The IOGKF has been split into two organizations: the existing IOGKF with the same operating structure but fewer members and a newly set up TOGKF led by Sensei Morio Higaonna based in Okinawa.
This post will look at the reasons behind the split, the controversial Chojun Miyagi – Aniichi Miyagi – Morio Higaonna lineage claim and argues that karate lineage doesn’t matter in these days and age.
While some may view the split as a huge loss to the IOGKF, in our view, the split can be a great opportunity for the IOGKF to break clean from this controversial lineage claim, stand on its own feet, and focus on providing its members with the best quality martial art experience possible.
A brief history of the IOGKF
In 1979, Sensei Morio Higaonna established the International Okinawan Goju-Ryu Karate-Do Federation (IOGKF) with the aim of preserving traditional Okinawan Goju Ryu karate and spreading the art around the world. And it was a great success.
Today, the IOGKF is the largest traditional Okinawan Karate organization in the world with over 60,000 members from 64 affiliated countries.
Pre-split, the IOGK has a very small presence in Okinawa and Japan but very strong bases in Europe, the US, Canada, and Oceania.
Sensei Morio Higaonna was the chief instructor and the head of the IOGKF for 33 years until he stepped down from the roles in 2012 and appointed Sensei Tetsuji Nakamura (8th dan) as his successor.
Sensei Ernie Molyneux (8th dan, chief instructor of the English Goju-Ryu Karate Association) and Sensei Henrik Larsen (8th dan, chief instructor of the Danish Goju Ryu Karate Association) were also promoted to IOGKF vice chief instructor at the same time.
Together, Sensei Tetsuji Nakamura, Sensei Ernie Molyneux, and Sensei Henrik Larsen form the IOGKF executive committee.
Up until August 2022, Sensei Morio Higaonna remained the supreme master of the IOGKF but this had been largely a symbolic title as he was no longer involved in the running of the organization, conducting training at major gasshuku or the IOGKF curriculum.
The IOGKF head office is located in Ontario, Canada where Sensei Tetsuji Nakamura resides.
The IOGKF split
In August 2022, it was announced that Sensei Tetsuji Nakamura would be stepping down from his position as the chief instructor of the IOGKF and that Sensei Morio Higaonna would be taking over the role. Understandably, this sent shockwaves through the entire IOGKF.
However, this decision was reversed shortly after and there was an official announcement on the IOGKF Facebook page reproduced in full below.
At meetings on September 3rd and 4th, the IOGKF’s Executive Committee has, together with the majority of chief instructors and senior members of the IOGKF, chosen not to approve the transfer of the chief instructor post and to move the administration office to Okinawa.
Sensei Tetsuji Nakamura remains our Chief Instructor and the administration office, with Adrienne Langgartner as administrative director/secretary, remains in Canada. Sensei Morio Higaonna is the “Supreme Master / Saiko Shihan”.
In other words, nothing has changed.
On the surface, nothing had changed, but behind the scenes, it was a different story.
On 15 September 2022, Sensei Morio Higaonna announced that he would resign from the IOGKF.
On 24 September 2022, Sensei Morio Higaonna announced that he had created a new organization called the Traditional Okinawan Goju Ryu Karate Do Federation (TOGKF).
The TOGKF is based in Okinawa with Sensei Morio Higaonna being the head instructor. It is estimated that about one-third of the existing IOGKF members would join the new organization.
Sensei Morio Higaonna has also requested the IOGKF to stop using his name, images and videos.
The causes of the split
Based on what I have read on social media and what I’ve heard directly, the internal conflict that led to the split appears to originate from a U.S. faction of the IOGKF.
Apparently, some instructors in the US who are at shodan or nidan levels are only permitted to grade kyu levels. They are frustrated that they can’t promote students to blackbelt and want that to change.
I’m not sure how they have gone about making their voices heard through the official channel but they were clearly unhappy with the status quo.
From what I’ve read, the US faction and one from Higaonna’s own dojo have been feeding Higaonna with lies about Sensei Tetsuji Nakamura and that Nakamura had been mishandling IOGKF money to benefit himself and fund a luxurious lifestyle for his family.
Some also claim that Mr. David Chambers from Classical Fighting Arts magazine together with a few from the Okinawa Honbu Dojo was the driving force behind this coup attempt to push Sensei Tetsuji Nakamura out of the IOGKF and replace him with somebody else from their side to take charge of the organization.
Unfortunately, with advanced age, poor health, hospitalization, and COVID isolation, Sensei Morio Higaonna initially believed those lies and said he couldn’t trust Sensei Tetsuji Nakamura anymore and wanted him to resign.
