Kanryo Higaonna was born in Naha, Okinawa on March 10, 1853. Despite being born as a descendant of a prominent family line, his family was impoverished. They earned their meager living transporting firewood from the Kerama Islands in a small junk.
He was small for his age, but very quick and nimble, and showed a keen interest in the fighting arts at an early age. At the age of 14, he began his formal training in Chinese Kempo from a local, who had studied the Fukien style. He longed to travel to China and study there, and eventually achieved that aim in 1866, when he convinced the owner of a ship bound for China to grant him passage.
After a year in residence at the Okinawan settlement in Foochow, he was introduced to Ryu Ryuko. He was not allowed to train right away, and had to follow the age-old custom of personal service to his master by attending the garden, cleaning and doing odd chores. After he had satisfied his master’s expectations, he was accepted as a disciple.
He assisted him at his trade as a bamboo craftsman by day and trained in the evenings. Training, as was the norm at that time, was very severe. He trained in Sanchin kata and developed his musculature through weight training with the traditional implements we see today in Okinawan styles. The training took it’s toll, but he was to gain a reputation among the locals as one of Ryu Ryuko’s most skilled students.
After 13 years of training, he left Foochow and returned to Okinawa, and began private lessons to the sons of the man who had granted him passage to China. He went back to his old job as a merchant, but his reputation was growing. Sailors and travelers from China brought back stories of his prowess that they had heard there, and before long, many would seek to become his disciples. Training was severe, as he had learned, and only a few who began would continue for long.
In 1905 he began teaching at a public high school, and was considered along with Anko Itosu to be the foremost karateka in Okinawa. He is responsible for developing the Naha-te style, and many of his students went on to form their own systems based on his teachings.
He died on December 23, 1915 at the age of 63. His legacy lives on through his followers, most notably Chojun Miyagi, the founder of Goju Ryu; Juhatsu Kyoda, the founder of Toon Ryu; and Kenwa Mabuni, the founder of Shito Ryu.
Chojun Miyagi was born in Naha City, Okinawa on April 25th, 1888 to an aristocratic family. They were in the import/export business, and owned 2 ships which made regular trips to mainland China, placing them among the wealthiest families in the area.
He began his formal training at age 11, in the dojo of Ryuko Aragaki. At the age of 14, he was first introduced to Kanryo Higaonna, and after a period of doing chores for Sensei Higaonna to earn his place, was accepted as a student.
Training was very severe, with a lot of running and strength exercises. It is said that he sometimes passed out performing Sanchin kata, so demanding was Sensei Higaonna on his student’s performance. He trained for 13 years in this manner until the death of Kanryo Higaonna, developing into a powerful karateka.
Sensei Miyagi then traveled to China, no doubt an opportunity afforded him by the nature of the family business, not to mention the luxury that wealth gave him in being able to pursue his art full-time. His quest was to locate Master Ryu Ryuko, whom Higaonna had studied with. He was unable to locate him, though, but did pick up some of the local arts of the Fukien area of China, notable the kata Rokkishu, which was instrumental in his creation of Tensho kata.
He continued to train in the methods he learned from Sensei Higaonna at several institutions, always under severe and demanding conditions. He did not confine his training to the dojo, either. Every waking moment (and while asleep, perhaps!) was spent in pursuit of the art, always remaining vigilante to his surroundings, always planning and ready for whatever might occur.
In 1921, he was chosen to represent Naha-te in a presentation to the visiting crown prince Hirohito (who would eventually become Emperor), and gave an impressive performance. He repeated this in 1925 for prince Chichibu. He began to visualize the future of the Okinawan fighting arts, and in 1926, at the age of 38, set up the Karate Research Club, along with Chomo Hanashiro (Shuri-te), Kenwa Mabuni (Shito Ryu) and Motobu Choyo, spending the next 3 years training in basics, kata, fitness and philosophy. In 1929, he was invited to Japan by Gogen Yamaguchi, who would promote the Goju style there.
Jigoro Kano (founder of Judo) began visiting Okinawa in 1927, and was so impressed with Sensei Miyagi, he invited him to Japan in 1930 and 1932 to demonstrate at several tournaments. It was at one of these tournaments that one of his senior students, Jin’an Shinzato was asked which school of karate he belonged to. Unable to answer (styles were only known by their geographical reference at that time), he approached Sensei Miyagi, who agreed that a name should be chosen for their unique style.
There is a Chinese text called the Bubishi, a very popular historical reference among karateka of the day, and in it are the Eight Poems of the Fist. The 3rd precept reads “The way of inhaling and exhaling is hardness and softness.” Go means hard and Ju means soft. Since his style was a combination of these ideals, he began referring to his art as Goju Ryu, and in 1933 it was officially registered as such at the Butoku-Kai, the Japanese Martial Arts Association. In the same year, he presented his article “An Outline of Karate-Do”.
The following year, Sensei Miyagi was appointed as head of the Okinawan branch of the Butoku-Kai Association, and traveled to Hawaii later the same year to introduce karate there. Upon his return to Naha, he was awarded a commendation from the Ministry of Education for outstanding service in the field of physical culture.
In 1936, he returned to China for more study, this time in Shanghai. After his return in 1937, he was awarded the Japanese equivalent to the commendation he had received at home. In 1940, he created the beginner’s kata Gekisai Dai Ichi and Gekisai Dai Ni.
The Allied occupation of Okinawa was a very turbulent time in their history and the art of karate. Many lives were lost, including one of Sensei Miyagi’s sons, two of his daughters, and his senior student, Jin’an Shinzato. He was forced to forgo much of his training while his homeland was restructured after the war. In 1946, he was appointed director of the Okinawan Civil Association of Physical Education, and resumed his training, teaching the Police Academy and opening a backyard dojo, known as the Garden Dojo. It is here where An’ichi Miyagi, Seiko Higa, Meitoku Yagi, Ei’ichi Miyazato, and Seikichi Toguchi trained along with many other notable karateka.
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. His legacy lives on through his senior students and the untold karateka whose lives he continues to influence.
Morio Higaonna was born in Naha, Okinawa in 1938. His family evacuated to southern Japan before the American invasion of the island in 1945, and returned shortly after the war. He began his training at the age of 14 with his father, a policeman, in Shorin-Ryu. He then trained with Ei’ichi Miyazato at the Jundokan, and later with An’ichi Miyagi, both students of Chojun Miyagi.
He moved to Tokyo in 1960 and studied commerce at Takushoku University, and soon began teaching karate at the Yoyogi dojo. He taught there for 15 years, then returned to his native Okinawa.
In 1979, he formed the International Okinawan Goju-Ryu Karate Federation (IOGKF), now represented in over 30 countries.
He is the author of a series of 4 books entitled “Traditional Karatedo – Okinawa Goju Ryu”, considered the consummate text of the style, and has also appeared in many videos detailing the kata and training techniques. He is widely regarded to be among the leading practitioners of Goju Ryu in the world today.
1. The mind is one with Heaven and Earth
2. The circulatory rhythm of the body is similar to the cycle of
the sun and the moon.
3. The way of inhaling and exhaling is hardness and softness.
4. Act in accordance with time and change.
5. Techniques will occur in the absence of conscious thought.
6. The feet must advance and retreat, separate and meet.
7. The eyes do not miss even the slightest change.
8. The ears listen well in all directions.
I believe these Eight Precepts are the essence of the martial arts. They are the elements which we are trying to achieve in our training in Goju Ryu Karate-do. One should always be in harmony with training and try to be a person who serves society. I hope such training will finally lead us to rediscover our natural instincts and capabilities.
–Master Morio Higaonna