According to legend, the monk
Bodhidharma travelled to Hunan province in China around
500 A.D. He spent nine years in the Shaolin temple,
where after 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. When Kempo
was spread throughout China, it was divided in two
main styles, the Northern and the Southern styles.
The Northern style was characterized by straight and
hard techniques, while the Southern had circular and
softer techniques. The Kempo techniques were often
inherited within the family as a well-preserved secret.
understand the history of Karate one has to go to
the birth place of Karate itself. Situated in the China
Sea about half way between Southern Japan and Fukien
Province of China lies a small string of islands called
the Rykyu Islands, Okinawa being the largest and the
home of Karate.
Being situated where it was, in the
middle of a major trade route, Okinawa was strongly
influenced by China,
Japan and south Asia. The Okinawans were a very quiet
and peace loving people, but like all ancient cultures
they had to protect themselves from thieves and pirates,
especially when on the merchant ships ploughing the
China Sea. As in other cultures, Okinawans had their
own early self defence art called "te".
In the twelfth century the islands were divided into
kingdoms and in the early fifteenth century Sho Hashi
united all the kingdoms. During the fourteenth and
fifteenth centuries trade flourished and the influence
of China was very strong. In fact for a long time
Okinawa paid tribute to the Chinese. At that time
were barred from the common people. This situation
led to an increase in the development of empty hand
fighting techniques as well as a strong development
of Kobudo (using every day utensils as weapons).
All this was done in great secrecy. At this time
was also a very large Chinese community living in
Okinawa including Monks and Kung Fu masters. A blending
the Chinese martial arts occurred and the Okinawans
called this art "tote" (Chinese hand).
1609 Okinawa was invaded by the Japanese Satsuma
Clan and due to the political centralization of King
Shoshin (1477-1526) for 270 years remained their
To keep control of the population they continued
the ban of all weapons and fighting arts for all Okinawans.
Martial artists were always very secretive and this
drove them even more underground, but probably also
increased the necessity for promoting the use of
and Kobudo. The techniques of karate and Kobudo were
also hidden in Okinawan dance. In secret the kata
could be performed alone or in groups keeping the art
By this time there were three distinct styles of
karate developing, each named after the city where
practised. Naha te, from the port city of Naha, Shurei
te from the capital city of Shurei, and Tomarei te,
from the city of Tomarei, half way between Shurei
City and the port city of Naha.
It later developed further
through a process of systematization into 'Modern
Karate', which actually had a lot to do
with the efforts of the men known as the Chuko no
so (The Revivers), including Sokon Matsumura (1828-1898)
of the Shuri-te style, Kosaku Matsumora (1829-1898)
of the Tomari-te style and Kanryo Higaonna (1853-1915)
of the Naha-te style. In 1908, 'The 10 Articles of
Karate' prepared by Anko Itosu were submitted to
Educational Affairs Section of Okinawa Prefecture.
After that, karate started being introduced into
the school gymnastics curriculum, thus acquiring broad
accessibility, in contrast to the previously secret
principles of Isshi-soden (the complete transmission
of a ryu's techniques only to your heir).
Commemorating the establishment of the basic kata
of karate-do (1937)
(Front, from right) Chojun Miyagi, Chomo Hanashiro,
Kentsu Yabu, Chotoku Kyan
(Back, from right) Genwa Nakasone,
Choshin Chibana, Choryo Maeshiro, Shinpan Shiroma.
Higaonna Kanryo Sensei was born in the village of
Naha on March 10, 1853. He belonged to the lower gentry
and went by the name "Machu" as a small boy.
From childhood Machu showed great interest in the fighting
arts and was eager to learn as much as possible. Despite
his small size for his age, Machu could move very quickly
and his body was extremely limber.
At age fourteen Machu began to learn Chinese Kempo.
His well developed and strong body enabled him to master
Chinese Kempo rather quickly. After only a short period
of time, Machu was able to achieve a level of expertise
in both skill and technique comparable to that of his
teacher. He became well known as a master martial artist
in Naha at a young age. However, Machu was unsatisfied
with his level of skill and longed to go to China and
study the Chinese martial arts and culture. Unfortunately,
his father had six children to look after and was unable
to offer him financial assistance. But Higaonna Kanryo
Sensei did not give up hope.
With some persistence and determination, Higaonna
Sensei reached his goal. Through his instructor, he
was introduced to and was able to convince the owner
of a ship, in the port city of Naha, to grant him a
passage to China. His dream to study in China, restricted
to the well to do at that time, was finally fulfilled.
At age sixteen he left Naha for the Chinese port of
Foochow where he stayed at the Okinawan settlement
called the Ryukyu-kan. It took almost a year for Higaonna
Kanryu Sensei to be introduced to the master of Chinese
kempo, Master Ryu Ryuko.
