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, (Japanese for "hard-soft style") is one of the main traditional Okinawan styles of karate, featuring a combination of hard and soft techniques. Both principles, hard and soft, come from the famous martial arts book Bubishi (Chinese: wu bei ji), used by Okinawan masters during the XIX and XX. Go which means hard, refers to closed hand techniques or straight linear attacks; Ju which means soft, refers to open hand techniques and circular movements.

Major emphasis is given to breathing correctly. Gōjū-ryū practices methods that include body strengthening and conditioning, its basic approach to fighting (distance, stickiness, power generation, etc.), and partner drills. Gōjū-ryū incorporates both circular and linear movements into its curriculum. Gōjū-ryū combines hard striking attacks such as kicks and close hand punches with softer open hand circular techniques for attacking, blocking, and controlling the opponent, including locks, grappling, takedowns and throws.


The history of Goju-ryu is controversial, due to the lack of documentation; however, we can try to summarize the main theories about its origins. What we know is that Goju-ryu did follow the same path of other martial arts due to the process of modernization in Japan: it changed from a fighting discipline into a general purpose educational discipline. Higaonna Morio noted that in 1905, Higashionna Kanryo sensei taught martial arts in two different ways, according to the type of student: At home, he taught Naha-te as a martial art whose ultimate goal was to kill the opponent; however, at the Naha Kuritsu Shogyo Koto Gakko (Naha Commercial High School), he taught karate as a form of physical, intellectual and moral education .

There are two years that define the way Goju-ryu has been considered by the Japanese establishment: the first, 1933, is the year Gōjū-ryū was officially recognized as a budo in Japan by Dai Nippon Butoku Kai, in other words, it was recognized as a modern martial art, or gendai budo. The second year, 1998, is the year the Dai Nippon Butoku kai recognized Goju-ryu Karatedo as an ancient form of martial art (koryu) and as a bujutsu. This recognition as a koryu bujutsu shows a change in how Japanese society sees the relationships between Japan, Okinawa and China. Until 1998, only martial arts practiced in mainland Japan by samurai had been accepted as koryu bujutsu.

Koryu Bujutsu

The names "goju ryu" and "karate" are recent, but the art is older. The Okinawan name for their 19th century martial art was toudi, with to meaning "Tang" (a medieval Chinese dinasty) or "Chinese"; and te meaning "hand". In Okinawa there were three main toudi variants: Naha-te (or nafadi), Tomari-te and Shuri-te. Goju-ryu comes from Naha-te.

As stated before, in 1998, the Dai Nippon Butoku kai recognized Goju-ryu Karatedo as an ancient form of martial art, or koryu, and Goju-ryu Karatedo was also the first Okinawa Martial Art to be recognized as Bujutsu 2 The origins of this art explain this recognition: there are three possible sources for the ancient Naha-te or Goju-ryu. The first source would be the old Okinawan fighting arts. The second source would be different Southern Chinese schools of martial arts known by Okinawan travelers such as Higashionna Kanryo sensei. The third source would be a Chinese school of martial arts established in Naha at the beginning of the 19th century. These sources may well complement each other.

Okinawan fighting arts

In Okinawa there were five old native fighting arts which, blended with Southern Chinese martial arts, gave birth to toudi. First, ti'gwa, a percussive art originated in Siam and imported to Okinawa during its early period of inter-cultural commerce. Second kata or hsing/xing from Southern/Fujian-based quanfa. Third, tuite (torite, chin na or qinna), or joint locks to seize or control opponents, used by law enforcement officials. Fourth, tegumi or Okinawan wrestling and grappling. Fifth, buki'gwa or weapons arts, which were severely limited after the weapons ban in 1609. . One of the main components and sources of Okinawan karate is the above-mentioned native tradition called "tuite": grappling, joint locks and breaks, throws, sweeps, which often led to ground fighting. These techniques were widely practiced in Ryūkyū's small villages and were blended with Chinese martial arts to give birth to karate. In kata, usually low stances and/or hands in chambers are the signs of a technique of this kind.

The use of "soft" techniques in the Gōjū-ryū kata tensho reveals an influence from one or more White Crane schools. Traditionally, Goju-ryu is considered a descendant of the Fujian White Crane style (known as "Fujian Bai He" in Chinese). From White Crane, Gōjū-ryu takes the circular movements and fast strikes. From Tiger Style, Gōjū-ryu takes the strong linear attacks and the tiger claw pinching (especially in kyusho-jitsu). There are two theories about how these Chinese influences contributed to the birth of Goju-ryu:

Southern Chinese arts studied in China

The late 19th century saw the great karate masters going back to China for a "martial-arts pilgrimage" of sorts. The development of Gōjū ryū goes back to Kanryo Higashionna, (1853–1916), a native of Naha, Okinawa. As a teenager he trained with an Okinawan master named Arakaki Seisho. In 1873 he traveled to Fuzhou in Fujian Province, China, where he studied from various teachers. In 1877 he began to study under a kung fu master called Ryū Ryū Ko (or Liu Liu Ko, or To Ru Ko; the name is uncertain.) Patrick McCarthy and Tokashiki Iken have identified him as Xie Zhongxiang, founder of Whooping Crane Kung Fu. This great master taught a handful of Okinawan students who went on to become karate legends.

