Okinawa Goju Ryu Karate

History of Karate in Okinawa

Group Training Shuri City

Group training at Shuri City 1st Elementary School, 1937
(Instructor: Shinpan Shiroma)

Group Training Okinawa Prefecture

Group training at Okinawa Prefecture 2nd Junior High School, 1937
(Instructor: Juhatsu Kyoda)

During the 14th century Kempo (Chaun-Fa) was introduced to Okinawa from China. It won popularity as an art of self-defence, under the name of 'tote' (Chinese hand). At Okinawa the native fighting art 'te' was practiced long before the introduction of Kempo. It is believed that 'te' was combined with 'Kempo' by the Okinawans and developed into the martial art known today as Karate.

Commemorating the establishment of basic kata of karate-do

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.

Japan invaded Okinawa in 1609. They reinstituted the ban on weapons (first declared by King Sho Shin in 1477). The Japanese also banned the practice of martial arts. Consequently, the Okinawans continued with martial arts in secrecy.

Development of Okinawa te

(Front, from right) Gichin Funakoshi, Chojun Miyagi (Back, from right) Saito, Yasuhiro Konishi (1932)

During the next three centuries the martial art developed its own character and is called 'Okinawa te'. It is split into three main styles:

1. Shuri-te

2. Naha-te

3. Tomari-te

At the end of the 19th century Shuri-te and Tomari-te were subsumed under the name Shorin ryu, which developed into several slightly different styles. Naha-te was later renamed Goju ryu (the hard and soft style).


Master Kanryo Higaonna

Founder of Naha-Te Grandmaster Kanryo Higaonna was born on March 10, 1853

Founder of Naha-te Grandmaster Kanryo Higaonna was born on March 10, 1853, in Naha, the capital city of Okinawa. His father, Kanryo, worked as a merchant sailing between the small islands of Okinawa trading everyday goods. From a young age Kanryo Higaonna helped his father in his work and through the physical labour that was involved he developed a strong body.

Kanryo Higaonna was still in his teens when his father suddenly died. Kanryo decided he wanted to study the martial arts and he set his heart on travelling to Fuzhou, China for this purpose. He travelled to Fuzhou, China in the year 1869. Once in Fuzhou he studied the Chinese martial arts under the great Master Ryu Ryu Ko. He soon became "Uchi Deshi" (private disciple) and he remained in China under the severe instruction of his teacher for approximately 13 years.


In addition to studying empty handed martial arts he became proficient in weapons techniques and Chinese herbal medicine. Master Ryu Ryu Ko held his pupil in high esteem and sanctioned Kanryo's mastery of these arts - an honour which is accorded rarely. Such was Kanryo's skill in the martial arts that his fame became widespread throughout Fuzhou and the surrounding area.

Chojun Miyagi (founder of Goju-Ryu and successor to Kanryo Higaonna) said of Kanryo Higaonna, "My Sensei possessed incredible strength; the severity of the training he underwent in China is beyond comprehension.... Kanryo Sensei's speed and power were truly superhuman; his hands and feet moved faster than lightening." Words are not enough to express his real ability. We can only say that his skill was incredible but even this fails to do him justice.

In the year 1881, after 13 years of diligent study with his teacher he returned to Okinawa and Naha where his martial arts became known as Naha-te (these arts were also referred to as "Tode" meaning martial arts from China).

Kanryo Higaonna taught martial arts to the people of Okinawa.

Kanryo Higaonna taught these martial arts to the people of Okinawa and at the same time continued his own research and practice. In order to teach the youth of Okinawa he developed a teaching method which was specifically designed to develop the mind and body; to improve both physical and spiritual well-being. 

Previously secretive art of Naha-te was "opened" to society in general, in October 1905, when Kanryo Higaonna began teaching at the high school.

Kanryo Higaonna was an extremely hard task master while teaching. However in his everyday life he was a quiet and humble man and was known for his virtuous character. He was a man who had no need or desire for worldly things. He led a simple life which was completely devoted to the study and practice of the martial arts.

