Kanryo Higashionna (1853 - 1915)

The history of Goju Ryu can be traced back to a man named Master Kanryo Higashionna, known as the "Fist Saint of Naha". Naha city in Okinawa was thriving with martial arts activity in the 1850's. Kanryo Higaonna was born March 3, 1853 during the time when Okinawa Island was occupied by the Satsuma Clan of Japan. According to the recent study of Iken Tokashiki, President of Okinawa Goju Ryu Tomarite Karate do Kyokai, Kanryo Higashionna was born at Nishimura of Naha City as the fourth son of Kanryo Higashionna, the 10th generation of the Higaonna family in Haru.

Kanryo Higashionna visited Fuchou, China, around 1877 for three years. There is an another account in regards to his visit to the city. It is said that he visited the port city in 1873 for fifteen years. Some Martial Arts historians explain his motives of visiting the city was to study the Chinese Martial Arts. Higashionna did, in fact, study a Southern Shaolin Chun style, during his stay in that city. However, his initial reason for visiting China was explained by other historians that it was the result of his political involvements.

In 1868, Japan experienced a major reformation in its history when the Shogun, Tokugawa, was over turned by the liberal clans of Emperor Meiji. During the Tokugawa Shogunate era, Okinawa was part of the Satsuma Clan, the south end clan of Japan while the island also maintained their administrative connection with the Chinese government.

The Meiji Reformation brought Japan nationalism. The Meiji government wanted Okinawa as its sole affiliation and wanted the island to discontinue its trade with China. Okinawa, at this time, was divided into two political factions one was pro-Japan and the other was pro-China.

One close associate of Kanryo Higashionna was Lord Yoshimura, who had an enterprising trade of tea between the city Fuchou and Okinawa. He was a prominent pro-China activist who tried to block the Japanese settlement in Okinawa. According to historians, Higashionna carried a letter of referral for Lord Yoshimura for his trip. Higashionna never explained to anyone about the letter and stowed away with a few companions for China. In the city of Fuchou, there was a consulate of Okinawa called Ryukyu Kan. Apparently, the Ryukyu Kan represented an Okinawan petition then to the Chinese Government requesting its international pressure against the Japanese occupation of Okinawa. One posibility was that Higashionna was a chosen messanger by the pro-China Okinawa for updating others of the situation on the island.

In 1879, two years after Higashionna's departure, Okinawa was officially ordered by the Japanese government to become its prefecture with presence of an army of Japanese police and officials. It was an extremely intense period of time for Okinawans so that earlier assumptions that Higashionna left for China for the purpose of inquiring study of Karate was unlikely.

It was said that Higashionna stayed in China for three years. During his stay, he supported himself by making and selling bamboo wares. Also, he had an opportunity to study some of the Chinese Martial Arts in the city. According to Reikichi Ohya, Higashionna was one of those who studied from a Chinese named Wei Shinzan. Wei was the student of Leu Luko who also taught Higashionna so-called Fukien Crane Chang. Fukien Crane was a combined school with White Crane of South Shaolin Chang and Four Ancestor Chang.

In China, there were two counter parted arts of Chang, or fist. One is categorized as Hard style, or External style. The other is Soft style or Internal style. Hard and External style represent Zen Budhist initiated school such as various branches of Shaolin Chun, and Soft and Internal style represent Yee Chue n, Pai Kua Chang, and Tai Chi Chuen.

The Chinese system of fist that Kanryo Higashionna studied from Wei Shinzan and Leu Luko was also known by its name Pan Gainoon, which literally means "one half is hard and the other half is soft". Those kata practiced in the current Goju-Ryu school like Sanchin, Sanseiru, Pecchurin (Suparinpei) all originated from that style.

Prior to visiting China, Higashionna studied Naha-te from Seiso Aragaki (1840-1920) of Kume. Aragaki was well known among Okinawans with his favorite Kata called Seisan. Unlike Shuri-te, Naha-te represents newly imported Chinese forms from Fukien Province of China. After his return from China, Higashionna systemized the Naha-te with comtemporary Chinese art, thus it was called To-te or Chinese Hand.

Starting September 1902, Chojun Miyagi begun Naha-te practice with Kanryo Higashionna when he was fourteen