History of Okinawan Goju Ryu & Shorin Ryu Karate Do

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History Of Okinawan Karate


Almost all countries (all nations) have some form of Martial Science (Martial arts). However in the case of karate-Do, Karate is an art mainly of defense rather than offense, it is a combination of two nations China & Okinawa.

The word karate is derived from two characters which mean empty and hand; therefore, karate can be translated as the art of the empty hand; Wereas, the word "DO" means way.  Hence, Karate-Do means the empty hand way. The history of Karate-Do is very unique and myserious.
Legends states that the Indian born (Zen Buddhist monk) Bodhidharma travelled to Hunan province in China around 500 A.D. Inwhich He spent nine years in the Shaolin temple, whereafter he started to teach different breathing techniques and physical exercises to the monks of Shaolin. He also explained to the monks how to develop their mental and spiritual strength, in order to endure the demanding meditation exercises. Bodhiharmas teaching is considered as the birth of chinese kempo. However, it should be known that several chinese martial arts was practice before the arival of Budharma. Even so, Bodhidharma still set the stage of the spreading of chinese kempo and philosphy. 

Eventually kempo is spreaded throughout China, were it is divided in two main styles, the Northern and the Southerns styles. The Northern styles ( The northen leg) was characterized by straight and hard techniques, while the Southern styles (The southern fist) had circular and softer techniques. It is said that these kempo techniques were often inherited within the family as a well-preserved secret.

The secret art of Chinese Kempo (Quan Fa) eventually made its way to Okinawa, by Chinese officials in diplomatic missions, and by the shizoku, young men of wealthy Okinawan families that went to China to improve their studies, culture, and martial arts skills. These young men took part in the education of the noble class. These cultural exchanges continued up until Okinawa was invaded and taken over by Japan in 1609. It is at this time in which Japan breaks up all deplomatic relations with China, and bans the practise of martial arts and the carrying of all weapons (first pronounced by king Sho Shin in 1477).
Chinese Kempo (Quan Fa) eventually blended in (or combined) with the Okinawan native art of "te" (an old Okinawan art practiced long before the arrival of Chinese Kempo). These two arts created Tode-jitsu (sometimes referred to as Chinese hand or Okinawan hand). Karate originated from Tode-jutsu, A combination of Chinese Kempo and Okinawan-Te. Tode-jutsu was developed particularly in the cities of Shuri, old capital of the Ryukyu Kingdom, Naha, the current capital, and Tomari. This art was practiced secretly for many, many years by the Okinawans as a means of defense against the well armed Japanese clans at the time when weapons and martial arts were banned.

Historical Evolution of Goju Ryu & Shorin Ryu Karate

     During the next three centuries the Okinawan Chinese art of Tode-jitsu begin to develop into its own unique character. It is eventually split into three main styles representing the three main Okinawan cities it was practice in: Shuri-te influenced by the hard techniques of kempo and characterized by an offensive attitude. Naha-te influenced by the softer tehcniques of kempo including breath control and 'ki', and is characterized by a more defensive attitude with grappling, throws and locking techniques; and Tomari-te influenced by both the hard and soft techniques of kempo.

History shows that at the end 19th century Shuri-te and Tomari-te were subsumed under the name Shorin ryu, inwhich during the years has developed into several slightly different styles. These style included (but were not limited to) Shobayashi Shorin ryu, Kobayashi Shorin ryu and Matsubayashi Shorin ryu. Many of Shorin Ryu most famous Practitioners were (but were not limited to) CHOTOKU KYAN, TODE SAKUGAWA, MACHU HIGA, SOKON "BUSHI" MATSUMURA-The father of Okinawan Karate, KOSAKU MATSUMORA, NABE MATSUMURA, YABU KENTSU, CHOYU MOTOBU, CHOSIN CHIBANA, TATSUO SHIMABUKU, EIZO SHIMABUKU, ZENRYO SHIMABUKURO, and SHUGORO NAKAZATO.

Shorin Ryu is sometimes referred to as Shoulin or the small pine forest and is well known for its speed, defensive techniques, number of katas and weapon skills. However, Naha-te (which eventually forms Goju Ryu) remains the same.

One of Okinawa's most well known and respected practitioner of Tode, who eventually went to china to learn chinese kempo and became a legend in his own rights, was a young man known as Higaonna Kanryo - the founder of Naha-Te.