There are many stories which relate tales of Kanryo Higaonna's life and training. The power of his legs was legendary, so much so that he was often referred to as "Ashi no Higaonna" ("Legs Higaonna") in Okinawa. His virtuous character was widely known and respected, and because of his popularity the people of Naha bestowed him with the name, "Obushi Higaonna Tanrnei", a name which reflected the affection and respect they had for this great man and supreme martial artist.

Kanryo Higaonna's unparalleled skill in the martial arts aside, his great and distinguished work was in bringing the Chinese martial art forms from China to Okinawa, and spreading these arts among the people of Okinawa. 

Kanryo Higaonna is now bestowed with the title, "Kensei (sacred fists) Higaonna Kanryo", a title which is eminently fitting. His name is synonymous with Okinawan martial arts and Naha-te, and his spirit is destined to live on forever as a great and valued treasure within Okinawan culture.

Kanryo Higaonna's whole life was devoted to karate. He passed away in December 1915 at the age of 63.


Grandmaster Chojun Miyagi was born on April 25, 1888

Founder Grandmaster Chojun Miyagi was born on April 25, 1888 in an aristocratic family. His family was in the import/export business, and owned two ships which made regular trips to mainland China, placing them among the wealthiest families in the area.

Grandmaster Chojun Miyagi began training in karate under Kanryo Higaonna at the age of 14.

He began training in karate under Kanryo Higaonna at the age of 14, in 1902. 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 disciple) of Kanryo Higaonna. He studied with his teacher for 14 years before his teacher's death in 1915.

Chojun Miyagi, as successor to Naha-te pushed himself to the limits of endurance.

Chojun Miyagi, as successor to Naha-te pushed himself to the limits of endurance in his desire to emulate the extraordinary skill of his teacher. To this end, that same year (1915) he journeyed to Fuzhou, China, the city where his teacher had studied the 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 at 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.

Chojun Miyagi worked hard to spread karate throughout Okinawa and mainland Japan, and to earn Naha-te 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 karate at Kyoto University and Ritsumei Kan University. In 1933 karate was registered at the Butokukai, the center for all martial arts in Japan. This was a milestone for karate as it meant that it was recognized on a level with the highly respected martial arts of Japan.

Chojun Miyagi dedicated his whole life to karate.

Chojun Miyagi dedicated his whole life to karate. He was responsible for structuring Naha-te (which he later named "Goju-Ryu") into a systematized 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 of his teacher, Kanryo Higaonna, and his teacher before him, Ryu Ryu Ko.

The naming of Goju-Ryu came about more by accident than design. In 1930, one of Chojun Miyagi's top students, Jin'an Shinzato was attending a Martial Arts convention in Tokyo. He was asked by numerous martial arts masters as to what school of martial arts he practiced. As Naha-te had no formal name he could not answer this question. Feeling his art would be looked down upon and given amateur status, he quickly picked Hankry-ryu, which means the Way of Half Hard.

On his return to Okinawa he reported this incident to Chojun Miyagi. He liked Shinzato's idea and took it one step further. After much consideration, Chojun Miyagi decided on the name 'Goju-Ryu' (hard and soft school) as a name for his style. He took this name from a line in the Bubishi (a classical Chinese 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 inhaling and exhaling is hardness and softness). The whole poem reads as follows:

Okinawa Goju Ryu Babushi.

  1. The mind is one with heaven and earth.
  2. The circulatory rhythm of the body is similar to the cycle of the sun and the moon.
  3. The way of inhaling and exhaling is hardness and softness.
  4. Act in accordance with time and change.
  5. Techniques will occur in the absence of conscious thought.
  6. The feet must advance and retreat, separate and meet.
  7. The eyes do not miss even the slightest change.
  8. The ears listen well in all directions.

Chojun Miyagi died on October 8th, 1953, of either a heart attack (the most popular explanation) or a cerebral haemorrhage at the age of 65.

