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GRANDMASTER GOGEN YAMAGUCHI

1909 - 1989

Gogen Yamaguchi was born Oshimi Yamaguchi on January 20,1909, the third son of Tokutaro Yamaguchi. He lived in an old home at Higashi Sengoku-sho, Kagoshima City, in Southern Kyushu, the land of sun and everlasting green, looking out at the famous Sakurajima Island where an active volcano shows its smoke passionately.

Yamaguchi was one of ten children (six boys and four girls). The Yamaguchi family was not rich, but there was always plenty of love and they were a very close knit family.

The six boys were all very interested in the martial arts, such as Japanese fencing and Judo. Gogen was not only interested in the martial arts but also in religion. He spent his Sundays listening to the priest give his sermons at the Ganshinji Temple.

Gogen's father Tokutaro Yamaguchi was a merchant and later a school teacher and Superintendent, his mother Yoshimatsu was his father's 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 Gl'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 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 Mr. Miyagi and invited him to come to Japan. In 1929 Gogen Yamaguchi again invited Mr. Miyagi to visit Japan and after a long wait he was finally introduced to Chojun Miyagi by Jitsuei Yogi (September 27, 1912-November 1997), when Chojun Miyagi was visiting the Japan schools of Kansai, Osaka, Ritsumei, Kyoto, and Doshisha Universities. Gogen was attending Ritsumei Kan University at the time studying law.

In 1930 Sensei Yogi, together with Gogen Yamaguchi were the primary cofounders of the Ritsumei-Kan Dai-Gaku Karate Kenkyu Kai, the first Karate club at Ritsumei-Kan University. The Ritsumei-Kan Karate-do Kenkyu Kai was the first University Karate club in western Japan and was infamous for its hard style training and fierce Karate fighters. Both Yogi and Yamaguchi attended Ritsumei-Kan University during the time of Chojun Miyagi's visit and Chojun Miyagi stayed in Sensei Yogi's apartment.

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 of Chojun Miyagi.

After graduating from 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. 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) was born (June 25, 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 his 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, if it were in any other field, he would have been described as a showman because he built this organization into a powerful, sprawling Karate empire. Gogen Yamaguchi established the Goju Kai Headquaters in Tokyo, Japan next to the legendary Giho-Kai Judo Institute. Gogen 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 Pentagon.

Though a calm, sensitive person, Midori Yamaguchi displayed a quiet strength and strong will. 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 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.

Gogen Yamaguchi was 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. 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 Federation (JKF).

Prior to his death in 1989, Gogen Yamaguchi 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 this Mountainside excursions in the dead of winter Yamaguchi would lead his group of followers, without shoes and clad only in a thin Gi to a waterfall where they would practice the Kihon Gata Sanchin and or Tensho as well a Sanchin Tensho, utilizing the Yo and In practice of lbuki breathing. The power of the water fall forced the performers to maintain themselves. Thereby, 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 Yamaguchi's organization counted more than 1,200 Dojos and clubs and 600,000 members claimed 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 Grandmaster, father and Husband.

Gogen Yamaguchi died at the age of 80 in 1989. The world will truly miss a great Karate Master.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Copyright 1988 - 2008