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Gogen Yamaguchi

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  • Gogen Yamaguchi

    Gogen Yamaguchi

    Japanese Goju Ryu karate master who studied under Miyagi Chojun. He was the head of the Japanese Goju Ryu System until his death in 1989. Yamaguchi devised modern day free-style sparring in 1936. He also was principally responsible for the founding of the All Japan Karate-do Federation, which has succeeded in the unification of some Japanese karate schools.

    Gogen Yamaguchi recognized the link between ancient Yoga and karate. This connection between the ancient Indian art of Yoga and karate-do is discussed in detail in his book “Goju Ryu, Karate by The Cat.” Prior to his death, 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.

    Gogen Yamaguchi was born on January 20, 1909, in Kagoshima city on southern Kyushu. Already as a youngster he showed great interest in the martial arts. During his early school days he trained kendo, (Japanese fencing) and it was during this time that he started his karate training under the tutelage of Mr. Maruta, a carpenter from Okinawa. Mr. Maruta who was a Goju practitioner was drawn to the young Yamaguchi’s serious attitude and his willingness to train hard. Mr. Maruta taught Yamaguchi all he knew about the Goju system.

    During his college days as a law student, Yamaguchi established his first karate club at the Ritsumeikan University in Kyoto. Soon the dojo became famous in the city, known for its hard training and fierce breathing exercise. In those days karate men practised only kata (formal movements) and yakusoku kumite (prearranged sparring) and were unable to have matches between each other since they did not hold back their techniques. It was during this period that Yamaguchi created the first stages towards what is known as jiyu kumite (free fighting) and established rules to decide the winner of a match. Some of the rules are still in use today in what is known as sport or competition karate.

    In 1931, at the age of 22, Gogen Yamaguchi was introduced to the founder of the Goju style, - Master Chojun Miyagi. This meeting proved to have a profound affect upon Yamaguchi’s outlook on karate. Previously he had only considered the hard aspect of Goju but after his meeting with Master Miyagi he was determined to train himself spiritually as well as physically. Master Miyagi thought highly of Yamaguchi who seemed to have mastered the hard aspect of Goju so well and gave him the nickname Gogen, meaning “Rough”. He then appointed Gogen Yamaguchi as his successor of the Goju school in Japan.

    During the years to follow, Gogen Yamaguchi often spent long stays at Mount Kurama where he subjected himself to ascetic exercises and hard training with Sanchin, meditation, and fasting. Between 1938-1945 he was sent to Manchuria on government and military assignments. On several occasions during his stay there, he could thank his skills in karate and his mental training that he stayed alive. During the Japanese-Russian war, Yamaguchi was taken prisoner of war and sent to a prison camp in Mongolia. He was kept there under harsh conditions for two years. Once again his strength and skill were severely put to the test. During all these years he still continued to train and develop Goju karate.

    After his release and return to Japan, Yamaguchi became one of the most exciting figures in karate history. Known throughout the world as “The Cat” because of his grace and speed in movement and because of his favourite fighting stance, Neko Ashi Dachi (cat leg stance). Many also believe that he was called “The Cat” because during his time as a P.O.W. in the Japanese-Russian war he was locked up with a tiger and he killed it.

    Master Yamaguchi’s contributions to Goju karate and to karate in general have been enormous. Under his leadership the International Karate-do Goju-Kai Association (I.K.G.A) emerged. The organization has increased in popularity both in Japan and other Asian and Western countries around the world. Today there are about 35 countries teaching Goju-Kai karate. Master Yamaguchi succeeded in uniting all the karate schools in Japan into a single union which resulted in the formation of The Federation of All Japan Karate-do Organization (F.A.J.K.O.) in 1964. The Kokusai Budo Renmei - (The International Martial Arts Federation) in Japan, whose chairman is Prince Higashikuni of the Japanese Imperial Family appointed Master Yamaguchi as Shihan (Master) of the organizations karate division. He added to the Goju system the Taikyoku Kata forms, - training methods for the beginner students to prepare them for the more advanced katas.

