If you ask an average passer-by, what kind of martial arts they know of, they will probably tell you the ones everyone has already heard. Karate, judo, jiu-jitsu, kung-fu, and the likes. However, many would be baffled to know that there are thousands if not tens of thousands of types of martial arts around the world, it just happened to be that these turned out to be more effective or the founders were at the right place in the right time to promote the art. On the other hand, even more staggering is the information that even specific martial arts have their derivatives, like for example Goju-Ryu for karate. Karate has many different variations, but in this article, we will focus on Goju-Ryu, and answer what it is, its origin, and the most important question when choosing an art: is Goju-Ryu karate any good?
Goju-Ryu karate is a highly effective martial art. It is one of the main original Okinawan karate-styles, which are all known for being centered around efficiency and utility.
But why is it good? And is it better than other karate forms or martial arts in general? These are the questions we will try our best to answer in this article, so if you are interested in learning more about one of the most traditional styles of karate, this article is for you!
What is Goju-Ryu?
Goju-Ryu karate is one of the original Okinawan karate styles. It was developed by Chojun Miyagi, who was greatly influenced by both Chinese and Japanese traditional martial arts styles. The name is made up of two words, the first, go means tough, hard, while the second, ju means soft. The philosophy behind the name and generally behind the art was that a balance of hardness and toughness with softness is necessary for life in general, since in isolation from the other, neither is enough to handle the fluctuations of life. Miyagi also believed that while defending and blocking, the body should remain relaxed and soft, inhaling and moving in the light, circular motions, while when attacking, the body should be tough and hard, the attacker should exhale to provide even more strength.
Some Shaolin disciplines also have a large effect on Miyagi’s Goju-Ryu. This is mostly visible due to the breathing techniques the style so heavily relies on. In traditional Goju-Ryu practice, breathing techniques and sometimes types of meditation while breathing are an essential part of the development, since Miyagi thought it deeply affected on’s performance and mastery of their own body. Master Miyagi also believed that “the ultimate aim of karate-do was to build character, conquer human misery, and find spiritual freedom”.
He got a lot of inspiration from the Fujian White Crane style and other Chinese martial arts styles, and in the end, created the style of Goju-Ryu which is practiced to this day. One of the reasons for this is the intense body conditioning part that takes place in the first part of the learning curve, together with breathing techniques that help the soft part of oneself develop. The contrast between hard, strong, and external and soft, light, and internal is apparent in every aspect of this art.
Is Goju-Ryu Karate Effective in a Real Fight?
So, to get to the more interesting part for most readers, we will talk about the effectiveness of Goju-Ryu karate in real-life fighting scenarios. For that, however, we believe we first have to clarify what a real-life scenario is and what it isn’t.
A real-life fight is not like you see in most movies. It isn’t like a martial arts training session, it isn’t like a dance. It is a rough, tough, brutal, and mostly merciless situation, without rules or limitations. A real fight is something we definitely do not recommend getting into, and you should try your best to avoid one. You can never know how mentally unstable the other person is, or exactly what their motives are. Nor do you know whether your opponent might have friends or what their role might be, and you also don’t know your surroundings well enough to know you are safe. If you fall in a real-life scenario, at best you will get beaten up, at worst you might die.
The reason we emphasize the clarification of this so much is that many martial arts movies and videos on the internet which are labeled “instructional” are actually dangerously ineffective scams. But now that we have clarified the brutality of a real-life scenario, let’s talk about Goju-Ryu.
Goju-Ryu is focused on short-range combat. It is often said to be like the tank of karate styles. It is not flashy, it doesn’t have insane high-kicks while spin-jumping from the other end of the dojo, but what it does have is maximized efficiency and very powerful close-range strikes and blocks. The general consensus is that if you get anywhere near a Goju-Ryu practitioner, you are done. Most of the time Goju-Ryu also involves grappling, sweeping, breaking, and different types of arm and neck locks. This makes it even more dangerous on close-quarters, since not only will they take out the opponent with a powerful strike, but if it’s not enough, they will slam them to the ground and hold them there.
When compared to Shotokan karate, for example, Goju-Ryu is generally thought of as more effective. The reason is exactly what we have just talked about, and that is range. In Shotokan, you have large, linear, long movements, which can generate immense amounts of force and will still win you most fights, especially against an untrained person, but Goju-Ryu has just as powerful strikes while also containing the element of grappling and sweeping, and being very comfortable on close-range fights.
Compared to judo and jiu-jitsu, Goju-Ryu wins again. The reason? Diversity, again. Clearly, if you get into a grappling match with a judoka or jiu-jitsu practitioner, and you are trained at Goju-Ryu, you will get beaten up. Goju is not primarily a grappling art, though the parts it does have of grappling are powerful. However, Goju has a lot of strikes that are really powerful and happen at close range, exactly the place a Judo practitioner will want to get. The close-range immensely powerful strikes of Goju would give it an edge in a street fight most probably.
Is Goju Ryu Good for Self-Defense?
A slightly different but still relating topic is the topic of self-defense. Here we aren’t talking about a fight the goal of which is to win and avoid losing, here we are talking about situations which are probably emergency situations, where somebody’s (your’s or loved one’s) life, health, money, car, etc might be in danger and you have no choice but to fight off whoever is the aggressor.
As we have mentioned, Goju-Ryu is a close-range martial art mostly. This type of martial art in general is already very effective for street scenarios and self-defense since real fights often end up being a close-range punching match or a grappling competition. It is rare to see actual fights happening at 3 yards distance with long kicks and strikes, so any art which focuses on that type of combat is bound to be less effective in real life due to the sole fact that it isn’t designed for it. Goju-Ryu is considered to be highly effective and great art to start out with for general conditioning and all-around close-range skills.
Another element of Goju-Ryu which makes it highly effective is its focus on body conditioning, somewhat like Kyokushin style karate (which was influenced by Goju-Ryu). They believe that the body needs to be able to produce the hardness and toughness that we were talking about earlier when mentioning the philosophy of the art. They achieve this by conditioning the body. If you take a look at any Goju-Ryu karate competition or fight video, like this one, for example, you will see that the kicks and punches they are able to take would probably cripple an average person.
In the video as well as on online forums and descriptions of the training sessions of a traditional Goju course, you can see the different types of hand and leg conditioning that Goju practitioners go through. From hitting rocks to each other’s forearms, there are a ton of ways the masters of this artform condition their bodies to endure more pain.
Not only the kicks, but also the throws, the grappling, sweeps, and locks are ruthless. If you train traditional Goju-Ryu, there are not many situations where you couldn’t defend yourself, since it really prepares you to be a beast of fighting.