Higaonna Sensei 東恩納 寛量
Born March 10th, 1853 in Nishi-machi (Nishimura), Naha-shi, Okinawa - the 10th generation of Higaonna family in Haru Lineage. At the time he was born Okinawa was occupied by the Satsuma Clan. Reputed to have earned a living transporting firewood from the Kerama Island. With his father, Kanryo-being the fourth son, worked as a merchant sailing between the small islands of Okinawa trading everyday goods. From a young age (it is believed he started working at 10 which was acceptable during the times) Kanryo Higaonna helped his father in this work and through the hard physical labor that was involved developed his strong body. Although we have no positive evidence, it has been rumored that his father was killed in 1867 (Higaonna age 14). He stood very small in size however had unparalleled speed and agility. His last name also pronounced as Higashionna, Kanryo Higaonna is known as the founder and highest authority of Naha-Te.
Kanryo Higaonna was still in his teens when his father died, At the age of 14, that same year he began his formal training in Chinese Kempo with Seisho Arakaki 新垣世宗 (1840-1920), who had studied the Fukien style. Kanryo decided he wanted to entertain his studies his studies abroad in martial arts and he set his heart on traveling to Fuzhou, China 中国福建省福州市 for this purpose. 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. Higaonna did, in fact, study a Southern Shaolin Chaun style with Sifu (instructor) Liu Liu Gung and remained there for 15 years, during his stay in that city. Explained by other historians, his initial reason for visiting China was the result of his political involvements. He arrived in Fuzhou in the year 1869, he was 15 or 16. It is believed that Higaonna Sensei also studied the styles of Hung Gar-Shaolin Chuan, hard style Chinese martial arts of Chi-Chi and/or I-Chi as well with another master named ‘Woo’. He began his studies with Ryuruko in 1876 at the age of 23 in Fujian Province, China and he remained in there under the severe instruction of his teacher for approximately (his remaining) 13 years.
The Chinese system that Higaonna Kanryo studied from Wei Shinzan and Ryuruko was also known as Pan Gainoon 一半硬半軟 which literally means "one half is hard and other half is soft". Those kata practiced in the current Goju-Ryu school like Sanchin 三戦, Sanseiru 三十六, Superinpei (Pecchurin) 百零八 all originated from Pan Gainoon. In addition to studying empty handed martial arts he also become accomplished in weapons techniques and Chinese herbal medicine. He assisted his teacher Ryuruko at his trade as a bamboo craftsman by day and trained in the evenings. Training in that time period is much different than it is today. Training included hojo undo, ude tanren, uke harai, kakie and ne waza. Higaonna Sensei reputation among the locals was one of Ryuruko's most skilled students. Pan Gainoon.In addition to studying empty handed martial arts he also become accomplished in weapons techniques and Chinese herbal medicine. He assisted his teacher Ryuruko at his trade as a bamboo craftsman by day and trained in the evenings. Training in that time period is much different than it is today. Training included hojo undo, ude tanren, uke harai, kakie and ne waza. Higaonna Sensei reputation among the locals was one of Ryuruko's most skilled students.
One close associate of Kanryo Higaonna was Lord Yoshimura, 義村御殿 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, Higaonna carried a letter of referral for Lord Yoshimura for his trip. Higaonna 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, or 琉球館. 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 Higaonna was a chosen messanger by the pro-China Okinawa for updating others of the situation on the island.
In 1879, six years after Higaonna'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 Higaonna left for China for the purpose of inquiring study of Karatedo was unlikely.
It is said that Ryuruko esteemed his pupil highly and sanctioned Higaonna Kanryo Sensei mastery of the arts. Such was Kanryo's skill in the martial arts that his fame became widespread throughout Fuzhou and the surrounding area.
Upon returning to Okinawa, Higaonna Sensei began private lessons to the sons of the man who had granted him passage to China. He went back to his old job as a merchant, but his reputation was growing. He returned to Okinawa during the middle of the Meiji era (1888) and introduced a new effective school of Karatedo at the request of his students, distinguished from other styles by its integration of Go- no (hard) and Ju-no (soft) Kempo into one system notwithstanding his small statue. At this time, martial arts became known as Naha-te (these arts were also referred to as "Tode" meaning martial arts from China).
Kanryo Higaonna taught these martial arts to the people of Okinawa and at the same time continued his own research and practice. In order to teach the youth of Okinawa he developed a teaching method which was specifically designed to develop the mind and body; to improve both physical and spiritual well-being. The first occasion on Higashionna-Sensei was noted for his powerful Sanchin Kata. Sometimes he would permit four men to attempt to push him out of his stance, but they were always unable to move him. It is said that after finishing his Sanchin Kata, the wooden floor would be hot from the mere gripping of his toes. His most prominent and best student was Chojun Miyagi, the founder of Goju-Ryu. The Monument to the left was dedicated to Higaonna Kanro and Miyagi Chojun Sensei's and is located in Naha Okinawa.
In 1905 he began teaching at a public high school, and was considered along with Anko Itosu to be the foremost Karatedo practitioner in Okinawa. Upon his return to Okinawa his reluctance to teach formally was finally broken in 1905 after which Chojun Miyagi, age 14, was brought to him for formal instruction and he began teaching formally at the Naha Commercial High School. He along with Anko Itosu was known as the most proficient Karatedo practitioner in Okinawan Naha-te. Among his top students were Chojun Miyagi (founder of Goju-Ryu) and Kenwa Mabuni (founder of Shito Ryu).
When teaching, Higaonna Kanryo Sensei was an extremely hard task master. However in his everyday life he was a quiet and humble man and one who was renowned for his virtuous character. He was a man who had no need or desire for worldly things. He lead a simple life which was completely devoted to the study and practice of the martial arts.
There are many stories which relate tales of Kanryo Higaonna's life and training. The power of his legs was legendary, so much so that he was often referred to as "Ashi no Higaonna" ("Legs Higaonna") in Okinawa. His virtuous character was widely known and respected, and because of his popularity the people of Naha bestowed him with the name, "Obushi Higaonna Tanrnei", a name which reflected the affection and respect they had for this great man and supreme martial artist. Kanryo Higaonna's unparalleled skill in the martial arts aside, his great and distinguished work was in bringing the Chinese martial art forms from China to Okinawa, and there spreading these arts among the people of Okinawa.
Higaonna Sensei is considered one of the earliest and foremost masters of Okinawan Karatedo and regarded as one of the most influential Karatedo instructors in Okinawan history. Kanryo Higaonna is now bestowed with the title, "Kensei (sacred fists) Higaonna Kanryo", a title which is eminently fitting. His name is synonymous with Okinawan martial arts and Naha-te, and his spirit is destined to live on forever as a great and valued treasure within Okinawan culture. Kanryo Higaonna Sensei passed away of illness at the age of 63 in early 1917 (however also rumored December 23rd, late that same year). His most notable students were Chojun Miyagi (Goju-Ryu founder ), Kenwa Mabuni (Shito Ryu founder) and Juhatsu Kyoda (Toon Ryu founder).
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