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Brief History of Goju-Ryu
While there is a dearth of historical material with which to date the beginnings of karate on Okinawa, there are written references to armed and unarmed martial techniques going back at least 300 years, and it can be assumed that some form of martial technique existed in Okinawa prior to that. There are more recent references, from the mid 19th century onward, to Okinawa te, ti, tode, and other terms that refer to unarmed martial arts These indigenous arts combined with various other influences to form the base of what we now call karate. South East Asian martial traditions, Japanese martial arts (from the 17th century onward), and the most important, Chinese civil combative systems, all contributed to the development of the Okinawan martial arts. The various Chinese systems introduced to Okinawa, mostly from Fukien province in Southern China in the late 18th, 19th, and early 20th centuries, form the basis for much of Okinawa’s martial heritage. However, karate as we now know it is an Okinawan martial art, and has become something quite different from any of these other traditions, however much they influenced it.
The style of karate we do in Kodokan is called Goju-Ryu, which means hard-soft style. While the exact details of the origin of this style of martial arts are unknown, or at best a bit hazy, we do know a lot about the more recent development of the style, in the time since it came to Okinawa.
The forerunner of what we now know as Goju-Ryu was first taught in Okinawa by Kanryo Higashionna sensei (1853-1917). He was born into a relatively poor family, and began learning martial arts as a boy from Aragaki Seisho (1840-1920), who had studied in China, and was very famous in Okinawa. He later traveled to Fuchow, in Fukien province, China, where he studied Chinese martial arts. He first stayed in the Kojo dojo (Kojo was an Okinawan martial artist who taught in Fuchow), and then continued his studies with other teachers, eventually learning some form of Southern Chinese chuan’fa (Japanese: kenpo, or fist-method), under a teacher known as Ryu Ryu Ko. Just what style he studied is not precisely known. It was possibly a Crane style, (the Feeding Crane of the Liu family in Taiwan strongly resembles Goju, and some researchers believe Ryu Ryu Ko taught a Whooping Crane system) though it has also been claimed it was 5 Ancestor Fist (which bears some resemblance to Goju-Ryu), Lohan (Monk) Boxing, or Ba’gua or Hsing-i, softer Chinese styles. It is most likely he studied a number of different styles over the time he lived in China and they all influenced his teaching, however his main Chinese influence was from Ryu Ryu Ko.
He eventually returned to Okinawa where he taught what he called Shorei-ryu. This came to be commonly known as Naha-te (Naha hand), after the area (Naha) he lived in. (At that time karate was known as tode, by place name followed by “te” as in Naha te, or as kenpo.) His top students in Okinawa were Juhatsu Kyoda and Miyagi Chojun. Kyoda sensei was the senior student; he later moved to Beppu, in Oita prefecture, on the island of Kyushu, in Japan. He continued to teach, and called his style Tou-on Ryu, Tou and on being alternate pronunciations of the characters in his teacher’s name. His style is still taught, albeit rarely, in Beppu and in other places in Japan, and is outwardly similar to Goju-Ryu.
When Higashionna sensei died, Miyagi Chojun (1888-1953) sensei continued to teach what he had learned from Higashionna. Miyagi sensei had been born into a wealthy family, and started studying martial arts at age 14. Besides his training under Higashionna, he also studied Tiger Boxing under Todaiki, and White Crane under the Chinese teacher Gokenki, who ran a tea house in Naha and had a great influence on the development of Okinawan karate. Miyagi sensei traveled to China twice to study and research martial arts, and trained with many of the prominent Okinawan martial artists of the day. For a time he was involved in the Tode Kenkyu Kai, a karate research club, with Choyu Motobu of Shuri-te, Kenwa Mabuni who founded Shito-ryu, Gokenki, and a number of others. He also studied judo while in the army.