Higashionna returned to Okinawa in 1882 and continued in the family business of selling firewood, while teaching a new school of martial arts, distinguished by its integration of gō-no (hard) and jū-no (soft) kempo into one system. Higashionna's style was known as Naha-te. Gojukai history considers that Chinese Nanpa Shorin-ken was the strain of kung fu that influenced this style (1).

Southern Chinese arts studied in Okinawa

According to Fernando Câmara, both Goju and Uechi may have come from a specific school of Quan Fa in Okinawa, established in Naha around 1828. Câmara says that Miyagi Chojun, in his "Karate-do Gaisetsu" (1934), didn't mention Higashionna Kanryo, but a Chinese school stablished in Naha as Goju-ryu's originator. Câmara gives us the names of some prominent masters of this school: Sakiyama, Aragaki Seisho, Kojo Taitei, Nakaima, and Higashionna, and he thinks that Ryu Ryu Ko may have been one of the advisers of this school, along with Iwah, Wai Shin Zan, and others.

According to Chojun Miyagi: "In 1828, our ancestors inherited a kung fu style of Fujian province in China. They continued their studies and formed Goju-ryu Karate. Even today, there still exists an orthodox group which inherited genuine and authentic Goju-Ryu karate." . It should be noted that, to Miyagi, there is a continuity from the 1828 kung fu group to the 1936 orthodox gojuka group, and that he considered that both groups were one and the same, and therefore according to Miyagi Chojun, Higashionna Kanryo effectively was not the origin of Goju-ryu, but the person who passed down the system to Miyagi. This leads to a question: who were the first non-orthodox gojuka, Higashionna Kanryo or Miyagi Chojun? It is known that Miyagi changed the system when he adapted it to modern times, and it is said that Higashionna traveled to China and brought back some kata. It is also part of the historical tradition of Goju-ryu that Higashionna changed the kata by using fists instead of open hand techniques in order to adapt his art to physical education courses in Okinawan high schools.

Gendai budo

In 1933, Gōjū-ryū was the first Karate school officially recognized as budo in Japan by Dai Nippon Butoku Kai and the only style of Karate with a full historical representation in both Okinawa and Japan. This recognition places Goju-ryu Karatedo among the modern martial arts, or gendai budo.

Higashionna's most prominent student was Chojun Miyagi (1888–1953) who began training under Higashionna at the age of 14. In 1915 Miyagi and a friend Gokenki went to Fuchou in search of Higashionna's teacher. They stayed for a year and studied under several masters but the old school was gone (Boxer Rebellion 1900). Shortly after their return, Higashionna died. Many of Higashionna's students continued to train with him and he introduced a kata called Tensho which he had adapted from Rokkishu of Fujian White Crane.

Higashionna's most senior student Juhatsu Kyoda formed a school he called Tōon-ryū (Tōon is another way of pronouncing the Chinese characters of Higashionna's name, so Tōon-ryū means "Higashionna's style"), preserving more of Higashionna's approach to Naha-te.

The name Goju-ryu Karate literally means "hard soft school of karate." In 1930 at the All Japan Martial Arts Demonstration in Tokyo, one of the other demonstrators asked Chojun Miyagi’s top student, Jin’an Shinzato as to what school of martial arts he practiced. On his return to Okinawa he reported this incident to Chojun Miyagi, who decided on the name Gōjū-ryū as a name for his style . Chojun Miyagi took the name from a line of the poem Hakku Kenpo, which roughly means: "The eight laws of the fist," and describes the eight precepts of the martial arts. This poem was part of the Bubishi, a classical Chinese text on martial arts and medicine. The line in the poem reads: Ho wa Gōjū wa Donto su "the way of inhaling and exhaling is hardness and softness," or "everything in the universe inhales soft and exhales hard.

Kata / bunkai

A kata is a set of techniques organized as pre-arranged movements that simulates a fight. Okinawan kata have traditionally been used to preserve sets of techniques and fighting principles, and they have also served as the basis upon Okinawan fighting systems (such as Gōjū-ryū) are taught.

