Goju-ryu History and Development

Important Figures in the Development of Goju-ryu

Kanryo Higashionna The development of Gōjū ryū goes back to Kanryo Higashionna, (1853–1916), a native of Naha, Okinawa. Master Higashionna began studying Shuri-te as a child. He was first exposed to martial arts in 1867, when he began training in Monk Fist Boxing (Luohan Quan) under a master named Aragaki Tsuji Pechin Seisho, a fluent Chinese speaker and translator for the Ryukyu court. In 1870, Aragaki had to go to Beijing to translate for Okinawan officials. It was then that he recommended Higashionna to another master named Kojo Taitei, who he began training under. With the help of Taitei and a family friend, Higashionna eventually managed to set up safe passage to China, lodging, and martial arts instruction. In 1873 he left for Fuzhou in Fujian Province, China, where he began studying Chinese boxing under various teachers.

Ryu Kyu Ko Kanryo Higashionna, circa early 1900sIn 1877 he began to study under a kung fu master called Ryū Ryū Ko (or Liu Liu Ko, or To Ru Ko; the name is uncertain.) Tokashiki Iken has identified him as Xie Zhongxiang, founder of Whooping Crane Kung Fu. Zhongxiang taught several Okinawan students who went on to become karate legends.

Higashionna returned to Okinawa in 1882 and continued in the family business of selling firewood, while teaching a new school of martial arts, distinguished by its integration of gō-no (hard) and jū-no (soft) kempo into one system. Higashionna's style was known as Naha-te. Gojukai history considers that Chinese Nanpa Shorin-ken was the strain of kung fu that influenced this style.

Higaonna Morio noted that in 1905, Higashionna Kanryo sensei taught martial arts in two different ways, according to the type of student: At home, he taught Naha-te as a martial art whose ultimate goal was to be able to kill the opponent; however, at Naha Commercial High School, he taught karate as a form of physical, intellectual and moral education.

Chijun Miyagi Higashionna's most prominent student was Chojun Miyagi (1888–1953), the son of a wealthy shop owner in Naha, who began training under Higashionna at the age of 14. Miyagi had begun his martial arts training under Ryuko Aragaki at age 11, and it was through Aragaki that he was introduced to Higashionna. Miyagi trained under Higashionna for 15 years, until Higashionna's death in 1916.

In 1915 Miyagi and a friend Gokenki went to Fuchou in search of Higashionna's teacher. They stayed for a year and studied under several masters but the old school was gone (Boxer Rebellion 1900). Shortly after their return, Higashionna died. Many of Higashionna's students continued to train with him and he introduced a kata called Tensho which he had adapted from Rokkishu of Fujian White Crane.

Higashionna's most senior student Juhatsu Kyoda formed a school he called Tōon-ryū (Tōon is another way of pronouncing the Chinese characters of Higashionna's name, so Tōon-ryū means "Higashionna's style"), preserving more of Higashionna's approach to Naha-te.

Gokenki In 1929 delegates from around Japan were meeting in Kyoto for the All Japan Martial Arts Demonstration. Higashionna asked Miyagi to go as his representative; Miyagi was also unable to attend, and so he in turn asked his top student Jin’an Shinsato to go. While Shinsato was there, one of the other demonstrators asked him the name of the martial art he practiced. At this time, Miyagi had not yet named his style. Not wanting to be embarrassed, Shinsato improvised the name hanko-ryu ("half-hard style"). On his return to Okinawa he reported this incident to Chojun Miyagi, who decided on the name Gōjū-ryū ("hard soft style") as a name for his style. Chojun Miyagi took the name from a line of the poem Hakku Kenpo, which roughly means: "The eight laws of the fist," and describes the eight precepts of the martial arts. This poem was part of the Bubishi, a classical Chinese text on martial arts and medicine. The line in the poem reads: Ho wa Gōjū wa Donto su "the way of inhaling and exhaling is hardness and softness," or "everything in the universe inhales soft and exhales hard."

