2. The Mysteries of Naha Te (C)

Moderator: Available

Post Reply
User avatar
emattson
Posts: 320
Joined: Mon May 08, 2023 8:29 pm
Contact:

2. The Mysteries of Naha Te (C)

Post by emattson »

Table of Contents
Previous chapter

By Graham Noble

As to the identity of Higaonna’s Chinese teacher, that has always been a problem. In his 1978 essay on Kanryo Higaonna (Aioumi magazine) , Shosin Nagamine stated that Higaonna had learned from the Chinese Waishinzan, but in doing so Nagamine was only repeating what Gichin Funakoshi had written - in 1914 in xxx, and repeated in his his 1922 “Ryukyu Kempo Karate”, (the first book on karate, incidentally). Funakoshi wrote that “It is a fact that Okinawans studied Shina (China) martial arts under Chinese teachers. . . .Shimabukuro of Uemondono, Higa of Kunenboya, West Higaonna, East Higaonna, Senaha and Kuwae studied under Waishinzan (Shorei Ryu).” Funakoshi gave a list of other Okinawans who had learned from Chinese, and he supposed that much of this instruction actually took place in the Ryukyus rather than in China, and was by sapposhi, the Chinese military officers who accompanied the formal Chinese diplomatic missions to the Ryukyuan court. Funakoshi’s text is intriguing, but most of the names in his lists are completely unknown, and there is no way of taking any of this forward. In any case, any supposed Waishinzan – West Higaonna connection has been completely disregarded in modern discussions of Kanryo Higaonna’s lineage.

The literature of Goju Ryu came along quite late, and none of the earlier texts, for instance by Kenwa Mabuni or Miyagi himself, ever referred to the identity of Higaonna’s teacher. Eichi Miyazato, however, wrote that Higaonna’s Chinese teacher was called Ryu Ryu Ko. Miyazato also referred to this teacher as Liu and “Lao Shih” (old teacher) and wrote that Higaonna had worked as a rattan chair maker during the day and at night trained in kempo with Ryu Ryu Ko. In a few years he became strong enough to act as assistant instructor. The name Ryu Ryu Ko, though - where had that come from?

Curiously, the name Ryu Ryu Ko appeared in George Mattson’s 1974 “Uechi Ryu Karate Do”, in a story told by Kanei Uechi, the second master of Uechi Ryu: “There is a story my father told me about Kingai karate which Ruruko (Torinryuko) studied since the age of eighteen. Three times during his lifetime he was tested to be a king’s knight. Twice he failed, at the age of thirty-seven and fifty. On his seventy third birthday he once again went before the emperor asking to be tested. Using his Sanchin form he carried a four-hundred pound rock.”

That is one of those old, exaggerated karate stories, and if the seventy-three year old Ruruko really had been able to carry a four hundred pound rock then he too would have been a promising candidate for one of those modern “World’s Strongest Man” competitions. But it’s odd that the name Ruruko should come up in this way, dimly remembered from some old story. As for Kingai, Kanei Uechi explained that this was a Southern Chinese style which was known as Goju Ryu in Okinawa - and yet he didn’t identify Ruruko as the teacher of Kanryo Higaonna. Instead, he told Mattson, “The most famous Kingai teacher in Okinawan history was Gushiken. He devoted his entire life to the study of karate . . . According to some stories, Gushiken taught Higashionna (Higaonna), who in turn taught Chojun Miyagi. Another version is that Higashionna went to China and brought Kingai back to Okinawa with him.” Uechi mentioned the two Higaonna’s, West Higaonna and East Higaonna, and said it was West Higaonna that he was referring to. He noted that “The Okinawan people also called West Higaonna, ‘Toudi’, meaning ‘Chinese karateka’.” Kanei Uechi, by the way, was born in 1911, and his father Kanbum in 1877, so presumably these stories went back at least to the final years of the 19th century; even then the history of karate was only dimly remembered.