Nakamura was heartbroken and immediately resigned but he had the full support of the IOGKF executive committee which voted to reinstate him as the chief instructor.
According to an IOGKF source, the IOGKF executive committee and chief and senior instructors had worked hard day and night during this period to get the truth to Sensei Morio Higaonna by contacting him directly, writing to him, talking to people close to him and traveling to Okinawa.
I believe it was through their effort that Sensei Morio Higaonna learned the truth or part thereof for he contacted Tetsuji Nakamura sensei to apologize and requested a meeting with him.
I don’t know what exactly happened at the meeting but the gist of it is Sensei Morio Higaonna still wanted to return to the IOGKF chief instructor position and the IOGKF administrative office be moved to Okinawa.
His wish could not be fulfilled because IOGKF is not a family organization and it has its own constitution and rules to follow and so, as mentioned above, he went on to set up his own organization, the TOGKF.
At least for now, life seems to go on as usual with the IOGKF although they have lost a small number of country members who decided to join the new TOGKF and stay loyal to Sensei Morio Higaonna.
However, Sensei Tetsuji Nakamura will no longer be considered the successor of Sensei Morio Higaonna. In reality, we don’t think this matter one bit for the IOGKF and its members and we will talk about why this is so in the section below. But first, let’s have a brief look at an interesting historical fact with regard to Morio Higaonna’s claim of karate lineage.
Was Aniichi Miyagi the successor to Chojun Miyagi?
Morio Higaonna has always stated that his teacher, Aniichi Miyagi (1931 – 2009), was the successor to Chojun Miyagi. For example, in an interview in Fighting Arts magazine No. 88, Morio Higaonna said that “My honest opinion about this- and if I’m wrong I’m ready to change it- is that the successor to Chojun Miyagi is Aniichi Miyagi“.
However, some people strongly refuted Morio Higaonna’s claim and various historical facts also contradicted it.
Chojun Miyagi’s senior students at the time of his death
Chojun Miyagi (1888 – 1953), the founder of Goju Ryu died suddenly of a heart attack in 1953 without naming a successor.
After his death, his family communicated that they would like Eiichi Miyazato (1922 – 1999) to succeed Miyagi.
At a meeting held in 1954 by Miyagi’s senior students, Eiichi Miyazato was unanimously voted as the official successor to Chojun Miyagi.
At the time of Chojun Miyagi’s death, the following were his most senior students:
- Seiko Higa (1898 – 1966), then aged 55 and had trained under Chojun Miyagi for around 38 years. Seiko Higa was given permission by Chojun Miyagi to open his own dojo from 1931
- Meitoku Yagi (1912 – 2003), then aged 41 and had trained under Chojun Miyagi for around 27 years. Meitoku Yagi was also given permission by Chojun Miyagi to open his own dojo one year before his death
- Eiichi Miyazato (1922-1999), then aged 31, having trained under Chojun Miyagi for around 18 years
- Koshin Iha (1925 – 2012), then aged 28, having trained under Chojun Miyagi for around 14 years
- Seikichi Toguchi (1917-1998), then aged 37 and had trained under Chojun Miyagi for about 25 years. At the time of Chojun Miyagi’s death, Seiki Toguchi was already assisting Seiko Higa at his dojo.
Clearly, at the time of Chojun Miyagi’s death, more senior students like Seiko Higa, Meitoku Yagi, and Seikchi Toguchi were already running their own dojos or assisting with teaching, so Eiichi Miyazato was the most appropriate choice to take over the running of Chojun Miyagi’s garden dojo and to be his successor.
IOGKF claim of succession
As to where Aniichi Miyagi (no relation with Chojun Miyagi) stood amongst those students, some IOGKF sites state that Aniichi Miyagi had trained under Chojun Miyagi from 1948 until his death in 1953, i.e. for about 5 years.
Some IOGKF websites explain that many senior students of Chojun Miyagi had stopped training because they were busy making a living post-war. So, in 1948, Chojun Miyabi took on new students and Aniichi Miyagi was among those.
They also claim that Aniichi Miyagi was Chojun Miyagi’s main student in the few years before he died and that Chojun Miyagi treated Aniichi like his own son. It is also claimed that, from February 1948 to October 1953, Chojun Miyagi taught Aniichi everything he knew about karate.
Aniichi Miyagi was only 22 years old at the time of Chojun Miyagi’s death on the 8th of October 1953.
In defending Aniichi Miyagi’s account, Sensei Tetsuji Nakamura posted extracts of interviews with Sensei Shuichi Aragaki and Mr. Chishin Bise which was published in the “Goju-Ryu Manual” by the Okinawan Government in 2019.