Through his research and training, Miyagi sensei continued to develop what he had learned from Higashionna sensei, eventually creating Goju Ryu. He added the kata Tensho, which is supposedly based on techniques from the White Crane style. He also added the introductory kata Geki-sai ichi and Geki-sai ni (which we call geki-sai sho), creating them in collaboration with Shoshin Nagamine, a Shorin Ryu teacher. Miyagi sensei is credited with formally calling the style Goju-Ryu. The story goes that a student of his, Shinzato Jin’an, was giving a demonstration on the mainland and was asked the name of the style. At a loss for the answer, he remembered a phrase Miyagi sensei often used from a Chinese book on martial arts- the way of breathing is in hardness and softness (ho go ju donto)- and so called the style hard-soft style (Go-Ju). Miyagi sensei is remembered as one of the foremost Okinawan martial artists of his day.
When Miyagi sensei died, a number of his students continued to teach the style he had developed. The most prominent in Okinawa were Higa Seiko, Yagi Meitoku, Miyazato Eichi, and Toguchi Seikichi, who began his training under Higa Seiko sensei. In Japan, his most prominent student was Yamaguchi Gogen, the founder of the Goju Kai. Each of these teachers opened their own dojo. These eventually became the first of the various kan (house, or organization) of today. All are Goju-Ryu, though there are some differences between them in how the kata and techniques are performed.
Higa Seiko sensei (1898-1966) started studying under Higashionna sensei. He was later Miyagi sensei’s student and eventually opened up his own dojo. He was succeeded by his son, Higa Seikichi (1933-1999), who was Kimo Wall sensei’s instructor in Okinawa. Their dojo is called the Shodokan, and a number of Kodokan students have visited it.
Brief History of Kodokan
Our school is called Kodokan, which translates as “School of the Old Way”, and our kancho, or president, is Kimo Wall sensei. He began studying Goju-Ryu in 1949 as a child in Hawai’i. He later studied in Okinawa while he was in the Marine Corps, starting in 1962. On Okinawa, his main karate teachers were Higa Seiko sensei and Kina Seiko sensei, another student of Miyagi sensei. Later, after the death of Higa Seiko sensei, he studied under Higa Seikichi sensei and the other senior teachers in the Shodokan dojo.
His other main teacher was Matayoshi Shinpo sensei (1925-1998). Matayoshi sensei was primarily a kobudo (weapon art) teacher. He was taught by his father, Matayoshi Shinko, and a number of other martial artists, including Miyagi sensei. Besides being a master of his father’s style of Kobudo and the Kingai Ryu, a Fukien Crane style his father learned in China, he also studied White Crane under Gokenki, Shorin Ryu under Kyan Chotoku, and other Okinawan martial arts. Matayoshi sensei’s knowledge of the Okinawan martial arts was very deep, and in many ways he was Kimo sensei’s mentor.
Our karate system consists of the 10 classical (koshiki or koryu) kata of Goju-Ryu: Sanchin, Saifa, Seiunchin, Shisochin, Sepai, Sanseru, Sesan, Kururunfa, Suparinpe, and Tensho. These are often divided up into closed hand (heishu) kata- Sanchin and Tensho, which emphasize basic technique, breathing, and posture, and open hand (kaishu) kata- the rest.
In addition to the classical Goju-Ryu kata, we study the training kata Gekisai sho, which was made by Miyagi sensei, and Fukyu, Geki sai dai, Geki ha, Kakuha sho, and the demonstration kata Hakutsuru (White Crane) which were made by Miyagi’s student Toguchi Seikichi, in the 1950’s. The kata bunkai kumite that we do for these kata (which we refer to as bunkai for short) are similar to those taught by Toguchi sensei, but were developed by Kimo sensei. He designed them to conform more closely with the kata, allowing for a more focused study of the techniques in the training kata.
We also study a number of other forms as compliments to the Goju-Ryu. These are Sochin, a kata Kimo sensei learned from Kina sensei, Naihanchi, a Shuri-te or Shorin ryu kata, and Kakuho, a Kingai ryu kata. This can also be accompanied by the study of Matayoshi style kobudo- Okinawan weapons.
