Miyagi Kan History

A brief history of Go Ju-Ryu
Kanryo Higaonna
Chōjun Miyagi
Gōgen Yamaguchi
George Barounis
Craig Nordstrand
A brief history of Go Ju-Ryu

Go Ju means ‘hard-soft’ and was the name given to the style by its founder Chojun Miyagi. The style is characterised by its contrasting ‘soft’ flowing circular movements and its ‘hard’ linear techniques. The ‘Go’ represents the positive and the ‘Ju’ represents the negative. It is based on the oriental concept that these opposing forces must complement each other. The hard aspect can be seen in the Goju kata ‘Sanchin’ and the soft in the kata ‘Tensho’.

Karate as we know it, was developed over several centuries on the islands of Okinawa. It originated from the martial arts of China, to which the Okinawans were exposed through trade with the Chinese from as early as the 14th Century.

Of all of the Japanese styles of Karate, Go Ju-Ryu has received the most Chinese influence. This can be explained by the fact that Miyagi’s teacher Kanryo Higaonna spent 14 years in China learning ‘Whooping White Crane’ martial arts from the master Ryu Ru Ko (Xie Zhongxiang). When Higaonna returned from China he combined what he had learnt with the traditional martial art of Okinawa, known as ‘Te’.

This is how Go Ju-Ryu was born.

Much credit has been given to Chojun Miyagi for his work in founding Go Ju-Ryu. However it was his teacher Kanryo Higaonna that actually laid the foundations of the style.

Kanryo Higaonna

Kanryo Higaonna (March 10, 1853 – December 1916) was a native of Nishi-shin-machi, Naha, Okinawa. He created the foundations of the fighting style later to be known as Gojū Ryū Karate.

His father was a merchant trading food and clothes through the Ryukyu Islands. At the age of 10, Kanryo Higaonna Sensei started to work with his father, since his 2nd and 3rd brothers died at early age, and his 1st brother was weak and sick.

At the age of 14 he commenced his formal training in Chinese Kempo with Seisho Arakaki, who had studied the Fukien style. Unfortunately not too long after, his father died as the result of a fight. This shocked the young Higaonna so much that his thoughts were filled with a desire for revenge. This was when he decided to travel to China to learn the deadly martial arts to avenge his father’s death.

At that time, travelling to China was restricted only to merchants, students or government officials. Permission to travel was only granted by the King of Okinawa, and the only port of departure was the port of Naha.

Higaonna, with the help of the official Udon Yoshimura, obtained a permit to travel to Fuchow, China, as a student. He departed from the port of Naha in the year 1866, at the age of 15.

On his arrival in Fuchow, Higaonna was accepted in the Ryukyu Kan or lodge where all the students from Okinawa were living. After a year in residence he was introduced to the renowned martial arts instructor Ryu Ryu Ko (also known as Xie Zhongxiang). Ryu Ryu Ko Sensei earned his living making bamboo baskets, working from the ground floor of his house. At the time he taught martial arts to only to a small group of selected students.

Kanryo Higaonna was not permitted to train immediately, and had to follow the age-old custom of personal service to his master by attending the garden, cleaning and doing odd chores. After he had satisfied his master’s expectations, he was accepted as a disciple.

At first Kanryo Higaonna was instructed only in Sanchin kata. His motivation and dedication soon started to show, and as his skills progress he became a “uchi deshi” (live-in student). He moved out from the Ryukyu Kan and started to live and work at Ryu Ryu Ko’s bamboo shop. Training took place at night starting with the practice of Sanchin and was severe. He was introduced to the different traditional equipment such as chiishi (stone weights), ishi sashi (stone padlocks), nigiri game (gripping jars), tan (barbell) and muning (variation of makiwara).

The fame of Ryu Ryu Ko Sensei was widespread. He learned the martial arts in the southern Shaolin temple in the mountains of the Fujian Province. His teacher was a Court Official from the Dynasty. Ryu Ryu Ko Sensei also instructed Higaonna in the use of weapons such the Daito (long sword), Shuto (small sword), Sai and Bo. He also taught him herbal medicine. In few years Higaonna became Ryu Ryu Ko Sensei’s top student. Higaonna trained for 14 years in China. In 1881 he returned to Okinawa with the promise to his teacher than it would never abuse the skills he had learnt.

