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The Early Years

Grandmaster Gogen Yamaguchi  was  born  on   the  20th  January 1909,  the third son of   the Yamaguchi family. Although at first his education was entwined in mishaps, Grandmaster Gogen Yamaguchi graduated as a Lawyer. Although always law abiding the young Yamaguchi (also known as "Rough Yamaguchi") never started a fight but never side-stepped one. As with all young men of that generation he joined the University Karate Club and order and the Japanese way of life. During these formative university years, Grandmaster Yamaguchi met Chojun Miyagi the founder of the Goju-ryu school of Karate. After an inter­view and many intense years of train­ing under Chojun Miyagi, Gogen Yamaguchi became one of his most impressive students.

Army Career

As a member of the middle/upper class of Japanese society at that time, Grandmaster Yamaguchi's friends came from the ruling classes and the military. Through their influence gogen-01Grandmaster Gogen Yamaguchi became a Military Intelligence Officer assigned to China. At that time the main enemy of Japan in this part of the world was Russia.As an Intelligence Officer in charge of the Manchurian area Grandmaster Yamaguchi often had cause to use his karate skills in defence of his life and his country in covert operations. It has been documented that there were at least two attempts on his life whereby only through his courage, confidence and karate skill he was able to survive often in an unarmed situation dealing with armed aggressorsAs history is logged, during the Second World War, Japan was defeated and in Grandmaster Yamaguchi's par­ticular fear of war, the Russian Army occupied Manchuria and he was made a prisoner of war in Siberia for some considerabletime. Again Grandmaster Yamaguchi's karate philosophy, physi­cal presence and karate sill helped him to survive this ordeal where others per­ished.One example of this is where on two occasions, Grandmaster Yamaguchi faced a firing squad in an attempt by his captures to break his spirit and gain information from him. On both occasions they failed.

Return home - Aftermath of war in Japan

gogen-26-sOnce released from prison camp two years after the end of the war and successfully completing the perilous journey form Siberia to Japan, Grandmaster Yamaguchi returned to a was torn and starved Japan. As one of the leaders of his community he decid­ed that he would be instrumental in the rebuilding of his s nations self-identity. After dealing with the priority problems of organis­ing shelter, food, medical care and work for his fellow Japanese he then turned his attention to restoring Goju­-ryu karate to the Japanese people as he felt that this would be a way to achieve his objectives.

The Rebirth of Goju-ryu karate

The first thing that Grandmaster Yamaguchi did was to secretly begin teaching and practising karate even though at this time it was considered militaristic and banned by the occupy­ing forces. He then contacted former students that had survived the war and ­wished to continue their training. After this initial start and due to the experiences that Grandmaster Yamaguchi had had, he felt that Goju-ryu karate should follow a more higher plane. In 1963 he established the legal entry of “Goju-Shinto”.

The relationship between Shinto Karate and yoga

Grandmaster Yamaguchi believed that Goju-ryu karate should give the practitioner certainthings. These are:­ a strong body, a strong mind, a long and happy life. Grandmaster Yamaguchi gogen-03felt that karateka should follow a path in life using Shinto beliefs, karate training and yoga for good health and a prolonged life. Today these principals are still taught in Goju-kai schools throughout the world and are the main emphasis of the International Karate-do Gojukai Association.

Formation of the Japan Karate Federation

Grandmaster Gogen Yamaguchi along with other famous karateka of the time was a leading fore runner involved in the formation of the now famous Japan Karate Federation (J.K.F). Along with other renowned masters such as Sensei Nakayama (Shotokan), Sensei Ohtsuka (Wado-ryu) and Sensei Mabuni (Shito-ryu), Grandmaster Yamaguchi instigated the formation tb J.K.F. It's opening ceremony was marked in 1967 at the opening of the Budokan in Tokyo in honour of the Olympics which were held in Japan that year.

Formation of the Japan Karate-Do College

Grandmaster Yamaguchi was the instigator and originator of the Japan Karate-Do College. At the time of it formation in the 70's it was a com­pletely new concept. The college wa designed to undo the fragmentation ( the various styles and promote "Katate-Do". The college was spon­sored by the Government and allowed  famous master from different styles to visit and to teach martial arts. Three courses were available for people to train full-time. There was the basic course for beginners to train to Sho-Dan level, the intermediate courses  for Sho-Dans and Ni-Dans to train for San-Dan and there was the senior course for San-Dans to train for Yon· Dan Renshi. Shihan Paul Starling graduated as a Shihan in 1974. He told me that thetraining was very hard and that all the candidates trained six days per week. The col­lege building had three levels, the ground floor was the Dojo, the first floor was a dormitory, and the third floor, was reserved for Grandmaster Yamaguchi to observe his Shinto faith, practice his yoga and meditation. Although the college was extremely successful and were sup­ported by many great and famous masters, it unfortunately had to close in 1975 due to lack of sponsorship.

The legend of the cat

gogen-14For many years people have ask, why Grandmaster Gogen Yamaguchi was nicknamed the "Cat". I cannot give an answer to this, however I can offer a catalogue of other people's reasons for this. One reason why Grandmaster Gogen Yamaguchi was known as the "Cat"was due to the fact that he often used Neko Ashi Dachi (Cat stance) all the time when fighting. Another reason for this nickname was due to the fact that Grandmaster Yamaguchi's natural posture made it seem as if glided across the Dojo floor like the natural movementof a cat. Another tale that explains this nickname is that many who trained with him felt that he had the reflexes and agility of a cat.Lastly, although I can confirm due to investigation that he once killed a mountain tiger with his bare hands in the mountains of Manchuria as a young man. It has been confirmed by Saiko Shihan Yamaguchi that this story has been exaggerated; Grandmaster Gogen Yamaguchi was confronted by a wild mountain tiger in the mountains of Manchuria. He stayed completely calm through his karate training and therefore became no threat to the cat and the cat went on his way without harming him. It is not true that he killed it with his bare hands. However the most definitive answer to the ques­tion why was Grandmaster Gogen Yamaguchi referred to as a cat, the answer lies in his own autobiography whereby he tells the story entitled "The Wonderful Art of a Cat". This I believe is a fabled story about a com­munity of cats and a rat by which the reader can draw his own conclusions depending on his or her own experi­ences and knowledge.


In conclusion, it may be said the Grandmaster Gogen Yamaguchi 10th dan was a truly remarkable man. Through his karate training he survived and excelled in the adverse conditions gogen-05of war and econom­ic austerity. It is clearly documented that on many occasions he was in mortal dan­ger and only survived due to his self-confidence, physical ability and mental training. After surviving a war and the harsh conditions of a prison camp in Siberia he returned to Japan with an even stronger resolve to spread the word Goju-ryu karate, Shintoism and Yoga to trying to give anyone who followed ­his teachings a blue print for a more enriched and healthier life. Grandmaster Yamaguchi identified that karate must be more than just physical exercise and that the individual who practices karate must also develop their mind. This follows the principal that body and mind are one. Grandmaster Yamaguchi was a forerunner of his time.Through his determination and interpersonal skils he was able to persuade his peers to aside the differences and formulate the Japan Karate Federation. He devel­oped the system of Goju-ryu karate and started an organisation which now boasts international fame and a mem­bership exceeded tens of thousands spread all over the world. Grandmaster Gogen Yamaguchi was the third son of the Yamaguchi family who achieved much in his life and left an astonishing legacy.

Saiko Shihan Goshi Yamaguchi is now the leader and international figurehead of Goju-­ryu Karate Do he also is the third son of Grandmaster Gogen Yamaguchi. Perhaps 3 is the magic number.