In 1867, Higaonna began to study Monk Fist Boxing (Luohan Quan) from Aragaki Tsuji Pechin Seisho who was a fluent Chinese speaker and interpreter for the Ryūkyūan court. At that time the word karate was not in common use, and the martial arts were often referred to simply as Ti ("hand"), sometimes prefaced by the area of origin, as Nafaa-ti, Shui-ti, or simply Uchinaa-ti.
In September 1870, with the help of Yoshimura Udun Chomei (an Aji or prince), Higaonna gained the travel permit necessary to travel to Fuzhou, on the pretext of going to Beijing as a translator for Okinawan officials. There are records which show that in March 1873 he sailed to Fuzhou in the Fukien province of China. Although this may have been a later trip to Fuzhou because accounts passed on by Chojun Miyagi refer to an earlier year of departure in 1870. Aragaki had given Higaonna an introduction to the martial arts master Kojo Taitei whose dojo was in Fuzhou. Higaonna spent his time studying with various teachers of the Chinese martial arts, the first four years he probably studied with Wai Xinxian, Kojo Tatai and or Iwah at the Kojo Dojo. Kanryo then trained under a man referred to as Ryū Ryū Ko, but his name was never recorded as Kanryo Higaonna was illiterate. According to oral account, Kanryo spent years doing household chores for master Ryū Ryū Ko, until he saved his daughter from drowning during a heavy flood and begged the master to teach Kung Fu as a reward.
In the 1880s, after Ryūkyū was annexed by Japan, Kanryo returned to Okinawa and continued the family business. He also began to teach the martial arts in and around Naha. He began by teaching the sons of Yoshimura Udun Chomei. His style was distinguished by its integration of both go-no (hard) and ju-no (soft) techniques in one system. He became so prominent that the name "Naha-te" became identified with Kanryo system. He travelled to China several times thereafter. His last visit was in 1898 when he escorted Yoshimura Chomei and two of his sons to Fuzhou. History records that they were blown off-course to Zhejiang and travelled by land to Fuzhou with an escort provided by the local Zhejiang authorities. He began to teach Naha-te to the public in 1905 in the Naha Commercial School.
Grandmaster Chojun Miyagi was born on April 25,1888. He began his Karate training in Shuri-te and at the age of 14 was introduced to Kanryo Higaonna with whom he began his study of Naha-te. Like his teacher before him, because of his great natural talent and fierce determination, he progressed very rapidly. The training was severe beyond belief at times but he practiced ever harder with an enthusiasm unmatched by any of the other students. Chojun Miyagi became "uchi deshi" (private discipline) of Kanryo Higaonna. He studied with his teacher for 14 years before his teacher's death in 1915. Chojun Miyagi, as successor to his teacher's "te", pushed himself to the limits of endurance in his desire to emulate his teacher's extraordinary skill. In 1915 he journeyed to Fuzhou, China, the city where his teacher had studied martial arts to further his research. This was one of three trips he made to China during his lifetime. On his return to Okinawa he began to teach the martial arts out of his home in Naha. Later, he also taught at the Okinawan Prefecture Police Training Center, at the Okinawan Master's Training College, and at the Naha Commercial High School (where his teacher had once taught). Chojun Miyagi worked hard to spread Karate throughout Okinawa and mainland Japan, and to earn his toudi a status equal to that of the highly respected Japanese martial arts of Judo and Kendo. To achieve this he traveled frequently to mainland Japan where he was invited to teach at Kyoto University, Kansai University and Ritsumei Kan University. In 1933, Goju-Ryu Karate was the first Okinawan martial art to be registered at the Dai Nippon Butoku-Kai, the center for all martial arts in Japan. This was a milestone for Karate as it meant it was recognized on a level with the highly respected martial arts of Japan. Chojun Miyagi dedicated his whole life to Karate. He was responsible for structuring his toudi (which he later named Goju-Ryu) into a systemized discipline which could be taught to society in general. This teaching system that he formulated enabled Karate to be taught in schools for the benefit of the young, and to reach vast numbers of people