I kata del Goju Ryu di Okinawa

I kata del Gōjū Ryū di Okinawa, come trasmessi ed insegnati nella IOGKF (International Okinawan Goju Ryu Karate-Do Federation), possono essere suddivisi in due tipologie:

  • heishugata: sanchin, tensho
  • kaishugata: gekisai dai ichi, gekisai dai ni, saifa, seiyunchin, shisochin, sanseru, sepai, kururunfa, sesan, suparinpei

Heishugata significa “forma a mano chiusa” (shu è scritto con lo stesso carattere di te di karate, ma è pronunciato in maniera diversa), ma questo non significa che sono kata dove la mano è tenuta chiusa, la chiusura è da intendersi del tanden, che rimane chiuso, compresso, dall’inizio alla fine del kata. Nei kaishugata (“forma a mano aperta”) il tanden è chiuso unicamente al momento del chinkuchi kakin (kime) o al termine dei movimenti eseguiti con muchimi (movimento lento, pesante, concentrato, appiccicoso).

Nel dōjō di Sensei Morio Higaonna a Naha è appesa sulla parete una tavola con sopra calligrafati i nomi dei kata: il sanchin, nelle due versioni Higaonna no Sanchin e Miyagi no Sanchin, è presente preceduto dalla calligrafia kihon kata, poi sono presenti i kaishukata, infine il tensho, preceduta dalla calligrafia heishugata.

goju kata kanji

Nel dicembre del 2012, approfittando di una pausa nella pratica, chiesi a Sensei Higaonna come mai il sanchin non era tra gli heishugata, lui rispose che il sanchin è un heishugata ma, nello stesso tempo, è il kata fondamentale, grazie alla pratica corretta e costante del quale è possibile cogliere i kukuchi, i punti chiave, l’essenza, di tutti gli altri kata.

kata kanji

I kata sanseru, sepai, sesan e suparinpei hanno raffigurato come kanji finale shu che nella lingua parlata non viene però pronunciato. Sesan significa ’13’ che nella cultura Cinese rappresenta la fortuna e la prosperità. Il significato per sanseru, sepai e suparinpei è descritto nell’articolo Suparinpei – 108 .

I kata Gekisai Dai Ichi e Gekisai Dai Ni, creati da Chōjun Miyagi nel 1940, hanno dei nomi, “attaccare e distruggere”, che riflettono il periodo storico in cui sono stati creati.

I kanji originali dei rimanenti kaishugata sono andati persi nel tempo e sono rappresentati da kanji che evocano il significato dei kata stessi e la cui pronuncia è simile a quanto tramandato verbalmente.

THE Goju-Ryu video

Chojun Miyagi named his style of Karate-DoGoju-Ryu” in 1930. From since, Goju-Ryu Karate-Do is spread internationally and now it’s one of the most important styles of karate-do. But respect to other styles of karate-do, there seems to have a lack of material about it in pre-second world war period. There are a number of photos of Miyagi: in my personal research I collected 44 photos. There are 3 manuscripts related to Chojun Miyagi and we can find his opinions in the minutes of okinawan karate masters meeting in 1936.

There were some rumors, as reported by Charles C. Goodin, that a film was shooted of Chojun Miyagi during his visit in Hawaii in 1934-1935, but it has never been found.


And there is THE video. To best of my knowledge, the first written record of this video was in Morio Higaonna’s book “The History of Karate – Okinawan Goju-Ryu” (Dragon Books, 1995).


The video shooted in Okinawa in 1940 and titled “Ryukyu no fubutsu”  (Ryukyuan Things) (Black & White / 16mm / 13 min). The video was recorded by Doctor Soetsu (Muyeyoshi) Yanagi. Doctor Yanagi was born in 1889 and lived until 1961, and he is known as the founder of the Japanese craft (mingei) movement that championed the art of the people—the crafts of ordinary use rather than the fine arts. The current owner of the copyright of the video is “The Japan Folk Crafts Museum”.


Morio Higaonna wrote: “In 1940 Doctor Muneyoshi Yanagi, who had been born in Tokyo, brought a group of assistants to Okinawa to research traditional Okinawan culture and folk craft. Among the arts and crafts they studied and recorded were Okinawan karate, Ryukyu buyo (classical dance), yakimono (pottery), kosei bingata (weaving) and shikimono (laquerware).

Doctor Yanagi also vistited Kumejima and other islands, recording his research both in writing and on film, and later published a book about Okinawan culture. Having great respect for the Okinawans, he was instrumental in introducing their culture to Japan.

Four students of Chojun Miyagi demonstrated the art of karate for Dr. Yanagi’s group, a demonstration that was recorded on film. In 1982 Dr. Yanagi’s son brought this film to Okinawa and presented it to the Shuri Museum. About one year later the Museum held a special festival for one week in which the film was shown every day. I went six times during that week to view this piece of history”.

