History of Goju Karate

Part One


In my study of the origins of USAGOJU, I have found that much of the information on the early martial arts is riddled with a labyrinth of inaccuracies, either by honest mistake or in many cases, “ego”. With that said, it is prudent to mention that any historian must remember to take into consideration the telephone game phenomena. This phenomenon occurs when history passes down from one generation to another through oral means. Therefore, it is the responsibility of the story teller to take all interpretations with a grain of salt. For each questionable source, there are many other sources where one can make several logical conclusions as to how and why USAGOJU appears today in its most current from.

My treatment of this history will be to take several sources and construct them into a workable description of the evolution of what I know to be USAGOJU. I have identified Masters as being the most relevant in terms of presenting a lineage to Master Peter Urban. It is not to say that other Masters did not play a role with the overall development of modern karate. However, it is that certain creative decisions must occur in order to establish the most direct line of development. Each of the chosen Masters connects with each other in a direct way. I will look at each of their individual accomplishments. I will also establish a lineage with Master Urban. As this treatise progresses, it is my hope that it will successfully display the evolution and constant growth of USAGOJU.

Part Two

In the Beginning

“In the beginning there were martial arts”…..

I am not brazen enough to equate my thesis with that of Genesis. However, this statement may not be too far of a stretch. I think that it is important to establish a definition as to what a “martial art” is. Not an easy task by any stretch of the mind. For the purposes of this thesis, the term “martial art” will be used to describe the interaction between groups through the development of mind, body and spirit. The history of martial art is the story of how each of these elements begins to move closer and closer to each other so that one cannot be spoken about with out the mention of the other two.

To facilitate negativity and engage in violence is simplistic and primal in nature. It is only when an individual is successful in controlling those primal urges that true inner peace can occur. The story of the martial arts is most closely associated with that of the Eastern world. The history of the Western world is filled with examples of the study of warfare (Alexander the Great), intellectual development (The French Enlightenment) and physical perfection (as seen in Renaissance sculpture). The major difference is that the Western world has each area independent of the other. This separation is probably why the Western mind, no matter how educated, found it very difficult to appreciate or even understand Asian cultures. Similarly, the Asian cultures saw Western man as a barbaric undisciplined creature incapable of achieving any significant level of spiritual, intellectual or physical perfection. Many or these prejudices still existent even today, although possibly not as glairing. It makes the accomplishments of a Master like Peter Urban, even more remarkable. Not only was he combating ancient prejudices, he was also combating a society and more specifically an ideology that had just been conquered by “Western barbarians.”

It is within the Eastern world where the concepts of mind, body and spiritual perfection were infused within society. The three concepts were essential for a more perfect state of being. Also, it established the basis for an orderly society with clear roles. When one examines ancient Japan, society was very clearly laid out. Observers of this world see a society resembling a triangle with the highest point being the Emperor and the base being the masses. Occupying the middle, the Samurai, Ronin and Shogun. Bushido (the way of the warrior) was the code of ethics guiding the warrior class. Many of those values, honor, respect, integrity, creativity, loyalty, are mentioned time and time again as marketing tools for modern martial arts programs throughout the Untied States. Unfortunately, these values are only represented in written form more often than not. Failing to live the values seems to be a combination of being too difficult and a general understanding of the true meaning of each value. The common denominator with the Master who I have research seems to be their ability to integrate and live these values both in and out of the dojo setting.


No matter how you may excel in the art of te,
And in your scholastic endeavors,
Nothing is more important than your behavior
And your humanity as observed in daily life
(Nagamine, 1976)

The evolution of karate began over a thousand years ago as early as the fifth century BC when Bodhidharma arrived in Shaolin-si, China from India and taught Zen Buddhism. If we accept this as fact, then it must be mentioned that Bodhidharma’s journey from India to China would have taken him along the Silk Road. This was the only land route across Asia. He would have encountered many different cultures and philosophical ideas. It is on this journey where Bodhidhara would have first conceived his systematized set of exercises that were designed to strengthen the mind and body, exercises which later developed into the Shaolin fighting arts. Bodhidharma’s teachings would further evolve into what has become Chinese Martial Arts.

