In the 19th century Shuri-te and Tomari-te merged into Shorin ryu, which was the start of the Goju ryu Karate History.
Grandmaster Kanryo Higaonna was born on March 10, 1853, in Naha, the capital city of Okinawa. His father, Kanryo, worked as a merchant sailing between the small islands of Okinawa trading everyday goods. From a young age Kanryo Higaonna helped his father in his work and through the physical labor that was involved he developed a strong body.
Kanryo Higaonna was still in his teens when his father suddenly died. Kanryo decided he wanted to study the martial arts and he set his heart on traveling to Fuzhou, China for this purpose. He travelled to Fuzhou, China in the year 1869. Once in Fuzhou he studied the Chinese martial arts under the great Master Ryu Ryu Ko. He soon became “Uchi Deshi” (private disciple) and he remained in China under the severe instruction of his teacher for approximately 13 years. In addition to studying empty handed martial arts he became proficient in weapons techniques and Chinese herbal medicine. Master Ryu Ryu Ko held his pupil in high esteem and sanctioned Kanryo’s mastery of these arts – an honor which is accorded rarely. Such was Kanryo’s skill in the martial arts that his fame became widespread throughout Fuzhou and the surrounding area.
Chojun Miyagi (founder of Goju-Ryu and successor to Kanryo Higaonna) said of Kanryo Higaonna, “My Sensei possessed incredible strength; the severity of the training he underwent in China is beyond comprehension…. Kanryo Sensei’s speed and power were truly superhuman; his hands and feet moved faster than lightening.” Words are not enough to express his real ability. We can only say that his skill was incredible but even this fails to do him justice.
In the year 1881, after 13 years of diligent study with his teacher he returned to Okinawa and Naha where his martial arts became known as Naha-te (these arts were also referred to as “Tode” meaning martial arts from China). Kanryo Higaonna taught these martial arts to the people of Okinawa and at the same time continued his own research and practice. In order to teach the youth of Okinawa he developed a teaching method which was specifically designed to develop the mind and body; to improve both physical and spiritual well-being.
Previously secretive art of Naha-te was “opened” to society in general, in October 1905, when Kanryo Higaonna began teaching at the high school.
Kanryo Higaonna was an extremely hard task master while teaching. However in his everyday life he was a quiet and humble man and was known for his virtuous character. He was a man who had no need or desire for worldly things. He led a simple life which was completely devoted to the study and practice of the martial arts.
There are many stories which relate tales of Kanryo Higaonna’s life and training. The power of his legs was legendary, so much so that he was often referred to as “Ashi no Higaonna” (“Legs Higaonna”) in Okinawa. His virtuous character was widely known and respected, and because of his popularity the people of Naha bestowed him with the name, “Obushi Higaonna Tanrnei”, a name which reflected the affection and respect they had for this great man and supreme martial artist.
Kanryo Higaonna’s unparalleled skill in the martial arts aside, his great and distinguished work was in bringing the Chinese martial art forms from China to Okinawa, and spreading these arts among the people of Okinawa.
Kanryo Higaonna is now bestowed with the title, “Kensei (sacred fists) Higaonna Kanryo”, a title which is eminently fitting. His name is synonymous with Okinawan martial arts and Naha-te, and his spirit is destined to live on forever as a great and valued treasure within Okinawan culture.
Kanryo Higaonna’s whole life was devoted to karate. He passed away in December 1915 at the age of 63.
Grandmaster Chojun Miyagi was born on April 25, 1888 in an aristocratic family. His family was in the import/export business, and owned two ships which made regular trips to mainland China, placing them among the wealthiest families in the area.
He began training in karate under Kanryo Higaonna at the age of 14, in 1902. Like his teacher before him, because of his great natural talent and fierce determination, he progressed very rapidly. The training was severe beyond belief at times but he practiced ever harder with an enthusiasm unmatched by any of the other students. Chojun Miyagi became “uchi deshi” (private disciple) of Kanryo Higaonna. He studied with his teacher for 14 years before his teacher’s death in 1915.
Chojun Miyagi, as successor to Naha-te pushed himself to the limits of endurance in his desire to emulate the extraordinary skill of his teacher. To this end, that same year (1915) he journeyed to Fuzhou, China, the city where his teacher had studied the martial arts, to further his research. This was one of three trips he made to China during his lifetime.
On his return to Okinawa he began to teach the martial arts at his home in Naha. Later, he also taught at the Okinawan Prefecture Police Training Center, at the Okinawan Master’s Training College, and at the Naha Commercial High School (where his teacher had once taught).
Chojun Miyagi worked hard to spread karate throughout Okinawa and mainland Japan, and to earn Naha-te a status equal to that of the highly respected Japanese martial arts of Judo and Kendo. To achieve this he traveled frequently to mainland Japan where he was invited to teach karate at Kyoto University and Ritsumei Kan University. In 1933 karate was registered at the Butokukai, the center for all martial arts in Japan. This was a milestone for karate as it meant that it was recognized on a level with the highly respected martial arts of Japan.
Chojun Miyagi dedicated his whole life to karate. He was responsible for structuring Naha-te (which he later named “Goju-Ryu”) into a systematized discipline which could be taught to society in general. This teaching system that he formulated enabled karate to be taught in schools for the benefit of the young, and to reach vast numbers of people throughout the world. However, his private teaching at his home remained strictly in adherence to the principles of his teacher, Kanryo Higaonna, and his teacher before him, Ryu Ryu Ko.
Chojun Miyagi died on October 8th, 1953, of either a heart attack (the most popular explanation) or a cerebral hemorrhage at the age of 65.
