Sensei Higaonna was born in Okinawa on December 25th, 1938. He began training in karate at age 14 under the tutelage of his father, a policeman who taught Shorin Ryu in their home. Two years later, in April, 1955, he was given an introduction to the garden dojo of Sensei Miyagi Chojun, and began training seriously with chief instructor Sensei An’ichi Miyagi.
From the beginning Sensei Higaonna had a close relationship with An’ichi Miyagi Sensei. “When I first joined,” he recalls in his book History of Karate “I remember thinking that the head of the dojo was An’ichi Miyagi, since he was the one did all the teaching.” Koshin Iha, who collected the dues, pointed at Miyagi and said, “An’ichi is the most knowledgeable. Go and learn from him.”
Sensei Higaonna taught at the karate club at his high school in the afternoons, then in the evening at the dojo. Sensei Miyagi’s widow would watch the lad clean and prepare the dojo for training, then offer him a snack, reminisce about her late husband, and give Higaonna Sensei advice. “For those who practice the martial arts, smoking is the worst thing for the body, so you must never smoke,” she warned, and “…learn from An’ichi Miyagi.” He took her words to heed.
In 1960 Sensei Higaonna left Okinawa to attend Takushoku University in Tokyo. In Japan he continued training and took the opportunity to visit many different dojo. After graduating Sensei Higaonna was invited to teach at the prestigious Yoyogi Dojo – even though Shorin Ryu was its style – and soon the biggest names from all over the world came to train with him.
When Sensei Higaonna began training in 1953 there was no grading system; people wore belts to hold together their clothing, and did not signify rank by wearing yellow, green, brown or black belts. In 1957 Miyazato Sensei awarded a black belt to Sensei Higaonna. Such was his humility, he felt embarrassed and didn’t even wear it until a year later. Today, after 57 years of training, Sensei Higaonna holds the rank of 10-Dan.
In 1979 Sensei formalized the relationships he had with students worldwide by organizing the International Goju-Ryu Karate Federation (IOGKF). Today the IOGKF includes 47 countries and thousands of members. Sensei Higaonna travels around the world teaching gasshuku (seminars) and receives students at his headquarters in Okinawa.
In addition to teaching, Sensei Higaonna still trains many hours a day to continue his progress and learning. To support his students’ learning, he has produced a series of videos on Kata, Bunkai and Power Training. (Videos are available at www.iogkf.com) Sensei has also written four books on Goju-Ryu on the topics of Basic Techniques, Kata and Bunkai.
Higaonna Sensei has dedicated a large part of his life to researching the roots of Okinawan Goju-Ryu. The book History of Karate (Dragon Books, Great Britain) represents thirty years of research. He has taken upon himself the responsibility of passing on traditional Goju-Ryu Karate as taught by Chojun Miyagi Sensei, and through old-fashioned teaching and modern technology has succeeded.