In the case of karate, its origins trace to Okinawa. Okinawa is a small island of the group that comprises modern day Japan. It is the main island in the chain of Ryukyu Islands which spans from Japan to Taiwan. Surrounded by coral, Okinawa is approximately 10 km wide and only about 110 km long. It is situated 740 km east of mainland China, 550 km south of mainland Japan and an equal distance north of Taiwan. The geography is critical to our discussion due to the fact that Okinawa is situated as the crossroads of major trading routes, its significance as a “resting spot” was first discovered by the Japanese. It later developed as a trade centre for southeastern Asia, trading with Japan, China, Indo China, Thailand, Malaysia, Borneo and the Philippines. Historically, regions with this type of contact with other cultures, experience a significant amount of cultural diffusion.

In its earliest stages, the martial art known as “karate” was an indigenous form of closed fist fighting which was developed in Okinawa and called Te, or ‘hand’. Weapons bans, imposed on the Okinawans at various points in their history, encouraged the refinement of empty-hand techniques and, for this reason, was trained in secret until modern times. Further refinement came with the cultural diffusion of other martial arts brought by nobles and trade merchants to the island.

Te continued to develop over the years, primarily in three Okinawan cities: Shuri, Naha and Tomari. Each of these towns was a centre to a different sect of society: kings and nobles, merchants and business people, and farmers and fishermen, respectively. For this reason, different forms of self-defense developed within each city and subsequently became known as Shuri-te, Naha-te and Tomari-te.Collectively they were called Okinawa-Te or Tode, ‘Chinese hand’. Gradually, karate was divided into two main groups: Shorin-ryu which developed around Shuri and Tomari and Shorei-ryu which came from the Naha area. “It is important to note, however, that the towns of Shuri, Tomari, and Naha are only a few miles apart, and that the differences between their arts were essentially ones of emphasis, not of kind. Beneath these surface differences, both the methods and aims of all Okinawan karate are one in the same. Gichin Funakoshi goes further to suggest that these two styles were developed based on different physical requirements. Shorin-ryu was quick and linear with natural breathing while Shorei-ryu emphasized steady, rooted movements with breathing in synchrony with each movement. Interestingly, this concept of two basic styles also exists in kung-fu with a similar division of characteristics.

The Chinese character used to write Tode could also be pronounced ‘kara’ thus the name Te was replaced with kara te – jutsu or ‘Chinese hand art’ by the Okinawan Masters. This was later changed to karate-do by Gichin Funakoshi who adopted an alternate meaning for the Chinese character for kara, ’empty’. From this point on the term karate came to mean ’empty hand’. The Do in karate-do means ‘way’ or ‘path’, and is indicative of the discipline and philosophy of karate with moral and spiritual development. Funakoshi wrote and spoke extensively about what the “way” truly was. Although he does not directly figure into the lineage of USAGOJU, Funakoshi must be recognized as one of the fathers of modern karate of the 1900’s. His description of “karate – do” is still the working definition.

Part Three
The Masters (USAGOJU Line)

Grand Master Peter Urban was known as the Father of American Goju Ryu Karate. However, before telling his story, stories of other masters must be told first. Urban studied directly under Gogen Yamaguchi, Mas Oyama and Dr. Richard Kim, all during the mid 1950’s. Much of the information about each of these masters is biased in their favor by those who either have studied or who currently study each of the respective styles. This thesis is concerned with the Urban line of USAGOJU. After significant consideration, my treatment of this line will begin with Kanryo Higaonna and then continue in order with the following masters: Chojun Miyagi, Gogen Yamaguchi, Mas Oyama, Dr. Richard Kim and then ending with Grand Master Peter Urban. Several commonalities can be seen between the masters. They shared natural ability, focus, creativity, and a tremendous appetite for streamlining their art into a more pure form.

Kanryo Higaonna

Grandmaster Kanryo Higaonna was born on March 10, 1853, in Naha, the capital city of Okinawa. At a young age, Kanryo Higaonna worked with his father as a merchant moving throughout the various islands of Okinawa. Higaonna credits his great strength to this early introduction to hard and very physical work.

As a teenager, Kanryo Higaonna’s life radically changed direction. While still in his teens, his father died suddenly. Higaonna decided he wanted travel to Fuzhou, China in order to study the martial arts. When he arrived in Fuzhou in the year 1869, Higaonna was 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 becomes accomplished in weapons techniques and Chinese herbal medicine. Higaonna excelled in every aspect of his training to the point where Master Ryu Ryu Ko sanctioned his mastery of these arts. At this point in time, this was an honor which was extremely rarely. Higaonna soon became know throughout the Fuzhou region as a highly skilled martial artist.

