 'jissen kumite' (actual fighting sparring). Therefore such dangerous techniques as tori-waza, (grappling techniques), gyaku-te waza (twisting techniques), and shime-waza (choking techniques) were used, which resulted in many injuries.
But if the initial experiments in jyu-kumite were rather rough and ready that's understandable, since there were no precedents and no body of experience to draw upon. In a 1995 article in "Karate-do Magazine" about the early development of kumite in Japan it was mentioned that "Especially with Goju karate... their free sparring techniques improved very rapidly." In the 1930s each Japanese karate style was relatively isolated from the others and would develop its techniques independently and so a distinctive Goju style of jyu-kumite emerged - rather close distance fighting; kicks below the waist, including kin geri; open hand blocking; throwing techniques used at close quarters, and the use of unorthodox striking techniques such as haito. The Goju school developed a reputation among the other styles for strong fighting which continued after the war. Even by 1940 jyu-kumite remained something of a novelty and at the big budo demonstration in Tokyo that year Yamaguchi and Nei-Chu So showed the Goju form of jyu-kumite they had developed. It seems to have created something of a stir, with some spectators thinking the two men were actually fighting. Yamaguchi later recalled, maybe only half jokingly, that he felt as though he had been fighting for his life during the demonstration.
In his early (1966) "Black Belt" article, Sonny Palabrica wrote that Yamaguchi used the experience of kendo tournaments to work out his jyu kumite methods, and interestingly he added that, "At first the kumite was systematized along boxing lines." That seems to be a faint echo of an almost forgotten experiment in Goju development when they practiced full contact kumite with bogu, (protective equipment). The task of developing bogu kumite was given to Nei-Chu So, and looking back, that must have seemed a natural choice. Although he was quite small, So had trained with weights and had developed a powerful physique, and he had boxed at Kyoto University, where he had been the university boxing champion at flyweight. That made him quite unusual because these were the early days of boxing in Japan and few people practiced it. So recalled that "with bogu kumite not too many people were able to keep up with us...only a handful of people did bogu kumite". He remembered a few of the students who trained this way - Mitsuyasu Okamura, Shozo Ujita, who had previously done kendo and so was used to fighting with protective equipment, and Nakamura, who was a good judoka and physically very strong. According to Nei-Chu So Nakamura killed himself by hara-kiri on the font line of the battlefield at the end of the second world war. "If I had been there with him," So said, "I would not have let him die like that".
They used the kendo men (helmet), a juken jutsu (bayonet fighting) body protector, hockey shinguards and a kendo kote for the forearnms. Gloves were worn but protection of the feet was a problem and this limited the use of kicks. The equipment was heavy and restrictive and so "Only the strong and powerful men were able to fight with bogu".
There were other problems with kumite using bogu. For example, So observed that the kumite could often end up like boxing rather than karate: "When you get hit to the head you want to retaliate by aiming at the opponent's head only, so it was looking like boxing". And when So himself began to act as the leader of the Korean Residents Group the task of bogu kumite development in Goju had to be postponed, and then it seems to have been quickly forgotten.
It's an interesting period, that early era of full contact experimentation in Japanese karate. Full contact free-sparring using bogu was tried by the Tokyo University group as early as the late 1920s, and in the 1930s Muneomi Sawayama developed bogu kumite for his Nippon Kempo, quite an advanced form which included throwing and groundwork. And in his essay "Karatedo Gaisetsu" Chojun Miyagi himself wrote that "I have thought about this a long time and feel that through research and free sparring we must solve the longstanding question of the value of protective equipment. If we can use this equipment safely then we can practice free sparring on the same level as other martial arts and develop the same spiritual goals". "Karate do Gaisetsu" was delivered as a speech by Miyagi in Osaka in 1936 and maybe that little mention of bogu kumite was tailored to his Japanese audience, because in fact he had already experimented with bogu and discarded it as a training method several years before. This is according to Meitoku Yagi, who recalled that there were many injuries during this practice, "for example, when the head was struck with furi-zuki it could cause severe neck damage.". In the December 1989 number of his IOGKF newsletters Morio Higaonna added the information that "It was about this time, for a period of one year between 1929 and 1930, that Miyagi Sensei began experimenting with Iri-Kumi (free sparring) using protective equipment. He ordered the protective equipment, head guards, chest guards, groin guards and fist protectors, from Osaka, mainland Japan. For the most part it was high school boys who practiced the Iri-Kumi. Punches and kicks were delivered with full speed and power with no consideration for control or for limiting dangerous techniques. The fighting that took place could at best be described as rough. Miyagi Sensei's idea was not to practice Iri-Kumi as a sport, but rather to research the possibilities of realistic free sparring with protective equipment. After 1 year of Iri-Kumi training the sprited fighting of the high school boys had resulted in a high level of injuries, particularly to the neck and toes. The neck, because of the heavy head guard (which had a heavy metal grill to protect the face) which created a whiplash effect on the neck when the head was struck, and the toes, due to the metal grill on the head guard and also because of the chest guard which was a solid design similar to kendo armour.
