June 1999 Dateline
Goju-Ryu Karate-Do:   An Okinawan Treasure

by Miko Peled

The Okinawan martial art of Goju-Ryu has its roots in the rich world of Chinese martial arts. However, it was in Okinawa that the Okinawan masters Kanryo Higaonna and Chojun Miyagi completed and systematized it to the degree of a fully comprehensive martial art. They created a syllabus that made an otherwise strict and demanding martial art available to school children. They made the revisions that defined the fighting aspect of the martial art and the educational aspect, that is, the discipline and the moral and physical training. This made it possible to teach the martial arts to children. In 1905 master Kanryo Higaonna began to teach karate at the Commercial High School in Naha, Okinawa.

Kanryo Higaonna travelled to China in 1868, when he was 14 or 15 years old. In those days that was considered the age when a boy became a man. In the city of Fuchow in southern China, he was introduced to a master of southern Chinese martial arts by the name of Ryu Ryuko. He trained under this master for 13 to 14 years. After returning to Okinawa, Master Higaonna eventually began to teach what was later known as Naha-te and then Goju-Ryu. This is significant because this particular martial art no longer exists in China and otherwise would have become extinct.

The political and social unrest that occurred in China at the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth centuries took a heavy toll on the world of martial arts. Martial arts masters were heavily persecuted and feared because they were associated with the many rebel groups that troubled the country at the time. This caused many of them to stop teaching and to escape from China to other countries.


The particular style taught by Ryu Ryuko to Kanryo Higaonna has existed and flourished because it was taken out of the troubled land of China to the Ryuku kingdom (today known as Okinawa). In 1915 after Master Kanryo Higaonna passed away, Master Chojun Miyagi, his top student and successor, went to China to search for the roots of the martial art that had been entrusted to him. He met a student of Master Ryu Ryuko who recognized his martial art. That student told Chojun Miyagi that this martial art no longer existed in China.

Master Chojun Miyagi formulated the style further, adding to its curriculum two basic katas (forms) and creating a comprehensive preliminary exercise regimen. He also gave this style its name and had it registered. The style of Goju-Ryu was the first karate style to be registered as such in the Nihon Butokukai, which at the time was the highest martial arts authority in Japan.

The name Goju-Ryu means "hard-soft style;" however, it contains a depth that goes far beyond the literal meaning. The principle of harmonizing the extreme forces of the universe is well known in Asia and usually is referred to as the Yin-Yang principle. The Okinawan equivalent of Yin-Yang can be said to be Goju.

Master Chojun Miyagi named his art Goju-Ryu after much research. He knew the principle of Goju well and he found the actual phrase in a Chinese poem that describes the eight principles of Chinese martial arts. One of these principles read: "Ho Go Ju Don To" (Japanese pronunciation). This line describes the principle that mastering one's breathing is the key to understanding the forces of hardness and softness. Breathing is essential for life and is a vital component in developing power and generating power. Chojun Miyagi saw that this phrase contains much of what is the essence in the martial arts and thus named the art after that principle.

The most fundamental training in Goju-Ryu is the form called Sanchin. It is a breathing kata through which one cultivates internal power or Ki. It is a form by which Goju-Ryu practitioners develop harmony between movement and breathing, a harmony that is the key to martial arts power. It also is a form by which one develops concentration and spirit. To complement the kata Sanchin, Chojun Miyagi created an advanced breathing kata which he called Tensho. Tensho demonstrates the soft aspect of Goju-Ryu, whereas Sanchin demonstrates the hard aspects.

Chojun Miyagi devoted his life to developing Goju-Ryu and educating the martial arts world and the general public about the power and depth of this Okinawan martial art. He shared the deep understanding of the universe that was achieved by other great martial arts masters and understood the importance of the relationship between man and the universe. Maintaining this relationship is one of the basic principles of Okinawan Goju-Ryu and is part of the legacy that this great Okinawan master left behind. He was known to have gone into the mountains or to the ocean to practice different aspects of Goju-Ryu while being exposed to the elements.

Master Chojun Miyagi was a distinguished scholar and a philosopher. As contrasted with most karate instructors who had other jobs, he devoted his whole life to training, research, and the teaching of karate. He chose to live his life in Okinawa and conduct his work there. Unfortunately one of the most cruel battles of World War II took place on Okinawa, and among other great cultural treasures that were lost was the written work of this great master.

True martial arts contains elements of kindness and compassion that complement the rigorous training and demanding regimen required of martial artists. Goju-Ryu is a style that can be taught to children as young as four years of age and can be taught to the strongest of fighters. This range demonstrates the infinite wisdom that the art has stored within it. Goju-Ryu karate is an intangible cultural treasure of Okinawa which nurtures the principle of harmonizing hardness and softness and knows no boundaries.


Miko Peled is the head instructor at Martial Arts America at 1005 C St., Coronado, 435-8223. Open since 1989, this school is the San Diego,CA branch of Sensei Morio Higaonna's Federation, the International Okinawan Goju-Ryu Karate-Do Federation (I.O.G.K.F.). Mr. Morio Higaonna World Headquarters, 6706 Whitesail St., Carlsbad, California 92009, e-mail: iogkf@worldnet.att.net.

Martial arts articles of interest by Jade Dragon Online:
Martial Arts:   An Overview   Part 1 of our two-part series
Martial Arts:   An Overview   Part 2 of our two-part series
The Roots of Martial Arts
Profile:   Sifu Share K. Lew
The History of Kung Fu San Soo
Dragon Style Kung Fu
100 Years of Fighting Films
Chi and the Martial Arts
The Art of Arnis
Wing Chun - A Traditional Kung Fu System

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