He settled back in the district of Nishimura in the City of Naha and like his father, in the past, became a merchant, travelling with his boat in between the islands of the Ryukyu chain. He began to teach a select group of students at his house. His instruction was very severe. In a short time he obtained the same good reputation that he had developed in Fuchow. It wasn’t too long before the King of Okinawa invited Kanryo Higaonna to teach him the martial arts.

In 1905 he was invited to teach his Naha-Te (Te from Naha) in the Naha Commercial School. The Principal wanted to teach the students the spiritual and moral aspects of the martial arts. This was an important breakthrough, not only for the recognition of the benefits of the practice but also because until then Te was taught as a martial art with the skill to kill.

After his research, Kanryo Higaonna, decided to make an important change in the Sanchin kata. Until then, Sanchin kata was practiced with open hands, so he started to teach it with close hands and slower breathing with the purpose of promoting the health benefits, rather than promoting lethal techniques at the school. Higaonna introduced the closed fist to emphasise the physical strength more than the ability to kill. Tradition also played an important role for this change because he noticed that a lot of young Okinawans, without any knowledge of martial arts, naturally stood with closed fists when they were going to fight. He continued to teach the original way that he learned in China to a few students at his dojo.

After 1905 Karate became a little more accessible to the general population. Up until then, Te was taught to a selected group of people.

Kanryo Higaonna Sensei passed away on 23rd December 1915 at the age of 62.

Chōjun Miyagi

Chōjun Miyagi (April 25, 1888—October 8, 1953) was an Okinawan martial artist who founded the Goju-ryu school of karate.

Personal history

He was born in Naha, Okinawa and was the adopted son of a wealthy businessman. Miyagi began his study in Karate-do at the age of nine (or fourteen). He first learned martial arts from Ryuko Aragaki, who then introduced him to Naha-te Master Kanryo Higashionna when Miyagi was 14. Under the tutelage of this Master, Miyagi underwent a very long and arduous period of training.

After the death of Master Kanryo Higashionna, Miyagi travelled to Fujian Province in China as his teacher had done before him. In China he studied the Shaolin and Pa Kua(Ba gua) forms of Chinese boxing. From the blending of these systems, the hard linear/external form of Shaolin, the soft circular/internal form of Pa Kua, and his native Naha-Te, a new system emerged. However, it was not until 1929 that Chojun Miyagi named the system Goju-ryu, meaning “hard soft style”.

After some years in China, Chōjun Miyagi returned to Naha where he opened a dojo (training hall). He taught for many years, gaining an enormous reputation as a karateka. Even Kano Jigoro, the founder of judo, came to Okinawa to learn specific karate take-downs. Despite his reputation, his greatest achievements lie in popularization and the organization of karate teaching methods. He introduced karate into Okinawa police work, high schools and other fields of society. He revised and further developed Kata Sanchin – the hard aspect of Goju, and created Kata Tensho – the soft aspect. These kata are considered to contain the essence of the Goju-ryu style. The highest kata, Suparinpei is said to contain the full syllabus of Goju-ryu kata. Shisochin was Miyagi’s favorite kata at the end of his years. Tensho was influenced by the White Crane kata Ryokushu, which he learned from his long-time friend Gokenki. With a goal of unification of various karate styles which was in fashion at that time (see Funakoshi Gichin for his works in Japan), he also created more Shurite-like katas Gekisai Dai Ichi and Gekisai Dai Ni in 1940, taking techniques from higher forms (notably Suparinpei, and upper blocks uncommon for Goju-ryu at that time) and incorporating them into a shorter forms. It is said he created these kata to bridge the gap between Sanchin kata and Saifa kata, which contains much more complex moves compared to Sanchin kata. However, Gekisai katas are learned before Sanchin kata now.

Chōjun Miyagi was a man of extremely mild temperament and it is said that he was a very humble man. He lived according to the principles of non-violence. Master Miyagi died in Okinawa on October 8, 1953 at the age of 65 from a second heart-attack (the first had occurred in 1951).

Some of his more notable students were: Seko Higa (his oldest student and also a student of Kanryo Higaonna), Miyazato Ei’ichi (founder of the Jundokan dojo), Meitoku Yagi (founder of the Meibukan dojo, who eventually accepted late master Miyagi’s gi and obi from Miyagi’s family), Seikichi Toguchi (founder of Shorei-kan Goju-ryu), and on the Japanese mainland Gōgen Yamaguchi who was the founder of the International Karate do Goju Kai Association and who after training with Miyagi, became the representative of Gōjū-ryū in Japan. At a later date Gōgen Yamaguchi invested much time studying Kata under Meitoku Yagi.

