Ryu Ryu Ko and Kanryo Higaonna: -The Chinese Roots

Higaonna Kanyro

It was the Okinawan Kanryo Higaonna (1853-1915) who through his intensive studies in Fuzhou (Fujian, China) -in the period 1867-1881- laid the foundation of what later would become known as Goju-Ryu karate-do. Kanryo set sail for Fuzhou in the autumn of 1867, when he was 15, with the Ryukyu Kan, an area compromising a microcosm of Okinawan life, as his final destination. 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.Higaonna Kanyro

There is still no consensus of opinion about Ryu Ryu Ko’s exact identity nor about the exact martial art style which he taught. However it is widely believed that the family of Ryu Ryu Ko had originally been of the aristocratic class, and in those times only the aristocratic classes studied the martial arts. Ryu Ryu Ko studied 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 the profession he was following when Kanryo Higaonna became his pupil. In the area Kanryo Higaonna disembarked, White Crane teachers were living and probably Ryu Ryu Ko was one of them. The White Crane (Bai He) genealogy of Fujian goes back to Fang Jiniang, the daughter of Fang Shiyu, who is said to have learned Monk Fist (Luohan Quan) during his stay in the southern Buddhist Fujian Shaolin Temple on the mountain Julianshan (Nine Lotus) near Fuzhou in the Puliang-district. Fang Jiniang, from Yongchun near Fuzhou, had also studied the defence- and attack-movements of the White Crane and became due to this the founder of the first generation White Crane masters. The second generation Yongchun White Crane Boxing grandmaster was Zeng Cishu, who was also a Black Tiger Boxing master.

The White Crane tradition of the 17th century 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 (Zhan He Quan) Crane 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 numerous sub-branches as well.

However such was the devotion of Kanryo Higaonna that he eventually became Ryu Ryu Ko’s uchi-deshi i.e. he received the inner teachings thus learning the whole system, as well as the study of weapons, and traditional Chinese medicine. It is not clear exactly which 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 first began teaching martial arts in his home in Nishishin-machi, but later taught also at the Naha Kuritsu Shogyo Koto Gakko (Naha Commercial High School) in September 1905. He had many notable students and eventually his most favourite student, Chojun Miyagi, succeeded him as the leading master of Naha-te.

→The Goju Ryu of Chojun Miyagi