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Kempo Karate Teachers from the Shaolin Temple in China
The Shaolin Temple in China has brought many important teachers and styles to the world of martial arts. These men were fascinating people who dedicated their lives to various martial arts disciplines, and each was influential in his own right.
KANRYO HIGAONNA (March 10, 1851 – December 23, 1915)
This founder and authority of Naha-Te, Kanryo was born to a poor family in Naha, Okinawa (now a Japanese land) and made his early living transporting firewood. Higaonna, pronounced Higashionna, was gifted with great agility and speed despite his small size. This student of RyuKo is considered the first master of Okinawan Karate and went on to become the most influential instructor of Karate in Okinawa.
Higaonna traveled to Fuzchou China to study his martial arts under Sifu Liu Liu, Gung who taught him the ways of Chinese Kempo for nearly twenty years. During the mid-Meiji Era, distinguished between 1868 and 1911, Kanryo returned to Okinawa and established a school there. His school of Karate was differentiated from other schools because of its introduction of Soft, or Ju-no and Hard, or Go-no as one discipline. His most famous student was Chojun Miyagi, who went on to found Goju-Ryu.
Higaonna Sensei studied a form of hard Chinese martial arts known as Chi-Chi or I-Chi under the tutelage of Hung Gar-Shaolin Chuan and Master Woo.
MASTER RYU RYUKO (July 1852 – February 1930)
Though World War II clouded the complete picture of Master Ryu Ryoko’s accomplishments, Xie Zhong Xiang founded a unique style of martial arts known as the Whooping Crane. Born in Changle Fujian, Xie Zhong Xiang was known as “Rusi.”
Rusi started his earliest studies by studying Ming He Quan until in 1866 he began to formally teach students. He opened his own martial arts studio and began to show his followers his own style, Wushu; in 1883. He is also credited with his own unique boxing style Quan Fa. In fact, Xie was reportedly the major influence and teacher of many Okinawan martial arts students, like Higashionna Kanyro.
Ryuko’s famous Whooping Crane discipline is similar to Goju Ryu and has many influences in both Goju Ryu Kata as well as many Okinawan Kata. Most influenced are the styles of Kururunfa, Suparunpai and Saifa, which each feature moves from the White Crane.
CHOJUN MIYAGI (April 25, 1888 – October 8, 1953)
Another Naha Okinawa master, Chojun Miyagi was born to a family who was wealthy and influential in import/export ventures. His training began at the age of eleven, when his neighbor Ryuko Aragaki took him under his wing. Ryuko had his own claim to fame by beating martial arts legend Choki Motobu. Prior to his move to Taiwan, Ryoku had his friend Kanryo Higaonna began to teach him at the age of 14.
When Kanryo died in 1915, Miyagi covered his funeral costs. Miyagi had studied the art of Naha-te for thirteen years under Higaonna. Miyagi now yearned for the teachings of his beloved instructor’s teacher, and took sail to China where he studied in Fouchow in the Province of Fukien. From 1915 through 1917, he learned the art of Chugoku Kempo. Following this, he returned to Okinawa to instruct others in his Karate and was a frequent demonstrator and lecturer in this discipline in Japan.
Miyagi, however, began to question his training. He began to combine hard and soft movements in a form known as Ju Tensho. He shifted his focus to calisthenics to strengthen the body before undertaking Kata. Chojun Miyagi chose karate as the art of self-defense, but also as an exercise in spirituality and education. He developed the Goju Ryu, or give and take, discipline of martial arts still practiced today. He organized his own school to promote Goju Ryu and was also the first teacher to name his own style in 1927. Miyagi is known as The Last Great Samurai Warrior of Okinawa due to his skill and dedication to martial arts as well as his strength.
Miyagi’s slogan was Nanji Kyokuden:
“Apply all one’s strength, to be determined in everything that one does; defeat is not the end;
losing is not the end of everything.”
During his venture to the Chinese mainland, Chojun Miyagi saw a crane sitting on a tile roof. When the crane became frightened and flew off, it flapped its wings on the tile and broke several of them. Miyagi could not believe the softest of feathers could break the tile; this helped him build a whole new discipline of Karate that involved a combination of soft techniques with hard ones to deflect kicks and punches. It was also during this time that he began to study Hung Gar-Shaolin Chuan Chi-Chi. He learned I-Chuan, Tai-Chi Chuan, and Kua Chang. He based Kata Tensho on the Kata, or as the Chinese call it, Quan. By combining all of these with Naha-te and Okinawa-te, Miyagi Sensei formed the Whooping Crane Chinese Gung Fu (King Fu), a type of empty hand, which is still seen in many forms of Kata even today.