Gōgen Yamaguchi

Gōgen Yamaguchi (b.20 January 1909 d.20 May 1989.) was a world renown Grandmaster of Japanese Karate-dō and founder of the International Karate-dō Gōjū-kai Association; he was one of the most well known of all Karate-dō masters to come out of Japan. Prior to his death he was decorated by the Emperor of Japan in 1968 with the Ranju-Houshou, (Blue Ribbon Medal) and the fifth order of merit, for his enormous contribution to the spread world wide of the Japanese martial arts. For many years Gōgen Yamaguchi was listed in the Guinness Book of Records regarding his rank and achievements. According to his obituary, “His name was a household word in Karate circles, and he appeared in all the major Martial Arts magazines and publications, both in Japan and the western world.”

Early years

Gōgen Yamaguchi was born on January 20 in 1909 in Miyakonojō Shonai, Miyazaki Prefecture, Japan, near Kagoshima City on the island of Kyūshū. In his 5th year of primary school Yamaguchi commenced his karate-dō training under the guidance of Maruta San, a carpenter joiner from Okinawa. Maruta San was a Gōjū-ryū practitioner.

Gōgen Yamaguchi was named Jitsumi Yamaguchi by his father Tokutarō who was a merchant and later a schoolteacher and superintendent; his mother was Yoshimatsu. Jitsumi was their 3rd son and there were ten children in this very large Japanese family. Gōgen Yamaguchi was also famously known in the world of karate-dō as ‘the Cat’; he was a very small man, just over five feet and a mere 160 pounds, however he projected the impression of great bulk and an aura reminiscent of the samurai era. He was first dubbed ‘the Cat’ by American G.I.’s for his gliding walk and flowing hair. He alone was primarily responsible for the spread of Gōjū-ryū throughout the world today whereby hundreds of thousands of practitioners have experienced some form of training within traditional and non-traditional karate dojo.

Early training in Kyoto

Gōgen then began the serious study of karate-dō with Sensei Takeo Maruta after his family relocated to Kyoto. Maruta was also a carpenter or joiner by trade and was himself a student of the legendary Chōjun Miyagi of Okinawa. Gōgen Yamaguchi studied directly with Chōjun Miyagi later in 1929, after he and his then-current teacher and friend Jitsuei Yogi wrote to Chōjun Miyagi and invited him to come to Japan.

Gogen meets Chōjun Miyagi

Chōjun Miyagi visited the university dojo of Kansai, Osaka, Ritsumeikan, Kyoto, and Doshisha Universities, whilst Gōgen was attending Ritsumeikan University in Kyoto. There he studied Law and in 1930 Yogi together with Gōgen Yamaguchi co-founded the Ritsumeikan daigaku karate kenkyū-kai (lit. Ritsumeikan University Karate Research Association), the first karate club at Ritsumeikan University. The Ritsumeikan Karate-dō Kenkyū-kai was the first university karate club in western Japan and was infamous for its hard style training and fierce karate fighters. Both Yogi and Yamaguchi attended Ritsumeikan University during the time Chōjun Miyagi visited, and Chōjun Miyagi stayed in Yogi’s apartment.

Chōjun Miyagi later gave Gōgen Yamaguchi the responsibility for spreading Gōjū-ryū in mainland Japan. In the early 1930’s Gōgen designed what would become the legendary signature Gōjū-ryū fist. It is said to be modeled after the right hand fist of Chōjun Miyagi.

Introduces Jiyū Kumite and Forms the All Japan Karate-dō Gōjū-kai Federation

After graduating from Ritsumeikan University in Kyoto in 1934, that same year Gōgen designed and introduced Jiyū-kumite which has become known today as sport and tournament fighting kumite.In 1935 he officially formed the All Japan Karate-dō Gōjū-kai Karate-dō Association (which later split into the JKF Gojukai and the J.K.G.A.) Also in 1935 Gōgen began his travels with the Japanese government as an intelligence officer and his first son Norimi Gōsei Yamaguchi was born (Gōsei is the current leader of Gōjū-kai USA).

