When thinking about martial arts, karate is definitely the first one that comes to mind for a majority of people around the world, or perhaps kung fu. But the fact is that these are actually just umbrella terms for tens, hundreds, and sometimes even thousands of different specific styles, schools, traditions, names, and heritages. Karate as such also has different styles to them, or different manifestations of the art according to the interpretations of different masters. The main style that exists is the Shotokan style, whereas one gaining popularity steadily, Goju Ryu is another. In this article, we will be looking at what the differences are between these two prominent styles, and ultimately to answer the question: which one is better?
Goju Ryu and Shotokan are both parts of a whole “path” or “entity” called karate, and they technically cannot be better or worse than the other one, however, most of the time, Goju Ryu is viewed as the more practical, powerful and useful one in real-life situations.
Karate styles, however, cannot be easily judged in any aspect, since they are very individually based and also have a lot of variables that affect the way they are perceived. Looking at speed, power, efficiency, philosophy, history, and other factors, these styles are different in almost all respects, but maybe these aren’t even the most important factors playing a role in how good the martial art will be… Read on if you want to find out more!
What Are the Differences Between Goju Ryu and Shotokan?
Although these two styles might look quite similar when sparring, and to the layman, the kata (what is kata in karate) is also not that different, but in truth, there is a lot that is different about the two styles. The problem and also the solution both lie in the way people around the world perceive karate. It is seen as some singular entity, written in some book or videotaped some way, and then being distorted by some masters who don’t like it. In reality, it is a much less normative, much more individual, and pluralistic process, even though there is a central philosophy binding them together.
Karate was developed on the island of Okinawa, but the stories of the people pioneering this art differ greatly, and so do the styles they represent. If we spoke generally about karate, we could say it is Japanese, however, that would do a disservice to the Okinawan people, whose territory was annexed by Japan, and who are only since then viewed as Japanese. In the same way, the individuals who created karate are done a disservice when they are all looked at as just “karate masters”.
Most karate styles, including the two we are talking about, owe much of their origin to the Chinese people. There is a difference, however, in the amount of influence Chinese martial arts had over the two styles. Although Shotokan also has its roots in Fujian White Crane, Goju Ryu retained more of its Chiese heritage and is more circular, has a higher emphasis on “Iron Body” training (resistance and toughness training)
The founder of Shotokan karate is Gichin Funakoshi, who is generally viewed as the most influential figure in modern karate since he is the reason why karate is known around the world, and also why Shotokan is the style that is the most popular one. He held a famous presentation to the Japanese Ministry of Education and also to Jigoro Kano, the founder of Judo, in 1922, which were both amazing successes. After he was pressed to stay in Tokyo to teach Shotokan Karate, he started teaching there, forming a number of schools and dojos and also giving the first push to the art for it to make it become a world sensation.
On the other hand, Goju Ryu never became the famous style Shotokan has become, although, with today’s use of the internet, it is becoming more and more prominent as well. It was founded by Miyagi Chojun, an Okinawan martial artist who studied under Higaone Kanryo, one of the most well-known traditional Okinawan martial artists, who also had a very strong Chinese influence after having studied there for years.
In terms of movement, there is a pretty large difference between the two arts. Shotokan is based on very linear, powerful movements, which doesn’t come as a surprise seeing as Gichin Funakoshi was of Samurai lineage. Often, Shotokan is compared to being the Samurai of the karate styles due to its emphasis on low stances and its powerful, explosive movements.
Goju Ryu is often described as the tank of the karate styles, even though the name Goju Ryu means “hard and soft”, which would imply a somewhat softer approach. The reason Gou Ryu is called the tank of these styles is that it doesn’t have the large, very linear, and explosive movements that Shotokan has, but rather much more circular blocking motions and incredibly strong, close-quarter strokes and kicks.
If you want to learn more about those two styles, check out our articles where we explain Goju-Ryu and Shotokan in-depth.
Is Goju Ryu or Shotokan Better for Self-defense?
The reason many people start training karate is that they are on the lookout for a martial art they can use to protect themselves in real-life altercations. For this reason, there are immense amounts of forums, questions, articles, and videos on the internet about the effectiveness of these two styles on the street, whereas there are barely any about their origin. For this reason, we will also dive into the question of which one of these two popular styles are better to learn for self-defense!
The answer and the winner as well are pretty clear. Goju Ryu has an advantage in multiple areas when it comes to street fights. First of all, what you see on the film screen is nonsense; you are never, ever going to pull off a spinning jumping back kick with your heel to your opponent’s face in a street fight. Those large movements are practiced on punching bags and not human beings and they never work. Most of the actual fights which happen in real life turn into close-quarters combat, even wrestling or grappling, really quickly. Fighting in front of a club is possibly the only place you might just have enough space to take on a wide stance and throw a large strike. Otherwise, closer range, faster, tougher emotions always win.
One of the other main reasons why Goju Ryu would win is that traditional schools have an emphasis on body training. They condition the bones, joints, muscles, and the body in general in a way that they will absorb damage more easily, making the fighter more “durable”. Most people don’t recognize that a good fighter often isn’t one who can hit really hard, but the one who can get really hard and keep moving.
Nevertheless, training Shotokan will also put you at an advantage compared to the average Joe and you will most likely be able to deal with much of the street scenarios life throws at you, but only until you face someone who knows how to fight. A boxer would absolutely smash a Shotokan practitioner by moving in close range and delivering a quick succession of punches (although a boxer would probably beat Goju Ryu as well). And just as important is the quality of training you get and the individual person you are since you can train the best martial art in the world, but train it so poorly that you won’t know anything more than your everyday drunk person.
Should You Choose Goju Ryu or Shotokan?
The final and perhaps most important question: which one should you choose? Well, besides all the things we have covered in this article, there are a couple of factors which are actually much more important than the ones mentioned when you are trying to make this decision, and all have to do with your present life situation and what is available around you.
First of all, choosing the style that fits your personality the most is probably more important than the percentage of efficiency of the style in a bar brawl. However, something even more important is the instructor, master, or dojo available in your area. Do not train something and pay money for it if it isn’t the real deal. If your local dojo seems to be asking for too much money for things like memberships, special exams, belts, and a lot of other things they can come up with, it is probably a McDojo or just a scam. Go take a couple of their classes, see if it is worth it, whether you are sparring, doing physical conditioning, etc., or not, and then decide. A golden rule to abide by is: the dojo where there is more full-contact free sparring is the dojo that will give birth to successful fighters (this is usually the Goju Ryu dojo).
On the other hand, if you are in search of a school that will take you to tournaments and have you win Olympic medals, you have a higher chance of succeeding with Shotokan, since much of Western Shotokan schools are about point-based sparring competitions and not actual fighting. At the end of the day, the most important thing to consider is what you want to get out of the money you pay for it, which is different for nearly everyone.