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Master Kanryo Higaonna (1853 – 1915)

The History and Lineage of the Masters that Came Before Us

Grandmaster Kanryo Higaonna was born on March 10, 1853, in Naha, the capital city of Okinawa. Kanryo, 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. Kanryo decided he wanted to study the martial arts and he set his heart on traveling to Fuzhou, China for this purpose. He arrived in Fuzhou in 1869, at the age of 16. Once in Fuzhou he studied the Chinese martial arts under the great Master Ryu Ryu Ko. He soon became ;Uchi Deshi" (private disciple) and he remained in China under the severe instruction of his teacher for approximately 13 years. In addition to studying empty handed martial arts he also become accomplished in weapons techniques and Chinese herbal medicine. Master Ryu Ryu Ko esteemed his pupil highly and sanctioned Kanryo’s mastery of these arts – an honor which is accorded extremely rarely. Such was Kanryo’s skill in the martial arts that his fame became widespread throughout Fuzhou and the surrounding area.

The severity of the training he underwent in China is beyond comprehension. In the year 1881, after 13 years of diligent study with his teacher he returned to Okinawa and Naha where his martial arts became known as Naha-te (these arts were also referred to as "Tode" meaning martial arts from China). Kanryo Higaonna taught these martial arts to the people of Okinawa and at the same time continued his own research and practice. In order to teach the youth of Okinawa he developed a teaching method, which was specifically, designed to develop the mind and body; to improve both physical and spiritual well-being. The first occasion on which the previously secretive art of Naha-te was opened to society in general, occurred in October 1905, when Kanryo Higaonna began teaching at the high school. When teaching, Kanryo Higaonna was an extremely hard taskmaster.


However in his everyday life he was a quiet and humble man and one who was renowned for his virtuous character. He was a man who had no need or desire for worldly things. He led a simple life, which was completely devoted to the study and practice of the martial arts. His great and distinguished work was in bringing the Chinese martial art forms from China to Okinawa, and they’re spreading these arts among the people of Okinawa. Kanryo Higaonna is now bestowed with the title, Kensei (sacred fists) Higaonna Kanryo’s, a title that 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. Kanryo Higaonna’s whole life was devoted to karate. He passed away in December 1915 at the age of 63.

Master Chojun Miyagi (1888 – 1953)

The History and Lineage of the Masters that Came Before Us

Grandmaster Chojun Miyagi was born on April 25, 1888 to an aristocratic family. They were in the import/export business, and owned two ships, which made regular trips to Mainland China, placing them among the wealthiest families in the area. He began training in karate under Kanryo Higaonna at the age of 14, in 1902. Like his teacher before him, because of his great natural talent and fierce determination, he progressed very rapidly. The training was severe beyond belief at times but he practiced ever harder with an enthusiasm unmatched by any of the other students. Chojun Miyagi became uchi deshi (private disciple) of Kanryo Higaonna. He studied with his teacher for 14 years before his teacher’s death in 1915. That same year (1915) he journeyed to Fuzhou, China, the city where his teacher had studied the martial arts, to further his research. This was one of three trips he made to China during his lifetime.

On his return to Okinawa he began to teach the martial arts at his home in Naha. Later, he also taught at the Okinawan Prefecture Police Training Center, at the Okinawan Master’s Training College, and at the Naha Commercial High School (where his teacher had once taught). Chojun Miyagi worked hard to spread karate throughout Okinawa and mainland Japan, and to earn Naha-te a status equal to that of the highly respected Japanese martial arts of Judo and Kendo. To achieve this he traveled frequently to mainland Japan where he was invited to teach karate at Kyoto University and Ritsumei Kan University. In 1933 karate was registered at the Butokukai, the center for all martial arts in Japan. This was a milestone for karate as it meant that it was recognized on a level with the highly respected martial arts of Japan.


Chojun Miyagi dedicated his whole life to karate. He was responsible for structuring Naha-te (which he later named "Goju-Ryu") into a systematized discipline, which could be taught to society in general. This teaching system, which he formulated, enabled karate to be taught in schools for the benefit of the young, and to reach vast numbers of people throughout the world. However, his private teaching at his home remained strictly in adherence to the principles of his teacher, Kanryo Higaonna, and his teacher before him, Ryu Ryu Ko. Chojun Miyagi died on October 8th, 1953, of either a heart attack (the most popular explanation) or a cerebral hemorrhage at the age of 65.

Grand Master Gogen Yamaguchi (1909 – 1989)

The History and Lineage of the Masters that Came Before Us

Gogenen Yamaguchi was born on January 20, 1909, in Kagoshima city on southern Kyushu. Already as a youngster he showed great interest in the Martial Arts. During his early school days he trained kendo, (Japanese fencing) and it was during this time that he started his karate training under the tutelage of Mr. Maruta, a carpenter from Okinawa. Mr. Maruta who was a Goju practitioner was drawn to the young Yamaguchi's serious attitude and his willingness to train hard. Mr. Maruta taught Yamaguchi all he knew about the Goju system. During his college days as a law student, Yamaguchi established his first karate club at the Ritsumeikan University in Kyoto. Soon the dojo became famous in the city, known for it’s hard training and fierce breathing exercise. In those days karate men practiced only kata (formal movements) and yakusoku kumite (prearranged sparring) and were unable to have matches between each other since they did not hold back their techniques.