Goju-Ryu is only one of the Okinawan karate styles. The other main styles include:
This is a style based on Tiger and Crane styles of Chinese chuan’fa, and in some ways resembles Goju-Ryu. It also came from Fuchow, and was introduced to Japan by Kanbun Uechi in the 1930s. It emphasizes sharp, fast movements, uses primarily open hand attacks, and kicks with the toes. It often emphasizes body conditioning, and its main kata is also Sanchin, though the Uechi Sanchin is performed at the same speed as their other kata. Training includes kata, bunkai, and sparring.
Shorin Ryu, Kobayashi Ryu, and Matsubayashi Ryu:
There are many versions of these styles, which are quite similar (Shorin and Kobayashi are different pronunciations of the same characters). Both developed out of what was called Shuri-te, after the area in Okinawa it came from. They are also based on Chinese styles, supposedly mostly Shaolin temple boxing (Shorin is the Japanese pronunciation of Shaolin). They use a more linear form of movement and technique than Goju-Ryu, do not use Sanchin or emphasize gripping the ground the same way, and chamber the punch at the waist. Techniques tend to be lighter and faster with more emphasis on movement of the hips and lower back to generate power. Training includes kata, bunkai, and sparring.
A little known style of Okinawan karate. It resembles Goju-Ryu a great deal, and its founder, Nakaima Norisato (1850-1927) supposedly learned from the same Ryu Ryu Ko that taught Higashionna sensei in Fuchow.
There are a number of other schools of Okinawan karate, including Okinawa Kempo, Isshin ryu, Gohakukai, Shito ryu, and Shorinji ryu.
Karate was first brought
to Japan in the 1920s by a number of teachers, including Miyagi
sensei. The most prominent of these was Funakoshi Gichin, a Shorin
ryu teacher who changed the style greatly when he began teaching
it in Japan. There are many Japanese styles of karate. The most
popular is Shotokan, which was Funakoshi senseis school. Others
include Goju ryu, Wado ryu, Kyokushinkai, and Shito ryu, to name
just a few. In general the Japanese styles are stiffer, more angular,
and less natural than their Okinawan predecessors. They generally
do not use the traditional training equipment, such as makiwara,
nigiri game, and so on, and many of the conditioning exercises have
been replaced by competitive sparring. They often (particularly
in the case of Japanese Goju) do not resemble the root Okinawan
style as much as they resemble each other.
It was due to Japanese influences that, on its inclusion in the
Butokukai (Japanese martial arts governing body) in the early 20th
century as a "real" martial art, the characters used to
write the name were changed from kara-te, meaning Tang, or Chinese,
hand, recognizing the debt to Chinese martial arts in its development,
to kara-te, meaning empty hand, as it is currently written. Uniforms
and the belt system we use were also introduced from Japanese sources
at about this time.
Ranking in karate is based on the
kyu-dan system, which was designed by the founder of Judo, Kano
Jigoro, around 1868. It was first used in Okinawa in the early
to mid 20th century. It consists of 6 kyu ranks, or beginners
ranks, 6 kyu through 1 kyu.
These are symbolized by colored
(5) go kyu
(4) yon kyu
(3) san kyu
(2) ni kyu
(1) i kyu
(1) sho-dan and up
These are followed by the 10 dan
ranks. Sho-dan, 1st degree black belt (which translates as "little
dan"), is earned when one has learned the basics. It means
that the student has learned enough that they are ready to begin
really studying karate, and is by no means a symbol of mastery.
All dan ranks wear a black belt.
The Ha Po
These lines are taken from the Bubishi, a collection of writings
on Chinese martial arts that was very popular with a number of Okinawan
teachers, including Miyagi sensei. They are said to convey the essence
of practicing karate. In the Bubishi they are written as an 8 line
poem on martial training.
The mind and spirit are like heaven
The blood moves through the veins like the rhythm of the sun and
All breathing is both hard and soft.
One must adapt to all changes and situations.
Technique comes in the absence of conscious thought or emotion.
Advance or withdraw the center the proper distance, connect and
disconnect with the
The eyes watch in four directions.
The ears listen in eight directions.
There are also a few saying that have been passed down in our dojo:
Know your opponents hand like your own.
Know your opponents foot like your own.
Replace fear and doubt with knowledge and understanding.
Kodokan Boston, 2006. All rights reserved.