History of the White Crane
Of Ancient Okinawa
And of Go Kenki
History of Martial Arts
Soke Timothy L. Kerofsky, MA
9thDan Shorinjiryu Kempo
27 April 2023
Go Kenki (1886 – 1940) is the founder of modern White Crane Chinese Kung Fu. He migrated from his home in the Fukien Provence of China to Okinawa as an importer of Cha (tea). He married a young Okinawan girl.
It’s foretold creator of the White Crane style in Okinawa. However, this does not add up to the timeline of the foundation of Te, which is from the ancient form of Okinawan wrestling called Tegumi. Tegumi is derived from the wrestling of the ancient Greeks. And it was used in combat of old.
In 1609 Kunsuku, a Chinese Fisherman, drifted off the coast of the Ryu Kyu Islands of Okinawa and taught the fighting techniques of Te (hand) to the Okinawan’s, so they could defend themselves against cutthroat invaders off the coast. This became known as Kara-Te under Kangi “Tode” Sakugawa (1733 – 1815) who is the founder of Okinawan – Te.
Kunsuku (1528ca – 1623ca) brought the ancient fighting techniques of the 5 animals of the Tiger (Taiga), Leopard (Hyo), Crane (Kuren), Snake (Hebi) and Iguana or Dragon (Doragon). How could of Go Kenki have brought the techniques of the Crane to Okinawa when he did not migrate there until 1912 (yep, the year the Titanic sank)? I do, however, believe that he did influence the modernization of Okinawan karate with the white crane techniques. And then this modern form of karate was brought to Japan by the invite of Gichen Funakoshi (1868 – 1957) by the Japanese Ministry of Education in the early 1900’s. As you know Gichen Funakoshi is the father of modern karate. He simplified kata in 1922 with the creation of Taekyoku. And he took from Kano’s belt ranking structure of Judo to create a belt ranking structure of karate, particularly his style of Shotokan,
Before I get on the subject of how Go Kenki’s White Crane Influenced the Martial Arts; I will breakdown the Three Kingdoms of Okinawa, and of the Ancient Fighting Techniques before
and of Karate.
The Three Kingdoms of Okinawa were known as the “Mountain Kingdoms” or the “Three Mountains” – Sanzan. They were the “Northern Mountain” – Hokuzan; “Central Mountains” – Chuzan; and the “Southern Mountains” – Nanzan. During the Ming Dynasty of China and the Honzwa Empire of Okinawa the Chinese sent 36 families to manage the oceanic dealings in 1392. In 1429 the three mountain kingdoms were unified into the Ryu Kyu Islands with three Castle Cities of Shuri, Tomara, and Naha. Then three sects of ancient Okinawan wrestling were formed known as Tegumi: Tegumi-Shuri, Tegumi-Tomara, and Tegumi-Naha. However, in 1477 these practices were banned by the new King – King Sho Shin. It was not until King Sho Ta (1583 – 1670), the longest reigning Okinawan King, came into power in 1609 during the invasion from the Satsuma Sect of Japan, and the time that Kunsuku drifted off the coast, when then the new form of Te was taught and used in combat. As legend tells during that time steel weapons were banned and farming implements were modified and used as combative weapons. Weapons such as the bo-staff, the handle of the grinding stone –tonfa, the tool used to crack wheat – nunchaku, and even the wooden sword – bokken.
And this was the beginning of Kobudo, or the Art of Weapon’s.
This later led into the development of the Okinawan Hooking Spear known as the Yari,
and the Fighting Oar known as the Eiku.
Then the Tegumi Arts became the Te Arts. First Tode – Te from the founder whom Kanji “Tode” Sakugawa took his name from Tode Sagawa (1548 – 1627). Then Shuri – Te by Chujin Wansu (1608 – 1695), then Tomara – Te by Kosaku Matsumara (1829 – 1898), then Naha – Te by Kanryo Higaonna (1853 – 1915). And later Goju Ryu was formed by Chojin Miyagi (1888 – 1953). Then hand “Te” was changed to school “Ryu”. ALL styles of karate were formed from these 5 styles! And Te and Kobudo were used to defend Okinawa against Japanese and other aggressors all the way up until World War II when the United States invaded Okinawa.
Now back to the 1900’s when modern karate was formed. And of Go Kenki and his White Crane style of Kung Fu. Go Kenki taught the Chinese White Crane in the back of his tea shop to a few select Okinawan children. So that they could carry on his teachings. He became close friends with Kanbun Uiechi (1877 – 1948) whom in 1925 created the style of Pangai Noon (half hard / half soft) Uiechi Ryu. Later the Ryu Ko Kabu (Tiger Crane) Uiechi Ryu. Chojin Miyagi took from these hard and soft techniques as he created the Goju Ryu style of karate. This spread on to other styles with modern great masters such as Shimpo Matayoshi (1922 – 1997) founder of Kingai Ryu Kobudo. And Hohan Soken (1889 – 1982) founder of Matsumara Sieto Shorin Ryu in 1976.
And this is the year I joined karate.
And Shuri Te, Shuri Ryu, and Shorin Ryu
All started to change with the Matsumara influence.