It was during this period that Yamaguchi created the first stages towards what is known as jyu kumite (free fighting) and established rules to decide the winner of a match. Some of the rules are still in use today in what is known as sport or competition karate.


In 1931, at the age of 22, Gogen Yamaguchi was introduced to the founder of the Goju style, – Master Chojun Miyagi. This meeting proved to have a profound affect upon Yamaguchi’s outlook on karate. Previously he had only considered the hard aspect of Goju but after his meeting with Master Miyagi he was determined to train himself spiritually as well as physically. Master Miyagi thought highly of Yamaguchi who seemed to have mastered the hard aspect of Goju so well and gave him the nickname Gogen, meaning `Rough. He then appointed Gogen Yamaguchi as his successor of the Goju School in Japan. During the years to follow Gogen Yamaguchi often spent long stays at Mount Kurama where he subjected himself to ascetic exercises and hard training with Sanchin, meditation and fasting. Between 1938-1945 he was sent to Manchuria on government and military assignments. On several occasions during his stay there, he could thank his skills in karate and his mental training that he stayed alive. During the Japanese-Russian war -45 Yamaguchi was taken prisoner of war and sent to a prison camp in Mongolia. He was kept there under harsh conditions for two years. Once again his strength and skill were severely put to the test. During all these years he still continued to train and develop Goju karate. After his release and return to Japan, Yamaguchi became one of the most exciting figures in karate history. Known throughout the world as the `cat' because of his grace and speed in movement and because of his favorite fighting stance, which is called neko ashi dachi (cat stance).


Master Yamaguchi’s contributions to Goju-karate and to karate in general have been enormous, the karate schools in Japan into a single union, which resulted in the formation of The Federation of All Japan Karate-do Organization F.A.J.K.O. in 1964. He added to the Goju system the Taikyoku Kata forms, – training methods for the beginner students to prepare them for the more advanced Kata’s. In combining his religious practices with karate training, he incorporated both Yoga and Shinto into Goju-kai karate and founded in his last years Goju-Shinto. He stated that both body and mind are interrelated and through proper breathing and concentration we will be able to understand the essence of the Martial Arts. This is the reason why the Goju School uses the unique breathing exercise called ibuki. Concentrating all the muscular strength at one point, bringing mind and body into a coherent whole. The Kokusai Budo Renmei – The International Martial Arts Federation in Japan, whose chairman was Prince Higashikuni of the Japanese Imperial Family had appointed Master Yamaguchi as Shihan (master) of the organizations karate division. Never before has a single man had such profound effect on the development and propagation of karate-do. Master Gogen Yamaguchi, 10th Dan, a man of intense dedication and determination can truly be called a karate legend. A master of Yoga and a Shinto priest, he truly united both aspects of go and ju into a concerted union.

Master Peter Urban (1934 – 2004)

One of Master Yamaguchi’s students, an American named Peter Urban, introduced Goju-
Ryu to the USA in 1959, on the East Coast. He later formed the USA Goju Association.

Peter Urban is the Patriarch of Goju-Ryu in America. A student of Yamaguchi Sansei, he brought Goju to New York in 1959. Teaching out of the famous "Chinatown Dojo" he was responsible for a considerable percentage of the growth of Martial Arts on the East Coast. Author of “The Karate Dojo”, and “The Karate White Belt” His organization, USA Goju-Ryu remains strong in the United States. He brought the following katas into the system: American Empi-Ha, Taikyoku-Taikyoku, and Chinese Kururunfa. Grandmaster Urban’s book “The Karate Dojo” contains many Dojo Stories (the Martial Arts equivalent of  (“sea stories”) They make nice reading, and contain a large piece of karate’s oral tradition.

Kaicho Manny Saavedra

The History and Lineage of the Masters that Came Before Us

Manny A. Saavedra is Founder of the World Sansei Koryu Goju-Ryu Karatedo and Kobudo Organization; Saavedra Sensei trained with Peter G. Urban Sensei, receiving his Black Belt under said Instructor. Inducted into the Global Martial Arts Federation enabled him to travel to China and study with many high lever senior teachers of the arts. In 1979, Saavedra Sensei formed the World Sansei Goju-Ryu Organization aspiring to continue to develop the Art.


Throughout this transformation, Saavedra Sensei sought to apply the accurate, traditional aspects of Naha-te. Although this transformation process was lengthy, it was nevertheless necessary to ensure the propagation of the Organizational philosophy, culminating in the formation of the Kokusai Koryu Gojukai Karatedo.

