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Goju-Ryu and Shorin-Ryu Connection: Part 1

This will be the first of several posts, I'm sure.

Most of us were taught that there are two main forms of Karate in Okinawa: Shorin-Ryu (the larger one in terms of students) and Goju-Ryu (the smaller one). Shorin-Ryu came from the Shuri area and Goju-Ryu came from the Naha area. Shorin-Ryu was called Shuri-Te (or Shuri-Di) and Goju-Ryu was called Naha-Te (or Naha-Di). Anko Itosu was the leading instructor of Shuri-Te and Kanryo Higashionna was the leading instructor of Naha-Te. In fact, it was Higashionna's student, who coined the term "Goju-Ryu" (or was it one of Miyagi's students?). This is a very simplified overview.

Shorin-Ryu is Shorin-Ryu and Goju-Ryu is Goju-Ryu. While some instructors, such as Kenwa Mabuni, sought to teach aspects of both, most instructors taught one or the other. There is a general feeling that Shorin-Ryu is excellent and Goju-Ryu is excellent, each in their own way. A combination of the two, however, is considerably less effective. By this, I mean no disrespect to Shito-Ryu (a name derived from the names of Higashionna and Itosu) practitioners. I am just stating the general view on the subject.

One instructor told me that trying to learn Shorin-Ryu and Goju-Ryu is like trying to catch two rabbits. It is hard enough to catch one rabbit. Two rabbits will run off in different directions, just like Shorin-Ryu and Goju-Ryu pursue different teaching methodologies.

Shorin-Ryu and Goju-Ryu have their own kata, that largely do not overlap. There are some exceptions. Fukyugata Ni is a Goju-Ryu kata. Shorin-Ryu students who practice it, however, do so in a Shorin-Ryu manner. They do not move like Goju-Ryu students performing Gekki-Sai Dai Ichi (the kata after which Chojun Miyagi patterned the Fukyugata Ni kata).

Gojushiho is also said to be a Naha-Te kata. All numeric kata are from Naha-Te. This also includes Seisan.

But again, my impression is that Shorin-Ryu students practice any Naha-Te derived kata in a Shorin-Ryu manner. They do not move like or look like Goju-Ryu students.

There does not seem to be a reverse adaptation of kata. You do not see Goju-Ryu students performing Kusanku, Chinto, Passai, Rohai, or Naihanchi, for example. But if they did, I suspect that they would do so in a Goju-Ryu manner.

Of course, in modern times people will learn kata outside their own style in order to perform them in tournaments. In the old days, this simply was not done.

In some ways, the two styles are like water and oil, they do not mix easily and tend to separate from one another.

So Shorin-Ryu is Shorin-Ryu and Goju-Ryu is Goju-Ryu, just like black is black and white is white. Or are they? Is there a gray area? Can a Shorin-Ryu student move like a Goju-Ryu student and vice versa?


Charles C. Goodin