    In combining his religious practices with karate training, he incorporated both Yoga and Shinto into Goju-Kai karate and founded in recent years Goju-Shinto. He states that both body and mind are interrelated and through proper breathing and concentration we will be able to understand the essence of the martial arts. This is the reason why the Goju school uses the unique breathing exercise called ibuki. Concentrating all the muscular strength at one point, bringing mind and body into a coherent whole.

    Never before has a single man had such profound effect on the development and propagation of karate-do. Master Gogen Yamaguchi, 10th Dan (level), a man of intense dedication and determination can truly be called a karate legend. A master of Yoga and a Shinto priest, a man that truly has united both aspects of go and ju into a concerted union.

  • #2
    The Story That Made Gogen the Cat a legend

    Gogen Yamaguchi, the founder of goju-kai style of karate, had many adventures as a young man and one of the most famous occurred during World War II. The Japanese government had sent Yamaguchi to Manchuria on secret business, and whilst conducting certain negotiations he was captured by forces of the Kuomintang (The Chinese National Peoples Party) government. They shipped him off to a labor camp where he was treated very badly and suffered great hardship and deprivation.

    Although a model prisoner who did everything he was told, Yamaguchi's captors were wary of him. There was something in his demeanor, the way he walked proudly and the way other prisoners held him in such high regard which caused the guards to be almost afraid of him. The normal day's routine for prisoners was to eat whatever was available, which was never enough, and then lounge about either sleeping or gossiping. But Yamaguchi did not behave as the other prisoners. When he was allowed out of his cell, he would run around the exercise area and practice all manner of kicks and punches hour after hour. In his cell he would sit and meditate for long periods. Yamaguchi refused to bow down and be broken by the conditions of his imprisonment.

    The guards began to see this proud Japanese as something of a superhuman being. He always looked fit and healthy unlike the other prisoners, and yet he ate the same starvation diet. They began to think of him as a demon and their fear grew. News soon reached the camps commandant's office of this strange prisoner. On further investigation it was discovered who he was and orders were issued that at all costs he must be broken, so that he would lose face before the other prisoners. Yamaguchi was placed in solitary confinement and his rations would have barely kept a child alive. For twenty hours a day he sat in his cell in total darkness. The cell was so small that when he sat cross legged his knees touched the wall. Daily beatings by the guards still failed to affect him or break his spirit. Each day he would practice his special breathing exercises and then put himself into a trance like state so that he felt neither pain nor hunger. The prison officials could not believe that one man could withstand such harsh treatment and still remain fit and unbroken. By now rumor was rife around the camp about the demon man who's very name seemed to frighten the guard's when it was whispered by the prisoners.

    The commandant finally ordered an ultimate test that would rid them of this man once and for all. They dragged Yamaguchi out of his cell and walked him across the compound to where there was a cage containing a half-starved tiger. Laughing, the guards pushed him into the cage and ordered the whole camp to watch the Japanese karate man being eaten alive. "Let's see your karate help you now" goaded one of the guards. The minute Yamaguchi was pushed into the cage a strange look came into his eyes. He adopted a karate stance and with an ear piercing yell he attacked the tiger. The animal was stunned by the shout, so allowing time enough for Yamaguchi to jump on its back and apply a strangulation technique from behind. In the process he let out another screeching yell right into the tigers ear and then pulled back on his arms, using every bit of strength in his body. Moments later the tiger slumped to the cage floor, dead. The guards looked terrified and ran off, leaving Yamaguchi in the cage overnight with the dead tiger.

    The next morning he was let out of the cell and allowed to rejoin the other prisoners. Less than two weeks later he was exchanged with another political prisoner, thus facilitating his release. The guards at the camp breathed a sigh of relief when this demon karate man left the camp. Years later, when near to death, Yamaguchi was asked what karate is all about. He replied, "Karate is not about fighting; it is about truth."