Gōjū-ryū (剛柔流, Gōjū-ryū), (Japanese for “Hard-soft style”) is a style of karate that uses a combination of hard and soft techniques. It is commonly believed that the concept of combining the two extremes originated in a Chinese martial arts doctrine known as wu bei ji (pronounced bubishi in Japanese.) Gojū-ryū combines hard striking attacks such as kicks and punches with softer circular techniques for blocking and controlling the opponent, including locks, grappling, takedowns and throws. Major emphasis is given to breathing correctly. Goju-ryu practices methods that include body strengthening and conditioning, its basic approach to fighting (distance, stickiness, power generation, etc.), and partner drills. Goju-ryu incorporates both circular and linear movements into its curriculum.
“Go” means hardness or external force; “jū” means softness or internal force.
The naming of Gojū-Ryū came about more by accident than design. In 1930, numerous martial arts masters asked Chojun Miyagi’s top student, Jin’an Shinzato, while in Tokyo as to what school of martial arts he practiced. As Naha-Te had no formal name he came up with the impromptu name Hanko Ryū (Half-Hard Style).
On his return to Okinawa he reported this incident to Chojun Miyagi. After much consideration Chojun Miyagi decided on the name Gojū-Ryū (hard and soft school) as a name for his style. This name he took from a line in the Bubishi (a classical Chinese text on martial arts and other subjects). This line, which appears in a poem, the Hakku Kenpo (roughly, “The eight laws of the fist”), describing the eight precepts of the martial arts, reads, “Ho wa Gojū wa Donto su” (the way of inhaling and exhaling is hardness and softness, or everything in the universe inhales soft and exhales hard).The development of Gojū-ryū goes back to Kanryo Higaonna, (1850–1915), a native of Naha, Okinawa. As a teenager he trained with an Okinawan master named Arakaki Seisho, before moving to Fujian Province, China, to study Wushu (Kung Fu) from Master Ryu Ryu Ko Roshi.
Higaonna returned to Okinawa during the middle of the Meiji Era (1868–1911) and continued in the family business of selling firewood, while teaching a new school of martial arts, distinguished by its integration of go-no (hard) and jū-no (soft) kempo in one system. The word karate (empty hand) was not in common use at that time, and Higashionna’s style was known as Naha-te. It is accepted that Chinese Nanpa Shorin-ken was the strain of kung fu that influenced this style. As such, this style and that of Uechi Ryū were built upon a similar foundation.
Higaonna’s most prominent student was Chojun Miyagi (1888–1953) who began training under Higaonna at the age of 12. After Higaonna’s death Miyagi sailed to China and studied there for several years, returning to Naha in 1918. Many of Higaonna’s students continued to train with him, including Higa Seiko (1898–1966). However, Higaonna’s most senior student Juhatsu Kyoda, who studied under Higaonna one month longer than Miyagi, formed a school he called Tōon-ryū (Tōon is another way of pronouncing the Chinese characters of Higaonna’s name, so Tōon-ryū means “Higaonna’s style”), preserving more of Higaonna’s approach to Naha-te.
Gojū-Ryū was the first officially recognized style of Karate in Japan by Dai Nippon Butoku Kai and the only style of Karate with a full historical representation in both Okinawa and Japan.
The history of karate itself is one of cultural and social exchanges with China going back to the Tang dynasty—-hence the Korean name for karate, “Tang Soo” or “Chinese hands.” Before the development of modern Karate started by Gichin Funakoshi, Okinawan karate styles generally took after the names of the towns they came from, thus “Naha-te,” “Shuri-te” and “Tomari-te” were karate styles that came from the towns of Naha, Shuri and Tomari, respectively.
The late 19th century saw the great karate masters going back to China for a “martial-arts pilgrimage” of sorts. The great Chinese pugilist Liu Liu Ko (“Ryū Ryū Ko” in Japanese) in Southern China taught a handful of these Okinawan students who went on to become karate legends.
The use of tensho or “soft” techniques in Goju-ryu reveals an obvious influence from the Fujian White Crane style (known as “Fujian Bai He” in Chinese). From White Crane, Goju takes the circular movements and fast strikes. From Tiger Style, Goju takes the strong linear attacks and the tiger claw pinching (especially in kyusho-jitsu). Also, one of the main components and sources of Okinawan karate is the 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.