History of Kempo Karate
Kenpo from China roots to the modernization for combat
MASTER RYU RYUKO
Previously pictured is Xie Zhong Xiang, the founder of Whooping Crane (a
system sometimes mistaken with its counter part ‘Feeding Crane’ another Crane
style Gung Fu which emphasizes aggressive and offensive techniques). Xie Zhong
Xiang, sometimes referred to as “Rusi” by locals of his village was born in Changle,
Fujian. In his early years, he followed in the footsteps of “Pan Yuba” to study
Ming He Quan. In 1883, he set up a martial arts center and started to receive
students and pass on his style of Wushu. His Chinese boxing style Quan Fa had its
own special and unique characteristics. In 1866, RyuKo formally started teaching.
Many believe that Xie was the teacher of Higashionna Kanryo and other turn-ofthe-
Whooping Crane which strikingly resembles Goju Ryu definitely plays a
generous role in many Okinawan as well as Goju Ryu Kata. Defined particularly
in Suparunpai, Kururunfa, Saifa, etc; those Kata brought back to Okinawa from
China each demonstrate specific movements from White Crane. This would
explain as back up evidence to the current line of history, which is still somewhat
fuzzy due to the destruction of material during the Second World War. RyuKo is
given credit for being the teacher of Kanryo Higaonna.
March 10th, 1851 - December 23, 1915
Having been born to a poor family (the family line actually had carried much
wealth) reputed to have earned a living transporting firewood from the Kerama
Island, Kanryo was born in Naha, Okinawa, now a part of Japan. He was very
small in size however had great speed and agility. His last name also pronounced
Kanryo Higaonna is known as the founder and highest authority of Naha-Te
and was a student of RyuKo. He is considered one of the earliest and foremost
masters of Okinawan Karate and regarded as one of the most influential Karate
instructors in Okinawan history.
His most prominent and best student was Chojun Miyagi, the founder of Goju-
Ryu. He sailed from Okinawa in 1866, at the age of 15 or 16 to entertain his
studies abroad in Fuzchou China in the arts of Chinese Kempo with Sifu
(instructor) Liu Liu Gung and remained there for 15 to 20 years. He returned to
Okinawa during the middle of the Meiji era (1868- 1911) and introduced a new
effective school of Karate there, distinguished from other styles by its integration of
Go- no (hard) and Ju-no (soft) Kempo into one system notwithstanding his small
statue. It is believed that Higaonna Sensei studied the styles of Hung Gar-Shaolin
Chuan, hard style Chinese martial arts of Chi-Chi and/or I-Chi as well with
another master named ‘Woo’.
April 25,1888-October 8th, 1953
Chojun Miyagi was born April 25th1888 in Naha Okinawa of a wealthy family
in the import export business, which enabled him to travel to China from 1904
to 1908 to study the style of his instructor and develop the style of Karate that is
Goju Ryu today. However his original Martial Arts training started with hisneighbor
RyuKo Aragaki (one of the very few fighters ever to beat the legendary
Choki Motobu) at 11 years old. RyuKo Aragaki Sensei, before moving his family
to Taiwan, later introduced him to Kanryo Higaonna, and he began training at
the age of 14 in the fall of 1902 after fulfilling a host of chores (the traditional
way of being accepted by an instructor). In October 1915, Higaonna Kanryo
Sensei died (at Nishiishin-Machi, 2-chome, Naha Okinawa). Miyagi Sensei paid
for his funeral.
After training for 13 years training with Higaonna Sensei, Miyagi sailed to
China in search of his teacher’s teacher. Upon his quest he studied Chugoku
Kempo in Fouchow, Fukien Province, from 1915 to 1917. When he returned to
Okinawa, he began to teach his Karate at a number of places in and around Naha,
and to lecture and demonstrate throughout Japan Miyagi-Sensei subjected the art
of Naha-te, as received from Kanryo Higashionna, to scientific examination. He
studied the basic Go (Sanchin) and the six rules and created the Ju (Tensho) form,
combining soft and hard movements. He also organized the auxiliary movements
to strengthen the body through calisthenics. He organized these exercises in
preparation for practicing the classical Kata. It can be said, he formulated the
theory for the practice of Karate and organized it as an educational subject, an art
of self-defense, and as a spiritual exercise. From the old Chinese book Wu Pei Chih
(Army account of Military Arts and Science) published in 1636, Miyagi took the
expression Goju Ryu for the name of his school as it appears in the sentence: The
successful methods required both give and take (Go and Ju). Miyagi Sensei was
the first instructor to officially give his style a name in 1927 apart from the city in
which it was practiced (See Historical review of Goju Ryu), and organize a school
of Karate. Miyagi often used the slogan Nanji Kyokuden, meaning to “apply all
one? Strength, to be determined in everything that one does; defeat is not the end;
losing is not the end of everything.” Some referred to him as the last great samurai
warrior of Okinawa because of his legendary strength and skill as well as his
intense dedication to the martial arts.