History Goju Ryu

Higaonna Kanryo Sensei

Born, March 10, 1853 in Nishi-machi (Nishimura), Naha-shi, Okinawa - the 10th generation of Higaonna family in Haru Lineage. At the time he was born Okinawa was occupied by the Japanese Satsuma Clan? which is relevant to why many Okinawa people trained in Toudi (Tode). Reputed to have earned a living transporting firewood from the Kerama Island. With his father, Kanryo-being the fourth son, worked as a merchant sailing between the small islands of Okinawa trading everyday goods. From a young age (it is believed he started working at 10 which was acceptable during the times) Kanryo Higaonna helped his father in this work and through the hard physical labour that was involved developed his strong body. Although we have no positive evidence, it has been rumoured that his father was killed in 1867 (Higaonna age 14). He stood very small in size however had unparalleled speed and agility. His last name also pronounced as Higashionna, Kanryo Higaonna is known as the founder and highest authority of Naha-Te.  

Kanryo Higaonna was still in his teens when his father died, At the age of 14, that same year he began his formal training in Chinese Kempo with Seisho Arakaki 1840-1920), who had studied the Fukien style. Kanryo decided he wanted to entertain his studies his studies abroad in martial arts and he set his heart on travelling to Fuzhou, China for this purpose. It is said that he visited the port city in 1873 for fifteen years. Some Martial Arts historians explain his motives of visiting the city were to study the Chinese Martial Arts. Higaonna did, in fact, study a Southern Shaolin Chaun style with Sifu (instructor) Liu Liu Gung and remained there for 15, during his stay in that city. Explained by other historians, his initial reason for visiting China was the result of his political involvements. He arrived in Fuzhou in the year 1869, he was 15 or 16. It is believed that Higaonna Sensei also studied the styles of Hung Gar-Shaolin Chuan, hard style Chinese martial arts of Chi-Chi and/or I-Chi as well with another master named Woo .  He began his studies with Ryu Ru Ko in 1876 at the age of 23 in Fujian Province, China and he remained in there under the severe instruction of his teacher for approximately (his remaining) 13 years.

The Chinese system that Higaonna Kanryo studied from Wei Shinzan and Ryu Ru Ko was also known as Pan Gainoon which literally means "one half is hard and other half is soft". Those kata practiced in the current Goju-Ryu school like Sanchin, Sanseru, Superinpei (Pecchurin) all originated from Pan Gainoon.

In addition to studying empty handed martial arts he also become accomplished in weapons techniques and Chinese herbal medicine. He assisted his teacher Ryu Ru Ko at his trade as a bamboo craftsman by day and trained in the evenings. Training in that time period is much different than it is today. Training included hojo undo, ude tanren, uke harai, kake and ne waza. Higaonna Sensei reputation among the locals was one of Ryu Ru Ko's most skilled students.

In addition to studying empty handed martial arts Higaonna Sensei also became accomplished in weapons techniques and Chinese herbal medicine. He assisted his teacher Ryu Ru Ko at his trade as a bamboo craftsman by day and trained in the evenings. Training in that time period is much different than it is today. Training included hojo undo, ude tanren, uke harai, kake and ne waza. Higaonna Sensei reputation among the locals was one of Ryu Ru Ko's most skilled students.

One close associate of Kanryo Higaonna was Lord Yoshimura, who had an enterprising trade of tea between the city Fuchou and Okinawa.  He was a prominent pro-China activist who tried to block the Japanese settlement in Okinawa. According to historians, Higaonna carried a letter of referral for Lord Yoshimura for his trip.  Higaonna never explained to anyone about the letter and stowed away with a few companions for China. In the city of Fuchou, there was a consulate of Okinawa called Ryukyu Kan, or Apparently, the Ryukyu Kan represented an Okinawan petition then to the Chinese Government requesting its international pressure against the Japanese occupation of Okinawa.  One possibility was that Higaonna was a chosen messenger by the pro-China Okinawa for updating others of the situation on the island.

In 1879, two years after Higaonna's departure, Okinawa was officially ordered by the Japanese government to become its prefecture with presence of an army of Japanese police and officials. It was an extremely intense period of time for Okinawans so that earlier assumptions that Higaonna left for China for the purpose of inquiring study of Karate was unlikely.

It is said that Ryu Ru Ko esteemed his pupil highly and sanctioned Higaonna Kanryo Sensei mastery of the arts. Such was Kanryo's skill in the martial arts that his fame became widespread throughout Fuzhou and the surrounding area.