In the year 1881, Higaonna returned to Okinawa and Naha where his martial arts became known as Naha-te (as described earlier, 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. Higaonna seems to be the first of the masters that would focus on evolving conventional methods of training so that a wider part of the popular could receive the benefits of martial arts training. Some were still closed out of the training, as was the reality if the time period. However, with each era, came the wider availability of the training to a wider population base. By 1905, Naha-te made its appearance to the general public when Higaonna began teaching at a high school.

Kanryo Higaonna was an extremely hard task master when teaching. While studying in China, Higaonna went through severe training. It is only his natural strength and speed that allowed him to do so well. He expected the same dedication from his students. As strict as he was in the dojo, accounts of Higaonna describe him as a very humble and virtuous man. His life was one of simplicity and devotion to his training in the martial arts. Higaonna quickly became known and respected, and because of his popularity the people of Naha gave him with the name, “Obushi Higaonna Tanrnei”, a name which reflected the affection and respect they had for this great man and supreme martial artist.

Kanryo Higaonna’s greatest contribution was that of bringing the Chinese martial art forms from China to Okinawa, and there spreading these arts among the people of Okinawa. In each of the sources that I have found, Kanryo Higaonna’s name is connected with everything that is Okinawan martial arts and Naha-te. He is intertwined with Okinawan culture and remains to this day one of the most famous individuals in their history. After a life time of training, teaching and growing as a person within the martial arts, Higaonna died in December of 1915 at the age of 63.

Chojun Miyagi

Chojun Miyagi was born in April of 1888. At the age of 14 he became the student of the famous martial arts master Kanryo Higaonna. Miyagi was a natural talent and because of this, he was bale to develop his skills as a martial arts practitioner very quickly. Chojun Miyagi became “uchi deshi” (private disciple) to Higaonna. This honor only made Miyagi more determined to practice harder and to emulate his teacher in as many ways as possible. He continued to study under Higaonna up to his teacher’s death in 1915.

Upon Higaonna’s death, Miyagi became the successor to Naha-te. Miyagi admired and strove to be like his teacher so he made his first of three trips to Fuzhou China in order to study with those teachers who had taught Higaonna. Several times during Miyagi’s life, he would step back in order to further his own development. As stated earlier, Miyagi held his teacher in such admiration that these trips were also motivated by his need to remain loyal to his teacher. In total, Miyagi makes three trips to China. Miyagi returned to Okinawa after his first trip to China with the goal of disseminating Naha-te to all of Japan. Teaching in high schools, colleges, and Police Academies, Miyagi tirelessly taught more of the general population than even his teacher had previously. During this time period, Judo and Kendo were the martial arts held in highest regard. It was a central goal of Miyagi’s to elevate Naha – te to equal status with both styles. In order to do this, Miyagi would travel to mainland Japan and teach at several universities. Kyoto, Kansia and Ritsumei Universities were a few where Miyagi would introduce Naha-te to the masses. By 1933, Miyagi’s karate became formally registered at the Butokukai, which was the center of all martial arts in Japan. The significance of this event was that for the first time, karate was now held in the same regard as the other previously mentioned arts.

Chojun Miyagi can be credited as being responsible for structuring Naha-te into a systemized discipline which could be taught to a wider segment of the population. As is the case today, Miyagi saw that the old ways of training may not fit into what society was able to handle. Had he stayed to the old ways of training, far less of the population would have been able to enjoy the benefits of the training. This said, Miyagi did not abandon the old ways of training. Miyagi taught students privately at his home. The teaching environment at his home stayed true to the ways of training that he and his teacher before him had experienced during their initial years of training. Miyagi is also credited with giving the name Goju to the style of Naha-te. After considerable thought, Miyagi chose to call his system of karate, “Goju Ryu”. Goju Ryu means hard and soft school literally. Miyagi advocated that both the hard and the soft complimented each other and he created the Sanchin and Tensho, formal exercises which combined both these elements. Also featured in the style is the breathing exercise known as Ibuki, which incorporates external breathing, Yo ibuki; a strong vocal hiss which emphasizes dynamic tension, and internal breathing. The use of this exercise creates deep abdominal development and rejuvenation of energy. The whole body is exercised both internally and externally. In formalizing the system, Miyagi developed a martial art that combined soft movements and breathing katas with dynamic tension exercises and hard movement. Karate was used not only for spiritual enlightenment, but also for exercise and self-defense. My research shows that Miyagi took the name Goju from a line in a classical Chinese text on martial arts and philosophy. The line appears in a poem describing the eight precepts of the martial arts and reads “Ho Goju Donto”, the ways of inhaling and exhaling is hardness and softness. “Goju” seemed to capture the essence of what Miyagi was creating.