On his pilgrimage to the Chinese mainland he studied not only the building
blocks of his teachers art Hung Gar-Shaolin Chuan Chi-Chi, but also I-Chuan, Pa
Kua Chang and Tai Chi Chuan. It was at this time he learned the Kata or Quan
(Chinese for Kata) Rokkishu which later became the building block on Kata
Tensho. With this additional martial art training Okinawa-te, Naha-te and the
Chinese arts Sensei Miyagi developed a refined form of empty hand, and even
today its Whooping Crane Chinese Gung Fu roots can still be seen in its forms or
Kata. A story is told that while visiting a temple in China, Chojun Miyagi noticed
a crane sitting on a roof, which was made of tile. As he approached the huge bird,
the crane became alarmed and flew away. As it was flying away, the frightened
crane flapped its wings against the tile roof, breaking some of the tiles in the
process. Miyagi was amazed that the soft feathers of the crane were able to break
something as hard as tiles. With that as the beginning, he devised a whole new
approach to Karate, mixing in with the hard techniques many soft ones to be used
in countering hard blows and kicks.
In 1929 Gogen Yamaguchi invited Mr. Miyagi to visit Japan and he later named
Mr. Yamaguchi the leader of the Goju Ryu schools in mainland Japan. That same
year he was named as Shihan of the Okinawan Police.
January 20th 1909 - 1968
Gogen Yamaguchi was born oshimi Yamaguchi on January 20th 1909, in the city
of agoshima on the southern end of Kyushu Japan. His father Tokutaro
Yamaguchi was a merchant and later a schoolteacher and Superintendent, his
mother Yoshimatsu was his fathers’ assistant. Gogen Yamaguchi was also known
in the world of Karate as ‘the Cat’. Yamaguchi was a small man, just over five feet
and a mere 160 pounds, however he projected the impression of great bulk and
solemnity and was first dubbed “the Cat” by American GI’s for his gliding walk
and flowing hair. He alone is primarily responsible for the spread of Goju Ryu in
the world today.
Before training in the in Karate he studied Kendo (Japanese fencing). His first
taste of Goju Ryu Karate-do however wasn’t until his large family moved to Kyoto
while he was in his teens that he began the serious study of Karate. With Sensei
Takeo Maruta at the Maruta Dojo in Miyazai Kyushu. Mr. Takeo Maruta was a
carpenter by trade and student of Chojun Miyagi. Mr. Yamaguchi later studied
directly with Mr. Miyagi in 1929 after he and his then current teacher and friend
Jitsuei Yogi wrote (1929) to Miyagi and invited him to come to Japan. In 1929
Gogen Yamaguchi invited Mr. Miyagi to visit Japan after a long wait he was
introduced to Chojun Miyagi by fighters. Chojun Miyagi later named Mr.
Yamaguchi the leader of the Goju Ryu on mainland Japan. In the early 1930’s Mr.
Yamaguchi sketched out what would become the legendary signature Goju Ryu
fist. It is modeled after the right hand fist of Chojun Miyagi.
After graduating for Ritsumei Kan University in Kyoto (1934) That same year
Yamaguchi Sensei invented Jiyu-Kumite which has become known today as sport
and tournament Kumite; In 1935 he officially formed the All Japan Goju Kai
Karate-Do Association (now today’s I.K.G.A.). Also in 1935: Mr. Yamaguchi
began his travels with the Japanese Government as an intelligence officer and the
first son of Mr. Yamaguchi (Norimi Gosei Yamaguchi) is born (June 25th, 1935).