1929 saw Miyagi named the Shihan of Okinawan Police. This is also the same year he named Gogen Yamaguchi as the mainland leader of Japan’s Goju Ryu martial arts school.
LOU ANGEL (December 18th, 1937 – still living)
Louis Angelopoulos, also known as Lou Angel was born in a tough Greek neighborhood in Brooklyn. Born of Greek immigrant parents, Hanshi Lou Angel was always seeking out ways to use self-defense; he finally decided in 1954 to begin martial arts training at a Jujitsu Dojo called Jujitsu School of India on Broadway and 48th Streets. He had read many manuals and books prior to begin his studies and found no real solutions in them. For five years, Lou studied Judo, Shotokan Karate, Jujitsu and Isshin-ryu.
On his introduction to Grandmaster Peter Urban Lou began to study Goju Ryu. He loved the style so much that he chose to study at both Urban’s dojos simultaneously. He studied at The Judo Twins and the Academy of Music Judo Club.
Grandmaster Urban continued on and in 1966 began USA Goju from his Chinatown Dojo. He was named the 2003 Man of the Year by Black Belt Magazine in 2004. Urban has remained Angel’s mentor and close friend throughout.
Hanshi Angel went on to serve in the Marine Corp, teaching hand to hand combat from 1957-1960. After he left the military in 1960, he founded Karate School, his own martial arts institute.
When his brother mentioned that there were no martial arts studios in the Midwest, Angel moved to Tulsa Oklahoma and opened the first Oklahoman Dojo, called the Institute of Karate.
March of 1963 found Angel traveling to Tokyo to seek our Master Gogen “The Cat” Yamaguchi. With an introductory letter from his mentor Peter Urban and only $1000 in his pocket, Lou found Yamaguchi in Ueno in his pursuit of testing and training above 2nd Dan level. He succeeded, and in September q963 he was given the belt of Sandan, 3rd Degree Black Belt. In addition, Yamaguchi also named Hanshi Angel as his Southwest Branch Instructor of Goju-Kai.
In 1967, upon his return to New York, Master Urban granted him the level of 4th Degree Black Belt. The next twenty years found Lou Angel as a martial arts leader who spread an interest in the disciplines of Karate across the Midwest. Teaching and tournaments led this promotion, and several popular martial artists of the time made their first appearances at his matches. One such name is Mike Stone, who first appeared in November 1963 at the first of Lou’s American Karate Tournaments.
In order better to manage his school in Joplin Missouri, founded in 1970, Lou Angel moved there in 1972.
In 1987 he received his promotion to 10th Dan and was given the designation of Hanshi. He founded Tenshi Goju Kai and was named by Peter Urban as Hanshi of Tenshi Goju Kai.
GOGEN YAMAGUCHI (January 20th 1909 – 1968)
Oshimi Yamaguchi was born in Agoshima, Kyushu Japan. He was born to Tokutaro Yamaguchi, who was a schoolteacher, school Superintendent, and merchant.
Gogen Yamaguchi was only five feet tall and weighed about 160 pounds and was nicknamed The Cat for his long, flowing hair and his gliding, catlike walk. American GI’s first called him The Cat, and the nickname stuck for the rest of his life. He is credited with the world-wide recognition of Goju Ryu.
Gogen first began his career with Kendo, or the style of Japanese fencing. He was exposed to Goju Ryu Karate-do when his family moved to Kyoto when Gogen was a teen. He began to study under Takeo Maruta in Miyazai Kyushu at his Maruta Dojo. In 1929, his then teacher Jitsuei Yogi, wrote to Chojun Miyagi and asked him to come to Japan. In 1929, Yamaguchi again contacted Miyagi who finally did come to Japan. Yamaguchi was finally introduced to Miyagi personally. He began to study under Grandmaster Miyagi, and was named the mainland leader of Japan’s Goju Ryu.
Gogen Yamaguchi invented the Goju Ryu fist, the signature emblem of Goju Ryu. This emblem is made of Chojun Miyagi’s clenched right fist.
1934 saw Yamaguchi graduating Ritsumei Kan University of Tokyo. This is also the year that he founded Jiyu-Kumite, the widely recognized Kumite sport. He founded the IKGA or All Japan Goju-Kai Karate-DO Association in 1935.