Chojun Miyagi died in 1953. Miyagi lived his life with total devotion to his teacher and his martial art. Miyagi had predicted that karate would spread throughout the world and obviously he was very correct in this prediction. In order to make his prediction reality, Miyagi called for all the senior members of Goju Kai and announced to them his choice of a successor. It was then that Gogen Yamaguchi became 10th Dan and the successor to Goju Ryu.

Gogen Yamaguchi

Gogen Yamaguchi began his martial arts life with his study of Kendo. His first exposure of Goju Ryu Karate-do came when his family moved to Kyoto while he was in his teens. It was then that he began his study of Karate. Yamaguchi began his study with Sensei Takeo Maruta at the Maruta Dojo in Miyazai Kyushu. Sensei Takeo Maruta was a carpenter by trade and student of Chojun Miyagi. Yamaguchi later studied directly with Miyagi in 1929. This association comes only after he and his then current teacher Jitsuei Yogi wrote (1929) to Chojun Miyagi and invited him to come to Japan. In 1929 Gogen Yamaguchi invited Miyagi to visit Japan, and, after a long wait he was introduced to Chojun Miyagi by Jitsuei Yogi.

Chojun Miyagi visited Japan various school across Japan. Finally in 1931, at the age of 22, Gogen Yamaguchi was formally 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. In the early 1930’s Yamaguchi sketched out what would become the pictorial representation of Goju Ryu, the first. It is modeled after the right hand fist of Chojun Miyagi. Beginning at this time and then throughout his life, Yamaguchi would spend extended stays at Mount Kurama where he subjected himself to ascetic exercises and hard training with Sanchin, meditation, and fasting. It was during these stays that Yamaguchi would also focus on the soft and meditative aspect of Goju Ryu.

Gogen Yamaguchi was known in the world of Karate as ‘the Cat’. Gogen Yamaguchi was a small man, just over five feet and a mere 160 pounds, however he projected a powerful presence. Yamaguchi was first named “the Cat” by American GI’s. They had observed his soft gliding walk and long flowing hair like a cat stalking its prey. Yamaguchi moved with grace and great speed in his Neko Ashi Dachi (cat leg stance), his favorite fighting stance. Many sources also suggest that he was called “The Cat” because during his time as a P.O.W. in the Japanese-Russian war, he was locked up and defeated of a live Tiger. There is a great account of this event in Master Urban’s book, The Karate Dojo. Master Urban not only describes this legendary battle but also talks of how Yamaguchi had been slated for hard labor in the Russian POW camp. But he had impressed even his Russian captors. When they found out who he was, they had him give Karate lessons to the Russian troops.

In 1945 after coming out of the Manchurian war camp and finishing his tour from World War II, he returned to Japan where he reopened his Karate do Dojo and posted a sign outside reading Goju Ryu Kai. He decided to hold large week long exhibitions in Tokyo featuring all the various Chinese arts he had discovered during his years there as well as the traditional Japanese arts. His school reopened and began a rapid expansion. Through his experiences in captivity, Yamaguchi began to combine his religious practices with karate do training, he incorporated both Yoga and Shinto into Goju-Kai karate do. Yamaguchi believed that both body and mind are interrelated and through proper breathing and concentration the Karateka (karate practitioner) will be able to understand the essence of the martial arts. Yamaguchi would further define Miyagi’s use of Ibuki breathing as a way to concentrating all the muscular strength at one point, bringing mind and body into more direct harmony. It is during the 1950’s that Yamaguchi and a young sailor, Peter Urban will be introduced.

Mas Oyama

Masutatsu Oyama, the founder of Kyokushin Karate, was born in southern Korea in 1923. At the age of nine, he began studying the southern Chinese form of kempo known as “Eighteen Hands”. He did this while living with family in Manchuria. Mas Oyama returned to Korea at the age of 12, he continued his training in Korean kempo. In 1938, at the age of 15, Mas Oyama moved to Japan to train as an aviator, and continued his martial arts training by participating in judo and boxing. Shortly afterwards, he began training at the dojo of Gichin Funakoshi, who had brought karate from Okinawa to Japan and developed what is now known as Shotokan Karate. Mas Oyama’s training progressed so rapidly that by the age of 17, he was a Nidan (2nd Dan), and by the age of 20, he was a Yondan (4th Dan) in Shotokan. At this point, Mas Oyama took a serious interest in Judo, and in less than four years he achieved the rank of Yondan in Judo as well.

