he studied several gung-fu styles
from 1873 to 1885.
Upon his return home, he integrated his Chinese Martial Arts knowledge
with Okinawan, 'te', to form the basis of a Karate style which
would later become known as 'Goju Ryu'.
Kanryo Higaonna was born on March
10, 1853, in the district of Nishimura in the city of Naha, Okinawa.
The 4th Son of Kanryo Makomado, his father was a trade merchant
who exchanged food, clothing, and firewood through the Ryukyu
Islands during a time when Okinawa was occupied by the Satsuma
Clan. These were feudal and uneasy times in Japanese history,
as the Satsuma Clan, who maintained tributary relationship with
China on the surface, but were controlled by Japan's ruling Tokugawa
In 1879, the new Japanese government established with the Meiji
Restoration dispatched troops to oust King Sho Tai from Shurijo
Castle, declaring the official establishment of Okinawa Prefecture.
Thus, the Kingdom of the Ryukyu ceased to exist.
At the young age of 10, Kanryo Higaonna
started work with his father sailing between the Islands of Okinawa
trading everyday goods--since his 2nd and 3rd brothers died at
early age, and his 1st brother was struck-down with terrible illness.
At the age of 14, Higaonna was honoured with the traditional ceremony
of "Katagashira" to celebrate his manhood. His work
with his father involved much physical labour, which developed
Higaonna's stout, yet strong body--a contributing hallmark to
his reputation for unparalleled speed and agility.
That same year, in 1867, he commenced
formal training in Chinese Kempo with Seisho Arakaki, who had
studied the acclaimed Chinese style of 'Fukien'. Not too long
after, his father was killed as the result of a brawl. This loss
shocked the young Higaonna, who was hurt so gravely that he sort
revenge. It was at this time that he decided to travel to China
to learn the deadly Chinese Martial Arts to avenge his father's
Travelling to China during the time
of the Satsuma was restricted only to merchants, students or government
officials. Permission to travel was only granted by the King of
Okinawa. With the help of the Official, "Udon Yoshimura",
Higaonna hustled a permit to travel to Fuchow, China, as a student.
He departed from the port of Naha in the year 1866, at the age
Upon 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. Fuchow was the
capital of the province of Fukien, and a major trading ports open
to foreign commerce.
After a year of residence, he was
introduced to the well renowned Martial Arts Instructor called,
Ryu Ryuko (also known as Xie Zhongxiang). Kanryo Higaonna was
not allowed to train right away. Traditionally in China, and the
Martial Arts in those days, you were not allowed to learn or train
with anybody until you proved your worth. This was an age-old
custom of personal service one's master by attending to his garden,
cleaning, and performing menial chores. Higaonna was no exception.
He assisted Master Ryu Ryuko's by working as a craftsman in his
bamboo shop. After he had satisfied his master's expectations,
he was then accepted as a disciple ready to train.
At first, Kanryo Higaonna was only instructed in Sanchin Kata.
His motivation and dedication soon started to show up in the progress
of his skills becoming, "uchi deshi" (a living student).
Ryu Ryuko introduced him to the different traditional equipment
such as chiishi, ishi sashi, nigiri game, tan and muning (variation
of makiwara). The training was very severe. Training included
hojo undo, ude tanren, uke harai, kakie and ne waza. The Chinese
system that Higaonna Kanryo studied from Wei Shinzan and Ryu Ryuko
was also known as Chuan-Fa, which literally means "one-half
is hard and other half is soft". Such Kata is still practiced
today in Goju-Ryu & traditional Goju Kai schools. Katas like
Sanchin, Sanseiru, Suparinpei (Pecchurin) all originated from
In addition to studying empty handed
Martial Arts, he also become accomplished in weapons and Chinese
Within a few years Kanryo Higaonna
became Ryu Ryuko's top student. Kanryo Higaonna practiced 13 years
in China until Ryu Ryuko told him that was time for him to leave.
In 1881 Kanryo Higaonna returned to Okinawa. It is said that Ryu
Ryuko esteemed his pupil highly, and sanctioned Higaonna Kanryo
Sensei mastery of the arts. Such was Kanryo's skill that his fame
became widespread throughout Fuchow and the surrounding area.
He settled back in the district
of Nishimura in the City of Naha and like his father, in the past,
became a merchant, travelling with his boat in between the islands
of the Ryukyu. He then started to teach a select group of students
at his house. His instruction was as severe as his Master's. In
a short time, he obtained in Okinawa the same reputation that
he had developed in Fuchow. It wasn't long before he was considered
to be the foremost Karate-ka in Okinawa, and the King of Japan
invited Kanryo Higaonna to teach him the Martial Arts. At this
time, martial arts became known as Naha-te (or arts otherwise
referred to as, "Tode", meaning Martial Arts from China).
In 1905 he was invited to teach
his Naha-Te (Te from Naha) 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 led by
Higaonna's spiritual approach to training. Until then Te was taught
as a Martial Art only with the application to kill. Upon returning
to Okinawa, Higaonna Sensei began private lessons to the sons
of the man who assisted him in granted passage to China.
Upon his return to Okinawa his reluctance
to formally teach was broken in 1905, after which Chojun Miyagi,
age 14, was brought to him for formal instruction. Among his top
students were Chojun Miyagi (founder of Goju Ryu) and Kenwa Mabuni
(founder of Shito Ryu). His first open dojo was also his house
in Nishimachi, and many came to learn from him, but due to harsh
training, not many managed to stay around long at all.
Kanryo Higaonna decided to make
an important change in the Sanchin Kata. Until then, Sanchin Kata
was practiced with open hands. Higaonna started to teach it with
close hands and slower breathing with the purpose of promoting
the health benefits, rather than promoting lethal techniques at
the school. For Kanryo Higaonna, the introduction of closed fist
techniques emphasized physical strength more than the ability
to kill, the philosophy that would one day come to be known as
the Goju-Ryu Kai, "Chojun Miyagi Fist".
Evolution played an important roll
in this change also. Kanryo Higaonna noticed that a lot of young
Okinawans, without any knowledge of Martial Arts, naturally stood
with closed fists when they were going to fight. Despite these
varied changes, he continued to teach the original way that he
learned in China to his few students at his dojo.
There are many stories that describe
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 their great Martial Artist.
Higaonna Sensei was renowned also
for his powerful 'Sanchin Kata'. Sometimes he would permit four
men to attempt to push him out of his stance, but they were always
unable to move him-even though is solid and stout frame merely
stood at 5.1 feet tall. It is said that after finishing his Sanchin
Kata, the wooden floor would be hot from the mere gripping of
When teaching, Higaonna Kanryo Sensei
was an extremely hard task master. However in his everyday life
he was a quiet and humble man and one who was renowned for his
virtuous character. He was a man who had no need or desire for
worldly things. He lead a simple life which was completely devoted
to the study and practice of the martial arts.
Today, in Naha, Okinawa, a monument
still stands in dedication to Higaonna and his most prominent
and best student Chojun Miyagi, the founder of Goju-Ryu. Kanryo
Higaonna's unparalleled skill in the Martial Arts, and furthermore,
his great and distinguished work was in bringing the ancient Chinese
Martial Arts from China man him the principle man responsible
for the spreading these arts among the people of Okinawa.
Kanryo Higaonna Sensei passed away
at the age of 63 in late December, 1917. His spirit is destined
to forever live on as a great valued treasure within Okinawan