"Because of the high incidence of injury due to the unsuitable design of the protective equipment, Miyagi Sensei stopped this type of training. He decided that for the majority of students at least, as far as kumite training was concerned, it was better to concentrate on yakusoku kumite (prearranged sparring), san dan uke harai (basic attack and block training) and kakie (push hands training). This type of training he decided was most important".
So Okinawan Goju retreated from jyu-kumite, whether contact or non-contact, and went back to the practice of basics, kata, and conditioning work. Miyagi failed to develop a workable method of free sparring and so that was left to Yamaguchi and other Japanese instructors, who thereby fulfilled the prophecy of Okinawan-born Admiral Kenwa Kanna, who after watching a 1926 demonstration by Gichin Funakoshi's students said that "If karate involves only the practice of kata as it does today then there will be no progress in its dissemination. For the future, just as in judo and kendo, tournaments must be held in order to popularize and spread karate. . . If we can achieve this, then karate will no longer be an Okinawan art, or even a Japanese art, but it will become an international art and spread throughout the whole world."
Little has been written down about Chojun Miyagi's teaching visits to Japan, though the evidence is that they were rather infrequent and only for short periods. His teaching, then, could only have been quite rudimentary: probably basic technique, the fundamental training kata Sanchin, and conditioning exercises. In his autobiography, Yamaguchi gave no details of his training with Miyagi, though he did mention in an interview almost sixty years after the event, that "at that time the training sessions consisted mainly of work on the kata, notably the breathing kata (Sanchin). One also did a lot of kote kitai, the hardening of the forearms, a very important exercise. Our bodies were very muscled." . In another interview he observed that "in the early days the main emphasis was on basics and kata. The kata was broken down into individual moves and a lot of time was spent practicing these movements diligently."
It's unclear too just how long Yamaguchi had been practicing karate, or what exactly he had been practicing, before he met Chojun Miyagi. He did tell his son, Goshi, that before he met Miyagi his karate hadn't been very good. That meeting, he wrote, took place in 1931. Mr. Yogi, a Ritsumeikan classmate, introduced the two men, and Yamaguchi was impressed by the master of Goju-ryu, who seemed to have given him a definite direction in his karate training. Over thirty years later in his autobiography Yamaguchi wrote that "I always think of Mr. Miyagi with great respect and I am inspired by his memory... Master Miyagi was well balanced, physically and spiritually. He had attained the final goal which is the desire of the martial arts expert."
According to Yamaguchi, "One day Mr. Miyagi named me as his successor to become the head of Goju School Karate." In fact, Miyagi had said, "Mr. Yamaguchi, you are well qualified to be the successor to Goju School Karate. I have nothing more to teach you." There has always seemed something not quite right about this account, but to Western eyes, at least in the 1950s when hardly anything was known about karate anyway, and through to the 1960s, Yamaguchi was widely seen as the leader of Goju-ryu.
That, of course, ignored Okinawa, the birthplace of Goju, and if you try and look a little more into this question of lineage a somewhat different picture emerges, along with a lot of confusion over dates, and who learned what from who. It's curious, for example that in his 1936 essay "Karate-do Gaisetsu", Chojun Miyagi gives a list of karate instructors then teaching in Okinawa and Japan. Most names are recognizable but one name is missing: the karateman he had supposedly met in 1931 and who he had named as his successor: Yoshimi (Gogen) Yamaguchi. As Yamaguchi student Tino Cebrano told Bey Logan: "In Okinawa, I learned that Gogen Yamaguchi was never really intimately involved with Chojun Miyagi, the founder of Goju. This was told to me repeatedly, in many ways, at different meetings with my fellow members of WUKO, (The World Union of Karate Organizations)."
The dates are problematic too. Chojun Miyagi was only in Japan a limited number of times for short teaching or demonstration visits. The visits referred to in the history books are: 1928, Kyoto, (teaching at Kyoto University Judo Club); 1932, Kansai University and Tokyo; 1933, 1935 and 1936, Kyoto; and 1942, Kyoto again, his last time in Japan. There may have been other trips, but they don't seem to have been recorded anywhere. Meitoku Yagi told one interviewer that Miyagi only visited Kyoto four times, which almost ties in with the listing above, and for only a week or two at a time. In any case, it's apparent that opportunities to learn Goju-ryu from Miyagi in Japan were very limited.
