We cannot talk about the history of Okinawan Goju Ryu without talking about two men, two instructors, who devoted their lives to allow us the access to practice Goju Ryu today. The two Sensei in reference are Kanryo Higaonna Sensei and Chojun Miyagi Sensei.
KANRYO HIGAONNA SENSEI
Kanryo Higaonna was born on March 10, 1853 in the district of Nishimura in the city of Naha, Okinawa. He was the son of Kanryo and Makomado. His father, Kanryo, was a merchant dedicated to trade with food and clothes through the Ryukyu Islands. Since his second and third brothers died at an early age, and his first brother was weak and sick, Kanryo Higonna Sensei started to work with his father at the age of ten. At the age of 14 he was honored with the traditional ceremony of "katagashira" to celebrate his manhood.
Unfortunately not too long after; in 1867, his father died suddenly as the result of a fight. This shocked the young Higaonna so much that the only thought that he was able to keep was his desire for revenge for the death of his father. It is at this point of his life when he decided to travel to China to learn the deadly Martial Arts to avenge his father's death. However, in those days, traveling to China was restricted only to merchants, students or government officials, and permission to travel was only granted by the King of Okinawa, and the only port of departure was the port of Naha.
Kanryo Higaonna, with the help of the official Udon Yoshimura, was able to get the permit to travel to Fuchow, China, as a student; departing from the port of Naha in the year 1868, at the age of 15. The desire for revenge was traveling with him, too.
At his arrival to the city of Fuchow, Kanryo Higaonna was accepted in the Ryukyu Kan or lodge where all the students from Okinawa were living. Once in Fuchow, Kanryo Higaonna was introduced to the well renowned martial arts instructor Ryu Ryu Ko. Ryu Ryu Ko Sensei was tall and strong, and even at his old age his speed and power was admirable. Ryu Ryu Ko Sensei's family was part of the Novel Court of China before they lost their status as a result of the politic turmoil in the country. Ryu Ryu Ko Sensei worked in bamboo, his shop on the first floor of the building and his house on the second floor. He taught martial arts at his house only to a small group of selected students.
In the beginning, Kanryo Higaonna only performed duties in the yard of Ryu Ryu Ko Sensei and sometimes in his shop before he decided to start to teach him the martial arts. At first Kanryo Higaonna was instructed only in Sanchin kata. His motivation and dedication soon started to show up in the progress of his skills, and he became "uchi deshi" (live-in student). He moved out from the Ryukyu Kan and started to live and work at Ryu Ryu Ko Sensei's bamboo shop. He was introduced to the different traditional equipment such as chiishi, ishi sashi, nigiri game, tan and muning (variation of makiwara). The training was very severe.
The fame of Ryu Ryu Ko Sensei was wide. He learned the martial arts in the southern Shaolin temple in the mountains of the Fujian Province. His teacher was a Court Official from the Dynasty. Ryu Ryu Ko Sensei also instructed Kanryo Higaonna in the use of weapons such the Daito (long sword), Shuto (small sword), Sai and Bo. He also taught him herbal medicine. In a few years, Kanryo Higaonna became Ryu Ryu Ko Sensei's top student. Kanryo Higaonna practiced 14 years in China until Ryu Ryu Ko Sensei told him that it was time for him to go back home, and in 1881 Kanryo Higaonna returned to Okinawa.
He returned to difficult political times in Okinawa, and he established himself in the district of Nishimura in the city of Naha. He started as his father did in the past as a merchant traveling with his boat in between the islands of the Ryukyu chain.
He then started to teach a select group of students at his house. His instruction was very severe. In a short time he obtained in Okinawa the same good reputation that he developed in Fuchow. It wasn't too long before the King of Okinawa invited Kanryo Higaonna to teach him the martial arts.
In 1905 he was invited to teach his Naha-Te or Te from Naha (name called then) in the Naha Commercial School. The principal wanted to teach the students the spiritual and moral aspects of the martial arts. This was an important step in the Naha-Te, not only for the recognition of the benefits of the practice but also because until then, Te was taught as a martial art, with the skill to kill.
After his research, Kanryo Higaonna, decided to make an important change in the Sanchin kata. Until then, Sanchin kata was practiced with open hands, so he started to teach it with closed hands and slower breathing with the purpose of promoting the health benefits, rather than promoting lethal techniques at the school. Kanryo Higaonna introduced the closed fist to emphasize the physical strength more than the ability to kill. Tradition also played an important roll for this change because he noticed that a lot of young Okinawans, without acknowledgement of martial arts, naturally stood with closed fists when they were going to fight. He continued to teach the original way that he learned in China to his few students at his dojo.
After 1905, karate became a little bit more accessible to the general population because until then Te was practiced just by a selected group of people. Kanryo Higaonna Sensei passed away in October, 1915 at the age of 62.
