A magazine of martial and movement arts, with a focus on the internal style of Tai Chi Chuan
The Fundamentals of Goju-ryu Karate
Goju-ryu Karate II
by Gosei Yamaguchi
(Ohara Publications, Inc., 1972 & 1974, 176 pages & 256 pages)
Review by Christopher Dow
These two early books in English on Goju-ryu Karate have an impressive pedigree. The author, Gosei Yamaguchi, is the son of Gogen Yamaguchi, one of the most important figures in 20th-century karate and founder of the All Japan Karate Federation in 1964. Gogen Yamaguchi studied the art under Chojun Miyagi, himself a towering legend in the karate world. A master in his own right, Gosei Yamaguchi came to the United States in 1964 and runs his own karate organization here.
The earlier book, The Fundamentals of Goju-ryu Karate, is very much a Category I book, containing some background on the art it discusses followed by a relatively extensive instruction section. Yamaguchi was a 7th Dan when he wrote the first of these two books, and anyone who doubts that he was even then a master should contemplate this statement from his preface: “It would be difficult to find any two [karate] instructors who would define the art in the same way. To some, karate is combat. To others, it is primarily for show. Still others approach it as a religion, a teaching device, a way to physical fitness, a sport, a self-defense system or from one of a dozen other possible points of view.” That, to my mind, perfectly defines any martial art.
The first chapter contains a brief history of Goju-ryu Karate, beginning with the statement: “Of the various Japanese styles of karate, goju-ryu has received the greatest amount of Chinese influence.” The founder of the style, Kanryo Higaonna, studied Shaolin kung fu, and his student, Chojun Miyagi studied Shaolin and Bagua, as well. Consequently, Goju-ryu partakes of the hard and soft, as reflected in its name: go = hard and ju = soft.
The next chapter discussed Goju-ryu’s progressive program of instruction, which contains five elements: warm-up exercises, basic blocking and striking, basic movements, kata (structured form work), and sparring. Following this is a chapter on stances. These aren’t the simple stance instructions you’ll find in other books but highly detailed mini-essays on each stance and the footwork involved in creating or moving through the stance. (Figure 1) The text for these is light, but the photos are accompanied by some of the most detailed footwork charts I’ve ever seen in a martial arts book. If you can’t figure out how to move your feet from these, you’d better just kick back in front of the TV.
“Forms of Posture,” or basic stances combined with arm positions, are covered next. These are broken into three categories: ceremonial postures, which are used to introduce practice, functional postures, which are essential for practical use, and classical postures, which are found in the kata but that have no practical purpose in combat. The section on functional forms contains photos showing some of their uses against an opponent.
Striking points are covered next, and the chapter includes lots of hand and foot forms (fists, sword hand, and so forth), and how where to strike with them. This chapter is more substantial than is found in most similar books. Kata practice occupies the next chapter, with Yamaguchi demonstrating a number of shorter kata strung together into longer sequences. Chapters on strikes and kicks, often against an opponent, end the book. As a final note, this book contains more than 400 photos, illustrations, and charts.
Goju-ryu Karate II, which contains more than 1100 photos, charts, and illustrations, also is a Category I book, and it focuses almost completely on kata. Here, Yamaguchi takes his highly detailed foot-stepping charts to a whole new level. In every instructional photo, he is posed against a grid work painted on both the floor and wall so that you can see not only the exact angle of his stance and body, but also the precise extension of any given arm or foot. (Figure 2) To make matters even more precise, foot-stepping charts are frequently presented immediately beneath or beside the photos, complete with arrows to indicate the direction of movement.
Yamaguchi goes through three or four katas in this thorough manner, and then, as if that level of detail wasn’t enough, for the next five katas, he adds rhythmic notation in the form of notes on a musical scale matched to the movements. (Figure 3) The purpose is to use the rhythm and beat of the notes to properly pace each of the movements as one moves through the kata. In toto, Yamaguchi has produce here what might be the most complete martial arts instruction manual in the world. Certainly it’s the most complex I’ve ever seen.
The seminal position of these books in the English-language martial arts canon, the exceptional quality of the instructional explication, and the unquestionably excellent provenance of the author’s art makes these musts for students of Goju-ryu Karate. For others, Goju-ryu Karate II is notable primarily for its thorough, interesting, and innovative instruction section.