Upon returning to Okinawa, Higaonna Sensei 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. He returned to Okinawa during the middle of the Meiji era (1888) and introduced a new effective school of Karate at the request of his students, distinguished from other styles by its integration of Go- no (hard) and Ju-no (soft) Kempo into one system notwithstanding his small statue.  At this time, 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.

The first occasion on Higashionna-Sensei was noted for his powerful Sanchin Kata. Sometimes he would permit four men to attempt to push him out of his stance, but they were always unable to move him. It is said that after finishing his Sanchin Kata, the wooden floor would be hot from the mere gripping of his toes. His most prominent and best student was Chojun Miyagi, the founder of Goju-Ryu. The Monument to the left was dedicated to Higaonna Kanryo and Miyagi Chojun Sensei's and is located in Naha Okinawa.

In 1905 he began teaching at a public high school, and was considered along with Anko Itosu to be the foremost karate ka in Okinawa. Upon his return to Okinawa his reluctance to teach formally was finally broken in 1905 after which Chojun Miyagi, age 14, was brought to him for formal instruction and he began teaching formally at the Naha Commercial High School.  He along with Anko Itosu was known as the most proficient Karate-Ka in Okinawan Naha-te.  Among his top students were Chojun Miyagi (founder of Goju Ryu) and Kenwa Mabuni (founder of Shito Ryu). 

When teaching, Higaonna Kanryo Sensei was an extremely hard taskmaster. However in his everyday life he was a quiet and humble man and one who was renowned 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 there're spreading these arts among the people of Okinawa.

Higaonna Sensei is considered one of the earliest and foremost masters of Okinawan Karate and regarded as one of the most influential Karate instructors in Okinawan history.

Kanryo Higaonna sensei was eventually bestowed with the title, "Kensei (sacred fists) Higaonna Kanryo", a title that 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 Sensei passed away of illness at the age of 63 in early 1917 (however also rumoured December 23rd, late that same year). His most notable students were Chojun Miyagi (Goju Ryu founder ), Kenwa Mabuni (Shito Ryu founder) and Juhatsu Kyoda (Toon Ryu founder).

Chojun Miyagi (founder of Goju Ryu)

Chojun Miyagi was born April 25th 1888 in Higashi-Machi (Naha-shi) Okinawa of a wealthy family who's business was import/export. Originally Miyagi Chojun was born as Miyagi Matsu however his name was changed to Chojun at the age of 5 by his uncle whom adopted him after the death of his father in 1893. His family owned two ships which made regular trips to mainland China, placing them among the wealthiest families in the area and enabled a young Miyagi Chojun Sensei to travel to China to study the style of his instructor and develop the style of Karate we call Goju Ryu today. However his original Martial Arts training started with his neighbour Ryu Ko Aragaki (one of the very few fighters ever to beat the legendary Choki Motobu) at 11 years old. Ryu Ko Aragaki Sensei, before moving his family to Taiwan, later introduced him to Kanryo Higaonna, and he began training at the age of 17 in the fall of 1905 after fulfilling a host of chores (the traditional way of being accepted by an instructor). 

After many years of training with Higaonna Sensei, Miyagi sailed to China in May of 1915 in search of his martial arts roots - Higaonna's teacher.  This was one of three trips he made to China during his lifetime. Upon his quest he studied Chuguko " Chinese" Kempo (Chinese Fist) in Fouchow, Fukien Province, from 1915 to 1917. He returned to Okinawa due to the sudden death of Higaonna Sensei. In early 1917, Higaonna Kanryo Sensei died (at Nishiishin-Machi, 2-chome, Naha Okinawa).  Miyagi Chojun Sensei paid for his funeral out of respect to his beloved sensei.

When he returned to Okinawa, he began to teach his Karate at a number of places in and around Naha, and to lecture and demonstrate throughout Japan Miyagi-Sensei subjected the art of Naha-te, as received from Kanryo Higashionna, to scientific examination. He studied the basic Go (Sanchin) and the six rules and created the Ju (Tensho) form, combining soft and hard movements. He also organized the auxiliary movements to strengthen the body through callisthenics. He organized these exercises in preparation for practicing the classical Kata. It can be said, he formulated the theory for the practice of Karate and organized it as an educational subject, an art of self-defence, and as a spiritual exercise. From the old Chinese book Wu Pei Chih (Army account of Military Arts and Science) published in 1636, Miyagi took the expression Goju Ryu for the name of his school as it appears in the sentence: The successful methods required both give and take (Go and Ju).  Miyagi Sensei was the first instructor to officially give his style a name in 1927 apart from the city in which it was practiced (See Historical review of Goju Ryu), and organize a school of Karate. Miyagi often used the slogan Nanji Kyokuden, meaning to apply all one?  Strength, to be determined in everything that one does; defeat is not the end; losing is not the end of everything. He was called the last great samurai warrior of Okinawa because of his legendary strength and skill as well as his intense dedication to the martial arts.

