Higaonna was born on March 10, 1853, in Naha, the capital city of Okinawa.
His father, Kanryo, worked as a merchant sailing between the small islands
of Okinawa trading everyday goods. From a young age Kanryo Higaonna helped
his father in this work and through the hard physical labor that was
involved he developed a strong body.
was still in his teens when his father died suddenly. Kanryo decided he
wanted to study the martial arts and he set his heart on traveling to
Fuzhou, China for this purpose. He arrived in Fuzhou in the year 1869, he
was 16. Once in Fuzhou he studied the Chinese martial arts under the great
Master Ryu Ryu Ko. He soon became "Uchi Deshi" (private disciple) and he
remained in China under the severe instruction of his teacher for
approximately 13 years. In addition to studying empty handed martial arts
he also become accomplished in weapons techniques and Chinese herbal
medicine. Master Ryu Ryu Ko esteemed his pupil highly and sanctioned
Kanryo's mastery of these arts - an honor which is accorded extremely
rarely. Such was Kanryo's skill in the martial arts that his fame became
widespread throughout Fuzhou and the surrounding area.
(founder of Goju-Ryu and successor to Kanryo Higaonna) said of Kanryo
Higaonna, "My Sensei possessed incredible strength; the severity of the
training he underwent in China is beyond comprehension.... Kanryo Sensei's
speed and power were truly superhuman; his hands and feet moved faster
than lightening." Words cannot express his real ability. We can only say
that his skill was incredible but even this fails to do him justice.
In the year
1881, after 13 years of diligent study with his teacher he returned to
Okinawa and Naha where his martial arts became known as Naha-te (these
arts were also referred to as "Tode" meaning martial arts from China).
Kanryo Higaonna taught these martial arts to the people of Okinawa and at
the same time continued his own research and practice. In order to teach
the youth of Okinawa he developed a teaching method which was specifically
designed to develop the mind and body; to improve both physical and
occasion on which the previously secretive art of Naha-te was "opened" to
society in general, occurred in October 1905, when Kanryo Higaonna began
teaching at the high school.
Kanryo Higaonna was an extremely hard task master. However in his everyday
life he was a quiet and humble man and one who was renowned for his
virtuous character. He was a man who had no need or desire for worldly
things. He lead a simple life which was completely devoted to the study
and practice of the martial arts.
There are many
stories which relate tales of Kanryo Higaonna's life and training. The
power of his legs was legendary, so much so that he was often referred to
as "Ashi no Higaonna" ("Legs Higaonna") in Okinawa. His virtuous character
was widely known and respected, and because of his popularity the people
of Naha bestowed him with the name, "Obushi Higaonna Tanrnei", a name
which reflected the affection and respect they had for this great man and
supreme martial artist.
Higaonna's unparalleled skill in the martial arts aside, his great and
distinguished work was in bringing the Chinese martial art forms from
China to Okinawa, and there spreading these arts among the people of
is now bestowed with the title, "Kensei (sacred fists) Higaonna Kanryo", a
title which is eminently fitting. His name is synonymous with Okinawan
martial arts and Naha-te, and his spirit is destined to live on forever as
a great and valued treasure within Okinawan culture.
Higaonna's whole life was devoted to karate. He passed away in December
1915 at the age of 63.