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Goju Ryu Karate: History And Katas Of An Age-Old Martial Art

Goju Ryu Karate

Last Updated on May 19, 2024

Goju Ryu karate is the oldest martial arts movement, so its influence is everywhere. Plus, it engages a unique style of go (hard) and ju (soft) karate and remains true to the founding principles that differentiate it from karate disciplines. 

In fact…

Goju Ryu is a precise martial art style with 12 kata (core). Hence, it emphasizes understanding the moves of each kata, not diversity. Further, it's not distance-based because you engage in a lot of close-up fighting, so you spend most of the time learning how to strike. 

Have we convinced you that you should consider it? Here are more facts.

The Origin Of Goju Ryu (Hard Soft Style)

The brief history of Goju Ryu karate takes us to Okinawa in Japan. In the late 1800s, Higaonna Kanryo, who would later become a martial arts master, left Japan for China to study martial arts. He trained under different teachers, one of whom was a martial arts master in Whooping Crane Kung Fu. 

When he returned to Okinawa, he had many brilliant ideas that combined the martial arts skills learned in China and Okinawan styles. He shared them with his students, including Chojun Miyagi, who later became a teacher after Higashionna died. 

The name Goju Ryu karate came about after one of the students trained by Miyagi attended the Japan Martial Arts Demonstration, and someone asked him what martial art style he was practicing. 

Out of nowhere, he called it hano-Ryu, meaning half-hard. Later, he told Miyagi about the incident, and the two decided it was time to define the style, and they settled for the name Goju-Ryu. 

Why Goju Ryu Is Different

Martial arts fighters call Goju Ryu “hardsoft”. The hard aspect involves blocking punches from an opponent using the forearm bone as one of the closed hand techniques, while the soft karate style involves open hand techniques. Therefore, this strikes a balance to avoid the notion that karate is either a soft style or a brutal one that can cause injuries. 

Chojun Miyagi borrowed from his exposure to Chinese and Okinawa martial arts forms. 

The idea was to find a balance between hardness and softness such that as you defend and block, you can relax and breathe in. 

On the other hand, as you attack, your body maintains a hardness that doesn't prevent you from exhaling. The breathing techniques you find in Goju Ryu borrow from Shaolin disciplines, and emphasize that how you breathe affects your performance and how you control your body. Consequently, meditation and breathing techniques are part of this karate discipline. 

Goju Ryu karate focuses on short-range combat. 

Thus, no high kicks with a lot of spin-jumping like in other disciplines. Instead, short-range striking and blocking makes Goju Ryu karate effective. 

It's more efficient than Shotokan karate because of its range, as Shotokan depends on long movements that utilize a lot of force, while Goju Ryu depends on its powerful strikes, grapples, and sweeps at close range. 

Its close-range combat makes it excellent for self-defense because you can punch and grapple on the street where your opponent is within your reach. Goju Ryu has the most Chinese influence out of all the other karate styles from Japan.

Goju Ryu Karate Katas: Techniques To Learn In This Discipline

If you're new to Goju Ryu, you might be wondering what kata is all about. Well, it’s a combination of prearranged movements and techniques that form the core of this Okinawan style.

All katas have Japanese names, so the vocabularies below are part of the many words to learn. You train in all 12 cores depending on your dojo (school). 

It might take you about a year at each level until you finally get your Goju Ryu black belt. But, dojos have different belt systems since Okinawan karate lacks a universal belt system. The 10 KYUs have belts of varying colors, starting with a white belt. 

The 1st KYU is the last one before you attain the black belt. After KYU, you enter another grading system that starts with the 1st Dan until you reach the 10th Dan of black belts. You'll discover all that later when you begin your training in Goju Ryu. For now, here are the 12 cores:

1. Saifa

Saifa is one of the contributions of Miyagi’s teacher after years of learning martial arts in China. It translates to words like smash, tear, and destroy. It involves backfist strikes and hammerfists, among other techniques.

