A History and Style Guide of Goju-Ryu

Learn More About This Okinawan Style of Karate

Gōjū-ryū founder Chōjun Miyagi
Gōjū-ryū founder Chōjun Miyagi. Nakasone Genwa/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

Goju-ryu is a traditional Okinawan style of karate with an extensive history. The term Goju-ryu actually means “hard-soft style,” which refers to the closed hand techniques (hard) and open hand techniques and circular movements (soft) that comprise this martial art.

The history of Goju-ryu is somewhat clouded in mystery due to the lack of documentation regarding the art. Still, it is believed that during the 14th century Chinese Kempo was first introduced to Okinawa.

At the time in Okinawa, ‘te’ was practiced as a native fighting art. Kempo eventually combined, at least to an extent, with the native martial arts there to form Okinawa-te globally, or Tomari-te, Shuri-te, or Naha-te depending on the area of origin. It should be noted that in 1609, Japan invaded Okinawa, and during this time, Okinawans were banned from carrying weapons or practicing martial arts. As a result, martial arts were practiced underground there for quite some time.

Goju-ryu karate was the style of karate that Ralph Macchio practiced under his teacher, Mr. Miyagi, in the movie, "The Karate Kid," and the Crane Block was spoken of in the movie as an "unstoppable move." However, there is no such thing as an unstoppable move in karate, though it is certainly something fun to think about!

History of Goju- Ryu Karate

In 1873, a martial arts master by the name of Kanryo Higashionna in Japanese or Higaonna Kanryo in Okinawan (1853 - 1916) traveled to Fuzhou in the Fujian Province of China.

There he studied under various teachers from China, including a man by the name of Ryu Ryu Ko (also sometimes called Liu Liu Ko or Ru Ko). Ryu Ryu Ko was a great master of the art of Whooping Crane Kung Fu.

Eventually, Higashionna returned to Okinawa in 1882. When he came back he began teaching a new martial arts style, one that comprised both his knowledge of the Okinawan styles with the martial arts he learned in China.

What he came out with was Okinawan karate.

Higashionna’s best student was Chojun Miyagi (1888 - 1953). Miyagi began studying under Hiagashionna at the tender age of 14. When Higashionna died, many of his students continued to train with Miyagi. Miyagi also traveled to China to study martial arts, just as his predecessor did, bringing his knowledge back to Japan where he began to refine the martial arts he and his students practiced.

In 1930, at the All Japan Martial Arts Demonstration in Tokyo, a demonstrator asked Miyagi’s number one student, Jin’an Shinzato, what school or kind of martial arts he practiced. When Shinzato returned home and told Miyagi of this, Miyagi decided to call his style Goju-ryu.

Characteristics of Goju-Ryu Karate

Goju-ryu karate is generally a stand-up style, characterized by both hard (closed fist) and soft (open hand or circular) techniques. Many Goju-ryu practitioners feel as if they are martial arts technicians, in that they utilize angles to deflect strikes rather than trying to meet strength with strength. In addition, Goju-ryu tends to emphasize meeting opponents with the opposite of what they are utilizing. For example, striking the head (a hard part of the body) with the open hand (a soft part of the body) or striking the groin (soft) with a groin kick (hard).

Beyond this, Goju-ryu karate is known for teaching breathing techniques to a great extent. It also utilizes some takedowns, throws, and weapons. Interestingly, because of the Japanese suppression that occurred in the 1600s when they invaded, Okinawan martial artists tended to use weapons that were really farm tools such as the Bokken (wooden sword) and Bo (wooden staff) so as not to bring attention to the fact that they were practicing martial arts.

The basic goal of Goju-ryu karate is self-defense. It is primarily a stand-up form that teaches practitioners how to block strikes by using angles and then subdue them with hand and leg strikes. The art also teaches some takedowns, which tend to set up finishing strikes.

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Rousseau, Robert. "A History and Style Guide of Goju-Ryu." ThoughtCo, Sep. 17, 2017, thoughtco.com/history-and-style-guide-goju-ryu-2308264. Rousseau, Robert. (2017, September 17). A History and Style Guide of Goju-Ryu. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/history-and-style-guide-goju-ryu-2308264 Rousseau, Robert. "A History and Style Guide of Goju-Ryu." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/history-and-style-guide-goju-ryu-2308264 (accessed November 25, 2017).