Chojun Miyagi

Leadership of Goju Ryu after Chojun Miyagi Miyagi's tragic death came as a surprise to his students and the Karate community; it left the Goju-Ryu students with no leadership direction. Because his sudden death on October 8, 1953 came as a total surprise to everyone, Miyagi left no written documents designating a successor. Therefore, claims made by some Goju-Ryu groups as to who was the rightful successor were totally false.

However, the same year master Miyagi passed away, A group of Miyagi's senior students that included Nakaima, Madanbashi, Meitoku Yagi, Iha Koshin, and Eiichi Miyazato came together to elect a successor for Goju-Ryu. All the seniors agreed that Miyazato was the most qualified to succeed Chojun Miyagi due to his qualification and because he had spent the most continuous time with Miyagi in the dojo and in the police department.
Kei Miyagi, the second son of master Chojun Miyagi was called to testify on behalf of the family. His reply was that master Miyagi always said that Miyazato was the only one he could count on for everything in the dojo. Gentlemen this is it, directed Nakaima, speaker of the meeting. We have a successor, everyone applauded and Miyazato accepted the responsibility and dedicated his whole life to preserving and spreading Goju-Ryu in Okinawa from the Jundokan.

Eiichi Miyazato 10th Dan

Ei'ichi Miyazato was born on July 5th, 1922. Miyazato Sensei began his Karatedo training at age 13 with his father training with Makiwara and Chishi and became a student of Chojun Miyagi after introduction by his father in early 1938 at the age of 15.

As a beginning student in the Dojo he practiced Kigu hojo undo (supplementary exercises) and kakie (sticking hands) diligently and developed tremendous strength.

Eiichi Miyazato 10th Dan

Eiichi Miyazato 10th Dan

Eiichi Miyazato 10th Dan

Eiichi Miyazato 10th Dan
During this same time frame he also began studying Judo. Famous for his Ashi Barai (foot sweep), he eventually became All Okinawa Judo Champion.

Eiichi Miyazato 10th Dan
Except for a short time during WWII, Miyazato Eiichi remained with Miyagi Chojun until his death in 1953. Miyazato often assisted Miyagi Chojun teaching at the Garden Dojo and under his guidance Miyazato Eiichi also taught at local high schools. He succeeded Sensei Miyagi as instructor at the Ryukyu Police Academy where he also taught Judo.

Following Miyagi's death in 1953, Miyazato inherited all of Miyagi's Hojo Undo [training devices, The Miyagi family also gave Meitoku Yagi Miyagi Chojun Sensei's Gi and Obi - However, this Gi was purchased for Miyagi Sensei by Ei'Ichi Miyazato when Miyazato went to Japan to compete in Judo. Today, it hangs in his Meibu-Kan Dojo] and at the request of his fellow students and Miyagi's family, he continued teaching at the Garden Dojo (Miyagi's Dojo).

Eiichi Miyazato 10th Dan
He also assumed the responsibility of preserving the Katas, principles and the future of his teacher's Karatedo system, Goju-Ryu. Miyazato Hanshi opened his own Dojo in 1954 also built the Jundo-Kan (House for the Following in the Footsteps of the Father) in the Asato district of Naha in 1957 a 3 story structure which comprised of both the Jundo-Kan dojo and his home on the top floor. He is noted for carrying on the traditional way he had learned from Miyagi Sensei.
In addition to Goju-Ryu, Miyazato Ei'Ichi Hanshi also studied Judo (8th Dan) with Itokazu Shoko Sensei and hence forth was the All Okinawa Judo Championship and the Championship of the All Japan Police Judo. Before his death, Miyazato Ei'Ichi Hanshi was Chairman of the All-Okinawa Karatedo Federation, the Okinawa Goju-Ryu Karatedo Association and The World Jundo-Kan Association.

Eiichi Miyazato 10th Dan - Dennis May Kyoshi