Although a somewhat quiet man he was noted for his very large and muscular hands (the Goju Ryu Fist may be found of the original cover of this paper and was sketched of his hand) as well as being the senior most student of Kanryo Higaonna.  On his pilgrimage to the Chinese mainland he studied not only the building blocks of his teachers art Hung Gar-Shaolin Chuan Chi-Chi, but also I-Chuan, Pa Kua Chang and Tai Chi Chuan.  All softer however highly skilled and effective styles.  It was at this time he learned the Kata or Quan (Chinese for Kata) Rokkishu which later became the building block on Kata Tensho.  With this additional martial art training Okinawa-te, Naha-te and the Chinese arts Sensei Miyagi developed a refined form of empty hand, and even today its Whooping Crane Chinese Gung Fu roots can still be seen in its forms or Kata. A story is told that while visiting a temple in China, Chojun Miyagi noticed a crane sitting on a roof, which was made of tile. As he approached the huge bird, the crane became alarmed and flew away. As it was flying away, the frightened crane flapped its wings against the tile roof, breaking some of the tiles in the process.  Miyagi was amazed that the soft feathers of the crane were able to break something as hard as tiles. With that as the beginning, he devised a whole new approach to Karate, mixing in with the hard techniques many soft ones to be used in countering hard blows and kicks.

In 1929 Gogen Yamaguchi invited Mr. Miyagi to visit Japan and he later named Mr. Yamaguchi the leader of the Goju Ryu schools in mainland Japan. That same year 1929) he was named as Shihan of the Okinawan Police and of the Naha School of Commerce (The Municipal Commercial High School - the general education program of Okinawa). Chojun Miyagi was named Karate Division Chairman (Chief) of the Okinawan Prefecture Athletic Association in 1930 and became a permanent officer of the Dai Nippon Butokukai (Japan Martial Virtues Association).  

Although, Jigoro Kano (founder of Judo and the Kokokan) began visiting Okinawa in 1927, he was so impressed with Miyagi Sensei, he invited him to Japan in 1930 and 1932 to demonstrate at several meetings. It was at one of these meetings 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.

Chojun Miyagi Sensei 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 travelled frequently to mainland Japan where he was invited to teach karate at Kyoto University and Resume Kan University.

In 1933 karate was registered at the Butokukai, the centre 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. 

On March 23, 1934, Chojun Miyagi wrote the document Toudijutsu Gaisetsu (An Outline of Karate-Do) very rare to find and very technical on the almost spiritual training associated with Karate-Do.

A month later in April, 1934 - Yokoku Jihosha invited Miyagi Chojun Sensei to Hawaii to lecture and teach until February, 1935. Chojun Miyagi on Thursday, May 3, 1934 aboard the NYK steamship. The trip is also supported by business-men Chinyei Kinjo of the Yoen Jiho Sha on Kauai, Seichu Yamashiro and Seisho Tokunaga. Chinyei Kinjo was the son of Chinzen Kinjo, one of the first immigrants to arrive in 1900 on board the 'SS City of China' and a previous student of Miyagi Chojun.

During this time he also becomes a permanent officer of the Dai Nippon Butokukai (Great Japan Martial Virtues Association). By 1936 Mr. Chojun Miyagi is truly recognized by the Government of Japan with being awarded the medal for Excellence in the Martial Arts from the Japanese Ministry of Education.  That same year he went to train at the Chinese martial arts in Shanghai at the Seibu Dai Iku Kai or Great Gymnastic Association - Pure Martial Spirit. On May 5th, 1937 - Miyagi Chojun Sensei performed Kata at the Butoku Sai for the Dai Nippon Butoku-kai.  Following what is now known as the Meeting of the Masters, Mr. Miyagi along with others who attended formed the Great Japan Martial Arts Karate Teachers Association or "Dai Nippon Butokukai Karate Jutsu-Kyoshi (1937)". The first ever awarded in Japan.  