Yamaguchi wrote that it was in 1931 that he was introduced to Miyagi by "a classmate," Mr. Yogi. This was Jitsuei Yogi, an Okinawan who was attending Ritsumeikan University. But Yogi, in Morio Higaonna's Goju history, stated that he was at Ritsumeikan from 1934 to 1938, so Yamaguchi is at least three years out with his dates. Higaonna's book also gives information on the founding of Ritsumeikan University Club, which supports a later date for the Yamaguchi - Miyagi meeting.
Yamaguchi himself wrote that the club was founded by him in 1930. Higaonna's research, however, showed that the club was officially founded in late December 1935, several months after Miyagi was in Kyoto to give a demonstration at the Butokukai. (Yogi partnered him in the demonstration). This much later date of 1935/1936 is consistent with the recollections of Ritsumeikan seniors, and it indicates that Yamaguchi could have first met Chojun Miyagi as late as 1935. He could have trained with Miyagi then, and again when he returned in 1936, and if the list of visits above is complete, then that would have been it. Miyagi was in Kyoto in 1942 but at that time Yamaguchi was serving in Manchuria as an administrator and intelligence officer. It's just hard to believe that after a couple of short teaching visits Miyagi would tell Yamaguchi that he "had nothing more to teach him", and name him as the successor to Goju-ryu.
The first person to give me some background on this was a friend, Dennis Martin, back in the mid-'70s. Dennis had studied Okinawan Goju-ryu at Morio Higaonna's Yoyogi dojo in Tokyo. He quoted Kagawa Sensei, (presumably Harayoshi Kagawa, the Goju-kai senior) as saying that Chojun Miyagi had only spent short periods teaching in Japan. From what he had heard in Japan, Dennis thought that Yamaguchi had studied with Miyagi for maybe a couple of months maximum and that he had had to make up much of his teaching when he first started. When I first met Morio Higaonna he said that the breathing used in Japanese Goju was "wrong": they hadn't learned it correctly. Meitatsu Yagi, the older son of Meitoku Yagi, was quoted in one interview as saying "The Japanese do bad Goju-ryu because they were only taught beginner methods. Yamaguchi only received instruction from Miyagi for three or four weeks. This was the only formal instruction that he ever received from Miyagi. Since Miyagi did not have a representative in Japan at that time he told Yamaguchi that he could be his representative." I heard the same thing from Henry Plee (France), who had spoken to Seikichi Toguchi. Toguchi told Plee that when Yamaguchi began teaching karate he pretty much "made a lot of it up." In an interview published in "Fighting Arts" magazine Toguchi criticized Japanese Goju as containing fundamental errors and recalled that "I had been teaching in Okinawa, but when I visited Japan I saw that the kata Master Miyagi taught had become so distorted and wrongly practiced that I decided to open a dojo in Tokyo. I felt I was on a mission to correct all the wrong teaching." And Toguchi's student Toshio Tamano, in his book on Goju, wrote that "Master Miyagi came to Kyoto twice in his life to teach courses there, open to participants from different karate clubs and equally to judo practitioners... Yamaguchi had proclaimed himself to be the successor to Chojun Miyagi. But in 1978, on the occasion of the ceremony and demonstration commemorating the twenty-fifth anniversary of the death of Goju-ryu's founder, and in front of a number of Okinawan students of Miyagi (including Seikichi Toguchi and Meitoku Yagi) and numerous Japanese masters of Goju-ryu, he admitted publicly that he had only practiced a little under Miyagi. He added, however, that the founder had personally asked him to help promote Goju-ryu in Japan. And in accepting that responsibility he had done his best to spread the style in Japan, and the rest of the world.".
Where, then, did Yamaguchi get the rest of his instruction in Goju-ryu? In the Goju-ryu lineage chart in his book "Traditional Karate-Do, Okinawa Goju-ryu 1" (1985) Morio Higaonna does not list Yamaguchi as a direct student of Chojun Miyagi. Rather, he shows him as learning under Jitsuei Yogi and Meitoku Yagi. Higaonna also published the chronology of Ritsumeikan Karate Club which shows the club as being established (oficially, presumably) in December 1935 - January 1936 with Yashimi Yamaguchi and Jitsuei Yogi as senior instructors. Yogi, an Okinawan who had begun training with Miyagi in 1929, attended Ritsumeikan University from 1934 to 1938. In 1935 he assisted Chojun Miyagi when he gave a demonstration at the Butokukai. According to Higaonna, Miyagi stayed with Yogi for both his 1935 and 1936 visits to Kyoto, and the two men would practice karate technique in Yogi's apartment. So if Yamaguchi did train with Jitsuei Yogi from 1934 he could have picked up the basics of Gojuryu fairly quickly - although Yogi would only have been twenty two years old himself in 1934, and given Miyagi's slow pace of instruction at that time, he may not have known too much beyond the basic kata. One of the puzzles about this is that in the round table discussion published in the booklet prepared for Yamaguchi's funeral, several of the Ritsumeikan club pioneers talked about the early days of Japanese Goju and yet Jitsuei Yogi wasn't mentioned once. His long term effect on the club can't have been substantial. There is a photograph of Chojun Miyagi standing by the signboard for the Ritsumeikan dojo. The board reads "Goju Ryu Karate Do Kempo Dojo" and alongside that in smaller characters it says "Instructor Gogen Yamaguchi." So it seems that Miyagi recognised Yamaguchi as the Goju ryu senior in Japan at that time. By late 1938 Neichu So had become established as senior instructor under Yamaguchi.