throughout the world. However, his private teaching at his home remained strictly in adherence to the principles and traditions of his teacher, Kanryo Higaonna, and his teacher before him, RuRuKo. The naming of Goju-Ryu came about more by accident than by design. In 1930, Chojun Miyagi's top student, Jin'an Shinzato, while in Tokyo demonstrating the Karate of his teacher, was asked as to what school of martial arts he practiced. As Naha-te had no formal name he could not answer this question. On his return to Okinawa he reported this incident to Chojun Miyagi. After much consideration, Chojun Miyagi chose the name Goju-Ryu (hard and soft school) as a name for his style. This name he took from a line in the "Bubishi" (a classical text on martial arts and other subjects). This line, which appears in a poem describing the eight precepts of the martial arts reads, "Ho Goju Donto" (the way of breathing is hardness and softness)
Grandmaster An’ichi Miyagi was born on February 9th, 1931, in Naha, the capital city of Okinawa. He began training along with three friends at the garden dojo of Goju-Ryu founder Chojun Miyagi in Tsuboya-cho (a district of Naha) in February 1948. He was 17. At this time An’ichi Miyagi worked at Kadena air base (one of the many US installations on Okinawa). His parents were dead and therefore he worked hard to support his family in the difficult times which existed after the Second World War. During this same period Chojun Miyagi was teaching three times a week at the Police Academy in Naha. Other than this he was free to concentrate on teaching karate at his home. An’ichi Miyagi took full advantage of this by going to the house of his teacher whenever he had free time. These visits to his teacher’s house would not only involve karate training; he also cleaned the house, tended the garden, made tea and performed any other tasks that needed attention. After one year had passed the three friends who had begun training at the same time as An’ichi Miyagi, for various reasons stopped training. An’ichi Miyagi continued on alone. Such was his dedication to both his training and his teacher that Chojun Miyagi came to trust him implicitly. This reflected in his teachings which became more detailed and of a more profound level. Chojun Miyagi spent hours every day teaching and talking to his protégé, An’ichi Miyagi. They developed a close bond and An’ichi Miyagi became “uchi deshi.” In 1951 new students once more began to enroll at the garden dojo of Chojun Miyagi. After the regular classes had come to an end and all the other students had returned home, Chojun Miyagi would instruct An’ichi Miyagi to remain behind. It was during these times that he would pass on the profound techniques and meanings of Goju-Ryu. His instruction was not solely limited to physical training. He would talk on a vast array of subjects, such as history, culture, society, human relations and so on. Chojun Miyagi would teach the kata (forms) in great detail and explain the “bunkai” (kata applications) thoroughly. He told An’ichi Miyagi, “Even Jiru (Jiru refers to Jin’an Shinzato, Chojun Miyagi’s top student who was tragically killed during the Second World War) did not receive such detailed teachings as I have given you…because of this you must continue to train with all your heart.” An’ichi Miyagi is the only student of Chojun Miyagi to have been taught by him personally and in great detail all the kata of Goju-Ryu. Before the Second World War, Chojun Miyagi traveled widely and was involved in many projects to spread karate throughout mainland Japan and the rest of the world. However, from 1948 until 1953 he remained in Okinawa. Before the War he had been dedicated to his own training and research, to further develop the art of Goju-Ryu Karate, but his purpose in life had now changed. He was intent on passing on Goju-Ryu, and the “Gokui” (secret principles) of Goju-Ryu to the next generation. To this end Chojun Miyagi taught An’ichi Miyagi all the knowledge that he had amassed during his lifetime in the martial arts. Such was his desire to pass on the correct teachings that he taught An’ichi Miyagi right up until the evening before his death.Sadly, Master An’ichi Miyagi passed away on April 28, 2009, and like as his teacher before him, he had only one true student to whom he passed on the correct teachings of Goju-Ryu; that student is Master Morio Higaonna.
