Fuzhou Visit Nov 2011 Report

By: Joost Frehe – OTGKA England

England member Joost Frehe made the long journey to the Fuzhou Wushu/Karate exchange event where he stayed on afterwards to contact further research into the roots of Goju-ryu. Below is the article detailing his conclusions from both the event and his research…



From Nov 2 – 7 the IOGKF Black Belt Gasshuku and Karate / Wushu Exchange Convention and Contest took place in Fuzhou, China, the historical place where Ryu Ryu Ko, Kanryo Higaonna’s teacher in China, taught in the latter part of the 19th century.

Because of a interest in both the historical as the technical connection with China and Chinese Gongfu I decided early on this was an event not to be missed and somehow I managed to not only attend both events but also squeeze in an extended stay in Fuzhou city to continue some of the research I started while in Fuzhou previously.

I was particularly interested to find out if the research Higaonna Sensei conducted over the many visits he did over the years had lead to any new insights in the identity of Ryu Ryu Ko and/or the style he taught i.e. tiger, crane, luohan or perhaps a combination of them all.

In fact I was pleased to hear Higaonna Sensei himself refer to this, during the second day of training, where he recalled that in the early stages of his research, when showing the Goju Ryu Kata to a group of Fuzhou Gongfu experts, it was remarked Sanseru kata contained many tiger style techniques, undoubtedly referring to the marauding tiger single-leg take down from the Bubishi which is commonly seen in tiger based gongfu i.e. Tai Chor.

Furthermore Sensei recalled that Suparimpei Kata in addition also showed features of crane style and luohan chuan (monk fist boxing) of which the former I believe could simply refer to the use of the Goju Ryu hiki uke while the latter refers to the so called windmill palms characteristic of luohan chuan, as I’ve learned of through the practice of the Koryu Uchinadi old-school version of the Kata Happoren.

What impressed me was that Higaonna Sensei himself, by sharing these facts, seemed to indicate that what we know today as the single system of Goju Ryu, at some point in time might have actually been an eclectic mix of several styles.

The first 3 days were reserved for the Black belt Gasshuku, held in Chang Le, a southern suburb of Fuzhou which coincidentally is the birth ground of Whooping Crane master Xie Zhong Xiang (1852 – 1930) who according to some historians (but not according to the IOGKF) is one and the same historical figure as Ryu Ryu Ko.

Higaonna Sensei was in great form and about 50 participants from all over the world shared in the unique opportunity to see the master at work once again moving through kihon, kata, kakie and finishing the 3 days with some preparatory Kata group practice for the upcoming demo during the exchange convention.

From here it was off to Fuzhou city and once again the location, the Fuzhou Gymnasium only minutes away from Fuzhou’s southern park, was one with a historical significance as in Higaonna Sensei’s book the history of karate it’s said the park was possibly close to Ryu Ryu Ko’s house.

Not having forgotten the IOGKF’s Fuzhou China Goju Ryu History Research Report from March 2009, which indicates that the [white crane] temple (also Xie Zhong Xiang’s training ground) could have been the historical place where Ryu Ryu Ko trained, I decided, for better or worse, seek out those crane based groups in Fuzhou with a direct lineage back to Xie.

Funny enough they all supported the Xie – Dong en (Chinese name for Kanryo Sensei) connection although after persistent questioning some reminded me they could simply not talk about ‘politics’ in China freely while others advised me to let the whole thing go as a joined government (China and Japan) agreement on the subject was now the accepted story, whether historically correct or not.

I decided to then find those remaining crane schools with a direct lineage to Xie for some cross comparative analysis, hoping to find answers this way.

I felt first time lucky after chasing a contact I was provided by no was less than Pan Cheng Miao shifu from Yongchun Baihe (white crane) last year. The contact was Master Yu who succeeded his father who passed away in 2002 aged 95 and who had been a direct student of Xie.

Although initially there for some information only I ended up training with Yu for 10 days on a daily basis working on the first form in Xie’s system, babulian (Happoren in Karate) as well as White crane sticky hands.

Interesting fact of course is that the Babulian is one out of 2 forms (taolu in Chinese) that are featured in the Bubishi, the book Miyagi Chojun Sensei used as a reference to name his style Goju Ryu.

Not only that, the second form in the Bubishi, Neipai (Nipaipo in Karate) is also featured in the Bubishi, as is the life story of Fang Chi Niang, the woman responsible for creating White crane boxing.

Either way, after having become familiar with Yu’s Whooping crane dynamics I came to the apparent conclusion many similarities exist between his crane style and modern day Goju Ryu, nevertheless many differences too.

What seems clear to me though is that Yu’s crane most definitely reflects mechanics that, perhaps in different forms and variation, were an integral part of 18th century Fuzhou based gongfu that, as a whole, had an impact too on the development of Goju ryu. In fact if anything I feel that, by having experienced Yu’s for-fighting-based Babulian (which is Sanchin Kata with an additional 5 steps i.e. a second generation Sanchin), I have come to both understand and appreciate the Goju-ryu Sanchin dynamics for the better.

To finish the trip off the exchange convention was a combination of demonstrations, both from the IOGKF contingent which included myself, as well as several gongfu groups including tiger, bird, crane etc, all who were keeping seminars for those who were interested in a taster session in the respective arts. Interestingly a spin off version of the Ming He Chuan Babulian was taught here too but unlike Yu’s powerful version using muchime-like power dynamics this one had a lot of shaking in it expressing energy or qi release.

I was knocked out of the karate contest early on due to not finishing Sanseru Kata in the exact way it should have been but was more ‘lucky’ the next day in the gongfu section for which I’d registered as well and was awarded a gold medal for my performance of the old-school Kume (Matsuyama Koen) version of the Kata Sanchin.

I’d like to thank my teachers Hanshi Patrick McCarthy (Koryu Uchinadi Kenpo-jutsu) and Sensei George Andrews (Goju Ryu) for supporting me in attending the events and everyone who was present for the great times shared.