The historical progression of Goju ryu can be traced back to China and like Shorin ryu and Shotokan can define its modern roots in Okinawa.
Exposure to Chinese kempo dates back as far as 1372 when King Satto of the Ryukyu Dynasty sent his brother Taiki as an envoy to China with tributes for the Chinese Emperor Chu Yuen Cheang of the Ming Dynasty. It was at this point that a cultural exchange began. In that same year the Ryukyu Dynasty was formally invested by the Chinese Emperor as a tributary state of China. The Emperor in turn sent envoys every other year to Okinawa in order to promote a cultural exchange. This exchange was welcomed by the Okinawans and certain aspects of Chinese culture became integrated into Okinawan culture. (These delegations continued regularly up until 1866).
Among the delegates sent were many masters of Chinese kempo and during their stay at Shuri and Naha, taught their art to members of the nobility and others of their class.
Simultaneously, the Okinawans sent delegations of nobleman to mainland China until 1874. Some of these nobles remained in China while others returned home after extended stays. Eventually a Ryukyuan settlement was formed in the Fukien province known as “ryukyukan”.
In 1392 during the reign of King Satto a community of Chinese artisans and monks were sent to live in the village of “kume” (very close to what is now downtown Naha). These Chinese were made responsible for conducting matters of trade and communication between Okinawa and China. In addition they taught kempo to the villagers.
The result of Chinese instruction in Okinawa and Okinawans returning home with exposure to Chinese fighting arts, was the spread of kempo throughout Okinawa.
The banning of weapons in 1470 during the reign of King Sho Shin spurred the birth of two main schools of combat. The first was known simply as “te”. “Te” refers to hand or “tode” (China Hand). This was developed and practiced largely by members of the nobility. The second school of combat was known as Ryukyu kobudo.
Ryukyu kobudo was the study of weapons largely practiced by farmers and fisherman. It focused on the study of farm implements and fishing tools as weapons. Practice in both methods of combat took place in private and mostly by night. The golden age of Okinawa continued until its invasion by Japan.
The invasion of Okinawa by the Satsuma clan in 1609 (Reign of King Sho Nei) continued the ban on weapons which further fueled the growth of underground fighting arts. Okinawa had become a puppet state of Japan and the Shogun leyasu maintained the weapons ban and forced Okinawa to continue a facade of loyalty to China to create the illusion that nothing had changed in Okinawa.
After the Meiji restoration in Japan, the Ryukyu Dynasty was declared a territory of Japan. In 1879 under the Meiji government, the Ryukyu Dynasty was made into a Japanese prefecture.
The history of Goju-Ryu begins in the mid eighteen hundreds with Kanryo Higaonna as its grandmaster. Higaonna Kanryo traveled to China to study kempo and returned to Okinawa to integrate it into the Okinawan art of Naha-te.
This, and other documents relating to Goju-Ryu history can be found at the IOGKF History web page. This document originally derived from the book Traditional Karate-do – Okinawa Goju Ryu, Volume 1 by Morio Higaonna, where a much more detailed history can be found.