Ryū Ryū Ko

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Ryū Ryū Ko
Born unknown
Fujian,  China
Died Fujian,  Republic of China
Style Fujian White Crane
Notable students Wan XinZhang, Higaonna Kanryō, Arakaki Seishō, Norisato Nakaima, Sakiyama Kitoku, Kojo Taitei, Maezato Ranpo, Matsuda Tokusaburo

Ryū Ryū Ko (ルールーコウ Rū Rū Kou?, died before 1915), also known as Ryuko, Ryuru Ko, Liu Liu Gung, Liu Liu Ko, To Ru Ko, was a teacher of a style possibly Fujian White Crane, notable for instructing many of the founders of Okinawan martial arts which later produced Karate. The kata Sanchin, taught in Gōjū-ryū and most other styles of Karate, was originally taught by Ryū Ryū Ko.

Although Ryū Ryū Ko is mostly known from the accounts of his Okinawan students, he is sometimes known, based on the research of Tokashiki Iken, as Xie Zhongxiang, born in Changle, Fujian. Xie Zhongxiang (謝宗祥)was also known as Xia YiYi (謝如如)in local Fukian Dialect, or Xie RuRu in modern Mandarin. Those who believe that Ryu Ryu Ko is Xie Zhongxiang refer to his alias Xie Ru Ru, whereby as a term of endearment amongst friends, he was often referred to as Ru Ru Ko,the suffix ”Ko“ (哥)meaning "Brother", and hence, Ru Ru Ko was a nickname for Xie Zhong Xiang which meant Brother Ru Ru.

By some accounts he was one of the first generation masters of Míng hè quán (鳴鶴拳, Whooping Crane Fist), which he either learned from his teacher Kwan Pang Yuiba (who was a student of Fāng Qīniáng, the originator of the first White Crane martial art), or created himself, based on more general White Crane style of his teacher. He had to conceal his name and aristocratic lineage and took on the name Ryu Ryu Ko, under which he worked, making household goods from bamboo and cane. He has been teaching martial arts at his home to a very small group of students, which included Higaonna Kanryō, who stayed with Ryu Ryu Ko from 1867 to 1881. Ryu Ryu Ko expanded his class to an actual public school in 1883, running it with his assistant, Wai Shinzan (Wai Xinxian).

If Ryu Ryu Ko was indeed Xie Zhongxiang, then it is also possible that he had a son named Xie Tsuxiang. If Ryu Ryu Ko and Xie Zhongxiang were the same person, then his currently living direct descendant is his great-grandson, Xie Wenliang. Historical records provided by the Fuzhou Wushu Association show that Xie Zhong Xiang was not of aristocratic birth and never had to hide his identity. Xie Zhong Xiang worked as an apprentice shoe-maker in Fuzhou until he was 30 when he started his own martial art school, whereas accounts in the Okinawan Ryu Ryu Ko oral tradition stated that he worked as a brick-layer and basket-weaver in his later years.

Karate historians do not agree with the Xie Zhongxiang identification, it's been suggested that Ryu Ryu Ko taught other styles of southern Chinese martial arts, or even that Ryu Ryu Ko was the name of the place, rather than a person.

Karate historians from the Ryuei-Ryu and Goju-Ryu lineage have cited the visit by Miyagi Chojun to Fuzhou to seek Ryu Ryu Ko after Miyagi's teacher, Kanryo Higaonna died in Oct,1915. Miyagi Chojun travelled to Fuzhou in May 1915 and again 1916, with Eisho Nakamoto(in 1915) and Gokenki (吴賢贵, in 1916). There he was met by Ryu Ryu Ko's students, presumably someone who knew Higaonna Kanryo. Based on the oral tradition passed on by Miyagi Chojun, he was brought before Ryu Ryu Ko's grave to pay his respects. Unless Miyagi Chojun's oral history is to be disregarded, then Ryu Ryu Ko who died before 1916 and Xie Zhongxiang who died in 1930 were not the same person.

Since the name "Ryu Ryu Ko" really existed in Okinawan tradition through the references provided by his students, any research into the identity of Ryu Ryu Ko should be based on these references. Norisato Nakaima (1819-1879 the founder of Ryūei-ryū, based the first character in the name of his style on Ryu Ryu Ko's surname. The character Norisato Nakaima used was "劉" which in Fuzhou dialect sounded like Liu/Ryu. Historians cite this as another piece of evidence to suggest that Xie Zhong Xiang was not Ryu Ryu Ko. (Note that prior to 1948 the vast majority of the population in Fujian Province spoke Fujian and not Mandarin, and Xie Zhongxiang's alias Xie Ruru as pronounced today would have been pronounced Xia Yiyi in late 19th Century Fujian.) According to the Ryuei Ryu Tradition, Norisato Nakaima began studying under Ryu Ryu Ko when he was 19 years old, circa 1838 to 1839 and spent 7 years learning martial arts as well as knowledge in Chinese herbal medicine from Ryu Ryu Ko.

Those who dispute the claims that Xie Zhong Xiang was Ryu Ryu Ko cite the fact that Xie Zhongxiang's nickname would have been pronounced "YiYi Go" in Fujianese Dialect, and not "Ru Ru Ko", the later being a modern Mandarin pronunciation of his nickname. Taking into consideration the formality involved in a teacher's acceptance of a student into his martial arts school in those days, as it was apparent in the manner in which Kanryo Higaonna chose his own students in later years, it was deemed unlikely that Ryu Ryu Ko’s students would have referred to him by any title other than his formal name. Historical records from Fuzhou Martial Arts Association show that Xie Zhong Xiang was referred to either by his full-name or known as Yi-Shi ( 如师) which means Yi-Sensei in Fujianese Dialect. Those who dispute claims that Xie Zhong Xiang is Ru Ru Ko say that it is highly unlikely for Okinawan students to refer to their teacher of martial arts by his nickname "Brother Yiyi", and Ryu Ryu Ko's student Norisato Nakaima's claim that his Sensei's surname was "Ryu" (劉)is more plausible.

The okinawan martial artists who are believed to have studied in Ryu Ryu Ko's school were Higaonna Kanryō (founder of Naha-te), Arakaki Seishō, Norisato Nakaima (1819-1879) (founder of Ryūei-ryū), Sakiyama Kitoku (1830–1914), Kojo Taitei (1837–1915), Maezato Ranpo (1838–1904), Matsuda Tokusaburo (1877–1931).[3]