What Are Martial Arts?

Martial arts are extensive systems of codified practices and traditions of combat that are practiced for a variety of reasons, including self-defense, competition, physical health and fitness, as well as mental, physical and spiritual development.

Martial Arts

When you work with me, I can teach you one-on-one the ancient principals of Goju-Ryu Karate. I have a fifth degree black belt in Goju Ryu.

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 19th and 20th centuries. 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.

History of Goju-Ryu Karate

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 be able 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 bud? in Japan by Dai Nippon Butoku Kai, in other words, it was recognized as a modern martial art, or gendai bud?. 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.

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.

Okinawan fighting arts

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 was 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, and sweeps, which often led to ground fighting. These techniques were widely practiced in Ry?ky?’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:

Southern Chinese arts studied in China

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.) Tokashiki Iken has identified him (Patrick McCarthy has translated and cited Tokashiki in his work) 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 g?-no (hard) and j?-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.

Southern Chinese arts studied in Okinawa

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.

According to Chojun Miyagi: “In 1828, our ancestors inherited a kung fu style of Fujian province in China. They continued their studies and formed Goju-ryu Karate. Even today, there still exists an orthodox group which inherited genuine and authentic Goju-Ryu karate.” It should be noted that, to Miyagi, there is a continuity from the 1828 kung fu group to the 1936 orthodox gojuka group, and that he considered that both groups were one and the same, and therefore according to Miyagi Chojun, Higashionna Kanryo effectively was not the origin of Goju-ryu, but the person who passed down the system to Miyagi. This leads to a question: who were the first non-orthodox gojuka, Higashionna Kanryo or Miyagi Chojun? It is known that Miyagi changed the system when he adapted it to modern times, and it is said that Higashionna traveled to China and brought back some kata. It is also part of the historical tradition of Goju-ryu that Higashionna changed the kata by using fists instead of open hand techniques in order to adapt his art to physical education courses in Okinawan high schools.

Gendai budo

In 1933, Goju-ryu was the first Karate school officially recognized as bud in Japan by Dai Nippon Butoku Kai and the only style of Karate with a full historical representation in both Okinawa and Japan. This recognition places Goju-ryu Karatedo among the modern martial arts, or gendai bud?.

Goju-ryu founder Chojun Miyagi.

Higashionna’s most prominent student was Chojun Miyagi (1888–1953) who began training under Higashionna at the age of 14. In 1915 Miyagi and a friend Gokenki went to Fuchou in search of Higashionna’s teacher. They stayed for a year and studied under several masters but the old school was gone (Boxer Rebellion 1900). Shortly after their return, Higashionna died. Many of Higashionna’s students continued to train with him and he introduced a kata called Tensho which he had adapted from Rokkishu of Fujian White Crane.

Higashionna’s most senior student Juhatsu Kyoda formed a school he called T?on-ry? (T?on is another way of pronouncing the Chinese characters of Higashionna’s name, so T?on-ry? means “Higashionna’s style”), preserving more of Higashionna’s approach to Naha-te.

The name Goju-ryu Karate literally means “hard soft school of karate.” In 1930 at the All Japan Martial Arts Demonstration in Tokyo, one of the other demonstrators asked Chojun Miyagi’s top student, Jin’an Shinzato as to what school of martial arts he practiced. On his return to Okinawa he reported this incident to Chojun Miyagi, who decided on the name Goju-ryu as a name for his style. Chojun Miyagi took the name from a line of the poem Hakku Kenpo, which roughly means: “The eight laws of the fist,” and describes the eight precepts of the martial arts. This poem was part of the Bubishi, a classical Chinese text on martial arts and medicine. The line in the poem reads: Ho wa G?j? wa Donto su “the way of inhaling and exhaling is hardness and softness,” or “everything in the universe inhales soft and exhales hard.”

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