Shigeru Takamiyagi was one of the most senior Masters of Uechi-Ryu Karate in Okinawa...after spending most of his life practicing, teaching, and furthering the art. The “Shihan” or Senior Master was a direct student of Kanei Uechi, 2nd Grandmaster of the style, and was instrumental in the formation of the Okinawa Karate-Do Association after his death. In 2009, Master Takamiyagi was promoted to the Grandmaster level of 10th degree black-belt or “Dan.” He had several books published on Uechi-Ryu/ Shohei-Ryu, and assisted in the production of the DVD “Uechi-Ryu and Shohei-Ryu for the 21st Century.” “Tak” was also a professor at both the Okinawa International University and the Meio University where he taught English. He was a very influential person in Okinawa and frequently provided lectures there. He also travelled around the world to teach karate seminars and camps...including here in the US many times.
Sensei Connie and Mark first trained with Master Takamiyagi at a variety of Uechi training camps in the 80’s, 90’s, and into the early 2000’s. In 2003, The Flynns visited Okinawa for the first time after becoming the head instructors of the Okinawan Karate School (predecessor to ZenQuest.) Senseis Connie and Mark trained primarily at the Chatan Dojo with Masters Takamiyagi and Higa. The Flynns were treated to amazing instruction, recreational activities, and FOOD via the Masters’ incredible hospitality.
Under the circumstances, the Masters asked the Flynns to become their direct students. Senseis Connie and Mark were happy to accept, and keep the previous owners of the Pittsfield Dojo in the role of “Technical Advisors” as originally intended during the transfer of ownership of the Pittsfield Dojo.
The Flynns spent as much time as possible studying with Masters Takamiyagi and Higa over the next eight years. They hosted the popular “Tokkun” camp with them in 2005, and returned to Okinawa again in 2007. In 2010, Senseis Takamiyagi and Higa visited the Berkshires for a mini-camp and some private instruction. During the time when the Flynns were not training with their teachers, they stayed in close contact with them via phone calls and letters.
In the fall of 2011 Master Takamiyagi suffered a debilitating stroke. He underwent intensive rehabilitation to compensate for paralysis on one side of his body, and significant speech loss. Sensei Mark returned to Okinawa in February of 2012 for training and testing, but Master Takamiyagi was not able to teach or be the amazing host he had in the past. Sensei Mark did spend some quality time with him at his home during that visit. Unfortunately, the Master’s condition continued to worsen, and he passed away in October of 2014.
A sad irony with running a full-time dojo, caring for a family, and the distance, it was difficult for Senseis Connie and Mark to train and spend time with Master Takamiyagi before he became ill. Of course, the assumption was that a strong character like him would be around for a very long time, and that there was plenty of opportunities ahead for that. Little did anyone know that those opportunities would be gone in the blink-of-an-eye.
Since his passing Senseis Connie and Mark have rededicated themselves to the teaching methods and standards that they learned from Master “Tak.” They are also doing their best to model his intensity in training, and his jovial and friendly spirit off of the Dojo floor. They are still in close communication and receive instruction from Master Toshio Higa, and the other Senior members of the Okinawa Karatedo Kyokai.
When the Masters visited the Berkshires in 2010, they got to see the space that would eventually become ZenQuest Martial Arts. At that time the space had just been reserved, and work was just about to begin. Senseis Takamiyagi and Higa were pleased with the plans to expand the existing “Dojo” and the idea of introducing more diversity into the programs offered there. Sensei Takamiyagi understood the importance of building on the past to make a strong future.
So, what can we take from the legacy of Shigeru Takamiyagi and his untimely passing? We should dedicate ourselves to doing the absolute best we can in our chosen martial art. We should live our lives to the fullest and enjoy ourselves whenever possible. We should treat people well and show great hospitality to friends and guests. We should appreciate and take advantage of opportunities to learn from and spend quality time with friends and loved ones while we can. We should celebrate the ones who are no longer with us and, as Sensei used to say, “Please continue” with enriching our lives through the martial arts!