Osaoki Iwagami, one of the early students recalled that Chojun Miyagi visited the club with his two sons during the Shin Sen Gumi days, and that subsequently one of the sons, Kei, also trained at the club for a time: "I think it was around Showa 13 (1938) that Kei-san graduated from a junior high school in Okinawa . In order to study he entered an exam preparation school, (on the mainland). So I was being taught by him. Kei-San taught us Goju-ryu kata from the basics and that was the first time we were exposed to that on the mainland. He ecouraged us to keep training. " As this recollection indicates, Kei Miyagi was quite young then. He was born in 1919 so in 1938 he would have been just 19 years old. And incidentally, Iwagami's account contradicts the statement by Morio Higaonna (in his Goju-ryu history) that Kei Miyagi was sickly as a child and therefore wasn't taught karate by his father... Just more confusion.
Meitoku Yagi told one interviewer that he had taught Yamaguchi when he (Yagi) had visited Japan in his capacity as an Okinawan tax official. I originally thought that might have been after the war, but Yagi said that those visits were to the "Shin-sen Gumi" section of Kyoto, which would put it in the 1930s. "Local students were invited to train", Yagi recalled, "and Yamaguchi Gogen was among them." At any rate, by the time he and Jitsuei Yogi established the Ritsumeikan University Karate Club, Yamaguchi had developed sufficient ability to be the club's senior instructor, along with Yogi. And in 1937 he was given the title of renshi by the Butokukai, which made him officially one of the leading karate teachers in Japan.
A few years ago I was told that Matsuo Tadamitso had mentioned a visit to Okinawa by a group of Japanese Goju students, including Shozo Ujita, Kenzo Uchiage, and (Tomaharu?) Kisaki. They had gone to study Goju at the source and according to Tadamitso had found "many differences" in technique. There were no more details, but this visit is referred to in Morio Higaonna's history. It took place in 1940 and lasted for two months or so. Shozo Ujita told Higaonna that "When he trained in Okinawa he was taught the kata differently from that which he had learned at Ritsumeikan University."
So...The history is confused, but the outlines seem pretty clear. Gogen Yamaguchi and the early pioneers of Japanese Goju-ryu were hard working and full of enthusiasm, but their knowledge was limited due to the lack of opportunities to learn the full Goju system in Japan. And we shouldn't feel superior about Yamaguchi and his early teaching because this was the 1930s, not the early 2000's, when any number of competitors in a championships might do an advanced Goju kata like Suparimpei, where there is a ready supply of instructors and associations, hundreds of books, magazines, videos, and all that stuff on You Tube. None of these resources was available in 1930s Japan, absolutely none. Yamaguchi and the early Japanese Goju pioneers had to work with what they had, and what they had probably wasn't very much. Even back in Okinawa Chojun Miyagi's pace of teaching was slow and rather limited. To judge by Morio Higaonna's account, a great deal of time was spent on Sanchin and conditioning exercises, and then maybe just one or two other kata, so that even senior students might know only two or three forms. Miyagi, apparently, had no set order of teaching kata, but after Sanchin would teach a different form to each student, depending on their physique and temperament, I suppose. But to Japanese Budoka that could have seemed somewhat whimsical and unorganized, and it could have made transmission of the style haphazard as students had to learn the rest of the kata from each other.
So yes, Yamaguchi's original instruction in Goju-ryu may have been limited and his understanding imperfect, but from the Japanese standpoint there were problems with Miyagi's teaching too. Nisaburo Miki, who had become dissatisfied with the Funakoshi-style karate he had been learning in Tokyo, visited Okinawa in 1929 or 1930 for research purposes. He was able to meet senior teachers such as Kentsu Yabu, Moden Yabiku, Chotoku Kyan, and Chojun Miyagi. In Japan he had been warned about Miyagi, but found him "nice and gentle", and was able to watch his practice. In his book "Kempo Gaisetsu" (1930) Miki made the telling comment that "In his (Miyagi's) case again, it was more a question of physical training than the martial arts side". Japanese budoka such as Yamaguchi had experience of sumo, kendo and judo, arts which had strong traditions of competition where skill, strength, and ability were measured by contest success, so from this perspective the Okinawan training lacked the natural vigour and spontaneity found in competition and left the trainee under-prepared for real combat. In his long ago "Black Belt" article, Sonny Palabrica explained that "After observing his students Yamaguchi came to the conclusion that the strict Okinawan brand of karate... was too static and limited in style. He believed that the practice of kata and the prearranged steps in sparring called Yakusoku kumite inhibited too many of the students. Under the movements of the Okinawan system, he noticed that many of the students could not create combinations of techniques readily enough or follow through with an advantage when an opening presented itself. What Yamaguchi wanted to do was to open up movements to make for faster play and to allow greater freedom of movement. He wanted a system that could be tailored to individual needs yet still retain the basic fundamentals of the system. The idea he hit on was jyu-kumite, or free style sparring."