Morio Higaonna was born 25th December 1938, and he began his karate training when he was fourteen. He studied Shorin-Ryu with his father. He was also training with a friend, Tsunetaka Shimabukuro, another Shorin-Ryu stylist. At the age of sixteen he began to train in the Goju-Ryu style on the recommendation of Shimabukuro Sensei. The year was 1955 and the young Higaonna was training in the garden dojo of the late Chojun Miyagi Shihan, his instructor was An´ichi Miyagi Sensei. At that time the training regime was very tough and Higaonna Sensei tells of the countless times he would practice kata or kakie training with many different opponents until he could no longer move his arms. Anyone who has trained in Okinawa will know that due to the climate this requires tremendous effort. In 1957 the garden dojo moved to a permanent building called the Jundokan. Hiagaonna Sensei continued his training there, five hours every day. After his instructor, Anichi Miyagi Sensei moved away to work on an American oil tanker Higaonna Sensei gained a place at the Takushoku University in Tokyo, it was around this time that the first official Dan grading was organised. Higaonna Sensei was awarded 3rd Dan. The year was 1960. It was in Tokyo that Higaonna Sensei taught at the famous Yoyogi Dojo. Many thousands of students passed through this dojo. Some of the more notable Senseis´ were Ogawa, Todano and Terauchi; from the West, Ernie Brennecke, James Rousseau, Bakkies Laubscher; and from Shotokan Karate, Terry O´Neill. During the late sixties and early seventies Higaonna Sensei began travelling to several of the countries that were practicing Okinawa Goju-Ryu. He was invited to perform a demonstration at the World karate Championships in Paris in 1972 and his reputation as one of the strongest Goju-Ryu practitioners in the world was growing. From that time to this, Higaonna Sensei has maintained his own strict training regime and continues to research the original kata and training methods of Goju-Ryu. Higaonna Sensei received his 10th Dan certificate, awarded by An´ichi Miyagi Sensei on September 5th, 2007. Higaonna Sensei also received a special certificate signed by Aragaki Shuichi Sensei and Miyagi An´ichi Sensei (both direct students of the founder of Goju-Ryu, Chojun Miyagi Sensei) that recognizes him as a student in the direct line descended from Miyagi Chojun Sensei. Miyagi An´chi Sensei and Aragaki Shuichi Sensei both felt that recognizing Morio Higaonna Sensei as part of the Goju-Ryu lineage is important for the future of Goju-Ryu being passed on to future generations.Anyone who has ever met Higaonna Sensei will not only be impressed by his karate ability, but also by his humility and good natured personality. It leaves you with the feeling of having met a true master of karate.
Sanchin - "Three Battles/Conflicts"
One of two "heishu " Kata of Goju-Ryu, Sanchin is probably the most misunderstood Kata in all of Karate. In contrast, it is probably the single most valuable training exercise in Goju-Ryu. Like the other Kata of Goju-Ryu, Sanchin can be found in several Chinese arts (San Jan), particularly the southern styles including four styles of Crane Boxing, Dragon Boxing, Tiger Boxing, Lion Boxing, Dog or Ground Boxing and Monk Fist. Sanchin has such aspects as deep, diaphragmatic breathing found in many internal arts as well as external attributes like mechanical alignment and muscular strength. Because many martial artists have little or no understanding of the true history and nature of the Chinese arts from which Okinawan Goju-Ryu has its roots, Sanchin has become little more than an isometric form performed with dangerous tension and improper breathing techniques.
The original Sanchin that Higaonna Sensei learned from RuRuKo (1852-1930) was performed with open hands and with less emphasis on muscle contraction and "energetic" breathing. With the changes brought about by Emperor Meiji (Meiji Restoration Period 1888-1912), Higaonna Sensei changed the open hands to closed fists as the martial meaning was no longer emphasized. Later Miyagi Sensei would again alter the Kata in pattern alone.
Sanchin translates as "3 Battles" or "3 Conflicts". This has many meanings. First it refers to the struggle to control the body under physical fatigue. With fatigue the mind begins to lose focus and thus the spirit begins to diminish as well. Therefore Sanchin develops discipline, determination, focus, perseverance and other mental attributes. The Chinese refer to this as Shen (spirit), Shin (mind) and Li (body). Another possible interpretation refers to the "Three Burners" of the body as decribed in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).
