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.
In order to help you understand Dragon Ball, I’ve decided to analyze the martial arts used in the franchise, especially the ones that Goku uses.
Goku uses a hybrid fighting style of karate, Wing Chun, and Kung Fu. Goku’s fighting stance is a loose mǎbù (马步, “horse stance”), with the torso turned sideways. It is called a “square stance.”
That’s as short as it gets, but there is more to it. I did a little research and managed to pull out some really interesting things about martial arts used in the series!
Also, if you find this article interesting, be sure to check out a similar article I wrote about martial arts used in the Naruto series.
Martial Arts Used in 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 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 blocks 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 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 defense 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 Goku’s Fighting 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 rumor; 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 fictionalized, 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 favor 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. 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.