Jyu-kumite isn't the answer to everything but it was a necessary step forward for Japanese karate. Japanese Goju developed over the years and its 1939 Butokukai technical listing contained all the classical Goju-ryu kata, from Sanchin through to Suparimpei. That listing also referred to techniques of Kihon Kumite, (ippon kumite, nihon kumite, sanbon kumite); jyu-kumite kata, (16 techniques); futari kumite, (techniques against two opponents); sannin kumite (techniques against three opponents); sai-jutsu, and women's self defence. The Goju of Japan also had to move from the more individual teaching of Okinawa to the group training methods which were then the orthodoxy in 1930's Japan. That was another reason why the teacher had to be more systemized: as it developed over the years Yamaguchi's Goju expanded the training methods for kihon, introduced the basic Taikyoku kata, enlarged (like most Japanese karate styles) the range of kicking techniques, and developed new methods of prearranged and free sparring. In fact, it might sometimes seem a little top-heavy in terms of technical development, but maybe the Japanese mindset couldn't accept Miyagi's rather limited methods... Just a thought.
Peter Urban, a one-time Yamaguchi student told Simon Lailey that "Only once did Yamaguchi disappoint me and that was when he told me that in his opinion he had carried Goju further than Miyagi sensei. Yamaguchi Sensei did not have so much veneration for Miyagi sensei as myself, although I never met with Miyagi sensei. To me it seemed that Yamaguchi sensei was not so gracious to his teacher as he should have been. I don't think that their schools of thought were exactly the same. My teacher (Yamaguchi) made some radical innovations within the Goju system".
Urban, who had studied with Yamaguchi in the late 1950s and early 1960s, was not the most reliable of historians or commentators, so perhaps Yamaguchi never said that. But maybe he did say it, or something like it, and although it sounds egotistical and lacking in respect for Miyagi, it has an element of truth. Probably no one would judge Yamaguchi as a better karateka than Chojun Miyagi, Miyagi's reputation then and now being virtually untouchable, but you could argue that Yamaguchi and his group introduced developments that took karate forward and made it more accessible and relevant to the Japanese martial arts world. And actually, the fact that Miyagi was never in Japan for any length of time, although it may have led to initial problems in terms of technical level, forced Yamaguchi and his seniors back on their own resources and encouraged them to come up with effective methods of their own.
The development of jyu-kumite, for example, could go ahead without the potential disapproval or interference of Okinawan seniors, who anyway had no experience to contribute. And that disapproval was there, because Shigeru Egami (Shotokan) wrote in his book "The Way of Karate": "I do recall that when I visited Okinawa in 1940 I saw no sparring; in fact I heard that some karateka were ousted from their dojo because they had adopted sparring after having learned it in Tokyo." Senior Okinawan Goju instructors like Meitoku Yagi and Seikichi Toguchi never did introduce jyu-kumite into their teaching. So Japanese Goju developed in its own, rather distinctive way.
To judge by films, as late as the early 1960s the Japanese, Yamaguchi school Goju technique still wasn't very polished. The kata of that time, performed by the senior grades, including Yamaguchi himself, now looked very dated. By today's standards they look technically rough, rather sloppy, and often not very strong. But later there was a conscious move to raise that technical level, and the improvement can be seen in the three instructional tapes put out by Yamaguchi's son Goshi a few years ago. The point is that Gogen Yamaguchi and his seniors established Goju-ryu as one of the major karate styles in Japan, and they did it from rather limited beginnings. Without their drive, and particularly Yamaguchi's, Goju-ryu in Japan might well have died out. In 1934, for example, Chojun Miyagi had stayed in Hawaii for eight months or so teaching karate. That was a much longer and more sustained period of instruction than his Japanese students ever had, and yet, after he left, the practice of Goju-ryu in Hawaii fizzled out, disappeared in fact. There was a clean break of over twenty years before it was reintroduced by Hawaiians such as Mitsugi Kobayashi, George Miyazaki, Kenneth Murakami, and Masaichi Oshiro, all of whom had either served in Japan after the war, or travelled there specifically to study karate. So whatever the limitations of early Japanese Goju, things worked out fine in the end.