Gekisai Ichi / Gekisai Ni - "Attack & Destroy"
The Gekisai Kata were formulated by Chojun Miyagi Sensei in 1940 as a form of physical exercise for high school boys and to help popularize Goju-Ryu among the public of Okinawa. In 1948, after WWII, Miyagi Sensei began to teach the Gekisai Kata in depth as a regular part of Goju-Ryu in his own dojo. Until this time, Sanchin was the first Kata taught in Goju-Ryu. Sanchin is physically and mentally a demanding Kata and requires a great deal of time and patience to learn and perform properly. The Gekiaai Kata however are easier to learn and perform, and contain dynamic techniques which are more attractive to young people. These Kata contain the same kanji for "sai" found in Saifa. This would suggest that even though these Kata were designed primarily as a form of exercise, Miyagi Sensei included his understanding of combat as part of their makeup.
Saifa - "Smash and Tear Apart"
Saifa is the first of the classical combative Kata taught in Goju-Ryu. Goju-Ryu's Kata origins come from the martial arts taught in the Fuzhou area of southern China, largely Crane and Xingyi/Baqua as well as other internal and external martial arts. Kanryo Higaonna Sensei was taught this Kata, along with the other Kata of Goju-Ryu, while he studied in China from 1863-1881 under the direction of RuRuKo (Xie Zhongxiang in Chinese) and others. These Kata and martial strategies would become the basis of the the quanfa of Higaonna Sensei, which later Miyagi Sensei would call Goju-Ryu. From an understanding of the grappling and striking techniques of this Kata, Saifa can be interpreted to mean grabbing and tearing of tissue in close-quartered combat.
Seiyunchin - "Control/Suppress and Pull"
The name Seiyunchin implies the use of techniques to off balance, throw and grapple. It is this understanding that imparts the original intentions of the Kata of Naha-te before the sport alignment of modern Karate. Seiyunchin contains close-quartered striking, sweeps, take-downs and throws. Though the Kata itself is void of kicks, many practitioners make the grave mistake by missing the opportunity to apply any leg technique. Though almost invisible to the untrained eye, the subtleness of "ashi barai" and "suri ashi" can represent foot sweeps, parries and traps.
Sanseru - "36 Hands"
Sanseru is unique as Miyagi Sensei studied this Kata under a direct student of RuRuKo during his studies in Fuzhou, China beginning in 1916. Sanseru, from its numerical designation, would seem to have its roots in Buddhism. This is not to infer that there is a religious connection or implication with this Kata or Karate, but simply that Buddhism was a part of the culture of the people of that time. It should also be noted that numbers had a very important role in the language of the more ancient Chinese before the invention of kanji.
A more realistic explanation of this and the other numerically named Kata is that they refer to a systematic method and understanding of certain groupings of vital acupressure points. It is this science that the martial arts was based upon and developed.
Feng Yiquan, who lived during the Ming Dynasty (1522-67) developed this particular method of using variations of "36" forbidden points to defeat his opponents. Other disciples of Feng created other quans expanding the number to 72 and ultimately 108.
Sanseru is found in the following styles of Chinese Boxing: Crane, Tiger, and Dog
Shisochin - "Four Directions/Gates of Conflict/Attack"
Shisochin translates as "Four Gates" or "Four Directions of Conflict". To leave it at that discounts a truer understanding. The third kanji is the same found in Sanchin and Seiyunchin, which translates as "battle" or "conflict". This lends to a deeper definition of its meaning. The idea of four directions can come from the performance of the four shotei in four directions. It can also represent the four elements represented in Chinese medicine (Acupuncture is one) of Wood, Fire, Metal and Water with man representing Earth. Since this was the science and culture of that period in China when Higaonna and Miyagi both studied in Fuzhou, it would be a great oversight to discount this aspect as a very probable explanation of the Kata's name and martial intent.
