Gogen Yamaguchi was born on January 20, 1909 in Kagoshima city on southern Kyushu. He was named Jitsumi. 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-ryu 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.
Gogen Yamaguchi studied Law at Kansei University in 1928 and Ritsumeikan University in Kyoto from 1929 to 1937 and received Law Degrees.
Yamaguchi established his first karate club at the Ritsumeikan University. Soon the dojo became famous in the city, known for its hard training and fierce breathing exercise. In those days karate men practised 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.
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 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.
In 1950, he founded the national organization of All Japan Karatedo Goju-kai in Tokyo. Japan. Gogen received 10th Degree Black Belt from Chojun Miyagi in 1951. He was recognized as one of the greatest Karate masters in Japan. He was the founder of what might be called modern Karate, an advanced stage which illustrates both a technical and social elevation of the art of Karate. From a technical point of view, he had unified all Karate exercise by employing an extremely well organized method.
As a result of the introduction of free-style sparring, the art of Karate had become a more active and popular art in Japan as well as in other parts of the world. Although he studied such martial arts as Judo, Kendo, Iaido, Jo-do, and Kusari-gama (art of chain) in his younger days, Karate had from the beginning captured most of his enthusiasm. In the general development of Karate, Gogen had contributed several distinguished services. First, he formed a group of Asian martial instructors. He then succeeded in bringing seventy Asian instructors to Japan and traveled throughout the country, holding exchange martial arts demonstrations.
Master Yamaguchi's contributions to Goju-karate and to karate in general have been enormous. Under his leadership the I.K.G.A. [International Karate do Goju kai Association (kai=organization)] 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 kai 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 to the Goju system the Taikyoku Kata forms, training methods for the beginner students to prepare them for the more advanced katas.
In combining his religious practices with karate training, he incorporated both Yoga and Shinto into Goju kai karate and founded in recent years Goju-Shinto. He states 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. Gogen Yamaguchi was 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). As a further recognition of merit, he was honored in 1969 by Emperor Hirohito of Japan with Ranju-Hosho, the Blue Ribbon Medal.
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 the last of the karate legends. A master of Yoga and a Shinto priest, a man that truly has united both aspects of go and ju into a concerted union.
Gogen Yamaguchi died in May, 1989. He left behind an organisation that represented the best of Karate-do. Today there are many styles of karate, including IGK, which have their origins in Goju Kai and recognise Gogen Yamaguchi as their link to the roots of Okinawan martial arts.