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Goju-ryu (????), (Japanese for “hard-soft style”) is one of the main traditional Okinawan styles of karate, featuring a combination of hard and soft techniques. Both principles, hard and soft, come from the famous martial arts book Bubishi (Chinese: wu bei ji), used by Okinawan masters during the XIX and XX. Go which means hard, refers to closed hand techniques or straight linear attacks; Ju which means soft, refers to open hand techniques and circular movements.
Major emphasis is given to breathing correctly. Goju-ryu practices methods that include body strengthening and conditioning, its basic approach to fighting (distance, stickiness, power generation, etc.), and partner drills. Goju-ryu incorporates both circular and linear movements into its curriculum. Goju-ryu combines hard striking attacks such as kicks and close hand punches with softer open hand circular techniques for attacking, blocking, and controlling the opponent, including locks, grappling, takedowns and throws.
The history of Goju-ryu is controversial, due to the lack of documentation; however, we can try to summarize the main theories about its origins. What we know is that Goju-ryu did follow the same path of other martial arts due to the process of modernization in Japan: it changed from a fighting discipline into a general purpose educational discipline. Higaonna Morio noted that in 1905, Higashionna Kanryo sensei taught martial arts in two different ways, according to the type of student: At home, he taught Naha-te as a martial art whose ultimate goal was to kill the opponent; however, at the Naha Kuritsu Shogyo Koto Gakko (Naha Commercial High School), he taught karate as a form of physical, intellectual and moral education .
There are two years that define the way Goju-ryu has been considered by the Japanese establishment: the first, 1933, is the year Goju-ryu was officially recognized as a budo in Japan by Dai Nippon Butoku Kai, in other words, it was recognized as a modern martial art, or gendai budo. The second year, 1998, is the year the Dai Nippon Butoku kai recognized Goju-ryu Karatedo as an ancient form of martial art (koryu) and as a bujutsu. This recognition as a koryu bujutsu shows a change in how Japanese society sees the relationships between Japan, Okinawa and China. Until 1998, only martial arts practiced in mainland Japan by samurai had been accepted as koryu bujutsu.
The names “goju ryu” and “karate” are recent, but the art is older. The Okinawan name for their 19th century martial art was toudi, with to meaning “Tang” (a medieval Chinese dinasty) or “Chinese”; and te meaning “hand”. In Okinawa there were three main toudi variants: Naha-te (or nafadi), Tomari-te and Shuri-te. Goju-ryu comes from Naha-te.
As stated before, in 1998, the Dai Nippon Butoku kai recognized Goju-ryu Karatedo as an ancient form of martial art, or koryu, and Goju-ryu Karatedo was also the first Okinawa Martial Art to be recognized as Bujutsu 2. The origins of this art explain this recognition: there are three possible sources for the ancient Naha-te or Goju-ryu. The first source would be the old Okinawan fighting arts. The second source would be different Southern Chinese schools of martial arts known by Okinawan travelers such as Higashionna Kanryo sensei. The third source would be a Chinese school of martial arts established in Naha at the beginning of the 19th century. These sources may well complement each other.
In Okinawa there were five old native fighting arts which, blended with Southern Chinese martial arts, gave birth to toudi. First, ti’gwa, a percussive art originated in Siam and imported to Okinawa during its early period of inter-cultural commerce. Second kata or hsing/xing from Southern/Fujian-based quanfa. Third, tuite (torite, chin na or qinna), or joint locks to seize or control opponents, used by law enforcement officials. Fourth, tegumi or Okinawan wrestling and grappling. Fifth, buki’gwa or weapons arts, which were severely limited after the weapons ban in 1609. . One of the main components and sources of Okinawan karate is the above-mentioned native tradition called “tuite”: grappling, joint locks and breaks, throws, sweeps, which often led to ground fighting. These techniques were widely practiced in Ryukyu’s small villages and were blended with Chinese martial arts to give birth to karate. In kata, usually low stances and/or hands in chambers are the signs of a technique of this kind.
The use of “soft” techniques in the Goju-ryu kata tensho reveals an influence from one or more White Crane schools. Traditionally, Goju-ryu is considered a descendant of the Fujian White Crane style (known as “Fujian Bai He” in Chinese). From White Crane, Goju-ryu takes the circular movements and fast strikes. From Tiger Style, Goju-ryu takes the strong linear attacks and the tiger claw pinching (especially in kyusho-jitsu). There are two theories about how these Chinese influences contributed to the birth of Goju-ryu:
The late 19th century saw the great karate masters going back to China for a “martial-arts pilgrimage” of sorts. The development of Goju ryu goes back to Kanryo Higashionna, (1853–1916), a native of Naha, Okinawa. As a teenager he trained with an Okinawan master named Arakaki Seisho. In 1873 he traveled to Fuzhou in Fujian Province, China, where he studied from various teachers. In 1877 he began to study under a kung fu master called Ryu Ryu Ko (or Liu Liu Ko, or To Ru Ko; the name is uncertain.) Patrick McCarthy and Tokashiki Iken have identified him as Xie Zhongxiang, founder of Whooping Crane Kung Fu. This great master taught a handful of Okinawan students who went on to become karate legends.
Higashionna returned to Okinawa in 1882 and continued in the family business of selling firewood, while teaching a new school of martial arts, distinguished by its integration of go-no (hard) and ju-no (soft) kempo into one system. Higashionna’s style was known as Naha-te. Gojukai history considers that Chinese Nanpa Shorin-ken was the strain of kung fu that influenced this style (1).
According to Fernando Câmara, both Goju and Uechi may have come from a specific school of Quan Fa in Okinawa, established in Naha around 1828. Câmara says that Miyagi Chojun, in his “Karate-do Gaisetsu” (1934), didn’t mention Higashionna Kanryo, but a Chinese school established in Naha as Goju-ryu’s originator. Câmara gives us the names of some prominent masters of this school: Sakiyama, Aragaki Seisho, Kojo Taitei, Nakaima, and Higashionna, and he thinks that Ryu Ryu Ko may have been one of the advisers of this school, along with Iwah, Wai Shin Zan, and others.