Back in the 1980s Paul and Sandie Starling, the Yamaguchi Goju-kai representaives in Australia, met Robert Kayman, a shodan in the Okinawan Goju of Seikichi Toguchi. They compared kata, which had some differences, and then Robert Kayman "commented very negatively about Gogen Yamaguchi Sensei". Some time after that, it must have been in 1989, Seikichi Toguchi himself visited the Starlings in Australia. "He came to our Saturday classes with three of his 6th dan instructors," Sandie Starling told "Australasian Fighting Arts" magazine. "Afterwards he came to our home and we had a party for him.... He had never gotten along with Gogen Yamaguchi Sensei who had passed away only a few weeks beforehand. Toguchi Sensei came up to our private dojo and saw the magnificent calligraphy that Gogen Sensei had given to my husband. He stayed in there a long time.... When he came back to our house, he said through a translator 'I never agreed with Gogen Yamaguchi. This was a very strong feeling. However, since I came here to Sydney to the dojo of Paul Starling, I have changed my mind. If it had not been for the teaching of Gogen Yamaguchi, then this powerful karate-do such as you have developed would not exist. He has taught you and now you have taught your students to have excellent Goju technique.... Perhaps I made a mistake about him.' "
According to Yamaguchi he got his law degree from Ritsumeikan University in 1932 and began practicing as a lawyer. He did, however, maintain some political contacts and by the late 1930s he was somehow involved with establishing engineering schools at Kyoto (Nichi-Man Higher Technical School) and Akita (Akita Mining College). These schools were established to provide engineers for the new, Japanese-controlled state of Manchukuo - the former Manchuria.
Gogen Yamaguchi's life often cut across major currents of Japanese history. In the 1930s the world was being shaken by major historical events which would lead to the Second World War. For the Japanese, their war - their fifteen year war, as it is sometimes called - effectively began in 1931 when officers of the Japanese army exploded a bomb on the South Manchurian Railway, blamed the Chinese warlords, and then used that as a pretext to launch an invasion of Manchuria. This "Manchurian Incident" took place in September 1931, and by March 1932 the Japanese occupation of the country was complete. The new state of Manchukuo was established and the last, ex- Emperor of China, Pu Yi was brought in as the puppet head of state. Back in Japan, the government was taken completely by surprise by the Manchurian Incident, which as Andrew Kenny wrote "had not been started by political leaders, but by two mad colonels in Manchuria." Presented with a fait accompli, the authorities went along with the invasion and the establishment of Manchukuo. Although presented to the world as completely independent, Manchukuo was in fact "a puppet state of the shabbiest sort" controlled by the Japanese army stationed in the South of the Country, (the Kwantung Army). Politicians who opposed the Manchuria policy were often the subject of assassination attempts.
The occupation of Manchuria took place for several strategic reasons, including access to raw materials and the necessity for a buffer state between Japan and Russia and China. There was also a strong feeling that Japan had a special claim to the region going back even before the two wars fought there, against China in 1894 and Russia in 1904 -05. But there was something else too. One of the main architects of the Manchurian adventure was Colonel Kanji Ishiwara, who had planned it in detail. Ishiwara, who was something of a hero to many younger officers. was a dynamic, outspoken character, an idealist, and in some people's eyes, "a strategic genius"."
The occupation of Manchuria was a key part of Ishiwara's strategy, which he conceived on a global scale. In his book "Ishiwara Kanji and Japan's Confrontation with the West", Mark Peattie referred to Ishiwara's "elaborate and fantastic scheme of thought that he pieced together over two decades and that possessed such a galvanic attraction for a wide spectrum of Japanese: the middle echelon of the military, a number of leading civilian bureaucrats and planners and an assorted group of ideologues and idealists." Ishiwara believed that the historical destinies of the West and the East were on a collision course, which would end in a titanic conflict -The Sekai Saishu Senso, "the Final World War.". Apparently this was the war predicted by the Buddhist Saint Nichiren, seven hundred years before, a conflict unprecedented in world history. Ishiwara wrote that "This (war) will not be accidental, it will be the product of divine will, the great natural tide of human civilization." It would also result in the end of human conflict and the coming of a golden age for mankind, based on Japanese ideas and principles. Hence the urgent need to prepare for war. "Japan", wrote Ishiwara, "must be victorious, not for the sake of her own national interest, but for the salvation of the world." Ishiwara was almost certainly one of the "two mad colonels" referred to by Andrew Kenny as initiating the Manchurian invasion.