Going back through the literature, Kenwa Mabuni (1934), Chojun Miyagi himself (1934/1936), and Eizo Shimabuku (1964) did not give a name to Higaonna’s teacher. Richard Kim (“Weaponless Warriors”, 1974) stated that Higaonna’s teacher was Woo Lu Chin, but did not give any indication where that information came from. Dennis Martin, in an article on Goju Ryu in a 1975 “Fighting Arts” magazine, followed Kim in using the name Woo Lu Chin. In the early 1970s Dennis had trained at the Yoyogi dojo of Morio Higaonna, then a branch dojo of Eichi Miyazato’s Jundokan, and had actually made a visit to the Jundokan itself in Okinawa, but he didn’t seem to be aware of the name Ryu Ryu Ko at that time.

In his 1983 letter to Harry Cook Seikichi Toguchi wrote that Higaonna’s teacher in China was “Master Ryu (Lieu).” Meitatsu Yagi (“Okinawan Karate-Do Gojyu-ryu Meibu-kan”, 1998) wrote that during his time in Fujian Higaonna studied first with a teacher called Ryuto, and then Ryuto introduced him to the famous kempo master Liu Ko. Shigekazu Kanzaki, a senior student of Juhatsu Kyoda’s To-on Ryu, vaguely recalled Kyoda telling him that Higaonna’s teacher had been called Lu Lu (Ru Ru).

As the Kanei Uechi reference indicates, something like the name Ryu Ryu Ko may have been circulating in Okinawa for a while. What the original source for the name was, we have no idea, but Akio Kinjo (1999) noted that the name of Kanryo Higaonna’s Chinese teacher had been given variously as To Ru Ko or To Lu Ko, Ru Ru or Lu Lu, Ka Chin Ga Ru Ru or Ka Chin Ga Lu Lu, and Ru Ru Ko or Lu Lu Ko. Kinjo noted that no one knew the exact name, and of course, the Chinese characters for the name were quite unknown. Moreover, according to what Kinjo had heard from his seniors, Kanryo Higaonna was illiterate.

As Toshio Tamano, a student of Goju Ryu under Seikuchi Toguchi wisely observed, (“Cours de Karate. Le Karate Goju Ryu”, 1992): “Unforunately, we know nothing precise about Master Ryu or the style of Shaolin that he taught. Master Higaonna made no mention of this to his students, perhaps quite simply because they never questioned him on the subject. It is for this reason that our knowledge of the origins of Goju-ryu karate remains incomplete, which might appear strange for an art just a few generations old.”

In short, we have no idea whatsoever as to the identity of Higaonna’s teacher in China or what style he taught. This hasn’t stopped people writing their own histories of Ryu Ru Ko, however. Morio Higaonna stated that, at the time he began teaching Kanryo Higaonna, Ryu Ru Ko was already old, but stood six foot tall and was still “possessed of extraordinary strength.” Meitatsu Yagi also wrote that “Liu Ko” was over six foot tall, of sturdy build and had a grip strong enough to crush bamboo . . . . those old karate masters were always crushing bamboo.

Morio Higaonna, in his “History of Karate. Goju Ryu”, wrote that Ryu Ryu Ko’s family had originally been of the aristocratic class, as in those times only the upper classes studied the martial arts. Higaonna added that Ryu Ryu Ko had studied at the Southern Shaolin Temple in the mountains of Fujian Province. For some reason not fully explained (the turmoil of the period, apparently) the young Ryu Ryu Ko had disguised his high social status and worked as a bricklayer and builder. In later life he lived by making a variety of everyday goods such as baskets, furniture, and other items from cane, which is when Kanryo Higaonna became his pupil. But how could Morio Higaonna possibly know all this about events that supposedly happened a century and a half before in the South of China, and for which there is no written record whatsoever? In any case, martial artists in China were certainly not a part of the upper classes: as William C. C. Hu wrote: “Wherever he placed himself, he (the martial artist) was a second class citizen.” In 1728 the government of Emperor Yong Cheng issued a prohibition on boxing (martial arts) which described boxing teachers as “drifters and idlers” who engaged in “gambling, drinking and brawls.”