Even the naming within Goju Ryu Karate History is complicated, it came about more by accident than design. In 1930, one of Chojun Miyagi’s top students, Jin’an Shinzato was attending a Martial Arts convention in Tokyo. He was asked by numerous martial arts masters as to what school of martial arts he practiced. As Naha-te had no formal name he could not answer this question. Feeling his art would be looked down upon and given amateur status, he quickly picked Hankry-ryu, which means the Way of Half Hard. On his return to Okinawa he reported this incident to Chojun Miyagi. He liked Shinzato’s idea and took it one step further. After much consideration, Chojun Miyagi decided on the name ‘Goju-Ryu’ (hard and soft school) as a name for his style. He took this name from a line in the Bubishi (a classical Chinese text on martial arts and other subjects). This line, which appears in a poem describing the eight precepts of the martial arts, reads “Ho Goju Donto” (the way of inhaling and exhaling is hardness and softness).
Jin’an Shinzato was exceptionally talented. Chojun Miyagi had chosen him as his successor to the Goju school in Okinawa. Shinzato was tragically killed during the Second World War. Later, after the war, Chojun Miyagi chose Meitoku Yagi Sensei to succeed him in Okinawa and Gogen Yamaguchi to succeed him in Japan under the Goju-Kai school, to pass on Goju-Ryu to the next generation.
Chojun Miyagi passed away on October 8th , 1953, leaving a great legacy behind. He predicted that during the twentieth century karate would spread throughout the world. Today we can see that this prediction has been realized, karate is not only practiced in Japan, but it can be found throughout the world. Karate can no longer be referred to as a solely Okinawan or Japanese martial art, but it has become an art with no boundaries, an art for all nations and all people of the world.
Gogenen Yamaguchi was born on January 20, 1909, in Kagoshima city in southern Kyushu. As a youngster he showed great interest in the Martial Arts. During his early school days he trained kendo (Japanese fencing) and it was during this time that he started his karate training under the tutelage of Mr Maruta, a carpenter from Okinawa. Mr Maruta who was a Goju practitioner was drawn to the young Yamaguchi’s serious attitude and his willingness to train hard. Mr Maruta taught Yamaguchi all he knew about the Goju system.
During his college days as a law student, Yamaguchi established his first karate club at the Ritsumeikan University in Kyoto. Soon the dojo became famous in the city, known for it’s hard training and fierce breathing exercise. In those days karate men practiced only kata (formal movements) and yakusoku kumite (prearranged sparring). They were unable to have matches between each other since they did not hold back their techniques. It was during this period that Yamaguchi established the rules for jiyu kumite (free fighting) and to decide the winner of a match. Some of the rules are still in use today in sport or competition karate.
In 1931, at the age of 22, Gogen Yamaguchi was introduced to the founder of the Goju style, – Master Chojun Miyagi. This meeting proved to have a profound effect upon Yamaguchi’s outlook on karate. Previously he had only considered the hard aspect of Goju but after his meeting with Master Miyagi he was determined to train himself spiritually as well as physically. Master Miyagi thought highly of Yamaguchi who seemed to have mastered the hard aspect of Goju so well and gave him the nickname Gogen, meaning `Rough’. He then appointed Gogen Yamaguchi as his successor of the Goju school in Japan.
In the years to follow Gogen Yamaguchi often spent time at Mount Kurama where he subjected himself to ascetic exercises and hard training with sanchin, meditation and fasting. Between 1938-1945 he was sent to Manchuria on government and military assignments. On several occasions during his stay there, he could thank his skills in karate and his mental training that he stayed alive. During the Japanese-Russian war -45 Yamaguchi was taken prisoner of war and sent to a prison camp in Mongolia. He was kept there under harsh conditions for two years. Once again his strength and skill were severely put to the test. During all these years he still continued to train and develop Goju karate.
After his release and return to Japan, Yamaguchi became one of the most exciting figures in karate history. Known throughout the world as the `cat’ because of his grace and speed in movement and because of his favorite fighting stance which is called neko ashi dachi (cat stance).
Master Yamaguchi’s contributions to Goju-karate and to karate in general have been enormous. Under his leadership the International Karate-do Goju-kai Association (I.K.G.A) emerged. The organization has increased in popularity both in Japan and other Asian and western countries around the world. Today Goju-kai karate is being practiced in about 35 countries. Master Yamaguchi succeeded in uniting all the karate schools in Japan into a single union, which resulted in the formation of The Federation of All Japan Karate-do Organization (F.A.J.K.O.) in 1964. He added to the Goju system the Taikyoku Kata forms – training methods for the beginner students to prepare them for the more advanced kata’s.
In combining his religious practices with karate training, he incorporated both Yoga and Shinto into Goju-kai karate and founded in his last years Goju-Shinto. He stated that both body and mind are interrelated and through proper breathing and concentration we will be able to understand the essence of the Martial Arts. This is the reason why the Goju school uses the unique breathing exercise called ibuki. Concentrating all the muscular strength at one point, bringing mind and body into a coherent whole.
The Kokusai Budo Renmei – The International Martial Arts Federation in Japan, whose chairman was Prince Higashikuni of the Japanese Imperial Family had appointed Master Yamaguchi as Shihan (master) of the organizations karate division. Never before has a single man had such profound effect on the development and propagation of karate-do. Master Gogen Yamaguchi, 10th dan, a man of intense dedication and determination can truly be called a karate legend. A master of Yoga and a Shinto priest, a man that truly has united both aspects of go and ju into a concerted union.