Grandmaster Kanryo Higaonna (Higashionna was the original Okinawan pronounciation) was born on March 10, 1853, in Naha, the capital city of Okinawa. His father, Kanyo, worked as a merchant sailing between the small islands of Okinawa trading everyday goods. From a young age Kanryo Higaonna helped his father in this work and through the hard physical labor that was involved he developed a strong body. Kanryo Higaonna was still in his teens when his father died suddenly.
Higaonna began his martial arts training in 1867 in Monk Fist Boxing (Lohan Quan) from Aragaki Seisho. In 1870, at the age of 16, he traveled with his instructor to Fuzhou, China. Once in Fuzhou he studied the Chinese martial arts under the great Master RuRuKo (Xie Zhonh Xiang in Chinese). RuRuKo was the founder of Whooping Crane gongfu and was a student of Pan Yuba who, in turn, was a student of Lin Shixian, a master of White Crane gongfu.
Higaonna also received instruction from numerous other gongfu masters including Wai Xinxian. Hiagaonna remained in China for a period of 5-13 years. In addition to studying empty hand and weapon arts, he also became accomplished in herbology and Chinese medicine, including acupuncture.
Chojun Miyagi (founder of Goju-Ryu and successor to Higaonna) said of Higaonna, My sensei possessed incredible strength; the severity of the training he underwent in China is beyond comprehension. Kanryo Senseis speed and power were truly superhuman; his hands and feet moved faster than lightning. Words cannot express his real ability. We can only say that his skill was incredible, but even this fails to do him justice.
Kanryo Higaonna is now bestowed with the title Kensei (sacred fists) Kanryo Higaonna a title which is eminently fitting. His name is synonymous with Okinawan martial arts and Naha-te, and his spirit is destined to live on forever as a great and valued treasure within Okinawan culture.