World War II

During his military tour in Manchuria in World War II, Gōgen was captured by the Soviet military in 1942 and incarcerated as a prisoner of war in a Russian concentration camp; it was here that he battled and defeated a live tiger according to his autobiography (cited above). Gōgen Yamaguchi was originally targeted for hard labour in the POW camp however he had impressed even these hard nosed Russians and who discovered who he was and requested that he teach karate-dō to the Russian soldiers, it was then that, ‘the prisoner became the master of the guards, who became his students’.

In 1945, Gōgen returned to Japan where he re-opened his initial karate-dō dojo in Nippori which was later destroyed by fire, and advertised with a sign outside reading Gōjū-ryū-kai. Many people thought his school was closed forever and that he had been killed in the war; accordingly Gōgen held large exhibitions in Tokyo which showcased the various Chinese and Japanese martial arts that he had experienced. His school reopened and moved at a later date to the Suginami-ku area of Tokyo. Here he quickly expanded throughout a network of independent Gōjū-ryū dojo. The rapid growth and expansion was reinforced by Gōgen’s energetic and forceful persona which resulted in a worldwide network of karate schools which he alone built into a powerful martial arts empire.

Mention must be made here of Gōgen Yamaguchi’s legendary discussion noted in his autobiography regarding his military duty in Manchuria during World War II, whereby Gōgen was a prisoner of War of the Soviet Army in 1942 and incarcerated at a Russian concentration camp; it was here that he admitted having battled and defeated a live tiger, after he was locked in a cell with the beast which his captors expected would devour him.[3] Certainly this admission has created much controversy, however Russian sources from the time would need to be located in order to verify the extent of the veracity of this event.

Registers the name Gōjū-ryū, opens his Honbu Dojo

Gōgen Yamaguchi established the Gōjū-kai Headquarters in Suginami-ku, Tokyo, Japan, nearby to the busy shopping precinct of Roppongi. It was also at this time that he registered the name Gōjū-ryū formally with the Butoku-kai, (the official government body and Headquarters for the Japanese Martial Arts). By 1950 Gōjū-kai Headquarters was officially relocated to the Suginami Tokyo school which contributed to an almost tripling of membership to 450,000 according to his autobiography. Five years later he officially chartered the I.K.G.A. Later in 1964, Gōgen Yamaguchi along with other founder members Ōtsuka Hironori from Wadō-ryū; Nakayama Masatoshi from Shotokan; Mabuni Kenei and Iwata Manzao of Shitō-ryū, unified all the karate dojo in Japan to form the All Japan Karate-dō Federation which is still in existence today as the Japan Karate Federation (JKF).

Gōjū-ryū-kai spreads throughout the western world

By 1966 his organization comprised more than 1,200 dojo and clubs and 600,000 members within the Gōjū-kai system. Peter Urban had opened his New York Dojo and initiated the spread of the style throughout the USA. In Australia, Paul Starling (the most senior Caucasian pupil graded by Gōgen Yamaguchi in his lifetime) had been training for four years with Gōgen’s first Australian student Mervyn Oakley.

Contributions to Budō

Gōgen Yamaguchi’s contributions to Gōjū-ryū karate-dō and to karate-dō in general have been enormous. Under his leadership and guidance the International Karate-dō Gōjū-kai Association (I.K.G.A) has developed and thrived. The organization has increased in popularity both in Japan and other Asian and Western countries throughout the world. By 2008 there were approximately 60-70 countries teaching the Gōjū-kai karate-dō principles and training methods. Gōgen Yamaguchi succeeded in unifying all the karate schools in Japan into a single union which resulted in the formation of The Federation of All Japan Karate-dō Organization (F.A.J.K.O.) in 1964. The Kokusai Budō Renmei – (The International Martial Arts Federation) in Japan, whose chairman was Prince Higashikuni of the Japanese Imperial Family appointed Master Yamaguchi as a Shihan – Master of that organisation’s karate-dō division. Yamaguchi added to the Gōjū system the Taikyoku kata forms, – training methods for the beginner students to prepare them for the more advanced kata.

It has been argued that ‘never before has a single man had such profound effect on the development and propagation of karate-dō’. (De Jong, Ingo, (1989). Goju-Kai Karate-do Hard and Soft in Harmony – Volume 1. Sweden, Jakobsbergs Tryckeri AB.

