Gogen Yamaguchi was born Jitsumi Yamaguchi on January 20th 1909, in the city of Agoshima on the southern end of Kyushu Japan. His father Tokutaro Yamaguchi was a merchant and later a school teacher and Superintendent. His mother Yoshimatsu was his fathers’ assistant. Gogen Yamaguchi was also known in the world of Karate as ‘the Cat’. Yamaguchi was a small man, just over five feet and a mere 160 pounds, however he projected the impression of great bulk and solemnity and was first dubbed “the Cat” by American GI’s for his gliding walk and flowing hair.
It was somewhere around 1930 or 1931 that Gogen and his then teacher and friend Jitsuei Yogi wrote to Miyagi and invited him to come to Japan. This meeting proved to have a profound effect upon Yamaguchi’s understanding of Karate. Previously he had only considered the hard aspect of Goju but after his meeting with Miyagi Sensei he was determined to train himself spiritually as well as physically. It was around this time that Gogen Yamaguchi began to study for a short time directly with Miyagi Sensei. Miyagi Sensei thought highly of Yamaguchi who seemed to have mastered the hard aspect of Goju. In 1937 Miyagi gave Yamaguchi the nickname “Gogen”, meaning “Rough”. He then appointed Gogen Yamaguchi as his successor and representative of the Goju School in Japan.
During his long career Yamaguchi Sensei made many important contributions to Japanese Karate-do. Yamaguchi Sensei organized the system by adopting traditional Japanese administrative procedures. It was Yamaguchi who implemented the “kyu-dan” (white to black belt) ranking method by expanding on the system that was being used by Jigoro Kano Sensei in Judo and originated jiyu-kumite (free-sparring). He added to the Goju system the Taikyoku Kata forms, – additional training methods to prepare students for the more advanced kata. In 1935 Gogen Yamaguchi became head of Japanese Goju Ryu and established “The All Japan Goju Kai Association” in Kyoto, Japan.
In the late 1930’s, after the system of Goju-Ryu had taken shape in Japan, Yamaguchi and his senior students felt the need for a symbolic insignia and created what would become the legendary of the clenched fist that is still used as the official emblem and uniform patch of many of different Goju Ryu schools today. He simply modeled it after the right hand of Chojun Miyagi’s clenched fist, slightly crooked because of a previous injury.