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Morio Higaonna Interview


  • 2011 Scuola di Karate-Do,, translated by Maurizio Di Stefano e Enda Flannelly pag. 1/12

    Extract from "Okinawa Karate no Shinjitsu", The True about Okinawan Karate, Toho Editions, 2nd edition, 7/11/2009 Kata are collections of techniques learned during real combat Morio Higaonna Goju Ryu Hanshi 10 dan Breathing is everything

    To begin with, perhaps you could explain to us the characteristics that are peculiar to Goju Ryu? Higaonna: In simple terms, were talking about techniques capable of producing hardness and softness through breathing. So does that mean that the techniques are simply based on breathing? Higaonna: Exactly. Movement while breathing. It is the harmony between ones body and ones breathing. It is often said that one breathes in quickly and one breathes out slowly... Higaonna: Indeed. Basically there are 6 ways to breathe: to breathe in quickly and breathe out quickly, to breathe in quickly and breathe out slowly, to breathe in slowly and breathe out quickly, and so on; there are many ways.

    And their use depends on the techniques, does it not? Higaonna: Exactly, it depends on the techniques. The importance of breathing is so great that you can actually say that it is everything. Naturally, such a breathing method is initially undertaken in a conscious way, but training gradually leads to a state in which one becomes unaware of ones breathing. In that case, isnt it the exact opposite of the Shurite school? Shurite maintains that breathing must be natural. Higaonna: And so it should be. Our breathing method calls for breathing in through the nose and breathing out through the mouth. And then we have diaphragmatic breathing [ed. Tanden Kokyu]. Theres also abdominal breathing. When we breathe out, we do so from the mouth, but we can also

  • 2011 Scuola di Karate-Do,, translated by Maurizio Di Stefano e Enda Flannelly pag. 2/12

    breathe out from the nose. When we breathe out, as the mouth opens, the throat closes in a natural way. We carry out our techniques in accordance with this way of breathing, but we dont show our breathing to our adversary. You dont hear it. We breathe in silence. At the beginning we focus on it as we practice, but it eventually becomes natural or automatic. But our breathing should not be heard first. Not showing our breathing means not allowing our movements to be anticipated, isnt that so? Higaonna: Exactly. That is why as soon as our adversary breathes out we immediately carry out our techniques. This is why its necessary to be able to perceive breathing. We use our breathing to interpret that of our adversary.

    Initially we consciously train our breathing, in order to learn to read that of our opponent. Humans determine the conditions for victory or defeat at that moment in which they are breathing out. You cannot attack when youre breathing in. This is why Goju Ryu teaches us to breathe deeply and in such a conscious manner. As we get older the way we move changes, and so does the way we breathe. We can stop breathing and apply a given force, or enact that force together with our breathing. But its necessary to perceive this in a conscioues way. In sanchin we apply a force as we breathe out while saying Ah. This is also the case when kicking, given that there are certain kicks that we carry out without breathing and others that call for a release of energy as we breathe out. It can be difficult at the beginning if we cant perceive all this.

    This is also apparently the case with the Chinese chuan fa [ed: kenpo in Japanese]. Its traditional combat techniques call for a link between breathing and the emission of energy: Goju Ryu, therefore, adds to that tradition its own unique brand of study, isnt that right? Higaonna: As part of the teachings of the Master Chojun Miyagi, it is stressed that when we breathe the first thing we should perceive is our loin area [ed: koshi: a specific term that indicates the pelvis, the hips and the belly in karate] and our lumber vertebrae. And also the tanden. The anus is tightened as if we are trying to retract it and we channel our energy to the centre of our body. When we breathe out we do so directly, from the mouth. In this way the speed is increased and power is created. Koshi, in a draw by Yamashiro Sensei Muchimi Higaonna: When we block, we shouldnt use force. Muchimi means that before your adversary attacks you already have to be in control. Does Muchimi not mean elasticity then? Higaonna: Not only that, it also means that before the blow arrives you must read it and curb it. In this way we can take hold of the opponents arm and push him back. If this is done after the

  • 2011 Scuola di Karate-Do,, translated by Maurizio Di Stefano e Enda Flannelly pag. 3/12

    opponent has used force, the result is a clash of forces. We must lessen the blow before force has been applied. The last time also, Master, you said that a difference with Japanese Karate lies in the fact that in the latter, once we have blocked, we let go of the opponent. Higaonna: This is true. If we push before the blow arrives, the distance between you and your adversary is reduced. This is why the most effective blows are the short ones. In order for them to contain energy our breathing needs to be correct. In present day Karate, which has now been transformed into a sport, we strike and retract our hand quickly, and therefore the distance between us and our adversary returns to the original one.

