Karate came into existence as a martial art for street fighting. Goju-ryu is one of the original Okinawan karate styles, so its primary application is self defense.
It focuses on the most important aspects of self-defense: close-distance fighting, fast and powerful striking techniques AND decent takedowns. It will also make you stronger and improve your endurance. As long as hard sparring is part of the training, it contains all the ingredients of an effective martial art for self-defense.
As time passed, karate overall became more focused on presenting itself as a competitive sport, with strict rules in place. Many dojos continue to neglect useful self-defense techniques that were originally practiced. It also means that they lack or don’t prioritize hard sparring. Unfortunately, this is an important aspect of learning how to fight in a real life scenario.
However, whether this criticism is justified or not depends on the dojo and the teacher. Some dojos focus primarily on the sports aspect, while others take a more “old-school” approach. The “old school” approach includes practicing techniques like throws, chokes and joint locks that are forbidden in competitions. It also includes plenty of hard sparring (kumite), as opposed to focusing on memorization of techniques through endless repetition (katas).
If you can find a dojo where the training includes kumite and learning the oftentimes forbidden self defense techniques, Goju Ryu is a very effective self defense system. However, as with any karate style, it has its strengths and weaknesses:
1. It prioritizes short-range combat
Goju Ryu is focused on striking the opponent with your hands, short kicks, blocking their strikes and possibly throwing them to the ground. Much of it is done from close distance. In that sense it’s more “in your face” than Shotokan, which focuses on keeping distance, striking from further away and dodging the opponent’s strikes as much as possible.
While this may seem like a detriment at first, Goju Ryu is actually more practical for self defense. It’s because many street fights are punching contests.
It’s hard to keep distance in a street fight, let alone in a bar fight. So in most situations in real life, using fancy kicks is not an option. Since Goju Ryu makes you very lethal when you’re pushed into a tight spot, it’s the preferred karate style for self defense.
2. More versatile than Judo and Jiu-Jitsu
Judo and jiu-jitsu have the grappling, throws and submissions that can give you the advantage in a street fight. Goju Ryu provides similar techniques in addition to its powerful strikes. Check out some of its takedowns:
As a Goju Ryu trained karateka, you’d likely not be able to compete against a skilled and experienced BJJ martial artist on ground game alone. You also wouldn’t have the equal arsenal of throwing techniques as a judoka.
But guess what? Both of these martial arts lack the immense striking capabilities that are drilled into you in Goju Ryu. And trust me, being able to punch your opponent fast and hard determines the outcome of a street fight more often than anything else.
This is why boxing for example, although its entirely focused on punching and being fast on your feet is still considered as one of the best martial arts for self defense.
3. Impressive body conditioning
Goju Ryu is considered a pretty hardcore style in the karate world. It’s because it requires grueling warm ups, workouts and drills.
Because you’ll be fighting from close-range you have to become strong and pain-resistant. You have to be able to block strikes with various parts of your body without getting injured or flinching due to pain.
If you enjoy weight training or calisthenics already, you will probably find that this grueling style of training suits you well. Much of it involves traditional Okinawan training devices, such as:
- Chishi (stone lever weights) for grip strengthening
- Nigiri-Game (gripping jars) for strengthening fingers
- Makiwara (striking posts) for conditioning the striking surfaces of the body and perfecting striking techniques
Barbells and similar standard gym equipment is also used.
In translation Goju-Ryu means “hard soft”. The soft part focuses on breathing techniques that are similar to those found in Shaolin Kung Fu and Qigong and it’s just as important. Breathing properly when executing strikes and blocking/dodging is practiced because it significantly impacts the amount of force you can conjure up or absorb at the required moment.
So while Goju Ryu will definitely make you tougher, it will also make you more calm and relaxed as you learn to control your breathing and adjust it to any situation.
4. There’s plenty of sparring
In most schools of Gojo Ryu kumite is a standard part of practice. That includes hard sparring where you are practicing against a partner and putting a serious amount of force behind your strikes. Headgear and gloves are typically used to avoid serious injuries.
Although not always pleasant, sparring is a very important aspect of training for self-defense. Only practicing katas will not prepare you for the challenges of dealing against a moving and unpredictable target that’s trying to harm you or your loved ones.
Here’s a great sparring session:
1. Practicing only 12 katas can get boring
Goju Ryu is very militaristic, in the sense that it drills the most important techniques in you nonstop. They become second nature, and so you can use them very effectively when the time comes. As Bruce Lee said:
I am not afraid of a person who knows 10000 kicks. But I am afraid of a person who knows one kick but practices it for 10000 times.
Shotokan has 26 katas, Wado-Ryu 15 and Goju-Ryu only 12.
You can click on each kata to see a demonstration of it on Youtube. Alongside the kata is its meaning in English:
- Saifa – Smash and Tear
- Gekisai Dai Ichi – Attack & Destroy One
- Gekisai Dai Ni – Attack & Destroy Two
- Seiyunchin – To Grab And Pull in Battle
- Shisochin – To Destroy in Four Directions
- Sanseru – 36
- Sepai – 18 hands
- Kururunfa – Holding & Striking Suddenly
- Seisan – 13 (sometimes also called 13 hands, 13 fists, 13 techniques, 13 steps or 13 killing positions)
- Suparinpei – 108 Hands
- Sanchin – 3 Battles/Conflicts/Wars
- Tensho – Revolving Hands
If you’re someone who is always chasing novelty and new experiences, you might ger bored of Goju-Ryu because this list is rather short. This martial art is better suited for people who are minimalistic and willing to embrace the grind that leads to steady progress.
2. It can be too physically demanding for some people
Simply put, the hardcore conditioning and warm ups will not sound appealing to everyone. This aspect of Goju Ryu requires a high level of discipline and a healthy body to begin with.
Some people want to focus on techniques rather than the “fitness” aspect of martial arts. For them, Aikido or a softer style of karate like Wado-Ryu might be more suitable.
It could also be too hardcore for seniors who have little or no prior experience in martial arts. If you’re younger, but you have lingering injuries, it can be a problem as well.
Final Word: Is Goju-Ryu Good for Self Defense?
Overall, Goju-Ryu is an effective martial art for self-defense. You will not only learn effective fighting techniques, you will also become lean and mean. Just make sure that this newly found power doesn’t lead you to the dark side and to becoming the bully you once feared!