After the end of World War II, Mas Oyama began training under Nei-Chu So, one of the highest authorities in Japan of Goju Ryu, an Okinawan karate style. Master So, renowned for the power of his body as well as his spiritual insight, encouraged Mas Oyama to dedicate his life to the Martial Way. He suggested that Mas Oyama retreat from civilization for three years to train his mind and body without the distractions of the outside world.

Around this time, Mas Oyama also met Eiji Yoshikawa, the author of the novel Musashi, which was based on the life and exploits of Miyamoto Musashi, Japan’s most famous Samurai warrior. Both the novel and the author helped to teach him the meaning of Bushido, the Way of the Warrior. That same year, Mas Oyama went to Mt. Minobu in Chiba Prefecture, where Musashi had developed his style of sword fighting. Mas Oyama thought that this would be an appropriate place to begin the rigorous training he had planned for himself. He went into the wilderness to train, with a friend bringing food supplies to them once a month. After fourteen months of training in the wilderness, his friend informed Mas Oyama that he could no longer provide the monthly supplies of food, and Mas Oyama had to return to civilization.

A few months later, in 1947, Mas Oyama won the karate section of the first Japanese National Martial Arts Championships after World War II. However, still feeling empty for not having completed the three years of solitude, he decided to dedicate his life completely to karate. Once again Mas Oyama left civilization for the wilderness, this time going to Mt. Kiyozumi, also in Chiba Prefecture, which he chose for its spiritually uplifting environment. This time his training was fanatical – 12 hours a day, every day, with no rest days, standing under cold buffeting waterfalls, breaking river stones with his hands, using trees as makiwara, jumping over rapidly growing flax plants hundreds of times each day. Each day also included a period of study of the ancient classics on the martial arts, Zen, and philosophy. After eighteen months of rigorous training, Mas Oyama returned to civilization fully confident in himself and able to take control of his life.

In the 1950s, Mas Oyama began demonstrating his power and skill by fighting bulls. In all, he fought 52 bulls, three of which he killed instantly and 49 of whose horns he took off with knife hand strikes. In 1952, Mas Oyama traveled throughout the United States for a year, demonstrating his karate live and on national television. During subsequent years, he took on all challengers, resulting in fights with 270 different people. He defeated the vast majority of his opponents with just one technique. A fight never lasted more than three minutes, and rarely lasted more than a few seconds. Mas Oyama’s fighting technique was based on the Samurai warriors’ principle of “Ichi geki hissatsu”, or “One strike, certain death”. This strategy comes from his interpretation of Musashi’s, Book of Five Rings.

In 1953, Mas Oyama opened his first dojo in Tokyo. In 1955, he opened his first real dojo. Practitioners of other styles would come to train with Oyama because of the full contact fighting. Mas Oyama would observe those from other styles and adopt any techniques that would be useful in a fight. Mas Oyama and Peter Urban would be introduced during the mid 1950’s by Dr. Richard Kim and Urban will begin his formal instruction under Oyama.

Richard Kim
“Words become actions.
Actions become habits.
Habits become character.
Character becomes destiny.”
– Dr. Richard Kim

Richard Kim was the most difficult for me to research and ironically has probably the most influence on Peter Urban’s USAGOJU spiritual philosophy. Most of what is written about Dr. Richard Kim is his accomplishments as a writer of martial arts history. Richard Kim known for his books “The Weaponless Warriors”, “The Classical Man,” and the series “Kobudo – Okinawan Weapons Series 1-3.” Kim was a featured writer in Karate Illustrated as he had a featured column called “The Classical Man”. However, his importance to this thesis is that he must be credited with the most influence on what I understand USAGOJU to be. Grand Master Peter Urban himself acknowledges this fact and in him Eulogy to his teacher, Master Urban describes him as a man of integrity second to none and “as a role model for a professional “career-sensei”, became our central point of reference.” This is evidence for me Dr. Kim’s historical significance.

Dr. Richard Kim does not seem to fit the physical mold of a karate master that the previous masters fit. Although the other masters were educated to varying degrees, Dr. Kim was far more the intellectual. He had a Ph.D., and was fluent in five languages. Today, many educators would describe a person like Richard Kim as a prodigy as he had gone directly from the third to the seventh grade, graduated college by the age of 18 and earned his Ph.D. not long afterwards. Richard Kim was a true historian of the martial arts. Many of my sources describe him as one of the most knowledgeable martial arts historians. With this tremendous historical knowledge, Dr. Kim was able to separate and then integrate many different approaches to training. It seems as though he would take elements from different areas and then systematically piece them together in order to create a more complete system. It is very interesting that Dr. Kim is very different from the other masters in that he does not seem to have been interested in organizing his own specific style. However, it does seem that Dr. Kim was trying to give the student a more well rounded skill base so that each student could develop internally as well as externally. This would allow the student to progress in on their path or find the “way”.

