History of Goju-Ryu

Kanryu HigaonnaKanryo Higaonna, a prominent master of Okinawan Karate, was born in Naha, the capital city of Okinawa, on March 10, 1853. Naha was a large trading center, and from a young age, Higaonna performed hard physical labor working in his family’s business as a merchant, sailing between the small islands of Okinawa to trade goods. Studying Okinawan-te from early childhood, he developed a strong desire to travel to China and further his martial arts training by learning Kenpo.

Although his family was by no means wealthy, Higaonna sailed to Foochow, which is in the Fukien Province. This was after his father’s death, when Higaonna was twenty-two. When he arrived in southern China, he began his studies in Southern Shaolin White Crane. He pursued these studies for approximately sixteen years. He studied under the tutelage of a great master, Ryu Ryu Ko. In addition to studying empty-handed martial arts, he became skilled in martial arts techniques using weapons. Having worked in the trading industry, he also became interested in herbal medicine. With a strong body and having developed mastery of the martial arts in China, Higaonna’s fame became widespread throughout Foochow and the surrounding area.

In the late 1880’s, Higaonna returned to Naha, Okinawa, and continued working in his family’s business as a merchant. He also began teaching martial arts in the Naha area, combining the Kenpo he learned in China with Okinawa-te. The Okinawa-te that he combined was an old strain of Shuri-te as taught by Sokon Matsumura. As Higaonna became more popular, Naha-te became identified as his particular form of martial arts. Naha-te was also known as "Tode,” which means “martial arts from China.” By combining the two martial arts systems of China and Okinawa, both powerful and yielding techniques became an integral part of Higaonna new style.

Higaonna brought back from China the "kata" which now make up the major part of Goju-Ryu. His kata curriculum included Sanchin, Saifa, Seienchin, Sanseiru, Shisochin, Seipai, Seisan, Kururunfa and Suparenpei. Upon continued study and teaching on Okinawa, Hiagonna decided to make an important change in the kata Sanchin. The original way he learned Sanchin in China was to practice it with open hands. He modified the kata by teaching Okinawan students to train with closed hands, emphasizing the development of one’s physical strength, rather than promoting the techniques that are considered more lethal. He also revised the kata to include slower breathing with the purpose of promoting the health benefits of training with the Sanchin kata. However, it is widely believed that he continued to teach Sanchin to a few of his students at his dojo in the original way that he learned it in China.

In 1905, Higaonna was invited to teach his Naha-te form of martial arts in the Naha Commercial High School. He began teaching students the spiritual and moral aspects of the martial arts. This was a very important step in the propagation of Naha-te. The style received recognition not only as a highly developed form of martial arts, but also for the multiple benefits of training.

A number of his students became highly respected masters in the martial arts, including Juhatsu Kiyoda and Shinpan Shiroma. His most famous student was Chojun Miyagai, the founder of Goju-Ryu.

Kanryo Higaonna’s reputation grew throughout the island of Okinawa and he continues to be honored for his role in bringing Chinese martial arts to Okinawa. Naha-te has become a valuable treasure to history of the martial arts on Okinawa.

Grand Master Chojun Miyagi was born on April 25, 1888 in the city of Naha, Okinawa. He was adopted into a family of nobility. As a son of a wealthy businessman, Miyagi was able to devote his entire life to the study and practice of martial arts. He began training in the martial arts as a young child, studying the native form of Okinawa-te from his sensei, Ryuko Aragaki. After seeing the dedication of Chojun Miyagi, Aragaki decided to introduce him to Kanryo Higaonna. In 1902, at the age of fourteen, Miyagi became a disciple of Kanryo Higaonna. By the age of twenty, Chojun Miyagi became Higaonna’s top student. Shortly thereafter, at the age of twenty-two, he traveled to the main island of Kyushu for his military service. After completing two years of service, he returned to Okinawa and continued his training in Naha-te with Higaonna, until the death of his sensei in 1915.

Chojun Miyagi decided to follow in the steps of Higaonna and travel to Foochow, China, where he continued learning the martial arts. In his first trip in 1915, he went to the city of Foochow and trained for two months with a student of Ryu Ryu Ko Sensei. He made several trips to China, learning the “hard fists” of Shaolin Kenpo and the “soft palms” of Pakua. As a result of his years of training in China, the Goju-Ryu system as developed by Miyagi is considered to have a double Chinese heritage. After spending years in China, Miyagi returned to Okinawa and began teaching and building an extraordinary reputation in the martial arts.

Miyagi expanded the teachings of Higaonna, combining the techniques of Pakua, an internal soft system comprised of circular movements and open hand techniques, with Naha-te to form his own style of martial arts that he named Goju-Ryu. The meaning of Goju is derived from two contrasting terms – "go" meaning "hard" and "ju" meaning "soft." Goju-Ryu is interpreted as "hard - soft" style or "powerful - gentleness." Goju-Ryu is a system with both circular and linear movements. The style combines fast, circular, open-handed blocking with powerful punching and striking techniques. The kicks are all very practical as they are predominately kept low in order to be most effective. Goju-Ryu emphasizes the use of sweeping, throwing and joint locking techniques, along with training in close range fighting and grappling. Miyagi’s curriculum includes all the kata that were included in Higaonna’s system. He developed the kata Gekisai Ichi and Ni, along with the kata Tensho, and added these kata to his system of martial arts.

Miyagi taught at the Naha Commercial High School, the Okinawa Police Training Center and a number of other locations. He is known for structure and organization in his teaching methods. In the early 1920's, Chojun Miyagi developed a series of calisthenics and warming-up exercises to strengthen the body and loosen up the joints to prepare for training. With the help of a friend and doctor, Yubi Undo, these exercises were based not only on martial arts fundamentals, but also upon medical research.

Chojun Miyagi, Hanashiro Chomo, Mabuni Kenwa and Motobu Choki formed the Karate Kenkuy Kai or Karate Research Club at Naha, in 1925. They established this club for the purpose of preserving and practicing Karate with members of other forms of Te. The club disbanded in 1929.

In 1930, Chojun Miyagi sent his top student Jihan Shinzato, to perform a demonstration of Te at the Meiji Shrine in Toyko. When he returned to Okinawa, Shinzato asked his Sensei about the name of the style that they practiced, because sensei’s present at the demonstration had inquired about it. Shinzato could not answer the other teachers, because until then they only referred to Karate as Te (hand),To (China), or Bu (martial art). Myagi was inspired to find a name for his style. The name Goju-Ryu was extracted from the poem the “Eight Precepts of Chinese Kenpo,” found in the Bubishi. The Bubishi is a collection of writings and references to different subjects including the martial arts. These references and writings were collected from various sources. The third line of the eight laws of the fist translates as, “the way of inhaling and exhaling is both hardness and softness.” The name Goju-Ryu identifies the style as the style of the hardness and softness. Inherent within this style is the development of the mind, body, and spirit. Training begins with Sanchin (hard) and ends with Tensho (Soft). In 1933, the Dai Nippon ButokuKai in Japan officially recognized Goju-Ryu as a modern style of martial arts.

Miyagi devoted his entire life to the propagation of Goju-Ryu Karate in Okinawa, Japan and throughout the world. He traveled to Hawaii in 1934 where he taught and gave demonstrations. He is respected as one of the greatest Karate masters in the world. Miyagi developed a number of prominent and well-known Karate masters, and his teachings still continue long after his death in 1953. Meitoku Yagi, founder of the Meibukan dojo, was chosen to succeed Miyagi in Okinawa and carry on his teachings. Goju-Ryu is one of the world’s most practiced and popular styles of Karate.