Why does Shotokan's Secret ignore Goju Ryu?

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Why does Shotokan's Secret ignore Goju Ryu?

Postby HanshiClayton » Mon May 17, 2010 11:09 pm

I was wandering around the Internet today when I saw a blog posting that mentioned Shotokan's Secret, Expanded Edition. The writer said that the book could not be taken seriously because it barely mentioned Goju Ryu. It made me think about a couple of things that might be interesting to explore.

The fundamental purpose of Shotokan's Secret is to discover the kata applications that are missing from Shotokan and related linear karate styles. That is the whole reason that the project was undertaken.

The approach of the research was to learn everything possible about the people who created these katas and the lives they led. They lived in Shuri, and were the bodyguards to the king of Okinawa. Their legacy is exactly the package of katas that modern senseis cannot explain.

So why doesn't Shotokan's Secret follow up on the history of Goju Ryu? Well, to begin with, Goju isn't a linear style. The ancestors of Goju had nothing to do with Shuri. Shotokan and Goju have only one kata in common, and that's stretching a point. That kata (sanchin or hangetsu, depending on which style you are in) is clearly a non-linear, soft-style kata that was not practiced in Shuri. In fact, sanchin is the kata that Shuri-te stylists abandoned and stopped practicing, much to the horror of their more traditional colleagues. In short, the katas and history behind Shotokan have absolutely nothing to do with the katas and history of Goju Ryu. That's why the book doesn't go there.

As it happens, the history of Goju Ryu is very straightforward, except for one gigantic issue. The founder of Goju was Chojun Miyagi. Miyagi's reputation is spotless. In my research I didn't find any negative stories about Miyagi at all. It seems like everybody respected him, which we know was not the case with Funakoshi. Miyagi died young, and there is a whisper of a suggestion that high blood pressure from sanchin kata hastened his departure. This subject has been hotly debated, with little light and much heat.

The "gigantic" issue occurred after Miyagi's death in Okinawa, when Gogen Yamaguchi announced from far-away Japan that he was Miyagi's chosen successor to lead Goju Ryu! This was a complete surprise to Miyagi's senior students in Okinawa, who were unaware of any such relationship. Yamaguchi had no proof, no documentation, and no witnesses. He simply claimed that he had been given the mantle of leadership during a private conversation with Miyagi some years before.

This naturally created issues between the Japanese Goju group and the Okinawan Goju group. The Okinawans pretty much called Yamaguchi a liar and turned their backs on him.

But was he a liar? In my opinion, Yamaguchi was a karate televangelist. His autobiography is very rare and expensive these days, but Graham Noble summarized it in an article for Dragon Times. Yamaguchi's autobiography contains many stories of miraculous feats and death-defying adventures, all with no witnesses, no documentation, and no battle scars. In other words, he was in the habit of making up miraculous stories about himself. It would be entirely in character for him to suddenly hijack the leadership of Goju Ryu based on his word alone. I don't think there is much doubt that this is what he did.

As readers of Shotokan's Secret are aware, I have no respect for Japanese senseis who manipulate their students with lies. See The Three Standard Lies about Karate and Don't be taken in by miraculous claims. This means I have some serious issues with Gogen Yamaguchi.

In fairness, we must acknowledge that Japanese Goju Ryu is now led in good faith by people who did not write amazing stories about themselves, and I think they deserve respect. We must judge Goju Ryu based on what they have made of it, not on the founder's scandalous past.

So, for all of these reasons, Shotokan's Secret avoided writing about Goju Ryu. In the first place, Goju has nothing to do with the history of Shotokan. Secondly, a history of Goju inevitably stirs up scandal. Scandal is fun, and may even teach us a few lessons about how gullible people can be, but it had no place in my book.
Bruce D. Clayton, Ph.D.
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