Even after Higaonna Sensei was introduced, he was
not immediately accepted as a disciple. The Chinese
masters would take the time to study the personality
and character of candidates before accepting any disciples.
Thus, Higaonna Sensei was given tasks of tending the
garden and cleaning the rooms of the master and did
these tasks earnestly and enthusiastically over a long
period of time. Impressed by his attitude, Master Ryu
Ryuko finally accepted Higaonna Sensei as his personal
As a disciple, Higaonna Sensei would help his master
at his trade as a bamboo craftsman by day and then
train after dark. Training began with the practice
of Sanchin, then lifting the Nigiri-game (heavy ceramic
jars) by their rims to strengthen the student's grip
while practicing Unsoku-ho (a pattern of stepping movements)
to develop proper footing. Exercises continued using
the Muchi-ishi (natural stone) and Makiwara (striking
post) as well as an Uki (bamboo basket) where two persons
would practice close fighting and choking techniques
inside. These new tools and training techniques fascinated
Higaonna Sensei and increased his interest in karate
even more. The harsh training took its toll, however,
and his legs, hands and shoulders were always swollen
from over exertion. Nevertheless, it was this harsh
training that enabled him to develop his muscles like
forged steel. After several years of harsh training,
he became his master's most skillful disciple.
Throughout the city of Foochow, the fame of Higaonna
Kanryo Sensei as a great martial artist gradually spread.
An episode involving a discussion between students
of two dojos (training place) lead to a competition
in order to demonstrate who was superior in skill.
In order to choose a superior martial artist without
anyone getting hurt, each master chose their best student
to perform kata instead of free style fighting. Higaonna
Sensei was chosen to represent his dojo. The students
from the other dojo were struck with admiration as
they watched Higaonna Sensei perform the Sanchin kata.
Afterwards, the master of the other dojo admitted Master
Ryu Ryuko's art was superior to his own and Higaonna
Sensei's fame spread even further. Many martial artists
tried to engage him in a fight to prove their bravery
but Higaonna Sensei kept his promise to his master
not to fight to show off his skill and declined these
Master Ryu Ryuko watched over Higaonna Sensei as if
her were his own son. Higaonna Sensei stayed as a disciple
for about thirteen years, living at his master's home
and practicing daily in his yard. After this period
of time, he left his master and the city of Foochow
to return to Okinawa. Upon his return, Higaonna Sensei
visited the owner of the ship, Udon Yoshimura, who
had made his passage to China possible. Udon Yoshimura
was very impressed by the modest yet dignified person
Higaonna Sensei had grown up to be and asked him to
teach his sons some of the skills he had learned in
China. The second son, Yoshimura Chogi, took great
interest in the martial arts and practiced eagerly.
Higaonna Sensei's fame spread rapidly throughout Naha,
attracting the attention of the King of the Ryukyu
Dynasty. Thus for many years, he taught the martial
arts to the members of the royal family as well. However,
many people in the town came to Higaonna Sensei and
asked to be taken on as personal disciples. But due
to the harshness of the training, only a few remained
with him for long. Among his disciples, young Miyagi
Chojun was one of the few that remained. Higaonna Sensei
had opened his house in Nishimachi as a dojo and was
teaching his art to his disciples without charging
any tuition. In addition to his private instruction,
Higaona Sensei began teaching at a public high school
in Naha at the request of the principal in 1905. He
inculcated the students with both the physical and
spiritual value of his art.
During his thirteen years in China, Higoanna Sensei
mastered many traditional martial arts, such as, the
art of the straight sword. His technique in these various
martial arts was truly art in motion. His hands and
legs possessed extraordinary spring making his movements
fast as lightening. People were surprised that one
so small, five foot one inch, could have so much power
and strength and referred to him as Kensei, meaning "sacred
fists." Gradually, the art of Higaonna Sensei
became known as "Naha-dee (te)" meaning "Naha
hand (technique)." He devoted his life along with
his disciple Miyagi Chojun Sensei to the improvement
and advancement of the art of Naha-te. Early in 1916,
Higaonna Sensei fell ill. Miyagi Chojun Sensei looked
after his master, nursing him devotedly. But Higaonna
passed away in October 1916. Thus, the art of Naha-te
was handed over from Higaonna Kanryu Sensei to his
disciple Miyagi Chojun Sensei. Higaonna Kanryo Sensei
is honored today as the founder of Okinawan karate.
founder of Goju-Ryu Karate was Chojun Miyagi (1888-1953).