Mr. Chishin Bise’s interview:
Question: When did you become a student of Sensei Chojun Miyagi?
Mr. Bise: After the war when I was 19 (1948) till I was 22 years old.
Question: Which Kata did you learn?
Mr. Bise: Gekisai Dai Ichi, Dai Ni, Sanchin, Shisochin, Kururunfa…all twelve Kata…..
Question: Did you practice Kata Bunkai as well?
Mr. Bise: Of course, An’ichi Miyagi remembered them all clearly. We trained Bunkai together.
Aragaki Sensei’s interview:
Aragaki Sensei: At the time I joined, Chojun Sensei’s student was only An’ichi Miyagi. No others were there. Chojun Sensei had said “I am not taking any student” [However, Chojun Sensei accepted Aragaki Sensei as he was the grandson of Ryuko Aragaki, the first martial arts teacher of Chojun Sensei before Sensei Kanryo Higaonna]…
Question: Did you learn kata from Chojun Sensei?
Aragaki Sensei: I learned from a senior practitioner An’ichi Miyagi, so I did not learn directly from Chojun Sensei.
Eiichi Miyazato’s account
In contrast to the IOGKF claim, in the last interview (with Kent Moyer, 7th dan in Okinawan Goju-Ryu Karate) given before his death in 1999, Eiichi Miyazato absolutely refuted the claim that Aniichi Miyagi had trained under Chojun Miyagi for a considerable period of time.
Eiichi Miyazato said that Aniichi Miyagi was never recognized as a student of Chojun Miyagi. He came to train with Chojun Miyagi under Eiichi Miyazato’s direction for about one year.
Aniichi Miyagi was my student. He came to Miyagi Chojun to study with him, but he only trained for a short time and Miyagi Chojun died.
Aniichi Miyagi came to train under me. He trained with Miyagi Chojun under my direction for maybe one-year. During that time if you add up the number of days it came to about one month training in one year.
Aniichi Miyagi was never recognized as a student of Miyagi Chojun. He was only 22 years old at the time of Miyagi’s death…
Aniichi Miyagi trained under me for six years. Aniichi Miyagi worked on a ship and was not able to train very often. I promoted him to 6th Dan Black Belt. [Miyazato gave the interviewer a copy of this Dan promotion]…
In the Goju-Ryu society in Okinawa, few know the name Aniichi Miyagi. No one other than Morio Higaonna has ever heard of him. Aniichi Miyagi left Okinawa many years ago and has never returned…
All Okinawa karate masters don’t even know who is Aniichi Miyagi.Eiichi Miyazato (1922 – 1999), 10th dan in Karate and 7th dan in Judo
It is possible that there are elements of truth told by both sides and that Aniichi Miyagi did train with Chojun Miyagi for some time and then continued to train under Eiichi Miyazato afterward.
Even if we give Aniichi Miyagi the benefit of the doubt and assume that his version is 100% correct, given his age and the amount of time he had trained under Chojun Miyagi relative to other senior students of Chojun Miyagi at the time, it would be impossible to think that Chojun Miyagi would have even considered Aniichi Miyagi to be a potential successor.
It is also worth noting that, in 1963, Chojun Miyagi’s family presented Meitoku Yagi sensei with one of Chojun Miyagi’s belts and gis.
They also gave him the Menkyo Kaiden (a certificate of complete transmission of the art from the teacher to the recipient), publicly recognizing him as the official successor of Chojun Miyagi.
There was never a mention of Aniichi Miyagi despite his claim that Chojun Miyagi had treated him like his own son. And Eiichi Miyazato was also correct in saying that outside of the IOGKF and Morio Higaonna, nobody knew who Aniichi Miyagi was.
Did Morio Higaonna train under Aniichi Miyagi?
So, it is rather dubious whether Aniichi Miyagi even trained under the founder of Goju Ryu, let alone be considered a legitimate successor of the style.
Let’s now have a look at the Aniichi Miyagi – Morio Higaonna lineage.
Again, while Morio Higaonna has always claimed that Aniichi Miyagi was his teacher and that he was Aniichi Miyagi’s successor, Eiichi Miyazato told a very different story.
According to Eiichi Miyazato, he taught Morio Higaonna since high school and Morio Higaonna trained under him in his Jundokan dojo.
This seems to be backed by the fact that all of Morio Higaonna’s Goju Ryu dan grades were granted by Eiichi Miyazato and Higaonna has never received a dan grade from Aniichi Miyagi.
