Goju-ryu (剛柔流) is a traditional Okinawan style of karate with an extensive history. The term Goju-ryu actually means “hard-soft style,” which refers to the closed hand techniques (hard) and open hand techniques and circular movements (soft) that comprise this martial art.
The history of Goju-ryu is somewhat clouded in mystery due to the lack of documentation regarding the art. Still, it is believed that during the 14th century Chinese Kempo was first introduced to Okinawa. At the time in Okinawa, ‘te’ was practiced as a native fighting art. Kempo eventually combined, at least to an extent, with the native martial arts there to form Okinawa-te globally, or Tomari-te, Shuri-te, or Naha-te depending on the area of origin. It should be noted that in 1609 Japan invaded Okinawa, and during this time Okinawans were banned from carrying weapons or practicing martial arts. Therefore, for a long time martial arts were practiced underground there. In 1873 a martial arts master by the name of Kanryo Higashionna in Japanese or Higaonna Kanryo in Okinawan (1853-1916) traveled to Fuzhou in the Fujian Province of China. There he studied under various teachers from China, including a man by the name of Ryu Ryu Ko (also sometimes called Liu Liu Ko or Ru Ko). Ryu Ryu Ko was a great master of the art of Whooping Crane Kung Fu. Eventually, Higashionna returned to Okinawa in 1882. When he came back he began teaching a new martial arts style, one that comprised both his knowledge of the Okinawan styles with the martial arts he learned in China. What he came out with was Okinawan karate. Higashionna’s best student was Chojun Miyagi (1888-1953). Miyagi began studying under Hiagashionna at the age of 14. When Higashionna died, many of his students continued to train with Miyagi. Miyagi also traveled to China to study martial arts, just as his predecessor did, bringing his knowledge back to Japan where he began to refine the martial arts he and his students practiced. In 1930 at the All Japan Martial Arts Demonstration in Tokyo, a demonstrator asked Miyagi’s number one student, Jin’an Shinzato, what school or kind of martial arts he practiced. When Shinzato returned home and told Miyagi of this, Miyagi decided to call his style Goju-ryu.