Okinawa Goju Ryu Karate ~ A traditional fighting art with unique characteristics
To fully appreciate what sets Okinawa Goju Ryu apart from other karate systems, it is important to revisit its' origins in the context of historical influences and geography.
Being the largest island of the Ryu Kyu group, Okinawa has been the crossroads for cultural exchange and trade between Japan and China for centuries. These influences can be traced as far back as 300 BC and reached a highpoint during the Okinawan Sho dynasty.
The traditional hard, unarmed fighting systems of the ancient Okinawans gradually became influenced by those of the Chinese. From China's Fukien Province, the Shaolin Temple boxing system's softer, flowing systems started to influence the Okinawan "te" style.
Okinawans were forbidden to carry weapons after the 17th century invasion by the Japanese.
The pressure brought to bear on the Okinawan culture and self preservation led toclandestine practice of the Chinese systems, developing unique Okinawan systems such as Shuri-te, Tomari-te and Naha-te. Each of these systems had their own unique characteristics.
Eventually Tomari-te and Shuri-te blended into Shorin Ryu and Naha-te became Goju Ryu. The system of Goju Ryu was shaped by Grand Master Kanryo Higaonna. His successor, Master Chojun Miyagi developed Goju Ryu further and is credited for being the founder of Okinawa Goju Ryu as a formal system, especially after officially naming the system.
There are many interpretations of the name "Goju Ryu", from the direct translation to "Hard and Soft" to the more philosophical implying a state of mind in balance with physical condition as well as in many techniques executed during the practice of the system.
Questions are often posed regarding the differences between karate systems.
This is a complex issue and the answer lies not so much in differences of technique, but in emphasis and philosophy. In Goju Ryu great importance is placed on development of maximum strength through the practice of hojo undo. Additionally, the practice of breathing katas to develop correct posture, muscle tension and overall focus. Also unique to Goju Ryu is a system of warmup exercises, junbi undo, that prepares the body well for the physical demands it will be subjected to during the traditional practices..
While many Goju Ryu schools have an interest in sport karate, the main philosophical difference between this traditional system and other styles of karate today lie in a belief that concentration mainly on competition inevitably leads to a loss of the traditional teachings and values. If a practitioner only experiences the sport aspect of Goju Ryu and never encounters the traditional aspects, much will be lost to them. Many Goju Ryu masters continue their practice well into old age as can be seen in Okinawa today. Clearly Okinawa Goju Ryu is a system for life of which appreciation develops with time, patience and diligent pursuit.
With great respect we refer the reader to Master Koshin Iha, who as an octogenarian still instructs and has been awarded the title of "Intangible Cultural Asset holder in the Field of Okinawan Karate and Martial Arts with Weaponry" by the Okinawan Prefecture. He is the honorary Chairman of the Okinawan Goju Ryu Karate do Kyokai (OGKK) and one of the few surviving students of Master Chojun Miyagi.
More in-depth information regarding Okinawa Goju Ryu can be found on the website of the Okinawan Prefecture.
Another reference is an excellent book, titled "Okinawan Karate" by Mark Bishop, written in 1989. It includes all styles of Okinawan Karate do and many top masters of each Ryu-ha.
Mr. Bishop spent ten years on research and interviewed many of the masters included in the book.