In kata, each movement can be interpreted as different techniques and its applications. Kata is to be understood as a "living textbook" in which karate proper—its techniques and philosophy—is passed down. The practice of kata itself provides the practitioner a sense of structure and possibilities to use in a real fight. Bunkai, on the other hand, is the analysis—or interpretation (oyo-bunkai)—of kata movements. After the analysis of bunkai, karateka usually practice two or more person drills to ingrain the application in the muscle memory, which makes sense of sequences of movements in kata forms. Techniques-within-techniques are revealed through constant practice of kata and bunkai.

The kata taught in Gōjū-ryū are rather traditional and in most organizations are emphasized more than actual kumite (or free sparring). This emphasis in kata is also an emphasis in bunkai, the actual self-defense application of the kata movements. The self-defense approach explains why Gōjū-ryū does not emphasize free sparring and its limiting rules.

Kata detractors say that these kata are useless in a real fighting situation, while proponents say they are failing to realize what the purpose of kata and bunkai is. This conflict of views is due to the sport emphasis of gendai budo and the fighting emphasis of koryu bujutsu. As gendai budo, the practice of karate kata is focused in performance and channeled through performative sport-oriented tournaments. This way of practicing kata ultimately makes it useless for self defense. On the other hand, as bujutsu, the practice of kata is focused not only on performance but also in the fighting knowledge codified in it. So the term "kata practice" has two totally different meanings: as gendai budo it is performance; as bujutsu, it is performance and self defense application.


Kihongata means a "kata of basics." In Goju Ryu, sanchin kata is the foundation to all other Gōjū kata because it teaches basic movements, basic techniques, power generation and breathing techniques from qigong. it is also the foundation of body conditioning. The more the karateka practices this kata, the more his Heishugata will change. First variation of Sanchin-kata (sanchingata dai-ichi) serves as Kihongata. See more on Sanchin kata below.


Heishugata means "kata with closed hands" or "fundamental kata". This kata teaches fundamentals (i.e. not only basics of movement but also principles) of the style while basics are learned during Kihongata. Traditionally, Kaishugata was taught as a second kata, or a "specialty kata" of a student, after Heishugata (e.g. Sanchin-kata and/or Tensho-kata) is learned and practiced.

  • Sanchin kata - Kanji: 三戦 - Katakana: サンチン (three battles): In Gōjū, there are two sanchin kata:
    • Miyagi's sanchin (or "sanchin dai ichi"): The most widely taught as initial and Kihongata, was created for such purpose by Chojun Miyagi, and has no turns so the karateka goes forward and then backwards.
    • Higashionna's sanchin (or "sanchin dai ni"): It is a full-version Sanchingata and is older and was taught by Higashionna Kanryo. In this kata the karateka always goes forward, but turns 180 degrees twice.
  • Tensho kata - Kanji: 転掌 - Katakana: テンショウ (): Tensho was created in 1921 as "softer sanchin" by Chojun Miyagi to balance Go aspect of Heishugata (Sanchin-kata) with Ju variation for Heishugata. Tensho means "revolving hands." It is a combination of hard dynamic tension with deep breathing and soft flowing hand movements.


Kaishugata means a "kata with open hands." This is a more advanced from Heishugata type. Kaishugata serves as a "combat application reference" kata and is open to vast interpretation (Bunkai) of its movements purpose (hence, "open hands").

  • Saifa - Kanji: 砕破- Katagana: サイファー (to destroy and defeat): This is usually the first advanced Gōjū-ryū kata the student learn in most goju kaiha, after gekisai dai ichi and gekisai dai ni. The first three moves are the signature of the kata—a wrist-grab-throw technique. The center of the kata is the sagi ashi dachi, or crane stance, which is simultaneous to two blocks and a knee strike followed by a mae geri.
  • Seiunchin - Kanji: 制引戦- Katagana: セイユンチン (Attack, Conquer, suppress; also referred to as "to control and pull into battle"): Seiunchin kata demonstrates the use of techniques to unbalance, throw and grapple, contains close-quartered striking, sweeps, take-downs and throws.
  • Shisochin - Kanji: 四向戦- Katagana: シソーチン ("to destroy in four directions" or "fight in four directions"): It integrates powerful linear attacks (shotei zuki) and circular movements and blocks. It was the favorite kata of the later Miyagi.
  • Sanseiru - Kanji: 三十六手 - Katagana: サンセイルー (36 Hands): The kata teaches how to move around the opponent in close quarters fights, and emphasizes the destruction of the opponent's mobility by means of kanzetsu geri.
  • Sepai - Kanji: 十八手 - Katagana: セイパイ (18 Hands): Sepai kata incorporates both the four directional movements and 45° angular attacks and implements techniques for both long distance and close quarter combat. This was a Seikichi Toguchi's specialty kata.
  • Kururunfa - Kanji: 久留頓破 - Katagana: クルルンファー (holding on long and striking suddenly): its techniques are based on Chinese Praying Mantis style. It was Ei'ichi Miyazato's specialty kata.
  • Seisan - Kanji: 十三手 - Katagana: セイサン (13 Hands): Seisan is thought to be one of the oldest kata quite spread among other Naha-te schools. Other ryuha also practice this kata or other versions of it.
  • Suparenpei - Kanji: 壱百零八 - Katagana: スーパーリンペイ (108 Hands): Also known as Pechurin, it is the most advanced Gōjū-ryū kata. Initially it had three levels to master (Go, Chu, and Jo), later Miyagi left only one, the highest, "Jo" level. This was a Meitoku Yagi's and Morio Higaonna's specialty kata.


