It was the Okinawan master Kanryo Higaonna (1853-1915) through his intensive studies in Fuzhou, China (Fujian province, 1867-1881), who laid the foundation for what would become Goju-Ryu Karate-Do.
Kanryo set sail for the city of Fuzhou in the autumn of 1867, when he was 15, and settled in the Okinawan community known as the Ryukyu Kan, an area compromising a microcosm of Okinawan life. Kanpu Tanmei, the manager of his boarding house the Uchinayaru, learned about Kanryo's eagerness to study the Chinese martial arts and introduced him to the Chinese master Ryu Ryu Ko.
There is still no consensus of opinion about Ryu Ryu Ko's exact identity nor about the exact martial art style he taught. However it is widely believed that Ryu Ryu Ko was born into an aristocratic family, and was sent to study at the southern Shaolin Temple in the mountains of Fujian Province. Due to the internal strife that threatened the feudal system and therefore the Chinese aristocracy, the family was forced to conceal their status in order to survive. For this reason, Ryu Ryu Ko, worked as a bricklayer and a builder. In later life, he lived by making a variety of everyday goods such as baskets, furniture and other items from cane. This was his profession when Kanryo Higaonna became his pupil. The city of Fuzhou had many White Crane Kung Fu teachers and it is probable that was the style of Ryu Ryu Ko.
The White Crane (Bai He) genealogy of Fujian originates with Fang Jiniang who lived in Yongchun near Fuzhou. She was the daughter of Fang Shiyu, who is said to have learned Monk Fist (Luohan Quan) at the southern Buddhist Shaolin Temple on the mountain Julianshan (Nine Lotus) in the Puliang-district in Fujian. She studied the defense and attack movements of the White Crane and hence developed a martial system based on her observations. The second generation Yongchun White Crane Boxing grandmaster was Zeng Cishu, who was also a master of Black Tiger Kung Fu. The White Crane tradition of Fujian became strongly influenced by Monk Fist and Tiger Boxing, and is probably the foundation on which Ryu Ryu Ko taught Kanryo Higaonna. The original Ancestral (Zong He Quan) or Trembling Crane (Zhan He Quan) style was later split into five main separate branches known as: Singing Crane, Sleeping Crane (Su He Quan), Flying Crane (Fei He Quan), Eating Crane (Shi He Quan) and Shouting Crane (Ming He Quan) and probably other sub-branches.
The devotion of Kanryo Higaonna was such that he eventually became Ryu Ryu Ko's, uchi-deshi i.e. senior student, learning his entire martial system. He also studied weapons, and traditional Chinese medicine. It is not exactly clear in what year Kanryo Higaonna began teaching the martial arts in Okinawa, but it is known that he did not begin teaching until a few years after his return from China. Kanryo Sensei first began teaching martial arts in his home in Nishishin-machi, but later taught at the Naha Kuritsu Shogyo Koto Gakko ( Naha Commercial High School ) in September 1905. He had many notable students and eventually his most dedicated student, Chojun Miyagi, succeeded him as the leading master of Naha-te (Chinese or Okinawa hands).
Chojun Miyagi (1888-1953) is the founder of today's Goju-Ryu Karate-Do; he was responsible for taking the Naha-te of his teacher and formulating it into his own martial arts system.
Miyagi was Kanryo Higaonna's most talented student and his chosen heir. Miyagi came from a wealthy family of ship owners who imported medicines from China and supplied them to the royal family, the government and leading Okinawan trading houses. To prepare him for his future task of leading his family, Chojun at age eleven was brought to Ryuko Aragaki (1875-1961) to begin his physical training and introduction to Naha-te. At the age of fourteen the young Miyagi was sent to A Short History of Okinawan Goju-Ryu Karate-Do study with Kanryo Higaonna. Here Chojun Miyagi, together with Juhatsu Kyoda (1887-1967), was immersed thoroughly in Higaonna's Naha-te.
