Teruo Chinen

In a violent culture, people think ‘action first, decision later’. Karate students learn to make quick decisions, good decisions. They learn to avoid bad situations.

Teruo Chinen

A pioneer of Okinawan Goju–Ryu Karate in the United States, Teruo Chinen was known for his ability to teach Goju-Ryu kata and bunkai. A traditional Karate master, his movements were very fluid.

Teruo Chinen was born on 8 June 1941 in Kobe, Japan, several months before Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor.

Chinen was the third of four boys, also having two sisters. His mother was Japanese and his father Seisho was an Okinawan originally from Shuri. Coming from a family of martial artists, he served in the Japanese Imperial Navy. His family were Shorin Ryu Karate practitioners. He also practised Kobudo, being proficient in the bo, sai, and nunchaku.

In 1944 Seisho Chinen died in World War II. The captain of the ship he was on decided to sink the vessel rather than surrender to Allied forces. Only two sailors survived the sinking.

Following his father’s death, the young Chinen’s mother moved him and his siblings to Naha city, Okinawa, in 1945. The family lived in a house provided by an uncle, who worked as a policeman. His mother found work at a United States Air Force Base.

The Chinen family lived close to Goju-Ryu Karate founder Chojun Miyagi. At this time Miyagi had been teaching Karate at the Naha Police Academy, while also teaching students in his garden.

Chinen’s uncle introduced him to Miyagi, and even though he came from a Shorin Ryu background, he was allowed to train at Miyagi’s garden dojo.

Chinen mainly trained under Eiichi Miyazato, who was a senior student of Miyagi and also served as a policeman. All students trained under the watchful eye of Miyagi, who was beginning to show signs of ill health.

On 8 October 1953 Chojun Miyagi died from a heart attack. Miyazato inherited Miyagi’s training equipment. He continued teaching at Miyagi’s garden for a short while. Chinen continued his training with Miyazato.

By 1956 Miyazato had established the Jundokan dojo in Naha city. Chinen continued training hard under Miyazato and in 1958 was awarded his 1st Dan.

In 1959 Chinen decided to go to the Japanese Mainland to pursue his education. He travelled to Osaka, where he stayed with an aunt for around six months, before travelling to Tokyo.

In Tokyo, Chinen met his friend and senior, Morio Higaonna, who had moved to the Japanese mainland in 1960. Higaonna had established the Yoyogi dojo in Tokyo, to teach Goju-Ryu Karate. Chinen joined him at the dojo, where he helped teach foreign students, from 1959 to 1969.

During this period kumite practice was not a part of many Okinawan Goju-Ryu systems. In Japan, Higaonna incorporated it into his teaching. Chinen started practising more kumite.

This was an important time in Chinen’s Karate development. During this time he and Higaonna spent most of their time training hard and improving their Goju-Ryu.

1969 saw Miyazato promote Chinen to 4th Dan.

Chinen travelled to the United States in April 1969, initially for a three-month stay. He had originally intended to travel to São Paulo, Brazil. However, because of political unrest in the country, he changed his destination.

Initially, Chinen’s English vocabulary was very limited. His first English phrase was “watch me“. However, in time he became very proficient in speaking English.

Chinen had not found the standard of Goju-Ryu being practised in the United States to his liking. He extended his stay in the United States to 6 months. The extra time was spent improving the Karate instructors’ standards and basics.

Apart from teaching in the United States, Chinen was helping to lay down the foundations for the future IOGKF (International Okinawan Goju–Ryu Karate Federation). He split his time between the United States, Europe, and South Africa full time. The split in his time meant he could not fully focus on improving Goju–Ryu in the United States.

With the political situation in Brazil not improving, Chinen decided to stay in the United States, as he wanted to continue the work he had started and improve the standard of Okinawan Goju–Ryu in the country.

Chinen settled in Spokane, where he became the technical advisor to the Spokane School of Karate-do. He eventually established his own dojo in the basement of Spokane’s southside Buddhist Temple and also taught Goju-Ryu at Gonzaga University and several local colleges.

Chanel continued to train with Miyazato any chance he got. In 1972 he returned to Okinawa to train with him.

Looking to promote Okinawan Goju-Ryu Chinen travelled to Europe in 1973. The following year he was sent to South Africa to teach. That year Miyazato promoted him to 6th Dan.

In 1976 the 3rd WUKO World Karate Championships were held in Long Beach, California. This was the first World Championships following the Japanese walkout at the 1972 Championships. During the current Championships, Higaonna and Chinen gave a demonstration of Okinawan Goju-Ryu Karate.

July 1979 saw Higaonna officially establish the IOGKF, which would eventually become one of the largest Goju-Ryu associations in the world. Chinen was appointed the technical advisor for the IOGKF. That IOGKF was associated with Miyazato’s Jundokan.

In 1987 Chinen founded Jundokan International, in honour of his teacher Miyazato. It was separate from the Jundokan in Okinawa. Chinen was no longer associated with the IOGKF at this time. Higaonna and the IOGKF had left Miyazato’s Jundokan.

Miyazato promoted Chinen to 7th Dan in 1988.

By the 1990s Chinen had improved the standard of Okinawan Goju-Ryu Karate in the United States.

Between 11-13 September 1992, the Traditional Karate Tournament International & Masters Demonstration was held at the Pittsburgh Hilton. Chinen conducted a seminar alongside Shotokan master, Takayuki Mikami, and Shito-Ryu master, Fumio Demura.

In 1995 Chinen fell ill from undiagnosed diabetes. Although ill, he still travelled around Europe and North America and continued leading Jundokan International.

On 11 December 1999 Chinen’s teacher, Eiichi Miyazato died, aged 77.

Teruo Chinen in died on 9 September 2015, age 74 in Spokane.

During his time Chinen advocated cross-training in other styles. He was one of the few Okinawan masters to acknowledge the close links between Goju-Ryu and some Chinese Kung Fu styles.

A pioneer of Okinawan Goju-Ryu Karate in the United States, Chinen was also ranked in Judo, Kendo, and Kobudo.

Away from Karate Chinen was a keen gardener who particularly loved the climate of Spokane.

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