When Morio Higaonna left the Jundokan, he was a 6th dan, but according to Eiichi Miyazato “One time later he came back to my dojo and begged me to sign off for him to be graded to 7th Dan by the Goju-Kai organization. I felt sorry for him and his desperation and signed for him to receive his 7th Dan. He has never received a Dan grade from his so-called teacher, Aniichi Miyagi.“.
Morio Higaonna received his 8th and 9th dan from Yuchoku Higa who was a karate master of a different style (Shorin-Ryu) and Higaonna also never trained under Yuchoku Higa.
According to Eiichi Miyazato, Yuchoku Higa issued a lot of 10th dan certificates before he died and “In budo circles, Morio Higaonna isn’t old enough to receive his 9th Dan certificate. This is an honorary degree and you must be at least 65 years old. It is not awarded because of technical ability.”
However, Morio Higaonna did receive his 10th dan and the title “Hanshi” from Aniichi Miyagi and
Shuichi Aragaki in 2007.
When asked about why Morio Higaonna did not acknowledge his own teacher but claimed Aiichi Miyagi to be the successor of Chojun Miyagi and that he was Aiichi Miyagi’s student, Eiichi Miyazato said it was better for “business” that way.
It indeed makes business sense to claim a direct lineage from Kanryo Higaonna to Chojun Miyagi, to Aniichi Miyagi, and then to Morio Higaonna when promoting the IOGKF to the Western audience.
Eiichi Miyazato claimed that Morio Higaonna became “a good friend of Miyagi Aniichi in order to promote his own organization“.
Morio Higaonna’s attempt to “re-write” Goju-Ryu history, according to Eiichi Miyazato, was poorly received in Okinawa. “The Okinawan karate masters won’t ever acknowledge his presence at any function. In Okinawa, the great karate masters do not want to associate with Morio Higaonna“.
Morio Higaonna, however, told a very different story in an interview with Dragon Times. He repeated again that Aniichi Miyagi was his teacher and that although Eiichi Miyazato would provide guidance sometimes, Aniichi Miyagi was his only teacher.
Higaonna also stated the reasons for the fallout between him, Aniichi Miyagi and Eiichi Miyazato as follows:
Miyazato sensei was always kind to me personally but had a habit of saying unkind things about people behind their backs which always made me feel uncomfortable…
An’ichi sensei was not shown the respect he deserved. Also, when Miyazato sensei would change details of the kata, An’ichi sensei would protest and a heated discussion would then take place which was very unpleasant…
I didn’t like the board that was displayed publicly with the names of those who had not paid their dojo fees, I thought this was demeaning, and then there was the matter of the loan that was taken out to build the Jundokan.
An’ichi sensei paid for the Jundokan building lot to be cleared with his own money and didn’t expect to recover anything. However, the actual building costs were paid for by a loan guaranteed by Harno Kochi and this, I understand, was never repaid which angered An’ichi sensei a great deal. He left to join the merchant marine and the Jundokan changed a lot for me as a result but I stayed on even after that, for a while at least.
Kent Moyer (7th dan in Okinawan Goju-Ryu, founder and CEO of The World Protection Group) who conducted the last interview with Eiichi Miyazato and had the opportunity to train under him painted a very different picture of his teacher.
Miyazato Sensei was a very simple man. He did not seek out covers of magazines, make huge sums of money, or want the power of running a large karate organization. He truly practiced the teachings of Chojun Miyagi. Simple, Direct, and Uncomplicated. Just have fun training. That’s what Miyazato Sensei did every day at his dojo in Okinawa until he passed away. Miyazato enjoyed teaching karate to anyone who wanted to learn.
So, it looks like both sides blame the other for being money-minded, unfortunately. You’ll just have to read the facts and make up your mind as to whose story seems more believable.
Is Morio Higaonna the official successor to Aniichi Miyagi?
The IOGKF has been promoting Sensei Morio Higaonna as the official successor to Aniichi Miyagi and through Aniichi Miyagi, the organization has a direct link to Chojun Miyagi, the founder of Goju-Ryu style.
However, according to the IOGKF version of the story, some people managed to “lure Aniichi Miyagi into a trap” and told “lies” about Morio Higaonna making money and personally benefiting from the IOGKF.
They claimed Morio Higaonna was just a businessman who used Aniichi Miyagi and Goju Ryu as advertising tools to make profits and called Morio Higaonna “a man you can trust neither in philosophy nor in karate“.
I don’t know how much of this is true but Aniichi Miyagi later on officially announced that two and only two of his students, Alexandr Filimonov from Russia and Kato Tomoyuki from Japan would be his successors. Both of them are 10th dan.
