Yamaguchi Gogen Kaiso was born on January 20, 1909 in Kagoshima city. During his early school days he trained in Kendo and started his karate training under Master Maruta.
During his college days as a law student, Yamaguchi established his first dojo at the Ritsumeeikan University in Kyoto. Soon the dojo became famous in the city known for its hard training and fierce breathing exercises. In those days, karateka practiced only Kata and pre-arranged 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 free sparring and established rules to decide the winner of a match. Some of the rules are still in use today in sport karate.
In 1931, at the age of 22, Yamaguchi was introduced to Chojun Miyagi Sensei. This meeting proved to have a profound effect 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 name Gogen, meaning 'rough'.
Between the years of 1938 and 1945 he was sent to Manchuria on government and military assignments. During the Japanese-Russian war Yamaguchi was taken prisoner of war and sent to a prison camp in Mongolia. He was kept these under harsh conditions for two years.
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 or cat stance.
Under Yamaguchi’s leadership the International Karate-do Goju Kai Association (I.K.G.A.) emerged. The organization has increased in popularity, both in Japan and other Asian and Western countries around the world. Today there are about 35 countries teaching Goju Karate. Master Yamaguchi succeeded in uniting all 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 the Taikyoku Kata forms to the Goju system.
The International Martial Arts Federation in Japan, whose chairman is Prince Higashikuni of the Japanese Imperial Family, appointed Master Yamaguchi as Shihan of the organization's karate division. Never before had a single man had such profound affect on the development and propagation of karate-do. Master Gogen Yamaguchi, 10th Dan, died on May 20, 1989 at the age of 80.
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