Higashionna’s most prominent student was Chojun Miyagi (1888–1953), the son of a wealthy shop owner in Naha, who began training under Higashionna at the age of 14. Miyagi had begun his martial arts training under Ryuko Aragaki at age 11, and it was through Aragaki that he was introduced to Higashionna. Miyagi trained under Higashionna for 15 years, until Higashionna’s death in 1916.
In 1915 Miyagi and a friend Gokenki went to Fuchou in search of Higashionna’s teacher. They stayed for a year and studied under several masters but the old school was gone (BoxerRebellion 1900). Shortly after their return, Higashionna died. Many of Higashionna’s students continued to train with him and he introduced a kata called Tensho which he had adapted from Rokkishu of Fujian White Crane.
Higashionna’s most senior student Juhatsu Kyoda formed a school he called Tōon-ryū (Tōon is another way of pronouncing the Chinese characters of Higashionna’s name, so Tōon-ryū means “Higashionna’s style”), preserving more of Higashionna’s approach to Naha-te.
In 1929 delegates from around Japan were meeting in Kyoto for the All Japan Martial Arts Demonstration. Higashionna asked Miyagi to go as his representative; Miyagi was also unable to attend, and so he in turn asked his top student Jin’an Shinsato to go. While Shinsato was there, one of the other demonstrators asked him the name of the martial art he practiced. At this time, Miyagi had not yet named his style. Not wanting to be embarrassed, Shinsato improvised the name hanko-ryu (“half-hard style”). On his return to Okinawa he reported this incident to Chojun Miyagi, who decided on the name Goju-ryu (“hard soft style”) as a name for his style. Chojun Miyagi took the name from a line of the poem Hakku Kenpo, which roughly means: “The eight laws of the fist,” and describes the eight precepts of the martial arts. This poem was part of the Bubishi, a classical Chinese text on martial arts and medicine. The line in the poem reads: Ho wa Gōjū wa Donto su ”the way of inhaling and exhaling is hardness and softness,” or “everything in the universe inhales soft and exhales hard.”
In March 1934, Miyagi wrote Karate-do Gaisetsu (“Outline of Karete-do (Chinese-hand)”), to introduce karate-do and to provide a general explanation of its history, philosophy, and application. This handwritten monograph is one of the few written works composed by Miyagi himself.
Miyagi’s house was destroyed during World War II. In 1950, several of his students began working to build a house and dojo for him in Naha, which they completed in 1951. In 1952, they came up with the idea of creating an organization to promote the growth of Goju-Ryu. This organization was called Goju-Ryu Shinkokai (“Association to Promote Goju-Ryu”). The founding members were Seko Higa, Keiyo Matanbashi, Jinsei Kamiya, and Genkai Nakaima.
There are two years that define the way Goju-ryu has been considered by the Japanese establishment: the first, 1933, is the year Goju-ryu was officially recognized as a budō in Japan by Dai Nippon Butoku Kai, in other words, it was recognized as a modern martial art, or gendai budo. The second year, 1998, is the year the Dai Nippon Butoku kai recognized Goju-ryu Karatedo as an ancient form of martial art (koryu) and as a bujutsu. This recognition as a koryu bujutsu shows a change in how Japanesesociety sees the relationships between Japan, Okinawa and China. Until 1998, only martial arts practiced in mainland Japan by samurai had been accepted as koryu bujutsu.