In the video below, a lady read out Aniichi Miyagi’s confirmation that Alexandr Filimonov and Kato Tomoyuki would be his successors. Toward the end of the video, there was also a scene where Aniichi passed his black belt to Alexandr Filimonov. A translation of the confirmation is also reproduced below.
Confirmation of inheritance of Goju Ryu taught to me:
I confirm that Alexander Filimonov from Russia and Kato from Japan are my personal pupils. I have been teaching Alexander from 1998 till present time.
It is he to whom I assigned genuine knowledge – all kata from Gekisai dai ichi to Superinpei – as well as taught the Goju Ryu philosophy. I confirm that he is the adherent of my knowledge which was given to me by the founder of Goju Ryu style.
Only two persons are genuine adherents – Alexander and Kato.
At present time, I assign them all my copyrights. After my death, no one but them have the right to use my name in all types of print and video products.
Only two persons – Alexander and Kato – have the right to be nominated my appentices. I wish them to be genuine tutors in Goju Ryu in the world.
I give permission to Alexander Fillmonov to give my name to his son – Anichi.
I ask all apprentices to inherit the genuine Goju Ryu.
Alexander and Kato are obliged never change the genuine Goju Ryu techniques and do not commercialize Goju Ryu. Otherwise, it serves bad services and will be subject to God’s punishment.
Let the successors be few, but they are to transfer genuine knowledge from the tutor to the appentice. It needs to improve the spirit and in the second turn practice physical exercises.
I the inheritor of Chojun Miyagi, master of Goju Ryu, Anichi Miyagi.
The current IOGKF controversy sounds very much like history has repeated itself.
Morio Higaonna appointed Tetsuji Nakamura as his successor in 2012. Now, 10 years later, Tetsuji Nakamura has been accused of exploiting the IOGKF and profiting himself and Morio Higaonna is likely to do exactly the same thing that Aniichi Miyagi had done: appoint somebody else as his successor in the near future.
Why karate lineage doesn’t matter
It is no longer possible for the IOGFK to claim direct and legitimate lineage through Aniichi Miyagi and Morio Higaonna after the split.
Some in the remaining IOGKF circle may be saddened by this internal fighting, the loss of lineage and the somewhat shrinking of the organization.
But, who knows, others may have been sick and tired of defending the legitimacy of a lineage that was based on a shaky and controversial ground all these years and they are now glad that they have finally gotten rid of a lying and fact-twisting grandmaster.
Whatever the case, our view is that, in these days and age, lineage does not matter one bit (honestly, it baffles us as to why Morio Higaonna and the IOGKF even need to cling to this controversial lineage claim for the last four decades because, love him or loathe him, Morio Higaonna is a great karate master in his own right).
At the grassroots level, members don’t really care about lineage, they just want to learn genuine traditional karate that is practical and effective in actual self-defense.
What matters to them is the quality of the instructions that they receive from their dojos, not who their sensei’s sensei had trained under.
I think it’s high time that the IOGKF should distance itself from this controversial karate lineage claim, stand on its own feet, and focus on ways to help its members improve their martial art training and experience.
High-quality instructions; consistent grading standards; access to seminars, training camps and competitions; exposure to different styles; and cross-training are what can help make members become better fighters and better martial artists.
It’s always the martial artist that matters, not the martial art itself and it’s always the direct sensei who counts, not who the sensei’s teacher is.
If IOGKF members have trained for five years or more, been graded to shodan, and still can’t defend themselves in ordinary street encounters or get beaten by a newbie boxer, then the IOGKF may have a real problem and it’s not because they have lost a direct lineage.
There is a question that now Sensei Tetsuji Nakamura doesn’t have a teacher, his martial art skills will stall and, since he is the chief instructor of the IOGKF, the technical ability of the organization as a whole can not progress.
This won’t be the case, in our opinion. One certainly still can progress even without a teacher through one’s personal training and own research.
Just look at Rick Hotton Sensei‘s case. He’s a great karateka and martial artist and some have even called this 5th-dan instructor a karate master.
Rich Hotton has no famous Okinawan or Japanese karate master that he can call a teacher. He never went to JKA instructor classes nor spent a great deal of time training in Japan or Okinawa like many other instructors do. Much of his growth as a martial artist has been through personal inquiry and an internal soulful journey.
Tetsuji Nakamura certainly can follow this example. Physical growth has a limit and will begin to decline after a certain age but internal and mental growth knows no limit.
In addition, besides Tetsuji Nakamura, the IOGKF has many talented instructors and we do hope the IOGKF will take this opportunity to grow and become a better and stronger organization.
We also hope the TOGKF will be placed in good hands and become an organization that is worthy of Sensei Morio Higaonna’s legacy.
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