While most karate organizations teach specific renditions of kata that have their imprint on them, Dr. Kim taught different renditions of the same kata drawn from their original teachers. The idea was to provide a historical perspective so that the student would be able to examine the kata in it original form and then possibly develop a more clear understanding of the art itself. Like anything, techniques are subject to change, either by accident or because a teacher may want to put there own mark on it. Unfortunately, the art of the kata or technique gets watered down at the very least and thus, the pure meaning of the art will be lost. Dr. Kim’s approach allowed students to learn more about the master from whom the kata were drawn. I have found this to be quite important in my own training. It is an area of the training that I have always enjoyed. It is also the area where I have been able to escape into the artistic side of Goju.

Dr. Kim used kata as the principal method of teaching karate. Kim’s teacher, Yoshida Kotaro, taught that “kata was a way to reach the silence between the thoughts.” Dr. Kim adopted this concept and used it as his central doctrine in attaining spiritual strength through the martial arts. Dr. Kim was quoted as describing his focus on kata:
“In karate kata you can kill your opponent in your mind. You can’t do this practice fighting. In kata when you hear ‘Yoi’), you fully commit yourself to give up your life in your mind. You become committed to death.

Reaching this higher spiritual plain comes through training in kata, within which you train for life and death. When people begin karate training it is all physical. At that level, when sparring, the strongest always win. At the higher level, however, spirit becomes more important. If you can give up your life and are willing to die, this provides a tremendous advantage, for in battle you must break the other’s spirit. Never fight with someone committed to die in battle. Real karate and kata is to train your intuition, to respond to the intention of attack with a full blitzkrieg of techniques. Thus kata deals with the most primeval element – kill or survive. You must practice it with full commitment. You must win.

“This is the truth of life and death combat”.
– Dr. Richard Kim

This seems to be the clearest difference between Dr. Kim and the other masters that I looked at. In the others, spirituality existed but the focus was always with physical prowess. Dr. Kim’s teaching theories are far more conducive to bringing the benefits of martial arts training to a much larger population base. Even to those who may have physical limitations. Through devoted study of kata, Dr. Kim believed that Karate masters would learn to go into a state of consciousness in which you lose yourself and become totally attuned to your environment and your attacker, a state in which you become one with the enemy and intuitively connected to his every nuance. Clearly this idea is loaded with Zen Buddhist beliefs of purity as a means to high states of spirituality.

When Dr. Kim met Peter Urban he guided him to study karate thus becoming Peter Urban’s first karate teacher. It was through Dr. Kim that Master Urban would meet and study under Mas Oyama and Gogen Yamaguchi. It is my opinion that Dr. Kim had the most profound influence on Peter Urban and his USAGOJU. Peter Urban credited Dr. Kim with significantly influencing his central belief system. Most specifically the idea of “Today is Now.” Dr. Kim had an understanding of the intimate connection between mind, body and spirit, and he taught his students how to use their minds to mold their attitude, outlook and spirit and to harness the energies of the chi for health and healing. He also taught how the subconscious mind could be used to program the self towards any end. His goal was to provide simple and useful tools for his students to strengthen their spirit, change their lives, and mold their minds.

Dr. Kim was a strong believer in the power of the subconscious. Dr. Kim believed that we live in energy. The subconscious brain is its source, something that never rests, and the conscious brain can communicate with it. If the subconscious is programmed it will work for you. Thus, you can create yourself through your own thought, but to do so you must achieve a high state of consciousness. Dr. Kim is quoted as simplifying this by saying, “You are in charge. It is the most important thing in your life. If you give yourself an order your body will follow.” This is very Buddhist as a concept. Buddhist’s believe that everything begins and ends with thought. Simply put, positive will yield the positive and negativity will beget negativity. Dr. Richard Kim clearly represented the natural balance of yin and yang. In my opinion, this is the true hard and soft that my teacher has tried to teach to me through my training in USAGOJU. It is clear to me that Dr. Richard Kim’s influence on USAGOJU is significant.

