Like most masters, off the floor Aragaki Sensei looked like just another person. Unassuming, gentle, and with an infectious smile.
On the dojo floor was a different story. Once there, to those observing it would suddenly become apparent that they were watching a student of Miyagi Chojun Sensei.
Shuichi Aragaki Sensei was born in Taiwan in 1929. His family returned to Okinawa in 1947. As a youth, Aragaki Sensei was not strong – he was small. His grandfather was Ryuko Aragaki Sensei, the first instructor of Chojun Miyagi Sensei and the one who introduced Chojun Sensei to Kanryo Higaonna Sensei. When Aragaki Sensei told his grandfather that he was interested in karate, Ryuko Sensei decided to bring Aragaki Sensei to Chojun Sensei to learn from him.
Following World War II, life was hard in Okinawa. The devastation wrought on the island by the fighting between the Americans and the Japanese left very little on which people could live. When Ryuko Sensei brought Aragaki Sensei to Chojun Sensei, Chojun Sensei was not taking any students. As he lost his top student, Jin’an Shinzato, during the war, he was focusing on teaching his only Uchideshi (private disciple) at the time, Sensei An’ichi Miyagi. But out of respect for his former teacher, Chojun Sensei accepted Aragaki Sensei as a student. Aragaki Sensei began training in 1951 at the age of 22.
When his training started, Aragaki Sensei was working as a substitute elementary school teacher. He would work during the day and go to Chojun Sensei’s house every single evening to train. At first, Aragaki Sensei was not allowed to enter but was assigned to chores. Every day, he would arrive at 5 o’clock to cut firewood, draw water, and clean up the garden before starting to train at 6 o’clock. During this time, Chojun Sensei would observe Aragaki Sensei, looking at his work ethic and character.
Much of Aragaki Sensei’s first instruction came from An’ichi Sensei. He and An’Ichi Sensei were the only students of Chojun Sensei, and they became like brothers. Eventually, Chojun Sensei began to train Aragaki Sensei as well. In an interview with Dragon Times, Aragaki Sensei recalls the training:
“Miyagi sensei was very scary, terrifying in fact. I couldn’t go near him, he had such an aura. When he practised karate his eyes glowed and emanated power. He was a bushi. His gaze was intimidating. While he was talking to me he would fix me with his eyes and I would be afraid. It was like a snake looking at a mouse, I could not move when he looked at me.”
As strict as the training was, Aragaki Sensei would also tell of Chojun Sensei’s generosity and kindness. He would often invite Aragaki Sensei and An’ichi Sensei for dinner after training, telling them stories and treating them like his own children.
Aragaki Sensei trained with Chojun Sensei right up until Chojun Sensei passed away. He never stopped practicing in the traditional way. On his longevity and karate training, Aragaki Sensei had this to say:
“After I started going to Miyagi sensei’s dojo [my life] did change. I dedicated myself to karate. Although I worked during the day and only practised at night, even while working I thought only of karate and was greatly influenced by it. Karate made me patient, and gave me robust health. …Since I joined Chojun sensei’s dojo a day has never passed in my life without me thinking deeply about karate. My senior said that karate training finishes when you die. You are finished when they put you in a coffin.”
– Credit to Dragon Times
We tend to focus on the direct lineage of our style and organization, but we cannot forget the enormous contributions made by Aragaki Sensei to both the IOGKF and Goju-Ryu over the course of his life. By the time of his death, Aragaki Sensei had lived a fuller life than most dare to hope for.
As one of the last surviving students of Chojun Sensei, his knowledge and advice on Goju-Ryu was of the utmost importance to the teaching of both the art and its history.
Aragaki Sensei also ensured the continuation of the IOGKF’s lineage, following in his grandfather’s footsteps. He was the first Goju-Ryu instructor of Nakamura Sensei.
Nakamura Sensei has often said that if it was not for Aragaki Sensei, his life may have turned out very differently. Nakamura Sensei decided to move to Okinawa to train with Aragaki Sensei after he met him in Japan. Though Aragaki Sensei did not formally have a dojo at that time, he agreed to teach Nakamura Sensei privately.
Aragaki Sensei initially supported Nakamura Sensei along with teaching him, often inviting him to his home for dinner and conversation. His support allowed Nakamura Sensei to focus on training full time. Eventually, Aragaki Sensei introduced Nakamura Sensei to Higaonna Sensei and encouraged him to move to California to be an instructor at Higaonna Sensei’s dojo. The rest is history.
Nakamura Sensei himself has said that much of his movement and the way he thinks developed because of his training and interactions with Aragaki Sensei. It was ultimately because of Aragaki Sensei that Nakamura Sensei found his way to where he is today. And because of this, Aragaki Sensei ensured that traditional Goju-Ryu will continue to be transmitted and taught around the world.
Aragaki Sensei passed away peacefully on August 28th, 2021 at 1:14 AM. He lived to see both hardship and good times: children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren; a world war; travel, hard work, and new friends; and the spread of an art further than anyone thought possible.
We as karate-ka and IOGKF members owe Aragaki Sensei a debt of gratitude. His dedication, patience, and love allowed for the preservation of an art that may have otherwise been lost.
Domou arigatoi gozaimashita, Aragaki Sensei. May you rest peacefully.