After the death of Higaonna Kanryo the financially well-off Miyagi, occupied himself full-time with the study of martial arts. Miyagi decided to travel to Fuzhou, the center of South-Chinese fighting arts (Nan Quan), to visit the birthplace of Kanryo Higaonna's Naha-te and to pay his respects to Ryu Ryu Ko's grave. For two months Chojun Miyagi together with Aisho Nakamoto (1881-1945) stayed in Fuzhou to train and to also visit the Julianshan Fujian Shaolin Temple. Back on Okinawa, Miyagi became friends with two tea-merchants from Fuzhou Wu Xianhui (Japanese: Go Kenki) and Tang Daiji (Japanese: To Daiki). Both merchants were famous martial arts teachers. Wu Xianhui (1886-1940) came to Naha in 1912 to teach White Crane Kung Fu and made friends with Chojun Miyagi, Kenwa Mabuni (1889-1952), Juhatsu Kiyoda and others. Together with Wu Xianhui, Chojun Miyagi, left again to visit Fuzhou toward the end of the 1920’s. Aside from his relationship with Wu Xianhui (who had emigrated from Fuzhou to Naha in 1912), Miyagi began a relationship with Tang Daiji (1887-1937) a Tiger Boxing (Hu Quan) master who also emigrated from Fuzhou to Naha. Introduced by Wu Xianshui, Miyagi met in February 1936 in Shanghai the famous Monk Fist (Luohan Quan) master Miao Xing (1881-1939). Miyagi is said to have trained for some time diligently with Miao Xing and other Chinese masters associated with the Jingwu Athletic Association. He also visited the national martial arts championships.
Miyagi dedicated his whole life to the development of what was called Toudi- Jutsu ( China hand art) or simply 'te' on Okinawa. In 1921, Crown-Prince Hirohito visited Okinawa and witnessed a demonstration of Naha-te by Chojun Miyagi. In 1925 Miyagi demonstrated for prince Chichibu-Nomiya and, in 1926, founded the Okinawa Karate Kenkyu-Kai (Okinawa Karate Research Club) together with Chomo Hanashiro (Shuri-te), Choyu Motobu (Tomari-te) and Kenwa Mabuni. One year later, Chojun Miyagi demonstrated to Jigoro Kano (the founder of Judo), grappling, locking and throwing techniques and the correct use of breathing. Kano Sensei was very impressed by the Toudi-Jutsu of Miyagi, and accompanied by his friend Mabuni, introduced to prominent martial artists in Japan. Miyagi, together with his top student Jinan Shinzato (1901-1945), gave seminars and demonstrations at Japanese universities, Budo-tournaments and at the crowning festivities of crown prince Hirohito.
In 1933, Chojun Miyagi registered his Toudi-Jutsu officially as Goju-Ryu at the prestigious Dai Nippon Butokukai, (All Japan Martial Arts Association). Miyagi, recognized by the Ministry of Physical Education for his art, received the highest honor of the Dai Nippon Butokukai and was appointed representative to the Butokukai department for Okinawa. Goju-Ryu Karate-Do was the first and the oldest karate-tradition recognized by the Dai Nippon Butokukai and the founder, Chojun Miyagi, was awarded significant accolades. In May 1934, Chojun Miyagi was invited to Hawaii where he taught and gave demonstrations until February of 1935. His teachings in Hawaii were referred to as Kempo Karate.
On the 25th of October 1936, the most senior Okinawan masters: Chomo Hanashiro, Chotoku Kyan, Choki Motobu, Chosin Chibana, Juhatsu Kiyoda and Chojun Miyagi assembled and officially changed the name of Toudi-Jutsu to Karate-Do.
Before World War II Chojun Miyagi's top student was Jinan Shinzato. Shinzato was a police-detective by profession. Besides karate he also trained in judo. Shinzato was talented and it was generally known that he was to become Chojun Miyagi's successor. Unfortunately, he was killed during World War II. Chojun Miyagi also lost two daughters and his third son during this war. Before the war, Chojun Miyagi's teaching method began with hojo undo, uke harai, ude tanren, yakusoku kumite, kakie and then Sanchin kata. This was the students' routine for the first three to five years of study and comprised eighty percent of Chojun Miyagi's teaching. After this, one or two kaishugata would be taught, the depth and applications varied according to one's level of understanding and technical ability. Jinan Shinzato learned Sanchin, Sesan and Tensho; Seiko Kina learned Sanchin and Seiyunchin; Meitoku Yagi learned Sanchin and Suparinpei; Shunshin Furugen learned Sanchin and Kururunfa. However the senior students from before the war, Seiko Kina, Meitoku Yagi, Kiei Tomoyose, Shunshin Furugen, Eiko Miyazato and Eiichi Miyazato, did not immediately return from the war and faced hard times upon their return.
Therefore in 1948, Chojun Miyagi accepted new students and revised his teaching system, arranging the kata of Goju-Ryu into a set sequence, something that had not existed previously. In February, of that year, four students came to his dojo. These were An'ichi Miyagi, Bise Chishin, Gima Seikichi and Tokeshi Kako. After one year of intensive training, only An'ichi Miyagi remained. Until 1951, he was Chojun Miyagi's sole student. A close relationship formed, and Chojun Miyagi treated An'ichi like his own son.
