After becoming a disciple of Master Ryu Ryuko, Higaonna Sensei helped his master at his trade during the day as a craftsman of bamboo. Training look place after dark starting with the practice of Sanchin. Then, lifting the Nigiri-game (heavy ceramic jars), by their rims, a student would practice Unsokuho (a pattern of stepping movements). This exercise was practiced to strengthen the student’s grip while developing the proper foot movements. The training continued with exercises using the Muchi-ishi (natural stone), then proceeded to Makiwara (striking post)—training where the elbows, fists, knife hand and the heel of the hand were struck repeatedly against a makiwam board. Training was also done in a large bamboo basket called an Uki. Two persons got into the basket and would practice close fighting and choking techniques.
Higaonna Sensei was fascinated by the tools and the instruments which he used for the first time at his master’s dojo. Each new training technique that he learned served to increase his interest in karate even more. The strain of such harsh training though, look its toll and Higaonna Sensei’s legs. hands and shoulders were always swollen from over exertion. Still, it was only through such harsh training that Higaonna Sensei was able to develop muscles like forged steel. After several years of hard training, Higaonna Sensei became Master Ryu Ryuko’s most skillful disciple.

A Brief Biographical Sketch of Master Ryu Ryuko

Master Ryu Ryuko was a master of Shaolin Kempo of the Southern School. Originally, he was from the noble class of Foochow in Fukien province. Owing an internal rebellion, the family of Ryu Ryuko disguised themselves as commoners to save their lives. Thereafter, Master Ryu Ryuko worked as a carpenter. He also worked as a mason while still a young man.
Master Ryu Ryuko was quite old and had already retired from carpentry when Higaonna Sensei first became his disciple. At the time, Master Ryu Ryuko earned his living making bamboo baskets. He was over six foot tall and possessed extraordinary strength with muscle like forged steel. Master Ryu Ryuko was a well-known master of kempo in Fukien province. Everyone knew of him as a well trained and extra. ordinarily disciplined martial artist.
Once during Higaonna Sensei’s apprenticeship, a young martial artist came to Master Ryu Ryuko’s workshop to challenge him to a test of skill. At the time Master Ryu Ryuko was making a bamboo pole. The young man took the bamboo and crushed it in his hands. Astonished, Higaonna Sensei was rendered speechless. But the demonstration left Master Ryu Ryuko calm and undisturbed. Quietly he picked up the crushed pole of bamboo. Then, he pulled it apart. breaking the bamboo in two pieces. Higaonna Sensei could not believe his e

An Episode of Competition

The fame of Higaonna Kanryo Sensei as a great martial artist gradually spread throughout the city of Foochow. Once a discussion began between the students of Master Ryu Ryuko’s dojo and another dojo of the same school over which dojo was superior in skill. The masters of the two dojo each chose their best student to demonstrate kam In China at that time, it was the practice to have a demonstration of kola instead of competition in free style fighting. In this way it was possible to choose a superior martial artist without anyone getting hurt.
Higaonna Sensei was chosen to represent Master Ryu Ryuko’s dojo. At the competition the student from the other dojo went first, performing a Sanchin kale, followed by Higaonna Sensei who performed the same !cam. All the students from the other dojo watched with great attention as Higaonna Sensei per-formed the Sanchin kale. They were all struck with admiration at the performance of Higaonna Sensei. After the performance, the master of the other dojo admitted that the art of Master Ryu Ryuko was much superior to that of his own. After this competition, Higaonna Sensei’s fame spread even further in Foochow. It is said that many martial artists tried to engage Higaonna Sensei in a fight to prove their bravery. But Higaonna Sensei kept the promise he made to Master Ryu Ryuko when he first became a personal disciple of the master of not to fight to show off his skill. Thus Higaonna Sensei always declined these gratuitous challenges.

Higaonna Kanryo as the Founder of Naha-te

Master Ryu Ryuko’s house was a two story building. The master lived on the second floor while the workshop and Higaonna Sensei’s room were located on the ground floor. The floor of the ground floor got very cold. Higaonna Sensei was woken up early every morning by the cold. Unable to sleep any longer, Higaonna Sensei got up and passed the early morning hours practicing kara in the yard. Master Ryu Ryuko also got up early and watched from upstairs as Higaonna Sensei practiced. Much later, shortly before Higaonna Kanryo Sensei returned to Okinawa, Master Ryu Ryuko told Higaonna Sensei not to over practice for he had to conserve his strength for the journey back to Okinawa. Master Ryu Ryuko always watched over Higaonna Sensei as if he were his own son.
Higaonna Sensei stayed as Master Ryu Ryuko’s personal disciple for about thirteen years. After thirteen years of hard training, Higaonna Sensei left Master Ryu Ryuko and the city of Foochow to go back to Okinawa.
Immediately after returning home, Higaonna Sensei paid a visit to Udon Yoshimura, who had helped him go to China thirteen years earlier. Udon Yoshimura was very much impressed to see that Higaonna Sensei had grown up to be a person of modest but dignified character. Udon Yoshimura asked Higaonna Sensei to teach his sons some of the skills he had learned in China. Udon Yoshimura’s second son, Yoshimura Chogi took a great interest in the martial arts and practiced eagerly.
Higaonna Sensei’s fame rapidly spread throughout Naha and its vicinity after his return to the Ryukyus. The king of the Ryukyu Dynasty, King She Tai asked Higaonna Sensei to be the royal family’s instructor in the martial arts. Thus for many years, Higaonna Sensei taught the martial arts to the members of the royal family as well as the family of Udon Yoshimura.
Following the Chinese teaching of humility, Higaonna Sensei was modest and quiet in his demeanor and never talked of his own skill and exploits as a martial artist. For a short time after coming home, Higaonna Sensei went back to his old job of selling goods on a boat. But the sailors, the merchants and the government officials who had been to China all talked about the talent and reknown of .Higaonna Sensei. Many came to Higaonna Sensei and asked to be taken on as personal disciples. But because the training was harsh, only a few remained with Hip. onna Sensei for long.
Higaonna Sensei opened up his house in Nishi. machi as a dojo. and started to teach his art without charging any tuition. Higaonna Sensei was quiet by nature, though in the dojo he seemed to take on a different personality. There, his eyes became piercing like those of an eagle and the students were almost afraid of standing too close to hint.
In 1905, Higaonna Sensei started to teach at a public high school in Naha twice a week at the request of the principal. Higaonna Sensei taught his art to the high school students for both its physical and spiritual value.
During the thirteen years of training in China, Higaonna Sensei mastered many traditional Chinese martial arts such as the art of the straight sword (chien), and the art of the broad sword (dao) and spear. Higaonna Sensei’s technique in all of these various martial arts was truly art in motion. Thus, his fame quickly spread throughout Naha and throughout many other cities in Okinawa.
Higaonna Sensei was not a tall man at all. He was only five foot one inch tall. But he was very strongly built. His muscles were weU developed through the harsh training he underwent in China. His hands and legs possessed extraordinary spring. People called him, “Higaonna of the powerful kick” because his kicks were so strong and quick. His movements were also quick as lightning. People were surprised that one so small possessed such power and strength. People in Naha also called Higaonna Sensei “Kerner meaning “sacred fists.” Gradually, the art of Higaonna Sensei came to be called “Naha-dee (te)” meaning “Naha hand (technique).” Today he is honored as the founder of Okinawan karate.

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