Morio Higaonna: The Karate Legend Who Took Goju-Ryu Worldwide
Morio Higaonna, born on December 25, 1938, in Naha, Okinawa, is a revered figure in martial arts. As a prominent Okinawan karate practitioner, he is ranked 10th dan in Goju-Ryu karate. He is widely recognised as the founder and former Chief Instructor of the International Okinawan Goju-Ryu Karate-do Federation (IOGKF). Higaonna's journey through martial arts is a testament to his unwavering dedication and role in promoting and preserving Goju-ryu karate globally.
Early Life and Karate Beginnings
Morio Higaonna's journey into the world of martial arts began at 14 when he started studying Shōrin-ryū karate, initially under the guidance of his father and later with his friend Tsunetaka Shimabukuro. However, a fateful recommendation from Shimabukuro would change the course of his martial arts journey.
In 1954, one year after the passing of Chōjun Miyagi, the founder of Gōjū-ryū karate, Shimabukuro advised Higaonna to begin his Gōjū-ryū training at Chōjun Miyagi's garden dojo. Here, Higaonna had the privilege of being taught by Eiichi Miyazato, Chojun Miyagi's third-oldest student, and An'Ichi Miyagi, whom Higaonna recognised as his first and primary instructor in the Gōjū-ryū system.
Higaonna continued his training under Eiichi Miyazato at the Jundokan dojo, which opened in 1957. This was a pivotal period in his martial arts journey; in the same year, he earned his black belt.
Education and Teaching Career
In 1960 Morio Higaonna moved significantly to Tokyo to pursue higher education at Takushoku University. This shift marked a new chapter in his life and martial arts career. On December 30 of that year, Higaonna's dedication and skill were recognised when he was promoted to 3rd dan at the first all-style dan grading of the Okinawa Karate-do Renmei.
His journey as a teacher began when he was invited to teach at Tokyo's Yoyogi dojo. His teaching prowess attracted a substantial following of karate enthusiasts, solidifying his reputation as a respected instructor. Higaonna's dedication to sharing the art of Goju-ryu karate with others was unwavering.
Promoting Goju-ryu Worldwide
Morio Higaonna's dedication to promoting Goju-ryu extended beyond the shores of Japan. In 1968, he accepted an invitation by the YMCA to travel to Spokane, USA, where he conducted a series of successful demonstrations and lectures on karate. The trip was a significant success, and Higaonna received recognition from the Mayor of Spokane for his efforts to promote karate in the United States.
His commitment to spreading Goju-ryu karate took him to various parts of the world. In 1970, Higaonna represented Goju-Ryu Karatedo at the first World Karate Tournament organised by WUKO in Tokyo's Budokan. His demonstration earned him special recognition from WUKO.
In 1972, Higaonna was again invited to demonstrate at the Third World Karate Tournament organised by WUKO, reaffirming his status as a global ambassador for Goju-ryu.
Throughout the 1970s and beyond, Higaonna's teachings reached across continents. He conducted teaching tours in France, nurturing the growth of Goju-ryu karate among practitioners of all levels.
In July 1979, Higaonna founded the International Okinawan Goju-Ryu Karate-do Federation (IOGKF) in Poole, England, as a platform to further spread the art of Goju-Ryu on a global scale.
Continued Dedication and Recognition
Morio Higaonna's tireless dedication to martial arts continued into the 1980s. He played a crucial role in promoting karate during official state receptions, such as the 1980 demonstration held in Akasaka, Tokyo, in honour of the President of Mexico's state visit to Japan.
Higaonna's influence also extended to academia when he liaised with martial arts practitioners in the Fukien/Fujian Province of China in 1983—this effort aimed to delve deeper into the history and origins of Naha-te and Goju-Ryu in Fuzhou. The result was the first Okinawan karate seminar and demonstration in Fuzhou in 1988, paving the way for future exchanges between Okinawa and Fuzhou.
Throughout his life, Higaonna authored several books on Goju-Ryu karate, including "Traditional Karate-do: Okinawa Goju Ryu" and "The History of Karate: Okinawan Goju Ryu."
In May 2013, the Okinawan Government honoured Morio Higaonna with an award and title recognising him as an Intangible Cultural Treasure of Okinawa, a testament to his immense dedication and preservation of Goju-ryu karate.
Legacy and Impact
Morio Higaonna's enduring legacy extends through his organisation, the IOGKF, and the numerous martial artists he has influenced and inspired worldwide. His contributions to karate and martial arts education, his dedication to preserving Goju-ryu's traditions, and his role as a global ambassador for art continue to shape the martial arts world.
Today, Morio Higaonna resides in Japan and remains actively involved in karate. His teachings and insights into Goju-Ryu karate resonate with practitioners, ensuring his legacy endures for generations. Higaonna Sensei's influence on the martial arts world is immeasurable, and his commitment to promoting the art of Goju-Ryu remains an enduring testament to his life's work.