During his military tour in Manchuria Yamaguchi was seized by the Russian
military (1942) and so begins the fabled tales of Gogen Yamaguchi’s infamous
time in the Russian Concentration camp and he battle and defeat of a live Tiger.
Gogen Yamaguchi had been slated for hard labor in the Russian POW camp. But
the man impressed even his Russian captors. When they found out who he was,
they had him give Karate lessons to the Russian troops. And so the captive became
the master of the captors, who became his students. In 1945 after coming out of
the Manchurian war camp and finishing his tour from World War II, he returned
to Japan where he reopened his Karate Dojo and posted a sign outside reading
Goju Ryu Kai. Many people thought his school was forever closed and that he
had been killed in the war. He decided to hold big weeklong exhibitions in Tokyo
featuring all the various Chinese arts he had discovered during his years there as
well as the traditional Japanese arts. His school reopened and began a rapid
expansion through a network of independent Goju Ryu schools that had went on
to teach without formal leadership. Through this expansion and with his
unmistakable flair that, if it were in any other field, he would have to be described
as a showman he built it into a powerful, sprawling Karate empire
Mr. Gogen Yamaguchi established Goju-Kai Headquarters to Tokyo, Japan next
to the legendary Giho-Kai Judo Institute. Shihan Yamaguchi effectively had Goju
Ryu formally registered into the Butoku-Kai, the official governing body and
‘Government’ Headquarters for the Japanese Martial Arts, similar to our own
Though a calm, sensitive person, Midori Yamaguchi displayed during that
period the quiet strength and strong will characteristic of her. Many have said that
if Gogen Yamaguchi hadn’t had Midori at his side during all these years he
wouldn’t have been able to organize his system. Some students have felt greater
affection for Midori Yamaguchi than for the Gogen Yamaguchi. During the years
of vigorous training at the height of Goju Ryu Kai’s influence Midori Yamaguchi
played the part of a virtual Dojo Mom.
Mr. Yamaguchi was actually awarded his rank of Renshi in 1940 although not
returning to Japan for residency until 1945. In 1950 Goju-Kai Headquarters was
officially relocated to Tokyo Japan which contributed to an almost triple in
membership to 450,000. Five years later he officially chartered the I.K.G.A.
Later in 1964 Mr. Yamaguchi unified all the Karate Dojo in Japan to form the All
Japan Karate Federation which is still in existence today as the Japan Karate
Prior to his death (in 1968), he was decorated by the Emperor of Japan with the
Ranju-Hosho (Blue Ribbon Medal) and the fifth order of merit for his
contribution to the martial arts. In his most pictorial fame Yamaguchi produced
and distributed a short film on training in Taikgyo or Waterfall training. In the
winter of 1965, the outdoor excursion was held on the slopes of Mt. Nagano
Ontake. Each day started off with Yamaguchi and his followers pouring ice water
over themselves. During one of his mountainside excursions in the dead of winter
heading a group of followers, without shoes and clad only in a thin Gi. This
‘waterfall’ involves practicing the Kihon Gata Sanchin and or Tensho as well as
SanchinTensho, utilizing the Yo and In practice of Ibuki breathing. The power of
the water fall forced the performers to maintain themselves there by when the film
was mass distributed it marked the image of Goju Ryu Kai players as being close
to invincible as was their reputation. In 1966 his Organization counted more than
1,200 Dojo and clubs and 600,000 members claimed for the Goju Ryu system.
Before passing away of natural causes Yoshimi Gogen Yamaguchi had become a
Lawyer, Military officer, a Highly decorated war hero, a Shinto priest, an
influential Yoga Practitioner (collaborating the significance of Karate Do to that of
Yoga) as well as a Karate Master, father and Husband.
December 18th,1937 -
Hanshi Lou Angel was born Louis Angelopoulos to Greek immigrant parents on
December 18th,1937 in Brooklyn, New York.Growing up in a tough
neighborhood, he was looking for ways to protect himself. After reading an army
hand-to-hand combat manual at the local library, he realized that a book was not
going to provide the self-defense instruction he desired. He then sought out a
martial arts training hall and, with limited martial arts schools to choose from, he
began his career at a local jujitsu dojo. His first school where he begain training
was located at 48th and Broadway in New York City it was called - The Jiujitsu
School of India. The year was 1954. In the next five years he studied the following
arts at various times and locations: Jujitsu, Judo, Isshin-ryu and Shotokan Karate.
