Kanryo Higaonna
Grandmaster Kanryo Higaonna was born on
March 10, 1853, in Naha, the capital city of Okinawa.
His father, Kanryo, worked as merchant/sailor and sailed
between the small islands of Okinawa to trade 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.
Kanryo Higaonna 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 1869 at the age 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 became
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 rare. Such
was Kanryo’s skill in the martial arts that his fame be-
came widespread throughout Fuzhou and the surround-
ing area.
Chojun Miyagi (founder of Goju-Ryu and suc-
cessor 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

​In the year 1881, after 13 years of diligent study
with his teacher, Kanryo returned to Naha, Okinawa,
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 NAha-te 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 spiritual
The first occasion on which the previously se-
cretive art of Naha-te was “opened” to society in gen-
eral, occurred in October 1905, when Kanryo Higaonna
began teaching at the Naha Commercial High School.

When teaching, Kanryo Higaonna was an ex-
tremely hard task master. However, in his everyday life
he was a quiet and humble man and one who was re-
nowned 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 re-
ferred 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 upon him with the name, “Obushi
Higaonna Tanmei,” a name which reflected the affec-
tion and respect they had for this great man and su-
preme martial artist.

Kanryo Higaonna’s unparalleled skill in the mar-
tial arts aside, his great and distinguished work was in
bringing the Chinese martial arts from China to Okinawa,
and there spreading these arts among the people of

Kanryo Higaonna is now bestowed with the title
“Kensei (sacred fists) Higaonna Kanryo,” a title which
is eminently fitting. His name is synonymous with
Okinawa martial arts and Naha-te, and his spirit is des-
tined to live on forever as a great and valued treasure
within Okinawan culture.
Kanryo Higaonna’s whole life was devoted to ka-
rate. He passed away in December 1915 at the age of