According to the catalog of the 2003 Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival, where the video was shown,

“shot primarily on location in the towns of Itoman, Shuri and Tsuboya, these pre-war film present the landscape of Okinawan daily life and introduce the arts and crafts of each locale. The film offer glimpses of uminchu (fishermen)’s expressions, traditional architecture, popular cuisine, funeral parades, the atmosphere of bustling markets, and traditional crafts such as Tsuboya-yaki pottery and Bashofu cloth. These work show that the representation of local scenery and folk art, which at first glance seem to be artless “slice of life” pieces of culture, in fact manifest the spirit of the era”.

This are the information about the video, as reported in the catalog:

Supervisors: Yanagi Soetsu, Shikiba Ryuzaburo

Photography, Editing: Ikai Suketaro

Sound: Tojo Kenjiro

Music: Yanagi Kaneko, Yamauchi Yoshiaki

Titles: Serizawa Keisuke

Planning: The Japan Folk Crafts Association

Production Company: Dainippon Bunka Eiga Seisakusho

Source: The Japan Folk Crafts Museum


The description in the catalog don’t write about the karate scene. It lasted about 60 seconds and it included a portion of Tensho kata, a portion of Kururunfa kata, a performance of makiwara, tan, ishi sashinigiri game and chishi exercices, a performance of chishi exercise, a portion of a group performance of Seiyunchin kata.

The location of the demostration should be the yard of Okinawan Prefectural Teachers College (Okinawa Kenritsu Shihan Gakko). In that period Chojun Miyagi taught also in Naha Commercial High School, in Okinawa Prefectural Police Academy and in the garden of his house in Wakasa-machi, Naha.

The students of Naha Commercial High School used a karate uniform with a badge, and that badge don’t appear in the uniforms of the students in the video. Also, according to Okinawan Prefectural Museum, the photographer, Manshichi Sakamoto, took many pictures during the film and Chojun Miyagi was in one of the pictures “performing shime on Kotaro Kohama at the Teacher’s College” (as reported in Morio Higaonna’s book). To have more information about the pictures, I wrote to Akiyoshi Sakamoto: he answerd me that at the beginning of 2005 they gave all the plates to Japan Folk Craft Museum.

photo 26
Chojun Miyagi performing shime on Kotaro Kohama at the Teacher’s College

I wrote two times to Japan Folk Craft Museum to have more information about the video and the photos but, unfortunately, I hadn’t receive any answer.


“a portion of Tensho kata”

It’s not known who performed the kata. According[1] Tetsuhiro Hokama, an Okinawan karate master, he could be Juhatsu Kyoda. Juhatsu Kyoda (1887-1968) was senior of Chojun Miyagi, he began his learning with Kanryo Higaonna few months before Miyagi, at the very beginning of the 20th century. Chojun Miyagi created Tensho kata in 1916 – 1924. Kyoda didn’t teach Tensho kata to his students, but he introduced them to the techniques of Rokkishu, very similar to the tecniques container in Tensho kata, but not formalized. It is claimed that both Miyagi and Kyoda based their creation on a chapter of the Bubishi. There are also rumors the performer was an ex-school principal (as Kyoda) by the name of Tamanaha, but there is no confirmation.

“a portion of Kururunfa kata”

The kata start from heiko dachi position. According to some researchers, Chojun Miyagi changed the kamae position at the beginning of each kata sometime during the war. After the 1945, the kata began by assuming a musubi dachi position with hands crossed in front of the tanden, and not in heiko dachi with the fists drawn to the side of the body, like in the video.

a performance of tan exercise”

We don’t know who was the performer of the tan exercise, but, according to some rumors, he could be Chojun Miyagi in person. If the rumors are true, the video is the only media material with Chojun Miyagi performing hojo undo.

“a performance of tan, ishi sashi, chishi and nigiri game”

The student with the chishi should be Sogen Sakiyama Roshi in his youth, now the zen master of Okinawan International Zen Center. Sogen Sakiyama was born in 1921 and began his training in Buddhism in 1949. In 1940 he had 19, and he was and is related to karate circles from then until now.

photo 39
Opening of Shuren Dojo in Itoman, 1948. Second row, second and third from right Chojun Miyagi and Shoshin Nagamine; above Nagamine, Seiyu (Kaka) Nakasone; third row second from right Seko Higa; fourth row third from right Seikichi Toguchi; top row fifth from left: Sogen Sakiyama Roshi (author of the sign); front row first from left, Jinsei Kamiya.

“a portion of group performance of Seiyunchin kata”

About 30 people in the same yard of the other parts of the video performed a portion of Seiyunchin kata.

[1] Personal communication, Naha July 2004