Dragon Ball is a franchise based on martial arts and the characters in the series use different fighting styles and techniques to overcome their opponents. Although the franchise has comical, supernatural and other elements, martial arts are crucial for understanding it. So, in order to help you understand Dragon Ball, we’ve decided to analyse the martial arts used in the franchise, especially the ones that Goku use.
Goku uses a hybrid fighting style of karate, Wing Chun, and Kung Fu.
That’s as short as it gets, but there is more to it. We did a little research and managed to pull out some really interesting things about martial arts used in the series. So, let’s start with a little bit of introduction to the series, and then we will proceed to the martial arts used in the Dragon Ball series. If you are already familiar with the series in general, skip the introduction and go directly to the martial arts part.
Table of contents:
- What is Dragon Ball?
- Martial Arts that Goku Use in the Dragon Ball Series
- How Effective Is Goku’s Fighting Style in Real Life?
Also, if you find this article interesting, be sure to check out a similar article we wrote about martial arts used in the Naruto series.
What is Dragon Ball?
Dragon Ball (Japanese: ドラゴンボール, Hepburn: Doragon Bōru) is a Japanese media franchise created by Akira Toriyama back in 1984. The initial manga, written and illustrated by Toriyama, was serialized from 1984 to 1995. Dragon Ball’s initial inspiration was the classical Chinese novel Journey to the West, as well as modern Hong Kong martial arts films.
The series follows the adventures of the protagonist, Son Goku, from his childhood through adulthood as he trains in martial arts. He initially spends his childhood far from any civilization until he meets a teen girl named Bulma, who encourages him to join her quest in exploring the world in search of the seven orbs known as the Dragon Balls, which summon the wish-granting dragon, Shenlong, when gathered.
Along his journey, Goku makes several other friends, such as Krilin, Master Roshi, Oolong and others, becomes a family man, discovers his alien heritage, and battles a wide variety of villains, many of whom also seek the Dragon Balls.
The manga was adapted into two anime series – Dragon Ball and Dragon Ball Z, which together were broadcast in Japan from 1986 to 1996. Additionally, the franchise spanned 20 animated feature films and three television specials, as well as two anime sequel series titled Dragon Ball GT (1996–1997) and Dragon Ball Super (2015–2018).
From 2009 to 2015, a revised version of Dragon Ball Z aired in Japan under the title Dragon Ball Kai, which follows the manga’s story more faithfully by removing most of the material featured exclusively in the initial Dragon Ball Z anime. This all soon turned into a large media franchise that includes films, both animated and live-action, collectible trading card games, numerous action figures, along with several collections of soundtracks and numerous video games.
Dragon Ball is one of the top twenty highest-grossing media franchises of all time, having generated more than $20 billion in total franchise revenue as of 2018.
Since its release, Dragon Ball has become one of the most successful manga and anime series of all time. Reviewers have praised the art, characterization, and humour of the story. It is widely regarded as one of the greatest and most influential manga series ever made, with many manga artists citing Dragon Ball as a source of inspiration for their own work, which are now very popular.
The anime is also very popular across the world and is considered one of the most influential in boosting the popularity of Japanese animation in Western culture. It has had a considerable impact on global popular culture, referenced by and inspiring numerous artists, athletes, celebrities, filmmakers, musicians and writers across the world.
Who Is Son Goku?
Son Goku (Japanese: 孫悟空, Hepburn: Son Gokū) is the protagonist and main hero of the while Dragon Ball franchise. He is based on Sun Wukong, a main character in the classic Chinese novel Journey to the West, but his whole origin story can be compared to Superman’s origin story as presented in DC Comics issues.
Goku first made his debut in Dragon Ball chapter #1, titled Bulma and Son Goku (ブルマと孫悟空 Buruma to Son Gokū) in 1984, as an eccentric, monkey-tailed boy who practices martial arts and possesses superhuman strength. He meets Bulma and joins her on a journey to find the wish-granting Dragon Balls, which are used to summon the legendary dragon Shenlong.
Along the way, he finds new friends who follow him on his journey. Initially believed to have been born on Earth, Goku later learns that he is a member of an extra-terrestrial warrior race called the Saiyans, which is also the reason for his superhuman strength, and his birth name is Kakarot (カカロット, Kakarotto). As he grows up, he becomes the Earth’s mightiest warrior and protects his adopted home planet from those who seek to destroy it (there the similarity with Superman).
Goku is depicted as carefree and cheerful when at ease, but quickly serious and strategic-minded when in battle and also enthusiastic to fight. He is able to concentrate his Ki and use it for devastatingly powerful energy-based attacks; the most prominent being his signature Kamehameha (かめはめ波), in which Goku launches a blue energy blast from his palms.
Also pure of heart, Goku has frequently granted mercy to his enemies, which has often earned him additional allies in the process (though has also resulted in others taking advantage of his kindness), and he is one of the few who can ride the magic cloud called Kinto’un (筋斗雲, lit. “Somersault Cloud”); this is also an element adapted from the Chinese novel Journey to the West.
As the protagonist, Goku appears in most of the episodes, films, television specials and OVAs of the manga’s anime adaptations (Dragon Ball, Dragon Ball Z, Dragon Ball GT, Dragon Ball Super and Dragon Ball Heroes) as well as many of the franchise’s video games. Due to the series’ international popularity, Goku has become one of the most recognizable and iconic characters in the world.