After returning to Okinawa Miyagi Sensei, now teaching in his Dojo again as well as teaching Okinawa school Children, creates the Kata Gekisai Dai Ichi (1) and Ni (2). Chojun Miyagi students primarily studied four Kata: Sanchin, Seisan, Seiunchin and Tensho. These Kata are called the Kaishu forms but the Kata Seisan and Seiunchin were actually considered  the training Kata of Goju-Ryu.  These are very important Kata and must be thoroughly studied to understand Goju-Ryu. As of April, 1938 - Miyagi Chojun Sensei was appointed to a Karate do instructor at the Okinawa Teacher Training School. In 1940 Chojun Miyagi and Shoshin Nagamine (Founder of Matsubayashi Shorin Ryu) created the Gekisai Kata to standardize Karate, make it easier to learn and to prepare young Okinawa for National service. There is a theory that for this latter reason (Military service) Gekisai Dai Ichi ends with a forward step instead of a backward one as well as punches Jodan instead of Chudan.

Before the Second World War, Chojun Miyagi traveled widely and was involved in many projects to spread karate throughout mainland Japan and the rest of the world. However, from 1948 until 1953 he remained in Okinawa. Before the war he had been dedicated to his own training and research, to further develop the art of Goju Ryu Karate, but his purpose in life had now changed. He was intent on passing on Goju Ryu, and the "gokui" (secret principles) of Goju Ryu to the next generation.

For reasons mostly pointing to WWII, many students of Tsuboya-cho (a district of Naha) garden dojo returned for training in in 1951. As well, new students once more began to enroll. It is at this time in which it is believed that a young man known as Anichi Miyagi (the quiet man of Goju) began training under Chojun Miyagi Sensei as a private student. However it should be renoted that Chojun Miyagi Sensei first and most well known recognized students were Jin'an Shinzato, Seiko Higa, Meitoku Yagi, Seikichi Toguchi,and EiIchi Miyazato.

Miyagi Chojun Sensei had four boys and five girls. Miyagi Tsuru was the oldest daughter and first born. Master Miyagi taught at his home, outside in his Garden Dojo. But he didn't teach regularly outside his own personal students other than his municipal duties (Police and education).  He would occasionally go to the Butoku-den in Naha (The Butoku-den was one of the few buildings that survived the World War II battles on Okinawa).

Naha's Central Police buildings were rebuilt near the Butoku-den, which was torn down in the late l980's. A bronze bust of Chojun Miyagi was put up in the Butoku-den and was moved to the Naha Police Headquarters in 1987. 

Miyagi Chojun Sensei instruction was not limited to physical training. Miyagi Sensei also lectured his students on history, culture, society, and human relations as many senior Sensei of today do. During these sessions Chojun Miyagi Sensei would teach the kata (forms) in great detail and explain the "bunkai" (kata applications) thoroughly.

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 which 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 Ru Ko.

Miyagi never awarded anyone a Black Belt. He was in the process of formulating requirements for the Black Belt however he died before he completed this. He had not conceded a successor at the time of his death. Leaving an unprecedented mark in the world of Karate-do and from his famous Garden Dojo and enough legendary students to carry his name into the history books of Martial Arts as the Master of Masters.

Jin'an Shinzato Sensei (aka 'Jiru'), an exceptional talent, was the probable successor to the Goju school in Okinawa, he was tragically killed during the Second World War. It is generally an excepted theory that Shinzato Jin'an Sensei would have been the obvious successor to Miyagi Chojun Sensei had not his death. Later, after the war, Meitoku Yagi Sensei was awarded the training uniform (Do Gi) and Belt (Obi) of Miyagi Chojun Sensei by his wife and daughter.

Chojun Miyagi passed away October 8th, 1953, leaving his family of 10 children, wife and a great legacy behind. He dedicated his entire life and fortune to Karate. 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 countries of 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 peoples of the world. Four of his students, Seiko Higa, Meitoku Yagi (Meibukan Goju Ryu Karate Do), Seikichi Toguchi (Shoreikan Goju Ryu Karate Do) and EiIchi Miyazato (Jundokan Goju Ryu Karate Do) carried on with Miyagi Sensei's original teachings. The four students formed an organization named the ALL Okinawa Goju Kai, which was a reorganization of the old Goju Rui Shinko-Kai. They established a promotional ranking system for the art of Karate Do.