ORAL HISTORY ABOUT KANRYO HIGAONNA HANDED DOWN BY DISCIPLES OF SEIKO HIGA
by Akio Kinjo
Remarks: This is a part of the book "Karate Denshinrokuh (= True History of Karate) written by Mr. Akio Kinjo, a karate researcher and a kungfu instructor in Okinawa. Pages 35-40 (Okinawa Tosho Center, 1999)
(translated by Sanzinsoo)
I started researching on karate when I entered Ryukyu University in 1955, but soon I found it very difficult or almost impossible to do so due to a small number of books or written materials on karate. I visited the university library and many other large libraries to find valuable books on karate, but I could not find them. Even if I found a historical article regarding the origin of karate, it was always very simple and short sentences consisting of about five or six lines. Its content was also not so new to me.
Therefore, I started collecting oral history about karate. The most precious and concrete oral history was obtained from grand master Seiko Higa of Gojuryu. At that time Sensei Higa established a karate Dojo (= a training hall) in front of Itoman Primary School. I practiced karate there. After the practice, I used to talk with Sensei Higa about karate. We were so absorbed in talking that we forgot about the time. His stories were not only interesting but also very important as materials for researching on karate.
Seiko Higafs father is Seishu Higa. Seishu Higa is a distant relative of Kanryo Higaonna who brought karate of Naha style to Okinawa from Fuzhou city, Fujian province, China. As Seishu Higa and Kanryo Higaonna were good friends, drinking Sake (= rice liquor) they used to talk about Kanryofs memories in Fuzhou, China and his karate training there. At that time Seiko Higa was still a boy and he sat beside his father and listened their conversation with much interest. That is why he had a rich and concrete oral history about Kanryo Higaonna.
There are two disciples of Seiko Higa who were handed down the oral history from him and know more details than me. One is the deceased Choshin Ishimine and the other is Saburo Higa, an acupuncturist.
Sensei Choshin Ishimine was the best among disciples of Sensei Seiko Higa. When he was young, he was devoting all his time and energy to karate training with Sensei Higa.
His performance of Suparinpe is so excellent that no one could do better than him. I think that in 1953 there were only five or six karateka who could perform Suparinpe well.
Sensei Ishimine taught me karate enthusiastically as he was not only my karate teacher but also my cousin. He also had gBubishih, the secret book of karate which was handed down from generation to generation by copying the book within the high-ranking disciples of Gojuryu. At that time I was a high school student and could not understand the content of the book at all, but I copied the gBubishih carefully. I still keep it at hand now. This precious book is very useful to solve the mysteries of karate.
The disciples of Sensei Choshin Ishimine are Mr. Yasuichi Ishimine, the chief instructor of Kobukan, Mr. Riki Uechi residing in Miyako Island, Mr. Tsuneo Kashima, the chief instructor of Miyako-Kobukan, Mr. Atsushi Kuwae, the chief instructor of Shumyokan in Yonabaru. They were also handed down the same oral history as mine. As for karate of Shuri style, I succeeded in collecting precious oral history from Sensei Choshin Chibana of Kobayashi-ryu, Sensei Chozo Nakama and Sensei Hohan Soken of Shorin-ryu Matsumura Seitoha.
Recently I also succeeded in collecting oral history from Sensei Seikichi Higa (Seiko Higafs son), the president of Gojuryu International Karate Kobudo Federation, Sensei Shinpo Matayoshi, the president of All Okinawa Kobudo Federation, and Sensei Eiichi Miyazato, the president of Gojuryu Karatedo Association.
Based on the above-mentioned materials in Okinawa and the materials I obtained in Fujian Province, China when I studied kungfu there, I have been trying to solve the secrets of karate.
The oral history that I collected from Sensei Seiko Higa, Sensei Choshin Ishimine and Mr. Saburo Higa is as follows.
(1) The name of Chinese master of Kanryo Higaonna is phonetically: To Ru Ko or To Lu Ko or Ru Ru or Lu Lu or Ka Chin Ga Ru Ru or Ka Chin Ga Lu Lu or Ru Ru Ko or Lu Lu Ko. No one knows his exact name. It is so confused that no one knows which is correct, which is his surname and which is his own name. Chinese characters for his name are not available either.
(2) Wai Shin Zan and To Ru Ko were famous as two great kungfu masters in Fujian province.
(3) Wai Shin Zan was a military officer. To Ru Ko ran his own kungfu school as a chief instructor.
(4) To Ru Ko was not from Fuzhou. He immigrated to Fuzhou from other village or town. His house was near river or sea.
(5) To Ru Ko came to Ryukyu (= Okinawa) together with Wai Shin Zan as a military attache of Sappushi (= a kind of ambassador of Chinese Emperor).
Note: According to Seikichi Higa, To Ru Ko's visit to Ryukyu is questionable.
(6) No one knows the nickname of Kanryo Higaonna in China or how he was called by Chinese people.
(7) After arriving in Fuzhou, China, Kanryo Higaonna visited Wai Shin Zan to ask for kungfu training. But Wai Shin Zan did not accept him, because military officers were not allowed to teach martial arts to civilians. So he recommended Higaonna to go to the kungfu school of Master To Ru Ko.