2. Gekisai Dai Ichi

In this technique, you attack and destroy. It’s one of the techniques preferred for teaching self-defense to beginners, and it’s different from the one below in that this one lacks open-handed techniques and stances.

3. Gekisai Dai Ni

So this is the number two technique while the one above is number one. It also engages in attacking and destroying movements. 

4. Seiyunchin

This technique empowers you to control, attack, and conquer. Hence, it has numerous takedowns, strikes, and grapples.

5. Shisochin

This word is telling you to destroy your opponent in four directions. Therefore, it has a series of attacks in circular movements.

6. Sanseru

It translates to 36 hands and incorporates blocking sequences.

7. Seipai

This word translates to 18 hand movements, including punching, blocking, and hammerfists for close and long-range combats.

8. Kururunfa

It tells you to hold and strike suddenly when your opponent least expects it. It brings out the aspect of patience associated with this sport as you have to be calm then rain kicks, strikes, and takedowns. 

9. Seisan

It means 13 hands and includes defense and attack techniques. Seisan is the oldest Goju Ryu core.

10. Suparinpei

It means 108 hands. Suparinpei borrows most of its movements from the crane technique.

11. Sanchin

This Goju Ryu core teaches foundational movement techniques, breathing, and power. Sanchin is the foundation of body conditioning. The more you train in it, the better you are in other katas. Some dojos teach it as one kata while other schools separate it into two katas. 

12. Tensho

It has a slow movement like the Sanchin kata and a lot of hard and soft motion while revolving hands. 

Why Learn Goju Ryu?

You learn techniques like grappling, submission, and takedown. As Goju Ryu prepares you for combat, it also improves your cardio system and mental toughness. Check out the following Goju Ryu fighters for inspiration.

Robert Whittaker

Robert Whittaker

We can refer to him as the face of this karate style in the UFC because he is a former middleweight champion. He has a black belt in Goju Ryu, which he received after training for about seven years.

His father enrolled him in a Goju Ryu dojo at seven years old to get self-discipline and defense tactics. Little did he know that the skills acquired there would lead to a successful career in the UFC.

Giga Chikadze

Giga Chikadze

Chikadze is one of the fighters who joined the sport early as he was between 4 and 5 years old when he began training in Goju Ryu karate. Now, he has a 3rd Dan. 

Gunnar Nelson

Gunnar Nelson

This welterweight fighter holds a black belt in Goju Ryu, the style that introduced him to Brazilian Jiu-jitsu after years of winning medals in Goju Ryu. He joined a dojo when he was 13 years old and was once the Icelandic Juvenile Kumite champion.

Learning Goju Ryu karate is a click away as you’ll find many videos demonstrating different techniques. For instance, this short one starts with a warm-up followed by techniques.

Knock-Out Point: Learn about the other schools of thought on Karate by proceeding here -- Shotokan Vs Kyokushin.

Watch This!

Frequently Asked Questions 

How long does it take to get a black belt in Goju Ryu karate?

Every Goju Ryu practitioner takes a different duration depending on how much effort they put into training and the dojo(school) they join. 

However, it can take you about five years of consistent training. Five years is about the same duration it would take in any other type of karate. Even as you train towards the highest rank, focus on improving your skills rather than just acquiring a black belt. 

Does Goju Ryu karate use weapons?

No, Goju Ryu trains you to depend on your mind, body, and spirit as weapons to fight in a competition or for self-defense.

Is Goju Ryu karate Japanese?

This martial arts sport borrows from Chinese and Japanese karate styles as the two influential people who began teaching it studied in Japan and China. 


There are numerous martial arts styles, but karate, kung fu, judo, and Jiu-jitsu are more popular. There are variations in those popular styles, such as Goju Ryu derived from Karate. 

Its combination of hard and soft styles makes Goju Ryu good for self-defense or competition mode as a martial arts fighter. On top of that, it has 12 core techniques only. How long do you think it'll take you to learn them?

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