Chojun Miyagi, facing his own mortality, taught the essence (gokui) of Goju-Ryu to An'ichi Miyagi. From February 1948 to October 1953 Chojun Miyagi taught An'ichi everything he knew to preserve this knowledge as a whole for future generations. In 1951, Miyagi accepted additional new students. The first was Shuichi Aragaki, and gradually more followed. Usually, these students were taught by An'ichi. In 1952, the number of dojo-members began to grow. On the 8th of October 1953, master Chojun Miyagi died suddenly of a heart attack.
Training continued in the garden-dojo at Chojun Miyagi's house. Mostly An'ichi taught and through his tutelage, three special students arose: Yasuo Iba, Anya Sauchi and Saburo Higa. For the first time since World War II, the Goju-Ryu garden-dojo started to flourish and could claim many outstanding students. Morio Higaonna began his Karate training in the Shorin-Ryu style with Tsunetaka Shimabukuru, Kenji Kaneshiro and Yoshishige Omine. At the intercession of Tsunetaka Shimabukuru, Morio Higaonna was introduced to the garden-dojo in March 1955. In his first visit, he met Yasuo Iba who told the young Higaonna that he should go to An'ichi Miyagi for instruction. After training, Morio Higaonna always visited Chojun Miyagi's widow, Makato (1887-1966). They often spoke about Chojun Miyagi, his senior students, and karate. She stressed that he should learn from An'ichi Miyagi, because he alone was closest to her husband and had learned the complete Goju-Ryu system.
In August 1957, Eiichi Miyazato built a large karate dojo in the Asato district of Naha, which he named Jundokan, after Jigoro Kano's first judo dojo. Miyazato became a recognized judo champion in 1950/1951 and left for Japan in April 1953, to attend the Japan Kodokan (Judo Hombu Dojo). Miyazato, became an accomplished judo master and president of the Okinawan Judo Federation. Because of his authority and position as a police officer, Miyazato, became official head of the dojo, with Koshin Iha as his assistant and responsible for training fees. They rarely taught however, leaving the daily teaching responsibilities to An'ichi Miyagi. It was An'ichi Miyagi who for example taught Yasuo Iha Suparinpei kata.
In 1959, An'ichi Miyagi left Okinawa to work on an American owned oil tanker. At this time, work was very difficult to find on Okinawa and An'ichi still had the responsibility of supporting his family. One year later, Morio Higaonna left Okinawa for Tokyo, to attend Takushoku University. Attending university, he would return to Okinawa twice a year, each winter for one month and each summer for two or three months. On these occasions, he continued his training and further development with An'ichi Miyagi.
The Okinawa Karate-Do Renmei had been formed in May of 1956, with Choshin Chibana, the founder of Shorin-Ryu, as its first chairman. On December 30, 1960, this seminal organization held the first all-style dan grading. Shoshin Nagamine from Matsubayashi Shorin-Ryu was chairman. The top-instructors of each style were awarded godan; twenty-five karate-ka were graded sandan (among them Morio Higaonna); twenty-three were awarded nidan; and forty were awarded shodan.
Morio Higaonna spent twenty years teaching at the Yoyogi dojo, in Tokyo, during which time Higaonna Sensei and his dojo became famous throughout the world. As a result, many people from a variety of martial arts backgrounds would come to train with and learn from Higaonna. In Tokyo, Higaonna also introduced his teacher An'ichi Miyagi. During these years An'ichi Miyagi passed on the secret and highest level techniques of Goju-Ryu to his student Morio Higaonna. In 1979, with the support of Ken Miyagi (fourth son), Chojun Miyagi’s family, and many of Chojun Miyagi's senior students, the International Okinawan Goju-Ryu Karate-Do Federation (IOGKF) was formed. The purpose: to keep Goju-Ryu's original techniques unchanged, to further technical development, and Goju-Ryu’s popularity, according to the wish of Chojun Miyagi. An'ichi Miyagi was appointed honorary chairman; and Morio Higaonna was appointed world chief-instructor. In 1981, Higaonna moved to Okinawa and opened a dojo in Naha (Higaonna dojo) to do more research. In 1987, he left for the USA to promote Goju-Ryu. Since 1987, he has visited Fuzhou on many occasions to expand his knowledge of the Chinese roots of Goju-Ryu. From these visits, a close bond between the IOGKF and the China Fuzhou Wushu Association (CFWA) was established. The IOGKF today has a large following, numbering tens of thousands of students in forty-five countries all over the world.