    Higaonna: As Master Takamiyagi has already said in our discussion [ed: this is a reference to a different chapter in the book], the Masters of old used to teach that once we had blocked we had to pull and get in closer. This, in Okinawa, is called Kakie. These days nobody even knows how to write that [laughs]. But also in China this technique was expressed by a sound like kaki. And once you had gotten closer, you followed on with a technique called Kou (leaning). By Kou we mean close physical contact, isnt that the case? The hand that takes hold pulls forcefully and the distance between us and our adversary, instead of not changing, is actually reduced! Higaonna: Exactly. By blocking in this way, we pull the opponent and we attack by following the arm. And this is done at great speed, like a whip. If we follow the arm, it doesnt matter how our opponent moves, we will find him. In this way, we can attack like this [he strikes the opponents neck with a nukite].

    I understand. And this too is based on the theories present in the Chinese Quan Fa, correct? And all of this is what in Okinawa is called Muchimi? Higaonna: Exactly, it is Muchimi. Even the Sanchin, when performed in front of a Chinese person, is recognised as Sanchen. Apart from Tensho and the Gekisai, which are kata that were invented in Japan, were talking about forms that originated in China. Although it is said that Kururunfa is written in characters that are very Japanese. I believe that at the basis of Karate not only will you will find China but all of South-east Asia. I say this because there exist techniques in Karate that cannot be found in China. And to get back to those roots is the objective that I have given myself for the future [laughs]. Sanchin With regard to Sanchin, there are two of them, the original one by Master Kanryo Higaonna and that of Master Chojun Miyagi, correct? Higaonna: The Sanchin brought by Master Kanryo from China calls for three steps forward, one

  • 2011 Scuola di Karate-Do,, translated by Maurizio Di Stefano e Enda Flannelly pag. 4/12

    rotation and another three steps going forward. Master Chojun, on the other hand, maintained that it was natural for people to move forward, but not that they go backward. And he said it is by acting in accordance with this that wrong ideas are eliminated. Whether we are going forward or backward, we must apply the same energy. When we go backward we must put our weight on our heels. Are we allowed to lift our heels? Higaonna: No. We must go backward by sliding in suri ashi. And neither must we lift our feet when were going forward. Everything is based on suri ashi. Nevertheless, Master Chojun taught the Sanchin during which one went backward after the war. From 1945 onwards. Actually, from 1947, if Im not mistaken. In Japan the Sanchin is carried out by going backward after having turned. Higaonna: The original Sanchin is the one passed on by Master Kanryo. In those days it was carried out with open hands. In 1905, having been hired as officials at the Secondary School of Commerce, Anko Itosu and Master Kanryo were called upon to teach Karate to the students: it was then that Itosu, as a promoter of a Karate schooling, used closed fists. Master Kanryo used nukite, given that it is faster and more realistic from a combat point of view. But given that it was dangerous, Master Itosu applied the closed fist. Master Kanryo was upset by this and got drunk! [laughs]

    There was talk at the previous meeting of the intention to hide [ed: hide true techniques]... Higaonna: Master Kanryo suggested hiding them, not showing them.

  • 2011 Scuola di Karate-Do,, translated by Maurizio Di Stefano e Enda Flannelly pag. 5/12

    Perhaps he meant to keep them hidden as a last resource? Higaonna: Thats it exactly. In the old days one trained by reinforcing the nukite. Its faster and allows you reach your adversary sooner, given that its also longer. Or rather, that the reach of ones fingers is longer? Higaonna: Yes. Also in China they practice the nukite in training to strengthen it. Ah yes... Just like with the Iron Hand where we strike the sand with the tips of our fingers and other s