CHOJUN MIYAGI SENSEI
Chojun Miyagi was born on April 25, 1888 in the city of Naha, Okinawa. He began his practice at the age of 12 with Aragaki Ryuko Sensei. Aragaki Ryuko's approach was only to teach the fighting itself and not too much emphasis was placed on the martial art.
After seeing the dedication of Chojun Miyagi, Aragaki Ryuko decided to introduce him to Kanryo Higaonna. In 1902, at the age of 14, Chojun Miyagi Sensei started to practice with Kanryo Higaonna Sensei. At the age of 20, Chojun Miyagi became Kanryo Higaonna's top student and around that time is also when he got married.
At the age of 22, he traveled to the main island of Kyushu for his military service. After 2 years of service he returned to Okinawa. For the next 3 years Kanryo Higaonna taught him privately until Kanryo Higaonna died in 1915.
With his death, Chojun Miyagi decided to follow the steps of his Sensei and travel to Fuchow, China, where he learned the martial arts. In his first trip in 1915, he went to Fuchow and trained for two months with a student of Ryu Ryu Ko Sensei. The old man was very impressed with the skill of Chojun Miyagi. Chojun Miyagi went to visit the grave of Ryu Ryu Ko Sensei as well as to the temple were he trained. It was easy to see the footmarks on the patio from the training.
Between 1920 and 1930 Chojun Miyagi traveled to China for the second time. This was not a productive trip because the relations between China and Japan were not good in those days.
In his third trip to China, in 1936, he was able to contact the Shanghai Martial Arts Federation. This was instrumental in helping him do his research in the martial arts.
In the early 20's Chojun Miyagi developed the characteristic Goju Ryu warming up exercises or Yunbi Undo with the help of a friend of his, who was a doctor. This series of exercises were based not only on martial arts fundaments but also on medical research. It is also around this time that Chojun Miyagi also developed the kata Tensho, and began to teach in high school in Okinawa.
In 1925, Chojun Miyagi, Hanashiro Chomo, Mabuni Kenwa and Motobu Choki formed the Karate Kenkyu Kai or Karate Research Club at Naha, with the idea of preserving and practicing karate with members of other lines of Te. Unfortunately the club disbanded in 1929.
In 1930 Chojun Miyagi sent his top student, Jihan Shinzato, to perform a demonstration of Te at the Meiji Shrine in Tokyo. Upon his return to Okinawa, Shinzato asked his Sensei about the name of the style of karate that they practiced because a Kobudo Sensei present at the demonstration inquired the same of Shinzato. Shinzato Sensei could not answer because until then they only referred to karate as Te (hand), To (China) or Bu (martial art). Chojun Miyagi decided for the first time to call his style Goju Ryu. The meaning was extracted from the Bubishi or book of the poems where there are references to different subjects including the martial arts. The name Goju Ryu identifies the style as the style of the hardness and softness. In this way Goju Ryu became the first style of karate named.
It was in 1933 when Goju Ryu was officially recorded and recognized in the Butoku Kai (the institution that groups all the martial arts in Japan) in Kyoto. The official name was recorded as Goju Ryu Karate-Do, where the meaning of the character (kanji) Karate was To (China) in recognition of origin of this martial art, and not the meaning "empty" as is in the present.
In 1934, Chojun Miyagi was appointed as the representative of the Butoku Kai in Okinawa. Also in this year, Chojun Miyagi was invited to travel to Hawaii to teach karate to the Okinawans living on the island. He remained in Hawaii for 6 months.
In 1937 Chojun Miyagi was honored. He received the title Kyoshigo from the Butoku Kai. This was the first time in history that somebody in karate received this honor.
During World War II, Chojun Miyagi lost his top student Jihan Shinzato as well as two of his daughters. Chojun Miyagi Sensei passed away on October 8, 1953 at the age of 65.
JOHN ROSEBERRY SHIHAN
John Roseberry Shihan founder and chief instructor of the Shorei Shobu Kan organization with headquarters in Lincoln, Nebraska has been training in Judo and Karate since 1955. He studied in Okinawa, Judo primarily under Matsumoto Sensei and Karate under one of the senior students of Goju Ryu's founder Chojun Miyagi Sensei, Seikichi Toguchi Sensei. During the many years that Roseberry Shihan lived in Okinawa serving the U.S. Marine Corps, he also trained Judo at the Naha Police Academy under another of the senior students of Chojun Miyagi Sensei, Ei'ichi Miyazato Sensei. He has trained at the Kodokan in Japan, as well as in China and Korea. Roseberry Shihan teaches Okinawan Goju-Ryu Karate, Kodokan Judo and Aikido. He presently holds a 10th degree black belt in Karate, 7th degree black belt in Judo and 3rd degree black belt in Aikido. Roseberry Shihan served as an alternate to the 1964 U.S. Olympic Judo Team, was All-Marine Corps Champion seven times, All-Service Champion three times and was the only American to capture the All-Okinawan Judo Championship.
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