Higaonna (Higashionna) Kanryo (東恩納 寛量 Higaonna Kanryō, March 10, 1853 – December 1916), also known as “Higashionna West”, was a native of Nishi-shin-machi, Naha, Okinawa. He was born in Nishimura, Naha to a merchant family, whose business was selling firewood, an expensive commodity in the Ryukyu Islands. He founded the fighting style later to be known as Gōjū ryū karate.
In 1867 he began to study Monk Fist Boxing (Luohan Quan) from Aragaki Tsuji Pechin Seisho who was a fluent Chinese speaker and interpreter for the Ryukyu court. At that time the word karate was not in common use, and the martial arts were often referred to simply as Te (“hand”), sometimes prefaced by the area of origin, as Naha-te, Shuri-te, or simply Okinawa-te.
In September 1870, with the help of Yoshimura Udun Chomei, Higaonna gained the travel permit necessary to travel to Fuzhou, on the pretext of going to Beijing as a translator for Okinawan officials. In March 1873 he sailed to Fuzhou in the Fukien province of China.
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 Ru Ru Ko (a.k.a. Ruru Ko, Ryu Ryu Ko, To Ru Ko, or Lu Lu Ko, his name was never recorded as Kanryo Higaonna was illiterate. His real name maybe Xie Zhongxiang founder of Whooping Crane gongfu). According to oral account, Kanryo spent years doing household chores for master Ru Ru 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 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 Higaonna Kanryo’s system.
Kanryo was noted for his powerful Sanchin kata, or form. Students reported that the wooden floor would be hot from the gripping of his feet.
Chōjun Miyagi (宮城 長順 Miyagi Chōjun, April 25, 1888—October 8, 1953) was a Japanese martial artist who founded the Goju-ryu school of karate by blending Okinawan and Chinese influences.
Miyagi was born in Higashimachi, Naha, Okinawa on April 25, 1888, the adopted son of a wealthy businessman. He began his study in Karate-do at the age of nine (or fourteen). He first learned martial arts from Ryuko Aragaki, who then introduced him to Kanryo Higashionna when Miyagi was 14. Under his tutelage, Miyagi underwent a very long and arduous period of training. His training with Higaonna was interrupted for a two-year period while Miyagi completed his military service, 1910–1912, in Miyakonojo, Miyazaki Prefecture.
In 1915, after the death of Kanryo Higashionna, Miyagi travelled to Fujian Province. In China he visited the grave of Higaonna’s teacher, Ryu Ryu Ko. He also studied some local Chinese martial arts while he was there. (Some sources claim he studied Shaolin Kung Fu in Fuzhou, although historically Southern Shaolin was razed to the ground by Qing government forces more than 300 years prior to his visit, and the modern day Fuzhou Shaolin Temple is a recent reconstruction based on a popular movie.) From the blending of these systems, the hard linear/external form of Shaolin, the soft circular/internal form of Pa Kua, and his native Naha-Te, a new system emerged. However, it was not until 1929 that Chojun Miyagi named the system Goju-ryu, meaning “hard soft style”.
After several months in China, Chōjun Miyagi returned to Naha where he opened a dojo. He taught for many years, gaining an enormous reputation as a karateka. Despite his reputation, his greatest achievements lie in popularization and the organization of karate teaching methods. He introduced karate into Okinawa police work, high schools and other fields of society. He revised and further developed Sanchin – the hard aspect of Goju, and created Tensho – the soft aspect. These kata are considered to contain the essence of the Goju-ryu. The highest kata, Suparinpei, is said to contain the full syllabus of Goju-ryu. Shisochin was Miyagi’s favorite kata at the end of his years. Tensho was influenced by the White Crane kata Ryokushu, which he learned from his long-time friend Gokenki. With the goal of unification of various karate styles which was in fashion at that time (see Gichin Funakoshi for his works in Japan), he also created more Shurite-like katas Gekisai Dai Ichi and Gekisai Dai Ni in 1940, taking techniques from higher forms (notably Suparinpei, and upper blocks uncommon for Goju-ryu at that time) and incorporating them into a shorter forms. It is said he created these kata to bridge the gap between Sanchin and Saifa, which contains much more complex moves compared to Sanchin.
Miyagi had his first heart attack in 1951, and died in Okinawa on October 8, 1953 from a second heart attack. Some of Miyagi’s more notable students were: Seko Higa (his oldest student and also a student of Kanryo Higaonna), Miyazato Ei’ichi (founder of the Jundokan dojo), Meitoku Yagi (founder of the Meibukan dojo, who eventually accepted Miyagi’s gi and obi from Miyagi’s family), Seikichi Toguchi (founder of Shorei-kan Goju-ryu), and on the Japanese mainland Gōgen Yamaguchi who was the founder of the International Karate do Goju Kai Association and who after training with Miyagi, became the representative of Gōjū-ryū in Japan. At a later date Gōgen Yamaguchi invested much time studying Kata under Meitoku Yagi. He also trained other students who went on to create their own styles, such as Shimabuku Tatsuo (Isshinryu).