Gogen Yamaguchi was born Jitsumi Yamaguchi on January 20,1909, the third son of Tokutaro Yamaguchi. He lived in an old home at Higashi Sengoku-sho, Kagoshima City. Yamaguchi was one of ten children (six boys and four girls). The six boys were all very interested in the martial arts, such as Japanese fencing and Judo.
In his second year of primary school, he began learning Jigen-ryu Kenjutsu (a famous school of Japanese fencing). Later he met a Mr. Maruta, a carpenter from Okinawa, who taught him the basics of karate.
He studied Law at Kansei University in 1928 and Ritsumeikan University in Kyoto from 1929 to 1937 and received Law Degrees. In 1930, Yamaguchi and his instructor Sensei Jitsuei Yogi, were the primary cofounders of the Ritsumei-Kan Dai-Gaku Karate Kenkyu Kai, the first Karate club at Ritsumei-Kan University. Soon the dojo became famous in the city, known for it's hard training. In those days karate men practiced 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 jiyu 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.
In 1928 Chojun Miyagi visited Japan to teach his style of karate. He had taught in the Judo Club of Kyoto University to which Yamaguchi and Yogi were in attendance. He came back to teach in Japan on other occasions, and in 1931, Gogen Yamaguchi was introduced to him. In 1937, Miyagi was entrusted by Master Chojun Miyagi with the task of popularizing and developing Goju-Ryu Karate-do on the Japanese mainland. Yamaguchi continued his relationship with Miyagi through visits to Okinawa and short instructional visits by Miyagi while touring Japan. It is widely believed Yamaguchi learned the majority of Goju-Ryu from students of Miyagi such as Meitoku Yagi and others.
Master Yamaguchi's contributions to Goju karate and to karate in general have been enormous. Master Yamaguchi succeeded in uniting many 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. The Kokusai Budo Renmei (The International Martial Arts Federation) in Japan, whose chairman was Prince Higashikuni of the Japanese Imperial Family appointed Master Yamaguchi as Shihan (Master) of the organizationís karate division. He added to the Japanese Goju system other kata, including the Taikyoku forms, - training methods for the beginner students to prepare them for the more advanced kata.