An almost unknown colleague and student of Chōjun Miyagi: Gushimiyagi Hōhitsu

By Andreas Quast and Humberto Nuno de Oliveira

It will always be difficult and questionable, given the manifest impossibility, to indicate the “totality” of Master Chōjun Miyagi’s students throughout his life. Unfortunately, in the face of the large number of students that the Master may have had it seems that the very attempt is doomed to fail – especially when taking into account the many students he had at his various educational responsibilities in the schools of Okinawa and at the Police Academy. For this reason the personal relations will surely be too many to research and investigate in the attempt to provide safe and comprehensive data. Moreover, many short termed students will surely have had a merely functional relationship with the master, one which plainly will not raise them to the status of what we consider a personal disciple.

Usually analyses are based on one’s own personal knowledge and sometimes on personal relations, so they are neither comprehensive nor exhaustive, but only the result of readily available data. It should be noted that no one can seriously claim to know the actual number of Miyagi’s students, either dead or in some cases still alive, which may legitimately be considered to be of his Gōjū-ryū-lineage, and in this sense can even make flow other lines of students of his students, causing the Gōjū-ryū-lineage to be predominantly much more dynamic than static and tendencially impossible to define. This situation, strangely, is valid for both the early and the late stages of the Master’s life. Hence, there are always the same persons who are frequently mentioned, while others almost inevitably remain overlooked.

The same problem is also true for the students of Kanryō Higaonna; in the Naha-te lineage we are used to hear about Jūhatsu Kyoda, Chōjun Miyagi and Seiko Higa. But there were many more students that did not just disappear following Higaonna‘s death.

The purpose of this article is to bring to general attention an important character who was already a student under Higaonna and seems to have accompanied almost the entire life of Chōjun Miyagi.

From among the disciples of Kanryō Higaonna few have possibly ever heard about Yoshiteru Ikemiyagi[i] and Hōhitsu Gushimiyagi. Nevertheless, together with Chōjun Miyagi himself these two were commonly referred to as the “Three Castles” or “Three Strongholds”[ii] of Gōjū-ryū. Judging from this they were surely relevant and obviously close students.

Here we will bring to the light some relevant aspects of Hōhitsu Gushimiyagi´s life. Gushimiyagi Hōhitsu (gushi宮城芳弼) was born in Naha in 1892. Four years younger than Master Miyagi, they were both fellow disciples under Higaonna.

Miyagi Chojun Death anniversary, December 8, 1955.

Miyagi Chojun Death anniversary, December 8, 1955.

Gushimiyagi was a skilled Budōka in the art of Karate, specifically that of Naha-te and of Gōjū-ryū, and is described as a specialist in Sanchin and Sēsan katas. Regarding Sanchin he always told listeners that “Unlike the average Sanchin, Higaonna Sensei’s Sanchin was very excellent!” By his enthusiasm in practicing martial arts under Higaonna he gained the confidence of the master. When Higaonna’s health became more fragile Gushimiyagi was entrusted with taking personal care of his Sensei, probably in Higaonna’s older years when Miyagi took him home.

After Higaonna’s death, Gushimiyagi faithfully protected Higaonna’s last will (legacy, bequest) and continued to support Miyagi Chōjun as a patron. As is generally known Seiko Higa (six years younger than him) also continued to receive martial art instruction from Miyagi.

Besides his zeal in the martial arts and friendship towards Miyagi, Gushimiyagi was a skilled calligrapher, and a lifelong student of the art of calligraphy or shōdō. Being an accomplished calligrapher it is said that he always carried brush and ink with him when taking a walk outside .

The celebrated Arakaki Ryūyū 新垣隆優 of the “Okinawa Calligraphy Association”[iii] was his disciple in calligraphy; he was also the son of Miyagi Chōjun’s first martial arts teacher Arakaki Ryūkō 新垣隆功, and father of Arakaki Shū’ichi 新垣修一, who was a disciple of Miyagi Chōjun, since 1951, in his twilight years.

After the end of the World War II Gushimiyagi regularly frequented Miyagi’s home in Tsuboya, Naha. He called Miyagi his “big brother ‘pine tree’[iv], chatting for long hours about martial arts and classical music and a variety of other things and obviously calligraphy. When Miyagi asked Gushimiyagi to tell a story about calligraphy, Gushimiyagi told:

“When writing a straight horizontal line with a brush in calligraphy, you don’t just write a straight line. You write it while breathing from the tanden[v] with a breathing method which is similar to that of Sanchin. It is also not merely that simple, but you write with brush, breathing, and mind[vi] in harmony”.

It is than with no surprise that in the well know photo of Chōjun Miyagi’s memorial in 1955 Gushimiyagi is seated to the right of Chōjun Miyagi’s picture held by his son Ken. A prominent place for a prominent collegue, student and friend.

Gushimiyagi Hōhitsu passed away in 1966 at the age of 74.

Miyagi Chojun Death anniversary, December 8, 1955. (magnification)

Miyagi Chojun Death anniversary, December 8, 1955. (magnification)


[i] Ikemiyagi Yoshiteru 池宮城喜輝 (1886 – 1967). Later changed his name to Ikemiya Yoshiteru. Ryukyu classical musician (Nomura-ryū), politician, organized the Okinawan performing arts study group in the Kantō region. Active in conservation and restoration Okinawa historic sites and appointed to the expert committee of the Ryukyu Government Cultural Property Protection Committee. Wrote the book, Ryūkyū geinō kyōhan : Ikemiya Yoshiteru chosakushū.

[ii] San-gusuku 三城. Obviously alluding to their shared name part of gusuku 城, or castle. It could also be interpreted as the “three strongholds“. We remember that Miyagi’s name in Uchinaaguchi (Okinawa native language) was Miyagusuku. Their friends Gushimiyagusuku and Ikemiyagusuku .

[iii] The Okinawa Shōdō Kyōkai 沖縄書道協会 was established in 1941. Cf. Davinder L. Bhowmik. 2008. Writing Okinawa: Narrative acts of identity and resistance. New York: Routledge, p. 28.

[iv] Okinawan: Machū Yacchi マチューヤッチー(松兄).

[v]丹田, a focus point for internal meditative techniques, usually below the navel.

[vi] kokoro 心: also spirit, or heart.


Higaonna Morio and Kadekaru Tooru. In: Takamiyagi Shigeru, Shinzato Katsuhiko, Nakamoto Masahiro Okinawa Karate Kobudō Jiten, Tōkyō: Kashiwa Shobō, 2008., p. 426.

© 2016, Andreas Quast. All rights reserved.

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