This same year, Yamaguchi became an intelligence officer for the Japanese Government, and became a father to Norimi Gosei Yamaguchi, through his steadfast wife, Midori. In 1942 during his Manchurian military tour, Yamaguchi was captured by the Russians and placed into a Russian concentration camp. His legendary exploits during his imprisonment involved defeating a live tiger. When his captors found out who Yamaguchi was, they had him teach Russian troops Karate. Originally intended for a term of hard labor, Yamaguchi instead taught his captors Karate until his release in 1945. Following his release, Yamaguchi finished his World War II tour.
Following his tour, he returned to his Karate Dojo in Japan and hung a sign advertising the teaching of Goju Ryu Kai. Yamaguchi held exhibitions that showed his Chinese training and all of the Japanese martial arts he had learned. His weeklong Tokyo exhibitions sparked the interest in his school; most people had thought him to be killed during the war and his school was to remain closed. When his studio reopened, it enjoyed a rapid growth throughout the globe. Yamaguchi used this growth of Goju Ryu schools to create a martial arts domain. He even built a Goju-Kai central headquarters next to Japan’s Giho-Kai Judo Institute in Tokyo. Je also registered his Goju-Ryu with the Butoku-Kai, the official head office for all Japanese Martial Arts.
Yamaguchi’s wife, Midori, remained a constant presence within all of the Dojos. Her mothering presence was affectionately accepted, and it is believed that without her by his side, Yamaguchi would never have had the level of success that he enjoyed.
Gogen Yamaguchi continued his successes throughout the rest of his life. He was awarded the Renshi rank in 1945, and when the Goju-Kai Headquarters moved to Tokyo in 1950 the membership to his schools tripled to nearly 450,000.
!964 brought about Yamaguchi’s founding of the IKGA, and in 1964 Yamaguchi went on to found the All Japan Karate Federation, now known by the name Japan Karate Federation, or JFK.
Yamaguchi also produced a film in 1965 of Waterfall Training, or Taikgyo. Filmed in mid-winter of 1965 on Mt Nagano Ontake, the movie showed Yamaguchi and a group of students who would pour ice water over their heads each morning, while wearing only a Gi and no shoes. Taikgyo showed movie goers the ways that Yamaguchi and his followers would use the power of Ibuki breathing, the practice of Yo and In, and Sanchin Tensho to overcome the discomforts of this extreme exercise. The film cemented firmly the notion that Goju Ryu Kai followers were unshakable and unstoppable. Perhaps this accounts for the rise in membership of Goju Ryu Kai in 1966 to 600,000 students across 1200 Dojos.
In 1968, just before Gogen’s death of natural causes, the Emperor of Japan recognized his numerous contributions to the martial arts and awarded him the Blue Ribbon Medal, or the Ranju-Hosho along with a Fifth Order of Merit. He was an influential martial artist, a Karate master, a Military officer and decorated war hero, a lawyer, Shinto Priest, and a husband and father. Yamaguchi’s far reaching influences are still felt today.
G.W. Dill (1946 – )
Another famous Oklahoma martial artist, Professor Dill was Lou Angel’s premier student as well as an instructor at one of Angel’s Tulsa studios. He was given the rank of 10th Degree Black Belt after he began his own Kempo style, Bushido Kempo. He studied at Bruce Lee’s California school while he was serving in the Navy. At night, it wasn’t unusual for him to hop off the ship and go directly to Lee’s home for one on one Jeet Kune Do training.
Carter Hargrave (1961 – still living)
Born in Oklahoma, Carter Hargrave began martial arts training at the age of 7. In Tulsa, he started his training with Lou Angel. Carter went on to study with many different instructors to master his skills, and learned many different martial arts disciplines. Hargrave had initially thought of his training as a sport, not as any real defensive mechanisms. Carter began to realize that people were coming to learn Tae Kwon Do at his school because they needed immediate help in self-defense. They were not happy with the timeline of two years that the head instructors told them they would need before becoming proficient in Tae Kwon Do. Carter set about to do something about it.
One fateful day a man approached the instructors at his school and invited them to learn his style of Karate. No one but Carter expressed an interest. That man was a teacher from the Bruce Lee School in California, and for two years after this meeting Carter studied under this instructor, learning weaponry, Bruce Lee’s unique styles of martial arts, Ju Jitsu, Escrima and Kenpo. Carter took the techniques and combined them into a single, simple style that he called American Combat Kenpo. His style allowed his students to defend themselves within six months of beginning his unique training.
Carter Hargrave has written three books on martial arts, and his book about Bruce Lee’s Jeet Kune Do became a bestseller.
Currently, Carter Hargrave is the director of the well renowned World Jeet Kune Do Federation as well as the President of the famous World Kempo Association.