Karate is no doubt one of the most popular martial arts in the history of the world, but it is only a blanket term to cover the numerous karate styles that exist. Out of these numerous styles, two of the most prominent are Goju Ryu and Shotokan.
In this article, we’d discuss and compare these karate styles stating their origin, training specifics, techniques, how long they take to learn and which one is better for self-defense.
What is Goju Ryu?
But first, what is Goju Ryu? The Goju Ryu martial art is a soft style of Karate that is taught and applied in an upright and natural stance. This style was developed in 1930 by Chojun Miyagi who was a student of Karate’s founder Kanyro Higaonna. Chojun Miyagi was popular and he even inspired the character ‘Mr. Miyagi’ in the karate kid movie. If you’re a fan of karate movies, this is one style that you must have seen a lot. Since Miyagi, the most famous master alive is Morio Higaonna.
Well, this martial art was heavily influenced by Chinese martial arts – majorly from the Shaolin monks and the Fujian White Crane style. In short, many say it has more Chinese techniques.
To describe it, Goju Ryu has a yielding defense accompanied by hard and unrelenting offense. This flowing martial art uses formidable and precise counter-strike movements for offense and soft and circular and linear blocks for defense. It employs varieties of stances offering soft and hard stances quite different from the other forms of karate. No wonder, ‘Go’ means hard and resilient while ‘Ju’ means soft and yielding.
Since it emphasizes more on close attacks and defense, it employs some grappling techniques as well, quite similar to jujitsu (jujitsu). Don’t be surprised when you see Goju Ryu karatekas shooting for takedowns, hand and foot strikes, as well as throws, and joint locks.
In Goju Ryu there are three ways to end a fight: They are by attacking your opponent’s breathing, mobility or vision. Breathing power is a major aspect of Goju Ryu. Getting the breathing right would help you land strikes and absorb them much better. Also, it helps develop harmony between the body and brain.
Why should I learn Goju Ryu?
1. It is practical
It teaches highly functional and non-theoretical moves for self-defense. It teaches kicking and punching in many variations and combinations, causing damage quickly.
2. Full-contact sparring
Perhaps, the major reason why it is so practical is because it involves full-contact sparring. It is a general rule that any martial art that involves sparring would be suitable for street fights and self-defense.
When you spar, you get a feel of what street fights feel like and you become confident in your ability to harm and disarm an opponent. Even better, Goju Ryu involves explosive exercises that’d ready you and decrease your fear of combat.
3. It’s philosophy applies well to other areas of life
Goju Ryu involves the use of hard strikes and soft strikes where necessary alongside breathing techniques. It is better to block while exhaling because the body is tough, but delicate while inhaling. Goju Ryan trains you to navigate the variations of life by being hard or soft when necessary.
Besides, it uses ‘Sachin’ – a moving meditation that looks to unite the soul, spirit, and mind to bring about a stable body.
4. Fitness benefits
Goju Ryu involves body conditioning and strength training. This won’t just increase your Goju Ryu performance, it’d provide great benefits for your overall general body wellness. Also, you’d learn to make better lifestyle choices like eating healthy and proper recovery.
How to apply Goju Ryu in real fights
Goju Ryu has quite a lot of techniques that must be learned. Even better, any part of the body could be used.
Some major techniques used:
- Front punch (seiken zuki)
- Wielding strike (furi uchi)
- Close fist punch (shita zuki)
- Backfist strike (uraken uchi)
- Hammer fist (tettsui uchi)
- Ridge hand (haito uchi)
- Wrist strike (kakuto uchi)
- Knife strike (shuto uchi)
- Spear hand (nukite)
- Palm heel strike (taisho zuki)
- Elbow strike (empi uchi)
We’re going to discuss 4 of them but first, you’ve got to be conscious of your chamber. Just like chambering firearms, Chambering in karate refers to inserting a round into a weapon in anticipation of an attack. But more specifically, in Goju Ryu, it is a practice of raising a leg up or putting a hand above in preparation for an attack.
1. Front Punch (seiken zki)
Perhaps, the most used Goju Ryu punch. The front punch starts in a chambered position. From there, let the chambered arm leave the side by sliding it along the ribs palm up. As you do this, pull the other arm to the chamber. Then, make sure to rotate your thumb facing the floor as the punch completes its extension. Lastly, the point of contact with target is the two big knuckles.
To land with power and stay relaxed and explosive, you could use forward movements, and hip rotation. Also, learn to tense your arm on impact. The more you practice, on your makiwara or pad, the better you’d get.