Saavedra Sensei opened his first Dojo in Corona Queens, New York. In the early 1970’s, he moved to South Florida propagating the ideas that eventually became the cornerstone of the Kokusai Koryu Gojukai Karate do Organization. Since 1979, his Organization has expanded into Venezuela, Chile, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Brazil, China, Ecuador, Chile, Mexico, Spain, Germany, South Africa, and the United States, respectively. Saavedra Sensei has also introduced Karate courses for credit at five major American universities, both the physical aspects and the Historical. His program at Florida International University was the largest Karate program of its kind in the United States with 700 credit hours per semester for seven years. In addition, he has taught university credit-classes in both Florida and New York. Saavedra Sensei is extremely well-versed in multiple manifestations of the Art, including neo-classical and traditional aspects of Goju-Ryu. He is a researcher, philosopher, and a life-long student of Goju-Ryu Karate. He has served as past President and Founder of the Inter-Collegiate Karate Association, Saavedra Sensei has developed many innovative teaching ideas for the mentally and physical challenged student, and has expanded his methodology and research for the benefit of the average person. Also for the last 30 years he has promoted the International Silver Cup Championships an international event bringing some of the top athletes from around the world Presently, Saavedra Sensei is a member of the Global Martial Arts Federation, Canton, China; a member in good standing of the World Traditional Karatedo Union, and has written extensively on the Art of Goju-Ryu Karate. His Hombu is located in the  United States, South Florida.

Hanshi James Vermaak

The History and Lineage of the Masters that Came Before Us

Born on 20 February 1964, Shihan James started his Karate career around 1970 in the JKA – Karate Organization, under the instruction of Sensei Dick Cloete, whom operated his Dojo under the Western Gauteng JKA – Karate Provincial Head, Sensei Ken Woodstock, whom was under the South African JKA – Karate Organization President, Sensei Stan Schmidt. Shihan James held a 1st Kyu Brown Belt in JKA – Karate Organization. During 1976 Shihan James had no choice but to change to the Goju-Ryu Karate Organization when the local JKA Dojo closed down. Shihan James started his training in Goju-Ryu under Sensei Hans Botma and Sensei Dave Crause in Westonarea. Shihan James kept on training with Goju-Ryu until 1983 when he started his 2 year National Defence Force training.


During 1983 he became a student for the SANDF under Sensei Francois du Preez, an instructor and student of the late Shihan Ben du Preez. Shihan James represented the SANDF in various Karate Championships and were awared the best all-round Goju-Ryu instructor in 1984. Shihan James were graded to Shodan (1st Dan) in the Goju-Ryu Karate Academy in 1984 under Shihan Ben du Preez. Shihan James trained with Kancho Eddie Cave from Karate Kai Goju-Ryu, The appointed WKO South Africa President. Shihan James was awardered his 7 th Dan in Karate Kai Goju from Kancho Eddie Cave.

Shihan James got married in 1986 to Annetjie, who became a student under Shihan James and now holds a Sandan (3rd) in Sansei Goju-Ryu. They have two daughters, Mathilda and Anika who are both Black Belts in his Dojo. They also have a son which was born in 1996 and who is the godson of Hanshi Manny Saavedra. Nico also holds a Black Belt. This means the whole family is involved in Sansei Goju-Ryu Karate Do. Shihan James was trained under top National and International Martial Arts instructors and movie personalities. Shihan James toured the USA Ten times to train and to compete on international level and has achieved good results in prestigious events. Shihan James trained at Honbu Dojo with Hanshi Manny Saavedra and has also visited the Bushikan Martial Arts School several times.l Shihan James brought Sansei to South Africa in 1990 and has managed to get affiliations to all national Karate Bodies. Shihan James was appointed Head of the Sansei Organization for South Africa in 1992. He was promoted to the level of Shihan on 2 April 1999 by Hanshi Manny Saavedra.


 Hanshi James has graded to 9th Dan by Hanshi Manny Saavedra During 2014
 Hanshi James was promoted to 8 th Dan under WUKO during 2007
 During 2009 Shihan James was promoted to the level of Kyoshi under Kaicho Manny Saavedra during USA Tour at Honbu Dojo.
 Appointments of Kyoshi James vermaak


  • Africa Chief Instrutor of Sansei Goju-Ryu Karate & Kobudo Organization.
  • International Vice Chairman – Sansei Goju-Ryu Karate & Kobudo Organization
  • International Board of Executives
  • South Africa Ryu Kyu Martial Arts – Founder / President
  • Martial Arts South Africa – Free State – Technical Director (MASA / SASCOC) MASA
  • Executive Board Member
  • MMAA – Chairman and Founder
  • Local Sports council Treasurer
  • Founder – Gofitnicise
  • South African Head Full Circle Jujutsu under Kyoshi Allesandro Ashanti
  • Sansei Fight Club – MMA – Sensei John Rivera.
  • SAAKA – Representative – Free State


Gradings of Kyoshi James Vermaak
 Hanshi – 9 th Dan Koryu Sansei Goju-Ryu ( 23 December 2014)
 Shihan – 8 th Dan WUKO
 Shihan – 7 th Dan WKO
 Shihan – 7 th Dan Karate Kai Goju South Africa
 Shihan – 6 th Dan WAKO Kick Boxing
 Renshi – 4 th Dan Sansei Jujitsu.
 Sensei – 3 rd Dan Full Circle Ju-Jutsu