Also, there is no justification at all in suddenly tracing Kanryo Higaonna’s Naha-te back to the South Shaolin temple, which probably never existed anyway, except in the legendary histories of the Triads and the pages of late Ching Dynasty romantic martial arts novels. Once we start tracing karate styles back to the Southern Shaolin temple we have given up on history and are relying purely on works of romantic fiction.
Erik

“Old minds are like old horses; you must exercise them if you wish to keep them in working order.”
- John Adams
User avatar
Dennis
Posts: 1
Joined: Tue Apr 09, 2024 3:43 pm

Re: 2. The Mysteries of Naha Te (C)

Post by Dennis »

What a terrific in-depth history, by Graham.
Regarding Ryu Ryu Ko mentioned above, I beleive that it was Richard Kim which provided that information to me, in some correspondance with him. I don't have any other source for this.
Keep up the great work
Den
User avatar
Seizan
Posts: 150
Joined: Sun Aug 21, 2005 7:35 am
Location: Nagahama, Yomitan Okinawa
Contact:

Re: 2. The Mysteries of Naha Te (C)

Post by Seizan »

Also, there is no justification at all in suddenly tracing Kanryo Higaonna’s Naha-te back to the South Shaolin temple, which probably never existed anyway, except in the legendary histories of the Triads and the pages of late Ching Dynasty romantic martial arts novels. Once we start tracing karate styles back to the Southern Shaolin temple we have given up on history and are relying purely on works of romantic fiction.
Not specifically referring to Kanryu Higaonna, but the rest of this quote -- it's proably the best and truest bit I've read on a public forum in years...
User avatar
emattson
Posts: 320
Joined: Mon May 08, 2023 8:29 pm
Contact:

Re: 2. The Mysteries of Naha Te (C)

Post by emattson »

"On his seventy third birthday he once again went before the emperor asking to be tested. Using his Sanchin form he carried a four-hundred pound rock.”

It is an impressive feat and may be an exaggeration. It's hard even for horses. Strathorn Farm, in UK, has a rule that the Clydesdale, their biggest horse, can carry no more than a 210lbs rider, and even then, needed to be well balanced. But it's not impossible. 72 year old Rudy Kadlub, the CEO of Kabuki Strength, squats 450 pounds, bench presses nearly 320 pounds, and deadlifted 530 pounds.
https://menshealth.com/fitness/a4055936 ... -after-70/
Erik

“Old minds are like old horses; you must exercise them if you wish to keep them in working order.”
- John Adams
grahamnoble
Posts: 1
Joined: Thu May 16, 2024 2:08 pm

Re: 2. The Mysteries of Naha Te (C)

Post by grahamnoble »

This is Graham Noble, who wrote this long-winded thing on Goju Ryu and Uechi Ryu, and I want to thank people for the nice comments.

Den - It was great to hear from you. It was particularly gratifying because I've always regarded you as one of the clearest thinking and most straight forward martial artists I've known. I still miss Fighting Arts mag and the times with you and Terry, but times are different now. Like your You Tube stuff, especially your reviews of the old books such as Henry Plee's and Gogen Yamaguchi's; it's hard to imagine now how important these books were to karate enthusiasts at the the time. I suppose they seem like ancient artifacts now. Hope you and Terry and everyone are keeping ok. Sometime in the future I'd like to get over to Liverpool for a catch-up.

Sezan - Thanks for the nice comment, I appreciate it.

Erik - Your points on the rock lifting are well taken. Of course, there are a lot of stories like this. What gave me a kind of perspective on it was the introduction of the World's Strongest Man type contests, where some really powerful guys struggled to lift uneven shaped rocks. Also, personally, I don't believe sanchin practice would help very much in this. Best wishes. Hope the articles have been of some interest.
User avatar
emattson
Posts: 320
Joined: Mon May 08, 2023 8:29 pm
Contact:

Re: 2. The Mysteries of Naha Te (C)

Post by emattson »

"In any case, martial artists in China were certainly not a part of the upper classes"

Agree. The upper class can afford body guards. In according to ancient Chinese legends, the villagers asked the lion to protect them from the evil monster coming to lay waste to their village. The lion said he couldn't because he was hired to protect the emperor. Consequently, the villages decided to fabricate lion costumes and make a lot of noise with gongs, cymbals, and drums to scare away the monster yearly. The lion dance has many origin stories and this is one I heard from somewhere.
Erik

“Old minds are like old horses; you must exercise them if you wish to keep them in working order.”
- John Adams
Post Reply

Return to “2. The Mysteries of Naha Te (C)”