Gōgen Yamaguchi visited Sydney and Melbourne, Australia on two occasions, in 1970 and 1972.


Gōgen Yamaguchi Kaiso died on the 20th of May 1989. He had been married twice, firstly to Midori (who still lives on the island of Kyushu), with whom he had four children: Gōsei Norimi Yamaguchi, Gōsen Kishio Yamaguchi, Makiko Yamaguchi, and Gōshi Hirofumi Yamaguchi. He and his second wife, Mitsue, had one child, Gōkyōko Wakako Yamaguchi. All of his children practiced karate-dō and became Masters in their own right. The names commencing with gō were their karate names. Gōsei Norimi Yamaguchi has his own organisation in the United States and Gōshi Hirofumi Yamaguchi is the President of the International Karate-dō Gōjū-kai, with branches in 60 countries. Gōsen Kishio Yamaguchi was the Vice President of Japan Airlines. Kishio, who died in the early 1990s, was deeply involved in the running of the I.K.G.A whilst his youngest sister Wakako Yamaguchi was an All Japan Kata Champion for a number of years. Makiko Yamaguchi died from cancer at a relatively young age during the early 1980s.

George Barounis

George Barounis , Sensei, was born in Greece on the 15th January, 1950. He immigrated to Australia in 1967.

Sensei Barounis started in Go Ju-Ryu Karate Do in 1970, however, after five years of training he was dissatisfied with what he was learning and felt there was more knowledge to be gained. So in late 1975, he made the decision to travel to Japan and spend time learning more about the art of Karate Do from Shihan Gonohyoe Yamamoto (a student of Master Gogen Yamaguchi) who arranged for a student to meet Sensei Barounis on his arrival. He then was taken to Master Yamaguchi’s dojo, where he lived with other karate students from around the world, who were also studying and training in the art of Karate Do.

Sensei Barounis’ training consisted of four days a week in Master Yamaguchi’s dojo and two days a week with Shihan Yamamoto. After three months of training Shihan Yamamoto was very impressed and organised an additional one-on-one lesson with him every week. In January 1976, after five months of training, he was awarded his Nidan (2nd Dan) by Shihan Yamamoto. He has since been awarded his subsequent grades in both Australia and Japan.

Throughout the years of teaching and training, Sensei Barounis has continually re-visited Japan in; 1980, 1984, 1986, 1989, 1991 and 1992. As has Shihan Yamamoto visited Australia in; 1983, 1984, 1985 and 1997.

Shihan Yamamoto visited Australia in 1997 where he awarded Shihan Barounis his Kyoshi (7th Dan).
In February 2009 Shihan Yamamoto returned to Australia and graded Shihan Barounis to Hanshi (8th Dan).

Hanshi Shihan George Barounis was graded to 9th Dan in August 2014 in Japan by Shihan Yamamoto.

Miyagi Kan Go Ju-Ryu Karate Do was founded by Shihan George Barounis after returning from Japan in 1976. At that time, he had a mere three dojos; Dulwich Hill, Leichhardt and Marrickville. Since then the club has expanded throughout Sydney, consisting of more than ten dojos while also teaching at schools. Not only in Sydney, but Miyagi Kan also has very successful clubs in Northern New South Wales (Lismore) and New Zealand.

Affiliations and Memberships:

* International Karate Organisation
* World Karate Federation
* Australian Karate Federation
* New South Wales Karate Federation


* New South Wales Kata Coach
* New South Wales Kumite Coach
* President of the New South Wales Karate Federation
* Australian Kumite Coach 2002 – present.
* Coached Kristina Mah to World Champion
2010 Belgrade.

* Australian Kumite Coach of the Year
– 2002
– 2003
* Shihan Barounis is also a highly respected instructor and coach in the Australian Martial Art forum producing excellent results both at national, international and world level competition.

Craig Nordstrand

CRAIG NORDSTRAND, Sensei, was born Nov 15 1956 in Whangarei New Zealand.
He left for Australia as a young 20 year old, where after a few years of looking for the right style of Karate, he started with Hanshi George Baraounis.

After teaching Karate in Sydney at the Enfield Dojo for 5 years, including teaching 2010 World Champion Kristina Mah.
Sensei Craig Nordstrand returned to Whangarei New Zealand, to start up a brand new Miyagi Kan Karate Club in 1996.
The Club is now established at Honbu dojo 6 Herekino Street, Whangarei.