Martial Arts that Goku Use in the Dragon Ball Series
Son Goku is a very powerful fighter, the most powerful on his adopted planet Earth and although the style shown in the manga and anime is often exaggerated and has a lot of supernatural elements, it is actually based on real martial arts. Glancing quickly at his style, we might deduce that that Goku’s just a great kickboxer with great speed and reaction, but it’s actually more complex than that and we are going to see how.
In short, Goku’s style is actually a hybrid martial art with elements of karate, Wushu and Wing Chun, the latter two being specific styles of kung fu. As we can see, Goku’s style is actually a hybrid style influenced by Japanese and Chinese martial arts. Now let us break down the elements of his fighting style in more detail.
Anyone who’s seen something of Dragon Ball knows that the fighting animations are (in most cases) pretty straightforward with a lot of quick shots and block between the fighters.
When it comes to punches, they are mostly aimed at the chest and head, with the punches being thrown rather frivolously back and forth. When comparing Goku’s punches to real life martial arts and combat sports, there are a lot of similarities with boxing.
Goku often extends his hand straight out and has an angled stance similar to a boxer, which affirms our comparison. The difference is the fact that his defensive stance is not like that of a boxer, but not many Dragon Ball fighters have such a clear stance.
His stance is most similar to the gong bu stance used in Shaolin kung fu. It is a wide stance and although Goku’s is not completely identical, it resembles this real-life stance the most.
Now let us see about his kicks. Since the animation in Dragon Ball is usually so dynamic, people usually miss a lot of the details, but most just don’t pay any attention because they are focused on the fight and on who’s going to win. Well, what we managed to find out for you is that most of Goku’s kicks are aimed at the head and, less often, at the torso.
He practically doesn’t use leg kicks, which is an interesting fact because a lot of seemingly similar martial arts (such as Muay Thai or kickboxing) rely heavily on leg kicks, as they can be a decisive in a match. So, where does this technique come from?
Such kicks are mostly used in karate and taekwondo, two martial arts stemming from Japan and Korea respectively. Head kicks are especially important in them, because they give the most points, while chest kicks are standard in them; leg kicks are usually prohibited, which means that we can freely state that Goku’s kicking is more influenced by karate and/or taekwondo than Chinese or Thai martial arts.
His defence brings us back to China. Goku uses his forearms for blocking, which is normal and logical, but he uses it in a very specific way that allows us to easily exclude a comparison with boxing. Goku doesn’t hold his hands up like a boxer, but rather combines his blocks with his wide and visibly lower gong bu stance.
This allows him to use his forearms more efficiently, in the manner they’re used in Wing Chun. Wing Chun’s blocking style works great with quick reflexes, which is something Goku has.
How Toriyama Created the Style
We know what Goku’s style is. Now let’s see how it was created.
The creator of Dragon Ball, manga artist Akira Toriyama, was a huge fan of Jackie Chan movies when he was a kid. Watching his movie hero, Toriyama decided to adapt Chan’s fighting moves into his own martial arts manga, thus creating the basis for Goku’s style.
This is not just a rumour; Toriyama’s love for Chan is well-known. He met him, Chan gave him a brief interview and he even referenced Chan in the anime. Namely, when Goku enters the first World Martial Arts Tournament, his teacher, Master Roshi, enters the tournament under a false name, as Jackie Chun, which is an obvious reference to Jackie Chan.
Also, Master Roshi, as Jackie Chun, had a “drunken style” fight in one of the episodes, which was a reference to Chan’s film Drunken Master.
But Chan is not the only martial arts master incorporated into Goku’s fighting style. Toriyama is a big fan of kung fu in general, so it is expected for the biggest kung fu master of all time – the legendary Bruce Lee – to have been an inspiration for Goku’s fighting style.
How Effective Is Goku’s Fighting Style in Real Life?
We have, by now, learned that Goku’s style, although animated and fictionalised, can be compared to several real-life martial arts and techniques. However, what we don’t know is this – how is Goku’s style effective in real life situations (when stripped of the supernatural elements)?
Although his style isn’t seen too often in real combat, there are cases of fighters with styles similar to Goku’s who have had success in real combat scenarios. A good example is UFC fighter Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson, whose fighting style is in many aspects very similar to Goku’s anime style from Dragon Ball.
Thompson comes from a traditional martial arts background, due to his father owning and running a karate school in his hometown. When Thompson fights, he usually does so with a very wide stance, and with his guard wide, which is very similar to Goku’s stance, as we’ve seen in the paragraphs above.
He uses a wide variety of kicks which are usually aimed at the head, also similar to Goku. Traditional martial arts favour head kicks instead of leg kicks, which is something we’ve explained above.
So, if you want to develop a real-life style similar to the one used in Dragon Ball and its sequels, Stephen Thompson is a good role model. Although he also combined several traditional techniques into a specific style – which means that you have to have a solid background in martial arts – if you want to improve on your knowledge and be like Goku, his moves and fights are a good starting point for you.
To conclude, we can state that Goku uses a hybrid fighting style of karate, Wing Chun, and Kung Fu, a style that is hard to replicate in real life. However, one of the closest comparisons to Goku’s style would be Stephen Thompson, who has a karate background and can be a good starting point. There are also other fighting styles used in Dragon Ball, but more on that in a separate article.
Thank you for reading this article and we’ll see you soon! Until next time!