Kanryo Higaonna was born on March 10, 1853 in
the district of Nishimura in the city of Naha, Okinawa. Son of
Kanryo and Makomado. 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 was honoured with the traditional ceremony of "katagashira" to
celebrate his manhood.
That same year 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.
However, in those days traveling to China was
restricted only to merchants, students or government officials,
and permission to travel was only granted by the King of Okinawa,
and the only port of departure was the port of Naha.
Kanryo Higaonna, with the help of the official
Udon Yoshimura, was able to get the 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.
At his arrival to the city of Fuchow, Kanryo 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 well renowned martial arts instructor Ryu Ryu Ko (also known
as Xie Zhongxiang). Ryu Ryu Ko Sensei worked in bamboo, having
his shop on the first floor of the building and his house on the
second floor. He taught martial arts at his house only to a small
group of selected students.
Kanryo Higaonna was not allowed to train right
away, 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
up in the progress of his skills becoming "uchi deshi" (living
student). He moved out from the Ryukyu Kan and started to live
and work at the Ryu Ryu Ko Sensei's bamboo shop. He was introduced
to the different traditional equipment such as chiishi, ishi sashi,
nigiri game, tan and muning (variation of makiwara). The training
was very severe.
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 Kanryo 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 Kanryo Higaonna became Ryu Ryu Ko Sensei's top student. Kanryo
Higaonna practiced 14 years in China until Ryu Ryu Ko Sensei told
him that was time for him to leave and in 1881 Kanryo Higaonna
returned to Okinawa.
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 then started to teach a select group of students
at his house. His instruction was very severe. In a short time
he obtained in Okinawa 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 step in , 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. Kanryo Higaonna introduced the closed fist to emphasize
the physical strength more than the ability to kill. Tradition
also play an important roll 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 his few students at his dojo.
After 1905 karate became a little bit more accessible
to the general population because until then Te was practice for
just a selected group of people. Kanryo Higaonna Sensei passed
away on 23rd December 1915 at the age of 62.