Gosei Yamaguchi

Karate must be taught differently to people of different social backgrounds. It belongs to humanity, not just to the Japanese or Okinawans, and we must recognise this in our methods of introducing Karate to the public.

Gosei Yamaguchi

Gosei Yamaguchi was born into Karate royalty. His father was the legendary Goju-ryu master, Gogen ‘the cat‘ Yamaguchi. Sent by his father to the United States to teach traditional Goju-ryu Karate, he has become one of the most respected instructors in the country.

Gosei (Norimi) Yamaguchi was born on 29 June 1935 in Kyoto, Japan. He was the oldest son of Gogen (Jitsumi) and Midori Yamaguchi.

Gogen Yamaguchi had two loves in life, Karate and Shintoism. In 1939 Gosei, aged 4, began training with his father. The relationship between him and his father was more like a student than a son.

As an Intelligence Officer in the Japanese government, Gogen was sent to Manchuria, China. He took his family with him.

However, in 1942, Russia overthrew the Japanese in Manchuria. Gogen Yamaguchi was taken as a prisoner of war to Siberia. At the time Midori Yamaguchi was expecting the couples, third child. Taking Gosei and his younger brother Gosen (Kishio), Midori walked miles to a village where she eventually gave birth to Goshi (Hirofumi) her youngest son. Midori and her sons eventually made it back to Tokyo.

Gogen Yamaguchi eventually returned from Russia in 1947. Gosei, who was now in high school, had been studying Judo at the home of Japanese Judo, the Kodokan. Even though he was still training hard with his father, he eventually earned his 1st Dan in Judo.

In 1952 Gosei Yamaguchi enrolled at Takushoku University, where he studied, Commerce & Russian. He joined the university’s famed Shotokan Karate club. He trained under Masatoshi Nakayama. His contemporaries included Hirokazu Kanazawa, Masataka Mori, Yutaka Yaguchi, and Tetsuhiko Asai. Two years later he transferred to Meiji-Gakuin University to study English Literature.

Gosei Yamaguchi graduated from Meiji-Gakuin University with a BA in English Literature. He took a part-time job teaching English at the Tokyo Metropolitan Junior High School.

In June 1964, Gosei Yamaguchi was sent to teach the Goju-ryu version of Karate in America, by his father. He arrived in the United States by passenger ship. His younger brother Gosen had established a Karate club at San Francisco State University. Gosei eventually replaced Gosen, who returned to Japan, as Chief Instructor at the Karate club.

Gosei Yamaguchi established the Goju-Kai Karate-Do USA organisation in 1965. He became its head.

In 1966 Gosei Yamaguchi promoted the California Goju-Kai Karate-Do Championships. That same year, the first competitive match between teams from the United States and Japan took place. Taking place at the Olympic Auditorium, Los Angeles, the match was between the All-Japan Collegiate champions, and a team of fighters from the Los Angeles area, representing Hidetaka Nishiyama‘s AAKF and the United States. The team included Ray Dalke and Frank Smith. The Japanese team won a closely contested competition.

Top Japanese masters attended the momentous event. In attendance were Masatoshi Nakayama representing Shotokan; Kenei Mabuni representing Shito-ryu; Hironori Ohtsuka representing Wado-ryu; and Gosei and Goshi Yamaguchi representing their father, Gogen and Goju-ryu.

1967 saw Gosei Yamaguchi officially become a staff member at the San Francisco State University. He was a member of the Department of Kinesiology. He became one of the first martial arts instructors is to be part of an American College faculty.

1967 also saw Yamaguchi promote Goju-ryu Karate through two further Championships, the North-South California Karate Championships and the All Goju-Kai Karate-Do Championships. The following year he promoted the National Goju-Kai Karate-Do Championships.

Gosei Yamaguchi was named to Black Belt Magazine’s Hall of Fame in 1972, as Karate Instructor of the Year. That same year he also had his book ‘The Fundamentals of Goju-ryu Karate‘ published. Two years later his follow-up book, ‘Goju-ryu Karate II‘ was published.

1975 saw Gosei Yamaguchi named in the ‘Who’s Who of Martial Arts‘.

On 20 May 1989, the legend, Gogen Yamaguchi died aged 80 years. Through his sons, Gosei, Gosen, and Goshi, his Goju-ryu legacy continued.

As a member of the Department of Kinesiology, Gosei Yamaguchi has always looked at how to improve his Karate and also how he teaches his students. He believes in a ‘show, don’t tell‘ approach to teaching. He believes in the total package of Karate. For him, Karate should not be singled out as a sport or purely for self-defence. Each of these elements has an important part to play in Karate.

Gosei (Norimi) Yamaguchi has quietly gone about his business, teaching Goju-ryu Karate in its most classical form. Achieving the rank of 9th Dan, he has become one of the most respected teachers in the United States. He is a long time faculty member of San Francisco State University, where he has taught countless students in the University’s Karate club. He has carried on the legacy of his father.

Author: Patrick Donkor

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