From Naha Te to Goju Ryu

In Okinawa there were three main towns that developed Karate, each with its own unique flavour. They were:

Shuri Te: Developed by bodyguards and fighters in Shuri Castle. This was the art of the professional fighter. The kata most closely associated with Shuri Te are Kushanku (Kanku Dai) and Bassai. Notable Shuri Te masters were Matsumura and Azato. Shuri Te is categorised by quite long range dynamic powerful techniques. The most advanced kata of Shuri Te is Gijushiho (Useishi). Shuri Te is the most ‘Japanese’ of the styles owing to the fact that some of the Shuri Te masters trained Kenjutsu with the Jigen Ryu.

Tomari Te: Sharing many similarities with Shuri Te, the arts of Tomari were developed more haphazardly as various Chinese masters, diplomats and pirates arrived in the port of Tomari. Because Tomari is a rocky cavernous beach it is believed that the one-legged stances of the white crane forms were favoured because balance was needed to fight on the wet rocks. Masters of Tomari Te include Gusukuma and Matsumora.  Kata of Tomari include Chinto (Gankaku) and Jutte, with the most advanced form thought to be Meikyo (Rohai).

Naha Te: The fighting arts developed in Naha were the most closely linked to China. This is because of the large Chinese community in Kume village, Naha. The area renewed its link to China when Bushi Kojo and Seisho Aragaki studied in Fujian, bringing back forms like Seishan (Hangetsu) and Sanchin. Later Higaonna went to Fujian and studied and his successor Miyagi founded Goju Ryu. The most advanced Goju form is Suparimpei while the most advanced ‘Aragaki’ form is Unsu.

Goju Ryu

Goju Ryu Karate was formed in around 1900 by Master Chojun Miyagi who combined the old Okinawan art of Naha Te that he learnt from Higaonna Kanryo with Chinese boxing that he learnt from masters like Gokenki.

Higaonna Kanryo began his study of Naha Te in the 1800s with a master called Seisho Aragaki before travelling to Fujian, China where he trained with the White Crane master Ryuru Ko.

Chojun Miyagi’s Goju Ryu was carried through the 20th century by masters such as Anichi Miyagi and Gogen Yamaguchi.

Reiner Parsons (7th Dan Goju Ryu)  was graded 5th Dan by Nisseikai founder Tadanori Nobetsu who created Nisseikai by combining Goju Ryu with Feeding Crane Quan Fa to take the art back to its original Naha Te form. Reiner was graded 6th Dan by Ikuo Higuchi, headteacher of Shoto Ryu. Higuchi’s teacher Makota Gima was a Karate Jutsu student of Kentsu Yabe and Anko Itosu and was the first man graded 1st Dan by Gichin Funakoshi. Gima was later the first Shoto 10th Dan, being graded by Kanken Toyama.

Roots of Nisseikai

Tadanori Nobetsu (9th Dan Kokusai Budoin IMAF) founded the Nisseikai school of Goju Ryu in 1965. He did so by combining his study of Goju Ryu with the art of Feeding Crane Kung Fu.

According to Patrick McCarthy, the style of Kung Fu that Goju Ryu Karate was based upon was Whooping Crane (also called Calling Crane or Screaming Crane).

This art was based on the Fujian White Crane apparently passed to Ryuryu Ko by Pan Yuba who’s teacher was Lin Shixian (who was a student of Feng Qi Niáng, the originator of the first White Crane style).

Another branch, the one studied by Nobetsu Sensei, is the Feeding Crane tradition.

In 1922 four masters of Crane Fist from China’s Fujian arrived in Taiwan They were Er-Gau, Yi-Gau, A-Fong and Lin Dé Shùn.

After his arrival in Taiwan Lin De Shun started to work for a sugar company and in 1927 Liu Gu (1900-1965) heard about the skills of that master, and immediately invited him to be his teacher, offering some expensive gifts. Liu learnt thee full syllabus and became the next grandmaster.

Liu Gu was succeeded by his son Liu Yín Shan and he by Liu Chin Long who is Nobetsu Sensei’s teacher.

An interesting aspect of Liu family Shi He Quan is that the family had a book called “The Secret Shaolin Bronze Man Book” – apparently almost identical to the Bubishi.

In his commentary of the Bubishi, Patrick McCarthy recalls: “Having met Liu Yinshan’s brother, Liu Songshan in Fuzhou, I came to learn of a “secret book” on gongfu that had been in the Liu family for the last seven decades. After meeting him in Fuzhou, hosting him at my home in Japan and visiting him in Taiwan, I have become familiar with that book, entitled The Secret Shaolin Bronze Man Book and can testify that it is, in almost every way, identical to the Bubishi. Master Liu’s Bubishi is divided into 17 articles in three sections, whereas the Okinawan Bubishi contains 32 articles. However the same data is covered in both works though it is categorized differently.”

Tiger Boxing was another style that influenced both Karate (Uechi Ryu) and Feeding Crane was taught by Zhou Zi He.

Following in the footsteps of Aragaki and Higaonna, Uechi Kanbun arrived in Fujian and like them settled at the Ryukyukan, a Okinawan enclave of buildings including a boarding house, homes and businesses established for those who visited and lived in the area – including the famous Kojo Dojo.

Uechi didn’t like training at the Kojo Dojo because he was bullied so Uechi eventually became the student of Shu Shi Wa or Zhou Zhi He. Uechi’s teacher, Zhou Zhi He (1874-1926) originated from Minhou, Fujian.

Zhou reportedly practiced Tiger boxing, in addition to hard and soft qi gong and was noted for his iron palm technique. It has also been speculated that Gokenki and Tang Daiji studied the same style as Zhou Zhi.


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