2. The close punch
The close punch is a closed fist punch delivered in close range with an opponent. It can also be thrown as an upward punch. Similar to the uppercut in boxing. Here, the fist remains facing upward throughout and never extends beyond the 1-feet distance of the ribs.
3. The hooking strike
Also called the wielding strike, this strike is performed by moving your fists from the chamber position to behind your kidney. Then the strike is thrown by whipping the fist around towards the side of your opponent’s head as your hips quickly rotate towards the opposite side. While this strike snaps back, it is better effective when not retracted upon impact, extending at least 2 inches through the target.
4. Backfist strike
Also beginning in the chambered position, the backfist strike is performed by extending the chambered arm outward extending with speed at the full extension of the elbow, and landing on the opponent with the two small knuckles. The backfist is a damaging, whipping, and usually unexpected strike that can be thrown vertically and horizontally.
5. Knife hand
This one is a famous punch although one of the least used. Called the karate chop, the hand position for the strike is crucial.
Make sure to keep the fingers straight together, the thumb tucked in, and when you strike, do so with the outside edge of the hand, the pad along the distal, and make sure not to land with the bones on the side to avoid injuries.
When delivering, aim at soft tissue and pressure points such as the throat, solar plexus, side or back of the neck, groin, and floating ribs.
6. Elbow strike
The elbow strike is one of the most useful in combat scenarios. It is started from the same chamber position by extending the striking arm from the chamber. Also, the hand position can be clenched or open palm, and the elbow can be landed in several ways.
One way is landing it forward by moving the striking palm towards your ear, it can also be thrown horizontally moving like you’re moving your palm towards the floor, and lastly, downward (start with your arm above your head and strike down with the elbow on the center line.
Goju Ryu defensive moves
Blocking techniques in Goju Ryu are called Uke Waza – and Goju Ryu has lots of them.
- Jodan Age Uke (High block or rising block): This blocking technique is used to defend against strikes aimed at your head. The block begins with the chambered fist angled like an elbow, sliding it up to make an X, and pulled a few inches above the head with the knuckles facing up. When done correctly, it should deflect the appropriate strikes.
- Uchi Uke (Inside-out block): With Uchi translating to ‘movement from the inside to the outside, this block starts with a chambered fist blocking across the body. Then bring the other fist out at shoulder level. Make sure to pull the fist hard and fast locking the wrist straight with the arm.
- Gedan Uke (Low block): Used to defend low kicks, the Gedan Uke starts in a chambered position. Firstly, the block would be on the side of the leading foot. Bring your fist on the side of the leading foot to the opposite side shoulder while the other fist goes into the chamber.
- Sukui Uke (Scooping block): This technique is designed for blocking a weak kick by an opponent. At the same time, it can be used to hook or scoop the opponent’s leg to knock over your opponent or counterattack.
- Hiki Uke (Hooking block): This block is delivered like you’re throwing a hook. But with the difference of being open-palmed. It is used to defend strikes to the middle area and upper areas. Here, you can deflect the attacker’ss strike with the added option of grabbing his wrist and countering.
Goju Ryu kicking techniques
Most Goju Ryu karate schools focus on low kicks. The idea behind this emphasis is that you put yourself at a much greater risk of kicking the head of an experienced opponent. However, every kick can possibly be thrown to the head, especially when you can set it up, or you could just get lucky.
In Goju Ryu, you won’t find many jumping kicks. Strong stances are the primary focus of Goju Ryu and karate forms. There is nothing more opposed to the ideas of karate than taking both feet off the ground, well, unless it will put you at a bigger advantage, or if there was no other choice.
You have to stay in the same spot and make sure your kick doesn’t penetrate past the point where you kicked from the ground.
- Front kick: This kick is perhaps the most used in Goju Ryu. To throw, bring your knee up and then extend your leg upward with your toes pulled back. Swing the foot and make sure the contact surface is the ball of the foot.
- Mawashi Geri (roundhouse kick): Quite similar to the regular roundhouse, bring your knee up, rotate your body, and turn over. As you do this, you’d pivot on the ball of the support foot. Make sure to quickly snap your foot out of your knee and strike with the ball of the feet. This kick can also be landed with the instep of the feet. The Mawashi Geri is aimed at the head or upper body.
- Fumikomi Geri (stomp kick): This kick is thrown by elevating your knee and directed downwards with the necessary speed. It is aimed at the opponent’s foot or knee.
Okay, Goju Ryu karate is well-known, but not nearly as popular as Shotokan Karate.