Gogen Yamaguchi was one of those attracted by Ishiwara's ideas: "I supported his viewpoint with about two hundred disciples", he wrote. According to Yamaguchi, Ishiwara was a supporter of the Ritsumeikan Karate Club, and when he took up the post of commander of the Kyoto Division, (December 1938, according to Peattie), he had a bodyguard of Yamaguchi's karate students. Ishiwara had also worked closely with Nei-chu So, Yamaguchi's then right hand man in Goju-ryu. So admired Ishiwara, his ideas for self government in nations such as So's native Korea, and his stand against the materialistic culture of the West.
The relationship between Yamaguchi and Ishiwara seems to have sprung from the period of training at the Giho kai, the dojo used by the Ritsumeikan karate club from around 1938. Yamaguchi got on well with the founder of the Giho kai, Kyosaburo Fukushima, who was also an admirer of Kanji Ishiwara. Fukushima had strong connections with Manchukuo and often travelled there. Nei-Chu So rememered that the Giho kai, which was a judo dojo, was also "like a spritual training centre for the Towa Renmei (The East Asia League). I joined it, and because of it Yamaguchi Sensei started going to the Kyowakai." The Kyowakai, or the Concordia Association, was in effect the political party for Manchukuo, and soon Yamaguchi became involved in establishing schools to train engineers and technicians for the new state. He worked at the Nichi-Man Higher Technical School in Kyoto, and then in late 1938 he moved to Akita to become an instructor at the Akita Mining College. By early 1939 he was in Manchukuo itself, serving as an officer in the Kyowakai
He was there six years, a major part of his life, and it can't have been easy. Manchukuo was a big country, as big an area as Germany and France combined, "mostly mountainous, thickly wooded, and inadequately served by communications". He spent most of his time in the North of the country, often on the borders with Russia, Mongolia and Korea. This region was the centre of political unrest, "banditism" and guerilla activity so Yamaguchi seems to have been something of a troubleshooter, a capable officer who could manage things and impose order. The Kyowakai had been set up in 1932 to promote the new state among the Manchurian population, and to serve as an example of racial cooperation for all of Asia. That was Kanji Ishiwara's original vision, anyway; but by the mid-1930's the Kyowakai had become "a spiritless propaganda and intelligence arm of the Japanese military, staffed largely by middle echelon bureaucrats of the Manchukuo Government." The work of the Kyowakai involved propaganda and espionage, the identification of politically disaffected groups, and enforcement of government decrees. It worked closely with the gendarmerie, the "all powerful military and political police."Probably a lot of Yamaguchi's time was spent on administration, but from his own account he also seems to have been involved in intelligence gathering, running agents, spy catching, and countering sabotage, bandit incursions and independence movements.
He moved about from place to place and at each posting he taught karate classes. In his autobiography, "Goju-ryu by the Cat", he also wrote about the times he had to use karate to defend himself, or save his life, and about his, rather infrequent, encounters with Chinese boxing, (Chuan fa).
In 1940 Yamaguchi had led a "martial arts mission" from Manchukuo on a tour of Japan. The seventy strong group included experts of Chinese kempo (Ch'uan fa), the staff, sword, and other weapons, and Mongolian wrestling. At some of the demonstrations Goju-ryu students would also show karate, and when the Manchukuo group were in Kyoto, Yamaguchi took the Chinese ch'uan fa experts to the Ritsumeikan University karate dojo. He suggested they join in the training, but when they saw the fierce kumite practice they declined. Yamaguchi thought that the Chinese Ch'uan practitioners "were not strong enough", and he had no desire to study with them.
But then one day back in Manchukuo he heard about a master of ch'uan fa living in the mountains. He went to see this master who introduced himself as Ryu-Kaku-Rei, the founder of the Dragon Cloud style. Yamaguchi judged him to be about sixty-seven or sixty-eight years old, thin, with piercing eyes. Yamaguchi would have in his early to mid-thirties.
Well, they agreed to have a match, and the Chinese master assumed a very low stance, appearing like a spider, then a crab, then a snake. To counter these forms Yamaguchi changed from sanchin stance to a low neko-ashi. The older man suddenly attacked with punches, finger strikes, and kicks, and it was all Yamaguchi could do to successfully defend himself. He was surprised that his own favoured nukite (spearhand) attacks failed to get through, and his kicks hit thin air. Finally Ryu attacked with a punch to the stomach. Yamaguchi blocked it and counter-punched to the forehead but at the same time he was doubled up by Ryu's following kick to the groin. He sank to the ground, unable to go on. When he looked across at Ryu Kaku Rei he also was squatting down, holding his head. He too was unable to continue. They agreed to leave it there, and said their goodbyes. Yamaguchi considered, rather melodramatically, that both "had avoided death" by "a hair's breadth," and he quoted Ryu Kaku Rei as saying to him "Since I learned Chinese Kempo, I have never faced as fierce a man as you."