This training provided a strong root, but it was not until Hanshi Angel was
introduced to Grandmaster Peter Urban and Goju Ryu that he found his life’s
Lou Angel was so impressed that he began training at both of Grandmaster
Urban’s dojos at the time: The Academy of Music (Judo Club) in Brooklyn and
The Judo Twins (Bernie and Bob Lepkofker). Grandmaster Urban later opened
the famous “Chinatown Dojo” and after some personalization founded USA Goju
in 1966. Maestro Peter Urban was highlighted in the January 2004 Hall of Fame
Inductees issue of Black Belt Magazine as the 2003 Man of the Year. Maestro
Urban, who was Hanshi Lou Angel’s first Goju Ryu instructor, has been his
mentor over the years (as mentioned in this Black Belt Magazine article).
Hanshi Angel served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1957-1960 and taught
hand-to-hand combat. In 1960 he opened his first dojo under Grandmaster Urban
which was simply named, “Karate School”. His brother recognized the lack of
martial arts in the Midwest, and suggested that he move. In October 1961 Hanshi
Angel opened the “Institute of Karate” in Tulsa, Oklahoma. It was the first dojo in
Oklahoma,and one of the first in the Midwest.
In March 1963, Lou Angel boarded a plane for Tokyo with $1000 and an
introduction letter from Grandmaster Urban. Seeking out samurai descendent
Master Gogen “The Cat” Yamaguchi at his Ueno Dojo, Lou Angel was pursuing
training and testing above the rank of 2nd Dan.
In September of that year, 7 months later, Master Yamaguchi awarded Hanshi
Angel the rank of Sandan, 3rd Degree Black Belt. Master Yamaguchi also made
Hanshi Angel Southwest Branch Instructor for the Goju-Kai.
Lou Angel returned to New York in 1967, where Master Urban awarded him
the rank of 4th Degree Black Belt. For over twenty years he wore that rank, as a
leader in the martial arts, pioneering karate in the Midwest through teaching and
promoting tournaments. Many noted American martial artists first appeared in
Hanshi Angel’s competitions, including the legendary Mike Stone, who made his
competitive debut on November 23, 1963 at Lou Angel’s First American Karate
In 1972 Hanshi Angel moved to Joplin, Missouri to take over management of
one of his licensed schools that had been opened in 1970. In 1987 he founded the
Tenshi Goju Kai, at which time he was promoted to 10th Dan and awarded the
title of Hanshi. His teacher, Peter Urban, recognizes Lou Angel as the Hanshi of
the Tenshi Goju Kai.
Dill was born in 1946 in Oklahoma. Professor Dill was Hanshi Angels senior
student and instructor at one of his schools in Tulsa. He founded the Kempo
system of Bushido Kempo, at which time he was promoted to 10th Degree Black.
He was also a student at the Bruce Lee School in Oakland California while he was
in the Navy. At night he would jump ship to go to Lee’s home for his Jeet Kune
Do workouts. He loved Professor Hargrave his most well known student :)
Carter Hargrave was born in 1961 in Tulsa Oklahoma. HIs first teaching of martial arts was at the Oklahoma Karate Academy where he taught Tae Kwon Do and Kuk Sool. After Dill came to the Oklahoma Karate Academy to meet all the instructors, he invited Carter Hargrave to be trained as one of his instructors to open a branch in Oklahoma. Hargrave agreed and began his two and one half year journey through Kempo Karate, Jeet Kune Do, Kick Boxing, Arnis, Escrima, and various forms of Ju Jitsu and Kung Fu. Hargrave met and worked out with many instructors from around the world who came to oklahoma to train with the organization and to share martial arts knowledge.
Carter Hargrave has made a great impact of the world of Kempo Karate. He is the founder of American Combat Kempo which is a combination of heavily modified techniques from Okinawa Karate, Goju, Ju Jitsu, and Kobujitsu.
Hargrave made all of these techniques his own with unique changes never before attempted in traditional Japanese arts.