Shotokan has a long history and it was the first type of karate offered to anyone who wished to learn. Also, it is the most significant influencer of taekwondo. This martial art originated in Tokyo and it was taught by Master Gichin Funakoshi who is perhaps the most popular name in modern Karate. He is also referred to as the founder of modern karate since it was through him that karate spread to the rest of the world.
Funakoshi was a school teacher and against karate traditions, he decided to teach Karate in public schools. After a martial arts demonstration held by the Japanese Ministry of education in 1922, Funakoshi made an impression and from there, Shotokan went on to become the most practiced karate style in the world.
Perhaps, they fell in love with the fluid style of applied fighting that Shotokan employs. Here, practitioners employ powerfully delivered and straight-line kicks to stop opponents. To make the kicks powerful and linear, both the upper and lower body are used.
Shotokan is truly applicable to real fights and self-defense. Practitioners learn moves that work in real life and sparring is employed. It is characterized by long and deep stances in its forms (kata), and a dynamic sparring element. The deep stances would give students strong legs, stability, and balance.
Should I learn Shotokan?
- It is simple and effective – Shotokan’s techniques are fully based on the correct application of body dynamics. You’d learn how to apply discipline, patience, coordination, and balance in unison as you use shotokan techniques. The moves are simple and easy to learn regardless of your age or fitness level. At the end, you’d have body and mind harmony.
- Fitness and health – Most Shotokan classes start with 15 minutes warmups that’d consist of stretching and basic calisthenics, like crunches and push-ups, and cardio exercise. And that’s just the warmups. You’d receive an overall workout from the kicks, punches, and movements during the class. In the end, you’d lose fat, build muscles, and have better cardiovavscular health, alongside improved strength, stamina, and flexibility.
- Character development – Since it is founded on the twenty precepts of karate, Shotokan incredibly improves students’ character development through good values and virtues. It trains your mental attitude alongside your physical abilities. You’d have improved mental maturity, calmness, and ability to maintain sound judgment. It instills good lifestyle skills and through it, you’d improve your confidence, self-esteem, physical fitness, mental repose, and vulnerability.
- It employs sparring – Shotokan involves sparring and it is quite fun as well. You’d learn to effectively apply the techniques through Bunkai i.e. making up hypothetical adversaries and sparring with them.
- For self-defense – Shotokan is one of the best Karate styles for self-defense. It is effective for countering and it teaches techniques for subduing or disabling. And it doesn’t involve weapons, so, you can use it anywhere and at any time.
Shotokan Uchi (Strikes):
- Animal strikes – These are quite advanced and are reserved for experienced practitioners. Shotokan has Chinese origins and it is through this that it got influenced by the animal forms popular with Kung Fu styles. Animal strikes (or if used as blocks) are useful for striking the vital (kyusho) points. Some animal strikes are keito (chicken head), seiryuto (ox-jaw, sabre strike), kakuto (crane head), kumade (bear hand), and washide (eagle hand).
- Roundhouse strikes – Roundhouse strikes also called mawashi-uchi include all circular attacks. The roundhouse kick travels in an arc and can be aimed toward any part of your opponent’s body. If it is thrown downwards toward the floor, it is called tate. If the roundhouse is thrown horizontally or sideways, it is called yoko and when linear (teisho). The downwards strikes are hammerfists, sideways strikes are backfists, and the linear strikes are with the palm heel.
- Smashing techniques – Especially for close-range attacks, you’d need smashing techniques. They are also referred to as ate or ate waza and are powerful strikes delivered with the elbow or knee. These kicks are not thrown to pinpoint targets, rather, they are used to shatter whatever they are aimed at. Although knee strikes come in a limited variety, elbow strikes can be thrown at various angles and at different targets. They are great for close-range combat and vital in real fight situations.
Shotokan blocking techniques
Shotokan has so many ‘blocks’ and the karate term for it is uke. So, now let us look at 4 blocks you can use in Shotokan Karate.
1. Gedan Barai (downward block): This is an effective block used to defend an incoming kick from an opponent. To execute, raise your leg so much that your knee is at chest level and your foot is placed in front of your body. So, as kicks are thrown, you can use your shin to deflect them away from your body.
2. Age Uke (high block): Just like the downward block, Age Uke is used to block an incoming kick from an opponent. To throw, you’d raise your leg placing your knee at chest level and as your foot is in front of your body. So, as the kick is thrown your shin will deflect it away from your body.