(8) There were a lot of burnt-out incense cores at the front altar of To Ru Kofs Dojo (= a training hall).
(9) Kanryo Higaonna worked as a ferryman during his early days in China.
(10) Kanryo Higaonna was not taught anything at all by To Ru Ko for some period just after joining the kungfu school, but he had to do household chores of To Ru Ko family. He only trained with implements or tools.
(11) When the river flooded, Kanryo Higaonna came to the home of To Ru Ko by boat and rescued his family. At the risk of his life, Higaonna saved To Ru Kofs daughter from drowning when she was carried away by a heavy flood. He often talked about his memory of this very risky event to his disciples in Okinawa.
(12) After the flood subsided, Master To Ru Ko said to Kanryo Higaonna, gThanks to your brave act, we were rescued from the flood. You have saved our life. We are very grateful to you for your help. As a reward I will take care of your traveling expenses for returning to your country, Ryukyu(= Okinawa). Tell me how much you need.h Then Kanryo Higaonna replied, gMaster, I came to Fuzhou all the way from Ryukyu to learn kungfu. I have been holding on patiently until you teach me kungfu. As for the expenses for returning to Ryukyu, I think I can manage by myself. Master, please teach me kungfu!h Since then, Kanryo Higaonna became a formal disciple of Master To Ru Ko. He learned and studied hard many kungu secrets and in-depth techniques of kungfu from his master.
(13) On the night of August 15 of the old lunar calendar, the students of To Ru Ko and the students of Wai Shin Zan held a party on the boat to see the beautiful moon. At the party, there was a fight between Kanryo Higaonna and the strongest student of Wai Shin Zan.
(14) To decide who won or lost the fight, the masters held a competition of strength and Kata (= kungfu forms) between the two students. Kanryo Higaonna performed Kata very well with striking at lightning speed, kicking and very fast movements of his body. Seeing Kanryo Higaonnafs awesome and magnificent Kata performance, the strongest student of Wai Shi Zan accepted his masterfs advice and was reconciled with Kanryo Higaonna.
(15) Kanryo Higaonna mastered kungfu so well that eventually he acted as an assistant chief instructor at the Dojo.
(16) One day Kanryo Higaonna asked the master for permission to return to Ryukyu (= Okinawa). The master replied to him, gI am so old that I cannot teach kungfu any longer. If you wish to return to your country, you have to continue teaching kungfu to my students here some years more so that some of them could become my successors.h
(17) Some years later, when Kanryo Higaonna was about to go back to Ryukyu, the master gave him a spear shaft that is cut off. He said to Kanryo Higaonna, gThis is for you. This spear shaft was cut off when I fought with a tough opponent who was very good at sword fighting art. Although my spear was cut off, but I won the battle. It was my hardest memory. I give you this spear shaft as a keepsake. Keep this well with you.h
(18) When Kanryo Higaonna was going back to Ryukyu, Master To Ru Ko was very old. His eyesight was also bad. (This is an oral history from Sensei Eiichi Miyazato, one of senior students of Grand Master Chojun Miyagi.)
(19) Kanryo Higaonnafs karate of Naha style was created by Master To Ru Ko. He created it by combining his kungfu with techniques of various styles.
(20) The prototype of Sanchin that Kanryo Higaonna taught in the early days in Okinawa is as follows.
1- Different from todayfs Sanchin, your hands should be always open hands (= Nukite or spear-hand), not closed hands or fists.
2- You strike with Nukite (= spear-hand) very quickly and bring back your hand to the basic Sanchin position.
3- The sound of breathing almost cannot be heard. When your Nukite is brought back to the basic Sanchin position, you make the short and sharp sound of breathing.
4- In the late days, Kanryo Higaonna modified the striking speed of Sanchin; changing the very quick striking into the slow motion.
(21) Chojun Miyagi went to Fuzhou, China on business of tea trading. After returning to Okinawa, he asked Sensei Kanryo Higaonna about Sanchin in China, gIn Fuzhou, China, they were breathing with the sound eHaa Haaf or eFuu Fuuf like a giant snake roaring when they performed Sanchin. Why don't we have such a breathing way?h Sensei Higaonna replied, gTheirs are authentic. And ours are authentic, too.h Then again Chojun Miyagi asked, gIf so, will you teach me their breathing way with the sound?h Sensei Higaonna replied immediately, gYou are too young to learn it.h
(22) After Sensei Higaonna passed away, Chojun Miyagi began teaching karate at a commercial school in Naha. About at that time, he modified Sanchin gradually. He changed open hands into closed hands or fists when he struck and pulled back. Later he made sounds when he was breathing in and breathing out. Eventually he made Sanchin of Goju-Ryu as we are doing now.
(23) Kanryo Higaonna was illiterate, so we have no written records by him.
(24) In China, if you wish to study kungfu, you have to pay a lot of money to your kungfu master. Sensei Higaonna called such a kungfu as Hanchinti (= a business karate or a making-money karate.)
(25) Sensei Seiko Higa said, gSensei Kanryo Higaonna has mastered so many techniques of kungfu, because he was the formal direct disciple, not an ordinary student.h
Back to the Home Page