In 1940, Gen Hayakawa, governor of Okinawa, assembled the Karate-Do Special Committee, composed by Ishihara Shochoku (chairman), Miyagi Chojun, Kamiya Jinsei, Shinzato Jinan, Miyasato Koji, Tokuda Anbun, Kinjo Kensei, Kyan Shinei, and Nagamine Shoshin. The goal of these men was to create a series of Okinawan kata in order to teach both physical education and very basic Okinawan independent style martial arts to school children. Their goal was not to create a standardized karate as the Japaneses had been doing with Kendo and Judo for the sake of popularization.

This type of kata is not traditional Gōjū-ryū kata; instead, they are "promotional kata", simple enough to be taught as part of Physical Education programs at schools, and part of a standardized karate syllabus for schools, independently of the sensei's style.

Nagamine Shoshin (Matsubayashi Shorin-Ryū) developed fukyugata dai ichi, which is part of current Matsubayashi Shorin Ryu syllabus; and Miyagi Chojun developed fukyugata dai ni, which is part of current Goju Ryu syllabus under the name gekisai dai ichi. Some Goju Ryu dojo still practice fukyugata dai ichi. Miyagi sensei also created gekisai dai ni, but it is practiced by Goju Ryu and some offsprings only.

  • Gekisai dai ichi - kanji: 撃砕 - Hiragana: げきさい ("to destroy" or "attack and destroy"). It was developed by Miyagi Chojun after 1936, and it is the first Goju kata to be taught to beginners. It is called fukyugata dai ni by Matsubayashi Shorin Ryu practitioners.
  • Gekisai dai ni. Miyagi created also Gekisai-dai-ni. Gekisai Dai Ni incorporates slightly "softer" techniques, although it follows a similar pattern to that of Gekisai Dai Ichi. It involves the use of open-handed and circular techniques, and it is the second kata to be taught to beginners.

Other non-traditional Gōjū-ryū Kata

Some Gōjū-ryū schools have their additional, style-based kata, that are not in other Gōjū-ryū kata curricula. Some of this extra kata are simple kihon kata (like fukyugata dai ichi or taikyoku), some are advanced kata (like Meibukan kata). Other schools of Goju (such as the Shorei-kan ) from the Touguchi branch offers extra katas such as Geikiha 1 & 2 and the Hookiyu katas 1 & 2. Another non traditional kata is Kurogane Shatsu (iron shirt) meant to train the body and endurance of the mind.

Meibukan kata

Meitoku Yagi sensei, founder of Meibukan, created a set of five kata with the techniques he considered were Miyagi Chojun's favorite techniques :

Yamaguchi Goju Kai kata [JKGA / IKGA]

  • Chikaku
  • Genkaku
  • Taikyoku: Series of six kata created by Gōjū Kai's founder Gogen Yamaguchi. Taikyoku teaches basic block/attack patterns and basic ways to move in four directions.
    • Taikyoku Jodan; Dai Ichi & Ni
    • Taikyoku Chudan; Dai Ichi & Ni
    • Taikyoku Gedan; Dai Ichi & Ni
    • Taikyoku Kake Uke; Dai Ichi & Ni
    • Taikyoku Mawashi Uke; Dai Ichi & Ni

Seigokan kata

Tada Seigo, founder of Seigokan, created additional kata for introduction to educational programs and for beginning students:

  • Kihon Uke no Kata
  • Kihon Tsuki no Kata

Shoreikan kata

Seikichi Toguchi, founder of Shoreikan Goju Ryu, created additional kata:

  • Hookiyu Kata Ichi
  • Hookiyu Kata Ni
  • Gekisai Dai San
  • Gekiha Dai Ichi
  • Gekiha Dai Ni
  • Kakuha Dai Ichi
  • Kakuha Dai Ni
  • Hakutsuru no Mai


Informative links

This section refers only to web sites that contains significant -in quality and quantity- documents about Goju ryu.

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