Higaonna Kanryō

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In this Okinawan name, the family name is "Higaonna".
Higaonna Kanryo
Higaonna Kanryo.jpg
Born (1853-03-10)March 10, 1853
Nishimura, Naha,  Ryūkyū Kingdom
Died Oct 1915
Naha, Okinawa
Other names Higashionna Kanryo, "Higashionna West"
Style Naha-te
Teacher(s) Arakaki Seishō, Kojo Taitei,[1] Xie Zhongxiang, Wai Xinxian, possibly also Kojo Tatei, Iwah
Rank Kensei, Founder of Naha-te
Notable students Chōjun Miyagi, Kenwa Mabuni, Kyoda Juhatsu, Koki Shiroma, Higa Seiko, Shiroma Shinpan (Gusukuma)

Higaonna Kanryo (東恩納 寛量 Higaonna Kanryō?, March 10, 1853 – October 1915), also known as "Higashionna West",[1] was a native of Nishi-shin-machi, Naha, Okinawa. He was born in Nishimura, Naha[1] to a merchant family, whose business was selling goods to the north of Okinawa and shipping firewood back to Naha. Firewood was an expensive commodity in the Ryukyu Islands. His family belonged to the lower Shizoku class known as the Chikudun Peichin. He founded the fighting style later to be known as Gōjū ryū karate.

Family name[edit]

The characters of his family name (東恩納) are pronounced "Higaonna" in Okinawan, and "Higashionna" in Japanese. In Western articles the two spellings are often used interchangeably. He had an older relative, 5 years older, called Higaonna Kanryu who lived in Higashimura and was known as "Higashionna East".[1]

Life and martial arts[edit]

In 1867 he began to study Monk Fist Boxing (Luohan Quan) from Aragaki Tsuji Pechin Seisho who was a fluent Chinese speaker and interpreter for the Ryūkyūan court.[1] At that time the word karate was not in common use, and the martial arts were often referred to simply as Ti ("hand"), sometimes prefaced by the area of origin, as Nafaa-ti, Shui-ti, or simply Uchinaa-ti.

In September 1870, with the help of Yoshimura Udun Chomei (an Aji or prince), Higaonna gained the travel permit necessary to travel to Fuzhou, on the pretext of going to Beijing as a translator for Okinawan officials. There are records which show that in March 1873 he sailed to Fuzhou in the Fukien province of China.,[1] although this may have been a later trip to Fuzhou because accounts passed on by Chojun Miyagi refer to an earlier year of departure in 1870.

Aragaki had given Higaonna an introduction to the martial arts master Kojo Taitei whose dojo was in Fuzhou.[1] Higaonna spent his time studying with various teachers of the Chinese martial arts, the first four years he probably studied with Wai Xinxian, Kojo Tatai and or Iwah at the Kojo Dojo. Kanryo then trained under Ru Ru Ko (a.k.a. Ruru Ko, Ryu Ryu Ko, To Ru Ko, or Lu Lu Ko, his name was never recorded as Kanryo Higaonna was illiterate. According to oral account,[2] Kanryo spent years doing household chores for master Ru Ru Ko, until he saved his daughter from drowning during a heavy flood and begged the master to teach Kung-fu as a reward.

In the 1880s, after Ryūkyū was annexed by Japan, Kanryo returned to Okinawa and continued the family business. He also began to teach the martial arts in and around Naha. He began by teaching the sons of Yoshimura Udun Chomei. His style was distinguished by its integration of both go-no (hard) and ju-no (soft) techniques in one system. He became so prominent that the name "Naha-te" became identified with Higaonna Kanryo's system. He travelled to China several times thereafter. His last visit was in 1898 when he escorted Yoshimura Chomei and two of his sons to Fuzhou. History records that they were blown off-course to Zhejiang and travelled by land to Fuzhou with an escort provided by the local Zhejiang authorities.

He began to teach karate to the public in 1905 in the Naha Commercial School.

Kanryo was noted for his powerful Sanchin kata, or form. Students reported that the wooden floor would be hot from the gripping of his feet.


Several of Kanryo's students went on to become influential masters of what came to be called karate, amongst them Chōjun Miyagi, Kenwa Mabuni, Kyoda Shigehatsu, Koki Shiroma, Higa Seiko, Tsuyoshi Chitose and Shiroma Shinpan (Gusukuma).

See also[edit]



  1. ^ a b c d e f g Patrick McCarthy, The Bible of Karate Bubishi, 3rd Edition, Tuttle Publishing, 1997, p.36 (ISBN 0-8048-2015-5
  2. ^ Kinjo, Akio. "Oral history of Kanryo Higaonna handed down by disciples of Seiko Higa". Reprinted from the book "Karate Denshinrokuh (= True History of Karate), Okinawa Tosho Center, 1999. Archived from the original on 2007-08-18. Retrieved 2007-05-10. 

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