Grand Master Peter Urban
Chief Grand Patriarch of all American Goju Systems

Grandmaster Peter Urban was born on the 14th day of August in the year 1934, in Jersey City, New Jersey. Grandmaster Peter Urban is the man who introduced Goju karate to the United States. In 1953 Peter Urban was a young sailor when he was introduced to karate in Yokohama, Japan. After training for one year with Sensei Richard Kim, Peter Urban traveled to Tokyo and was introduced to Gogen Yamaguchi. He was accepted as a student of Gogen Yamaguchi. In 1957, Peter Urban opened a small Dojo in Tokyo, Japan, and he competed in the all-Japan College Championships that same year. In 1959, Sensei Urban moved to America, and opened his first American Dojo in Union City, New Jersey. The following year, he opened another school on 17th Street in Manhattan. Master Urban is responsible for establishing structured tournaments in America. The most famous being the North American Karate Championships that was held in Madison Square Garden in 1962. Three years later, Master Urban wrote the most important book on the subject of karate, The Karate Dojo. This text is one that I have read several times and its genius is the simplicity of the text in explaining a complex topic. In 1967, Master Urban opened his famous Chinatown Dojo

Grandmaster Peter Urban is a master among masters in that he was able to take from three masters and create something that was in essence, unique. Traditional Goju Ryu from Yamaguchi, intense training and techniques from Oyama, and spiritual development and balance from Dr. Richard Kim. What was most impressive is that he was an American studying in Japan post World War II and after years of occupation by United States troops. Master Urban was a visionary. If one reads The Karate Dojo, it is easy to see that Master Urban saw a society in desperate need for order and balance. Written in the 1960’s, The Karate Dojo made comment of a society that was degrading into one that lacked respect and was becoming increasingly violent. Master Urban is responsible for bringing karate to the United States in a systematic way that could be used to better American society.

Master Urban has been described as one of the most influential masters of the last century. In his dojo, he had the ability to make people feel that they belonged. Classes were tough under his instruction, however, Master Urban had the ability to make people push on and maximize their abilities. Complaining did not occur and the rules were black and white. Those unable to comply were helped to move on elsewhere. He tried to show his students that they were in control of their own “way” and that they could accomplish anything because for a true karateka, nothing is impossible.

True creativity is evolution. It is Higaonna taking Naha –te to Okinawa, it is Miyagi refining and creating Goju, it is Yamaguchi continuing his teachers work and it is Urban learning from three masters, Yamaguchi, Oyama and his influence by a 4th century samurai, and Kim who was a true intellectual. Master Urban said that the training must be reflected in every aspect of one’s life. That one must consistently strive for excellence and once a standard of excellence was met, it is up to the individual to “be creative” and establish a new standard of excellence.


The final portion of this ongoing work in progress comes from an interview done with Shihan Guinee who by his request will be referred to as Sensei Guinee. Sensei Guinee was a student of Grand Master Peter Urban. His relationship with Master Urban reached far beyond the dojo floor and can be seen in Sensei Guinee’s instruction and heard in his words when he speaks of Master Urban. There is no question that Grand Master Peter Urban lives through Sensei Guinee and will continue to live through Sensei Guinee’s students. In a USAGOJU world where Master Urban wanted all to be leaders, Sensei Guinee leads and sets clear and accurate representation of what he believes was Master Urban’s vision for the future. Sensei Guinee continues to create, evolve and inspire his students to make USAGOJU karate the vehicle through which they can succeed in every aspect of their lives.

Sensei Guinee’s first experience with the martial arts came during his time while honorably serving his country during the Vietnam War as a United States Marine. It is during the years of 1968 to 1969 that Sensei Guinee learned what true courage and warrior ism is. Clearly one can only imagine what can be learned from such an extreme environment. Students of this era can go through fact after fact; however, to live through the stresses of warfare is by far a very different thing. When Sensei Guinee speaks of courage, decisiveness and reality training, he speaks from a perspective that comes largely from his service during this war.

Upon returning to the United States, Sensei Guinee found his way to his first martial arts instructor, Duke Kasten. From 1973 – 1975 Guinee trained with Duke Kasten, who at the time held the rank of 5th Dan under Grand Master Peter Urban. Sensei Guinee described Kasten’s dojo as extremely strict where weapons’ training was practiced with real weapons. It was a place where the training was so intense, that the majority of the students did not endure it. It was while training with Kasten that Kasten would bring Sensei Guinee to the Crosby Street Dojo where Guinee would meet Gm Urban for the first time and where they would also train from time to time.