Sepai - "18 Hands"
The reference to "18" in naming this Kata has a couple of interpretations. Like Sanseru, there is suggested a connection to Buddhist philosophy. Another insinuates "18 guards for the King". The most apparent and most meaningful in the naming of Sepai is again from the martial arts development and the use of attacking pressure points. 18 is one half of 36 suggesting that perhaps an alternative set of attacks and defenses of preferred techniques and strategies from the original Sanseru 36.
Sepai is found in Monk Boxing.
Kururunfa - "Holding Ground"
Kururunfa epitomizes the ideals of Go-"hard and Ju-"soft". Stance transitions are quick and explosive while the hands techniques are employed using "muchimi" or a heavy, sticky movement. As in the other kata of Goju-Ryu, it is quite evident that grappling and close-quartered fighting is the favored fighting style. The same kanji "fa"is found in Saifa. Again, this would suggest a strong emphasis on grappling. Where most other styles' Kata concentrate on "block/punch", it is obvious from the unique techniques that this is not the case with Goju-Ryu.
Sesan - "13 Hands"
Sesan, Sanseru and Sepai all share the kanji "se". This may well be a Chinese dialect of the Okinawan term "te" or "fighting hand", referring to life-protection techniques. To better understand these Kata requires a more defined understanding of the language and culture of the people from which these Kata originated.
Sesan is believed to be the oldest of all Okinawan Goju-Ryu Kata. There is a version of Sesan practiced in the Shorin schools, but in comparison, the Goju-Ryu version is longer and much more complex.
Sesan is practiced in the following styles of Chinese Boxing: Dragon, Lion and Monk Fist
Suparinpei - "108 Hands"
Suparinpei is the most advanced Kata in Goju-Ryu. It contains the greatest number of techniques and variations. Suparinpei is deceptive in that it appears simple in execution but when combined with transitions and changing tempos, it is only surpassed by Sanchin in technical difficulty and understanding.
Once again, the number "108" is suggested to have origins in Buddhism and can represent the "108 sins of man". On the Chinese New Year, temple bells are rung 108 times to "drive away the evils of man".
It is believed these named associations with Buddhism is based upon the lack of factual knowledge of the true nature of these quan.
Secondly, with the cutural changes that took place in China during and after the Boxing Rebellion (1900) and the fall of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), little emphasis was placed on learning such complex arts. Most who learned the fighting arts after this time, did so as a means of exercise, recreation or artistic performance. In additon, the wide-spread use of firearms reduced the need and effectiveness for hand-to-hand combat as a means to civil defense.
Suparinpei is found in the following styles of Chinese Boxing: Dragon, Tiger and Monk Fist.
Tensho - "Turning Palms"
The second "heishu" kata in Goju-Ryu, Tensho is derived from the Chinese form "Rokkishu". Unlike Sanchin, which is almost identical to its Chinese counterpart, Tensho is uniquely Okinawan. From his understanding of the Kata of Goju-Ryu and the "nature of man", Miyagi Sensei developed Tensho to further complete his Goju-Ryu where Sanchin left off. Tensho has many of the same principles of Sanchin but goes further to include more intricate concepts of the techniques of Goju-Ryu. These concepts expressly come alive in kakie, which in advanced training, breathes life into the bunkai of the Kata of Goju-Ryu.
The most notable difference between Sanchin and that of Tensho is that the breathing is explicitly different than that of Sanchin. The breathing of Tensho is not "hard" and external like Sanchin. The breath is internalized distinctively different and to the uneducated will appear to be the same as Sanchin.
The term "heishu" translates as "closed". As with every aspect of Okinawan Karate, there is more than one definition. First, "heishu" can refer to muscle contraction and "ibuki" style breathing unique to Sanchin and Tensho. Secondly, it can imply the restriction and specific direction of energies within the energy pathways of the body, both superficial and deep. The other 10 Kata are referred to as "kaishu" or "open", as they are free of constant muscle contraction and breathing is "normal".