Go Kenki was born on January 20th, 1886 in Fuzhou City, Fuijan Province. He was born into a large family of four boys and three girls. Fuzhou City was known for its various forms of southern fist boxing (nan-quan). One of the various forms of southern fist boxing was white crane boxing (baihe-quan). Go Kenki would eventually become a master of whooping crane form of white crane boxing.
There are two theories on how Go Kenki learned his art. The first, and more popular theory is that his uncle, Wu Sōngmù, decided it was necessary for both Go Kenki and his brothers to learn the art to protect their business in China. His uncle was already an expert in the style and a student of Xie Chóngxiáng.
The second theory is that Go Kenki learned from Zhōu Zhihe, who taught White Crane Boxing (Báihè-Quán) and Tiger Boxing (Hu-Quan). Zhōu taught his techniques to both Go Kenki and Kanbun Uechi, creator of Uechi-ryu. The friendship of these two masters would then date back much further than Okinawa.
During the Communist revolution in China, many fled to neighboring Taiwan which was under Japanese control at the time. Go Kenki instead set his sights on Okinawa. In 1912 he fled there alone and took up work in a tea shop as a clerk. Later he would move to Higashi in Naha district and open his own tea shop. Higashi was where the first Chinese immigrants settled and it would have been like the Chinatown of the time.
Go Kenki spent his days importing tea from China and his evenings teaching white crane boxing. He requested that an egg be paid for his efforts teaching At first his only student was Aniya Seisho, but word of his ability quickly spread throughout the island.
After arriving in Okinawa, Go Kenki soon found and married his wife, a woman with the last name Yoshikawa and a first name that is lost to history. Her last name was preserved by the fact that Go Kenki took her last name when they got married and can sometimes be found referred to as Yoshikawa Kenki. Together they had one daughter.
His classes took place on the first floor of his shop. They included warm ups (Hoju Undo) and the kata Happoren. For many researchers, this kata is the ancestor of the Sanchin kata. The center of his lessons were the katas Happoren and Chûkon They were practiced, analyzed, and scrutinized from every angle. Go Kenki focused his teaching on these two kata, but he knew others. If you look at styles like Matayoshi family’s Kingai-ryu, Tô’on-ryu, and Shito-ryu, its is clear that Go Kenki also knew the Nêpai kata.
Considering only those three kata, it is hard to see the vast amount of knowledge Go Kenki had of the White Crane Boxing style. To understand his knowledge better, you must examine Kingai-ryu. From his lessons with Go Kenki, Shinko Matayoshi learned or created Happôren, Nêpai, Hakuho, Hakkaku Heiho Shodan, Heiho Nidan, Heiho Sandan, Hakkaku Senshi and Hakkaku Soto. Obviously there was so much more that could be learned from Go Kenki than just those three katas that he taught regularly.
Yoshikawa (Go) Kenki died of stomach cancer in May 1940, at the age 53. He would never fulfill his dream of returning to his old country. Before his death, he would have directly influenced the following styles and had small influence on many others:
- Juhatsu Kyoda ( Toon-ryu )
- Chojun Miyagi ( Goju-ryu )
- Shinko Matayoshi ( Kingai-ryu )
- Kenwa Mabuni ( Shito-ryu )