A Concise History of Goju Ryu

               The founding of Naha-Te

Grandmaster Kanryo Higaonna:



Higaonna Kanryo Sensei was born into the lower gentry, in Naha, on the Island of Okinawa. The date; March 10th, 1853. He was the fourth child, out of seven to Higaonna Kanyo, and his wife Makado. 


It is said, that at very early age, Kanryo Sensei already showed great interest in the fighting arts. Little did he know, that he would one day be one of greatest Masters of Karate, the world had ever known!


At age 14, he began to learn Chinese Kempo from someone who studied in Fujian China. Although Kanryo Sensei was not very tall, he had an exceptionally strong body, and was gifted with the ability to quickly learn what was being taught to him. It did not take the young Kanryo very long to reach a level of expertise comparable to his teacher; both in skill, and technique. 


Even though he was still quite young, Kanryo Sensei became quite known in his hometown of Naha. Possessing great skill and talent, he was already being called a Master by his peers!  But Kanryo Sensei was not satisfied with his level of skill.  He longed to go to China to further his studies in the fighting arts that were being taught there!


There are several theories as to what eventually drove him to go China.  One theory is that he sought to learn the fighting arts to avenge the murder of his father from a neighborhood ruffian. Another is that he just became fascinated with the Chinese culture and civilization.  Having heard about it from his teacher, as well as merchants, and other students.


Higaonna Sensei's father wanted to help his son go to china; but having six other children to look after, he was unable to offer any financial assistance.  But the young Kanryo Sensei, was very close of fulfilling his dreams.

In the Port city of Naha; then the only port in Okinawa, was open for trade with China. Many things were traded between the two countries, and along with tangible items, came Chinese Kempo.


Through a Martial arts instructor in the village of Kume, the young Higaonna Sensei was introduced to a statesman and envoy, that traveled to China often. His name was Yoshimura Udon.  It was through him, that Kanryo Sensei gained an introduction to the owner of a trading ship "Shinko Sen" that traveled back and forth between Okinawa and China. During that time, the opportunity to travel, and study in China, was reserved for the well to do!   But with some persistence, Higaonna Sensei was a able to convince the owner of the ship to grant him passage to China.


Kanryo Higaonna Sensei travels to China


In November, of 1868, at the age of 14, Kanryo Sensei left the port of Naha, and set sail for China.  Unbeknownst to him, he was about to meet one of the most notable and respected Chinese Martial Arts Master of all time...  Kanryo Sensei would not return home for 14 years.


With favorable winds, and a voyage of 8 days, the "Shinko Sen" also known as the "Toshishinryu" arrived at the Chinese port of Fuzhou. Kanryo Sensei had finally realized his dream.  Near the port was a settlement called the, "Ryukyu-kan" Higaonna Sensei stayed there for 1 year. During that time Higaonna Sensei practised what he had learned in Okinawa, but still was not able to train in the Chinese arts. The Chinese teachers were very particular as to who they would take on as students.  It would be more than one year before he would gain introduction.



Master Xie Zhongxiang a.k.a. Ryu Ryuko


Ryu Ryuko, was born into the Fujian aristocratic class, who at that time were the only people allowed to practice the Martial Arts. ( Despite popular belief, the Martial Arts were not created by peasants and farmers )  He is known to have studied in the Fujian Southern Shaolin temple. In fact, it was widely believed that he was a personal bodyguard to a Royal Caste.  But because of internal strife in China, the aristocracy was under threat. This put him and his family in danger, and they were forced to go underground, conceal their identities, and live as commoners.  What happened to his family is uncertain. But Master Ryu Ryuko became a craftsman. Working in carpentry, and masonry.


Master Ryu Ryuko was known to be over six feet tall and possessed extraordinary strength with muscles forged like steel. Just about everyone in Fujian knew that he was a Master in Quan-Fa (Chinese Martial Arts), and was respected by all.  By some accounts Ryu Ryuko was one of the first generation Masters of "Ming he quan" (Crying Crane Fist), and other Chinese Boxing systems.  His Sifu (teacher) is believed to be, Kwan Pang Yuiba, who was a direct student of the originator of "The White Crane Boxing Style" her name was, Fang Qiniang.


Finally through an officer at the Ryukyu-kan, Kanryo Sensei was introduced to Ryu Ryuko. But this did not mean, he would start his training right away.
It would be over a year before Master Ryu Ryuko would accept the young Kanryo as a student.  It was a common practice in China that before a Master would take on a student, he must first study the personality, patience, and character of the candidate.


Higaonna Sensei was given tasks of tending the garden, and cleaning the rooms for the Master. Kanryo Sensei did all of this earnestly and enthusiastically over a long period of time. Master Ryu Ryuko was very impressed by the attitude of the young Kanryo. He never complained, and worked diligently.  Satisfied, the Master finally accepted the young Kanryo as a disciple.


Kanryo Sensei Begins His Training

Master Ryu Ryuko was quite old, and already retired from carpentry, and masonry when Kanryo Sensei began his training. At the time, the old Master made a living making baskets out of bamboo. During the day, the young Kanryo helped his master to make the baskets, but Kanryo Sensei's training would take place after dark. According to Master Chojun Miyagi, (Future student of Kanryo Sensei, and founder of Goju Ryu) the hardship of the young Kanryo's training was beyond belief!


The training would start with Sanchin Kata practice.(One of the most physically, and mentally demanding forms in Goju Ryu) It is a kata designed to prepare the mind, body and spirit for battle. This kata is performed with the application of Shime (a method of testing the body for weakness).  After hours of Sanchin training, he would then move on to lifting Nigiri-game (Heavy ceramic jars) by the rims. While holding the jars, he moved in specific stances, and postures. This was designed to strengthen the grip, proper foot movement, and overall body strength. The training continued with Muchi-ishi (Natural stone), then proceeded to Makiwara training (striking post).
The fore-knuckles, (Seiken) were conditioned to such an extent, that breaking human bone with a single strike, was as easy as cutting through butter!

To be continued...

  Grand Master
Kanryo Higaonna
Grand Master Xie Zhongxiang
           a.k.a. Ryuryu Ko 
The real "Hands of Stone"
  Master Morio Higaonna