3. Shuto Uke (knife hand block): Also called a sword hand block, Shuto Uke is thrown with the side of the palm. To execute properly, stretch your arm out in front of you, with your fingers pointed towards your opponent and your palm open. So that when an opponent throws punches or kicks, you can use the side of your hand to strike their arm or leg and deflect the attack away from you.
4. Uchi Ude Uke (Forearm block): This is a block proven to be effective for defending against punches. To execute, raise your arm placing your arm in front of your face and keeping your elbow at shoulder level. Your forearms would then be used to deflect punches.
Shotokan kicking techniques
Kicks are a major aspect of Shotokan and keeping them flowing is crucial. Shotokan kicks should be practiced slowly first, then as soon as you’re confident in the timing, rhythm, and technique, you can train at full speed. Here are 3 types of kicks in Shotokan.
- Mae geri (front kick): The front kick is delivered by lifting the knee sharply, keeping the ankle bent, then driving from the support leg and pushing both hips into the target as you kick. Immediately after, snap the feet back keeping a high knee for anticipation. It could be thrown to the head or midsection.
- Yoko geri kekomi (side thrust kick): This is a thrusting kick and requires the feet to be snapped back vigorously after landing, keeping the knee high. Shotokan appears to execute the side thrust kick with the kicking leg coming from behind, i.e. you’d step across with the front leg and kick with what would be the rear/back leg (as if you were standing in kosa dachi)
- Spinning back kick (ushiro geri): On this list, the ushiro geri is the most complicated. The right way to deliver this kick is first, not to telegraph it, make sure to keep your upper body and lower body balanced as you bring the kicking foot up. The next thing would be to pivot quickly on your standing leg. Then as the hips turn, extend the kicking leg, timing the impact of the kick with rotation.
Key differences between Goju Ryu and Shotokan?
Although Japanese, both of these martial arts owe their existence to the Chinese people. Shotokan, at some point. abandoned most of its Chinese roots and deepened its roots in the Fujian White crane and Samurai. Its powerful and explosive movements alongside its low stance are just some expressions of its Samurai heritage. Goju Ryu on the other hand retained most of its Chinese roots, by retaining an emphasis on ‘Iron body training”.
But when it comes to popularity, Goju Ryu is no match. Shotokan was made popular through Gichin Funakoshi who is generally the most influential figure of modern karate. Goju Ryu never became as mainstream or popular as Shotokan, but with the internet and modern technologies, it is becoming one of the fastest-growing karate forms.
But perhaps, the area where they are most dissimilar could be their movements. Shotokan, on one hand, is based on powerful and linear movements, perhaps due to it being of Samurai heritage. Goju Ryu, however, doesn’t employ very linear, large, and explosive workouts as seen with Shotokan. Rather, it uses strong, close-quarter kicks and strikes as well as circular motions for blocking.
Which is better for self-defense?
For self-defense, this is a pretty clear answer. Goju Ryu has an advantage in self-defense situations. It is more practical, and effective. Okay, Shotokan’s moves are explosive, large, and powerful. But in street fights, you won’t be able to pull off these extravagant strikes. They may be effective in sports, but not so much in real life.
Also, most fight situations happen at close range and could involve grappling. Goju Ryu prepares its practitioners for this by employing hard and fast knee and elbow strikes.
One more reason why Goju Ryu is better is its focus on body training. Goju Ryu makes you more durable by conditioning the muscles, bones, joints, and the body, in general, to absorb strikes easier. People who know how to land a shot and take one are better fit for street fights.
But at the end of the day, it depends on your level of training and experience in each martial art. Whichever one you choose, training hard and smart under a good teacher will equip you with the skills needed for self-defense.
Is Shotokan good for kids?
Shotokan is great for kids just like adults. It helps in solving any unbalance or clumsiness they might have. It offers a safe outlet for aggression, helps them find positive role models in their instructors/teachers, and provides a way to overcome shyness and self-confidence issues. Not to mention the ability to defend, fitness benefits, and the awareness of when to expect and avoid conflict situations.
How long does it take to obtain a black belt?
Seniors (18 years and above) who are exceedingly gifted can earn their karate black belt in 4 years. But it would take most of the population longer. For juniors, however, it takes at least 3 and half years of consistent training to obtain a black belt.
Do I have to be fit to train?
The answer is definitely ‘no’. In both of these martial arts, the instructors adapt the classes to match everybody’s fitness level. Not long after, you’d attain the regular fitness level. Having athletic form going into any martial art is advantageous, but with consistent training it will come in time even if you’re not athletic the first time you step into a dojo.