This was an agreed, informal match. But Yamaguchi also wrote about several occasions when his work with the Kyowakai meant he had to use his karate skills. The first such incident happened when he was checking out the strategically important Nonjan bridge. He would disguise himself as a Manchurian and patrol the area round the bridge, and on one such occasion he came across a couple of characters behaving suspiciously. He confronted them, told them he was a government officer and that they were to come with him. At this point their attitude grew threatening and Yamaguchi assumed his favourite neko-ashi stance. As one of the men took out a revolver from his pocket Yamaguchi kicked his hand, knocking the gun out of his grasp, and then followed with a punch, knocking him down. The second man attacked Yamaguchi with a knife but was knocked down by a knife hand strike. Both men were picked up by the military police and later confessed to being Soviet spies.
Another time when he was working in the North of Manchukuo, a centre of guerilla activity, four of his men went missing and he went to investigate in one of the villages where the guerillas were active. Again, while patrolling alone he was confronted by three men. Two of them held his arms by his sides while a third pointed a revolver at him. Yamaguchi initially took up a sanchin stance to resist the pull of the two men holding him but then as the third man moved closer he changed to his favourite neko-ashi and then kicked the gun from his hand. It went flying in the air as Yamaguchi released himself and knocked the two other attackers down with elbow and knife hand strikes. "They fell to the ground without a sound", he recalled. Again, they were taken prisoner and found to be spies and members of a guerilla group.
There were two times in Manchuria, Yamaguchi wrote, when he was pushed to the limits of his strength. The first was in his fight against Ryu Kaku Rei, and the second was in the closing stages of the war when "U city" was attacked by a thousand "Communist bandits," (or resistance fighters, depending on your point of view). Yamaguchi had received intelligence from his agents that this attack would take place on a specific date - June 3, 1945 according to his book - but when he went to the authorities his views were dismissed... and June 3 grew closer. His account of this mini-battle appeared in "Goju-ryu by the Cat":
"...The final day had arrived. We expected the attack at dawn and my watch told me it was half past five. 'We'll wait for thirty minutes. If they don't come now, they won't come today.'
"I looked at Mr. Suzuki. 'Well, it's still uncertain,' I said. Just then we heard the sound of guns and battle cries near the castle gate. 'Here they come! Take everyone upstairs. I'll defend down here.' "My men followed my orders as I took two revolvers and hid myself downstairs. I heard cries everywhere as many bandits invaded the city and attacked in full force, killing many of the inhabitants. Citizens were running and bullets were flying everywhere as the city was thrown into utter confusion.
"Bandits on horses stopped in front of our office. I took cover as I fired my revolvers through the window until both guns were empty. Twenty bandits with guns and Chinese swords rushed to our defence. Five or six bandits broke the door down with the butts of their guns and rushed into the room.
"With my guns empty I resorted to Goju School Karate for my defence. I adjusted myself with breathing and was ready to fight.The room was dark and the bandits could not use their guns freely without possible injury to each other. I had trained myself to see in this amount of light and knew I would be able to withstand the onslaught of four or five people at a time. Under such a situation, I had to dispatch the enemy, one by one.
"I avoided the first bandit, who tried to strike me with his gun, and turning quickly to the right, struck him between the thighs with yoko geri. He cried and fell to the ground. Another fired his gun at me from behind but he missed. My elbow found the pit of his stomach with great force. A bloody Chinese sword slashed at me as I struck, with my right first, the man who was wielding the sword. The fighting was confused, but the narrow room was to my advantage. They rushed at me in the close quarters, which made it easy for me to fight them. When they drew near I knocked them out using nukite, hiji ate, shuto and Seiken; against the guns I used tobigeri and yokogeri. I was able to fight more freely than in practice because I did not have any regard for my opponents' welfare.
"Some of the bandits started up the stairs but were shot by my men who were protecting the women and children. I attacked the bandits, aiming at their eyes of between their thighs, moving quickly as I fought. Fighting hard, I hoped we could last until help arrived.
"Soon there were cries at the front door and the bandits started to scatter. It appeared that they had been ordered to retreat. My men came down the stair, asking if I was injured. Luckily, only my left arm had been injured by the slash of a dagger. I went upstairs to obtain a better view and observed the bandits falling back with stolen weapons, gunpowder, and supplies. It was now seven o'clock in the morning.
"Our reinforcements reached the city after the bandits had withdrawn. My warning had been ignored, and we received a great amount of damage, which could have been avoided.
"When I discovered the bandits had gone, I suddenly lost all my strength and had to sit down. I had fought with them, hand to hand, for forty minutes. Though I had always trained very hard, this fighting tired me severely."Copyright © Graham Noble. All rights reserved.
Hawaii Karate Seinenkai.