At the age of twelve he started to train karate with
Aragaki Ryuko Sensei. After spending two years with
Aragaki Ryuko Sensei he then became a student at age
14, of Kanryo Higaonna (1853-1916), who was the founder
of the Naha-te style (Shorei Ryu) as can be seen above.
He endured very harsh ascetic practices from Kanryo
Higaonna, under Higaonna Sensei students would learn
only one kata suited to their temperament and body
type, becoming highly proficient. Chojun Miyagi however
was able to learn all aspects of Naha Te. He was the
only student of Higaonna Sensei to learn all the kata’s
of Naha Te. Given his financial status Chojun Miyagi
was able to house Higaonna Sensei and remained in his
constant company. Miyagi Sensei studied under Higaonna
Sensei until the Masters death in October 1916. After
his master’s death, Chojun Miyagi Sensei journeyed
to the Fujian Province in China to perfect his skills
in the martial arts. During his time in China in addition
to his physical training he undertook a great deal
of research on noted Chinese warriors. As a result,
he was able to take over and organize karate techniques
with a great deal of detail based on the principles
of the Chinese martial arts that he had been taught.
He consolidated modern karate-do, incorporating effective
elements of both athletics and the martial arts in
addition to the principles of reason and science.
Miyagi's most promising disciple was Jinan Shinzato.
In 1929 Jinan Shinzato gave a demonstration at the
'All Japan Martial Arts Tournament Offering Congratulations
on the Emperor's Accession' held in Meiji Jingu Shrine.
After the demonstration he was asked what school
of martial art he belonged to, at the time there was
a name for the system other than the fact that it
came from Naha-Te (which was the name of a city in
Okinawa – translated
to Naha hand). When he returned home, he told master
Miyagi about this and Miyagi decided to choose the
name Goju-Ryu (the hard-soft style), this name was
inspired by one of the 'Eight Precepts' of Kempo, written
in the Bubishi. In the Bubushi Go-Ju appears in the
sentence, "Ho Goju Dont", meaning 'The way
embraces both hard and soft, both inhalation and exhalation.
Thus the name Goju-Ryu was given to his school.
main characteristic of Goju-ryu is the 'respiration
method' accompanied by vocal exclamations, emphasizing
'inhaling and exhaling' and 'bringing force in and
sending force out'.
The kata of Goju-ryu are broadly
divided into: Sanchin (basics), Kaishu-gata (open
hand forms), and Heishu-gata
(closed hand forms).
The traditional kata passed down
from Kanryo Higaonna to the present include: Sanchin,
Shisochin, Sanseiryu, Seipai, Kururunfa, Seisan,
and Suparinpi (or Pecchurin).
In addition to such traditional
kata, Goju-ryu has added Kokumin Fukyugata, a series
of kata created by
Chojun Miyagi for the nationwide popularization of
the school – these are Gekisai I, Gekisai II
and Tensho, which complete all the kata of Goju-ryu
school for Tanren.
A pioneer in internationalising karate,
Miyagi Chojun also travelled to mainland Japan and
Hawaii to spread
the system of Hard and Soft style.
Also throughout Okinawa,
karate was taught by masters such as Yasutsune Itosu "Anko" (1831-1915). Itosu Sensei is credited with the development of modern Karatedo. He developed the "Pinan Katas" which are now the foundation Katas of most modern Karate styles stemming from Shuri-te.
Itosu Sensei is responsible for introducing Karatedo into the Okinawan school system.
In 1905 Itosu took a position of part-time teacher of To-te at Okinawa's First Junior Prefectural High School.
It was here that he developed the systematic method of teaching Karate techniques that are still in practice today.
Other teachers include Chotoku Kyan (1870-1945), Choki Motobu (1870-1941),
Choshin Chibana (1885-1969, Founder of Shorin-ryu) and Gichin Funakoshi (1868-1957 founder of Shotokan karate )
has been said that the original name of Tode (China
Hand) was changed to the name 'Karate' (empty hand)
around the time of its spreading.
Karate began spreading
around the world after the war. The biggest contributors
were the many emigrants
who went to live abroad full of ambition, and the
U.S. military personnel occupying Japan at the time.
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
Chojun 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 and earth.
The blood moves through the veins like the rhythm
of the sun and moon.
All breathing is both hard and soft.
One must adapt to all changes and situations.
Technique comes in the absence of conscious thought
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.
Movie – The History of Okinawa Karate Courtesy
of the Okinawa Prefectural Government 2003.
width – 26.5mb)
Bubishi - The Bible of
Karate (1995) translated and with commentary by Patrick
McCarthy. ISBN 0-8048-2015-5
Okinawan Karate (1989)
Mark Bishop. A& C Black
Publishers, Ltd., London. c. ISBN 0-7136-5666-2