Sensei Guinee’s training with Kasten was interrupted on several occasions by Kasten’s extended trips. It was during these times away where Sensei Guinee began to train with Shihan Shigeru Oyama in the Kyokushin organization in addition to his training with Kasten. When the time came for Kasten to make his final move to Israel, he, Kasten, would bring Sensei Guinee to a place that would become his home and to an instructor who would become much more than a teacher to him. Sensei Guinee came to Master Urban as a Brown Belt in two systems (USA GOJU and KYOKUSHIN). He would earn his first Dan as well as his subsequent ranks under Master Urban. Master Urban’s dojo was strongly based in a militaristic structure. From the opening of class to the closing of class specific standards and principles were adhered to. Master Urban saw in Sensei Guinee a student with a tremendous work ethic and focus towards excellence, thus giving him the nickname “The Machine”. He also saw a friend whom he entrusted with his most private thoughts and instructions in all life and dojo matters.

With Master Urban’s encouragement, Sensei Guinee opened his first dojo in the town of Mamaroneck in 1977. It was there that Sensei Guinee would start his journey as a “Career Sensei”. With Master Urban’s guidance, Sensei Guinee’s dojo would be known and continue to be known as a dojo where hard work by all is the norm. In 1980, Sensei Guinee moved his dojo to the town of Hawthorne, continuing to develop and instruct by the principles of USAGOJU. In 1982 GM Urban would give Guinee’s dojo the name American Heritage. In 1995, American Heritage would relocate to Thornwood and this dojo would earn the highest of honors in being presented with Master Urban’s first “E” Flag of Excellence.

Sensei Guinee continues to keep the principles of USAGOJU the same while encouraging the improvement of the technique. Sensei Guinee’s manner in the dojo can be described as a strict kindness. It is never been in question as to what was expected. Excellence, hard work, and professionalism are all part of the identity of American Heritage Goju Karate -Do. Sensei Guinee describes his karate as something that can benefit everyone. One’s gender, age, and physical attributes are not a factor from the standpoint of one’s ability to gain from the training. The determining factor comes down to the individual’s desire to work hard to achieve. Nothing is free in Sensei Guinee’s dojo, however, everything is there to be earned. If the student is willing to empty their cup so that lessons could not be just heard, but truly listened to, the benefits of the training are immeasurable.

In Sensei Guinee’s dojo, students receive the same instruction whether there is 1 person or 30 people on the dojo floor. Those that stay, become part of a family that does not judge. They become part of a family that supports and inspires each member. Sensei Guinee shares many of the attributes of the previous Masters. He has amazing technical ability, he is an inspiring teacher, and he is creative to the point of allowing his karate to evolve with the times. Sensei Guinee is what Grand Master Urban called a “Career Sensei”. He does not indoctrinate, he inspires through example. When training in Sensei Guinee’s dojo, a student needs only to look to their side in order to see Sensei and his Black Belts doing every push up, crunch, hand or foot strike. Sensei Guinee in the spirit of GM Urban creates and environment where students become leaders and not followers. American Heritage Goju Karate –Do family is Sensei Guinee’s family and those students that return his loyalty all share the pride that comes with being a member of that family.


Each diploma has a statement written on it “It is expected that this person will continue to develop and succeed throughout life in the way of karate” This seems to be the essence of martial arts. Through each master Naha-te developed and evolved into the Goju that I know. The similarities of each of the masters seem to be clear. They all displayed a devotion to a way of life while searching for serenity through a seemingly combative activity.  Master Urban is clear when he says that karate is the “direct opposite of aggression and inhumanity”. It is calmness and confidence. It is the means through which all things are possible. It means that the true karateka welcomes the challenge because they know that others will not be welcoming. I see it as a way of life that offers the greatest of rewards to those who are willing to work for it, peace, clarity, and balance.

Every night I learn the lessons of past masters and am challenged to create and move the style forward. My Goju has a beginning and if I live up to my responsibility, it should have no end. Just as this thesis should not have an end. My hope is that someone else will continue to write of yet another master and then inspire one of their students to continue and so on. USA GOJU is a living thing that can flourish or wither depending on those who practice it. No one way is right or wrong. As Sensei has taught me, this is our reality and we should not worry about those who do not feel as though they want to be a part of it. American Heritage Goju Karate – Do is my reality and for those who choose to stay, can be the vehicle that points them on their “way”.

I do not know what my karate will become. I know that my Sensei has “inspired and not indoctrinated.” I know also that my karate has allowed me to survive the lowest of lows and enjoy the highest of highs. It is in my thoughts each day and has helped me to be a better person. In short, it has allowed me and will continue to allow me to “continue to develop and succeed in life in the way of karate”.


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