In March 1934, Miyagi wrote Karate-do Gaisetsu ("Outline of Karete-do (Chinese-hand)"), to introduce karate-do and to provide a general explanation of its history, philosophy, and application. This handwritten monograph is one of the few written works composed by Miyagi himself.

Miyagi's house was destroyed during World War II. In 1950, several of his students began working to build a house and dojo for him in Naha, which they completed in 1951. In 1952, they came up with the idea of creating an organization to promote the growth of Goju-Ryu. This organization was called Goju-Ryu Shinkokai ("Association to Promote Goju-Ryu"). The founding members were Seko Higa, Keiyo Matanbashi, Jinsei Kamiya, and Genkai Nakaima.

Dai Nippon Butokukai There are two years that define the way Goju-ryu has been considered by the Japanese establishment: the first, 1933, is the year Gōjū-ryū was officially recognized as a budō in Japan by Dai Nippon Butoku Kai, in other words, it was recognized as a modern martial art, or gendai budō. The second year, 1998, is the year the Dai Nippon Butoku kai recognized Goju-ryu Karatedo as an ancient form of martial art (koryu) and as a bujutsu.[13] This recognition as a koryu bujutsu shows a change in how Japanese society sees the relationships between Japan, Okinawa and China. Until 1998, only martial arts practiced in mainland Japan by samurai had been accepted as koryu bujutsu.


Okinawan Goju-ryu

Okinawan Goju-ryu Karate

The Hard-Soft School: The name Goju is quoted from a line in the Chinese Eight Poems written in the Bubishi, “Ho go ju donto”, the way of inhaling and exhaling is hardness and softness.

Goju-Ryu refers to the dual nature of the style; the “hard” (Go) aspect of Goju is the power and speed of the techniques. The “soft” (Ju) aspect refers to the relaxation of the body and the smooth flow of movement. The philosophy of Goju Karate is having a balance of the two. The Goju-Ryu style believes that the opposites are complementary. If one is attacked fiercely (Go), then one defends with Ju and vice versa.

Words of Wisdom

The reason for the remarkable development and spread of the ancient Japanese Martial Arts may be attributed to the respect in which ones peers and more importantly, ones teacher are held, and maintaining of ones own modesty.Rei (politeness or manners) is at the very soul of Budo. So much so that it is said, Budo begins with Rei and ends with Rei” The true value for those who study Budo is in the spirit of the training. The body and the spirit work in harmony with each other, and, as the saying goes, without training the spirit, training the body and technique is impossible.



Busaganashi meaning “martial art guardian.” Is believed to be the Chinese deity, Zhong Kui, who protected Tang-era Emperor Xuanzong from demons. According to this legend, Zhong Kui appeared to the sick emperor in a dream and subdued the demons causing his sickness. In gratitude, the emperor awarded Zhong Kui the title of "Doctor of Zhongnanshan".

Zhong Kui’s image is often painted on Chinese household gates, as a guardian spirit in police departments and for protection in places of business where high-value goods are involved.

A painting of Zhong Kui was reportedly brought back from China, by Kanryo Higaonna when he returned to Okinawa from his martial art training in the late 1890s. Upon his death in 1916, he left the picture to his successor, Miyagi Chojun, signifying a passing of the lineage from Fuzhou.

During the Battle of Okinawa in 1945, Miyagi sensei’s home and dojo were destroyed, with it the picture of Busaganashi. Later, when his students rebuilt the dojo, one of them went to the Philippines and had an artist carve a statue of Busaganashi for Miyagi. This statue was later passed on to Miyazato sensei after Miyagi’s passing in 1954.


Historical Outline of Karate-Do, Martial Arts Of Ryukyu

"People often misunderstand karate. When they see someone breaking five wooden board or a few pieces of roof tile by his or her fist, they think it is a main part of karate. Of course, it is not a main part of karate but a trivial part of karate. Like other fighting arts, the truth of karate or Tao of karate can be understood and mastered at the ultimate goal which is beyond teachings and impossible to describe by words."

Chojun Miyagi


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