I need to know the real and original history of Goju-ryu karate. In other words, I need to find why this style of karate was introduced. I am a Goju player, this is what I know:

Goju is specially developed to fight in small places like boats and places with very less space, and it is specially developed for Japanese naval soldiers, thousands/hundreds of years ago. Goju was created because, when a naval fleet is under an attack of enemies, Shotokan karate didn't help them because it uses lot of space. So, Goju was introduced and developed in two versions. One is for places with less space and another one is for normal land fights. They can switch to these versions by changing the main stance.

Have you heard the same or something different? Is it true that Goju-ryu karate was developed specifically for use by the Japanese navy, hundreds or thousands of years ago, as an alternative to Shotokan karate?

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    I've never heard that said about goju ryu. Jun 10, 2012 at 4:59
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    This is markedly different from the history documented in Wikipedia: Goju Ryu. You will find a lot of similarities between Shotokan and the hard parts of Goju - they effectively have the same roots but Shotokan was adapted to better suit large scale teaching on mainland Japan.
    – slugster
    Jun 10, 2012 at 5:11
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    I don't trust wikipedia on this Because my master is from one of best karate universities in Japan, and he is a very known student of the Grand master.. And my question is about the original history, why goju is born. Apart from that even though these 2 styles are some what same, there main deference is 50-50. Which means goju player only give the full power to arms/legs only when the opponent is about to get hit. But shotokan player is always with 100% power, which make them tired easier compared to goju.
    – PeakGen
    Jun 10, 2012 at 5:17
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    @Sepala You are correct that you should never absolutely believe Wikipedia, but there are a whole lot of citations for that article which does make it more accurate. It also roughly tallies with what I was told before the WWW or Wikipedia were big, so it is a fairly standardised history. Is it possible your master has an incorrect interpretation, or are you suggesting there is a "secret" history? "Ideal for use on boats" is quite different to "invented for use on boats".
    – slugster
    Jun 10, 2012 at 5:37
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    I've definitely never heard that. That some of its early history includes a Crane-style gong fu would seem in direct contradiction, too. There are some Chinese arts that were specifically optimized for close-quarters combat, but I'm not aware of anything similar on the Japanese side. (This in no way means there haven't been, though.) Jun 10, 2012 at 16:26

2 Answers 2


First, we must understand what it means to "create" a style: someone learned martial arts from someone else, perhaps several someones, fought a little in competition or in the street, made some changes to what they were taught, and gave it a name. We're not talking about wholesale development of a military training program, enlisting experts from multiple fields for the express purpose of covering certain topics. So right off the bat we should be dubious of claims that "this style was designed to fight on rice paddies" or "this style is for the Navy". Those are usually just myths.

Chojun Miyagi

Goju-ryu became goju-ryu when Chojun Miyagi had to register the name of his art with the Dai Nippon Butokukai. Prior to that, it was referred to by the general terms for karate of the time, such as as te, ti, or toudi, or by its "village art" name, Naha-te, after the city of Naha.

Kanryo Higaonna

Miyagi learned from Higaonna (aka Higashionna), whose teacher is under dispute. Much of the stories we tell about him are oral histories, which is to say, totally made up in some parts. He studied in China as well as in Okinawa, and synthesized aspects of both traditions in what he taught. It is likely that what he learned had some roots in Crane styles.

Further back

It is total folly to try to determine lineage of goju-ryu further back than Higaonna, that is to say, no one has done so with any degree of certainty or evidence. Considering that he was alive from 1853 to 1916, and that even he didn't call his style goju-ryu, it is totally unfounded to say that goju-ryu is "hundreds" or "thousands" of years old. That is plainly false.

I recommend not listening to "just so" stories about the origins of styles and techniques. "The northern Chinese kick more" and "Naihanchi is for fighting on rice paddies" are after-the-fact rationalizations for the origins of things we simply don't know. If one is looking for truth (as opposed to feeling good due to the camaraderie of hearing dojo myths), it is a much better idea to look at history and research.

Think critically: what decade are we talking about, where anyone would seriously care about unarmed hand-to-hand fighting on boats? World War Two, when Shotokan and Goju-ryu were actually recognized styles? In the 1920s, when Funakoshi and Miyagi started teaching? Any intimations of the sort are better chalked up to martial arts politics, where a style is given official designation, used primarily for bragging rights.

Charitable interpretations

At best, we could say that Goju-ryu might be better suited for close-quarters combat than some other style, such as Shotokan. This could be true.

  • I know this reply is after a long time, but, I agree with your last sentence. Close combat, specially when not enough room
    – PeakGen
    Sep 13, 2012 at 17:32
  • @Sepala To be clear, my statement doesn't at all mean that Goju is ideally suited for close-quarters combat. (I'd trust judo or Greco-Roman wrestling more.) I'm just saying that goju could be better than a style that trains at long range exclusively. Sep 13, 2012 at 17:45

Goju-Ryu is a close-quarter style. Visualizations in the kata are as if the opponent is immediately in front of you. Best example is the high front kick sometimes practiced by holding your belt straight out if front of you with both hands, and kicking up within the boundary of the belt (that means very close).

Secondly, I was also taught that kata Saifa in particular may have been developed with fighting aboard a boat in mind. It has techniques involving one foot on the ground, thus a focus on balance. I was taught that the individual kata may have actually been representations of entire styles boiled down to one kata and assembled together into Goju-Ryu. So, that is, Saifa may have represented a boat fighting style and the techniques were a best-of from that style.

Also we were taught Ryu Ryu Ko in mainland China was Higaonna Sensei's teacher. Ryu Ryu Ko was said to be 7 feet tall.

Thanks for the question and I'm happy to add what I was taught.

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