What is Goju Ryu Karate?

The literal meaning of Goju Ryu Karate do is Hard Soft Style Empty Hand Way and represents the traditional Japanese style of Goju Ryu developed by Chojun Miyagi Sensei in Okinawa in the early 1900’s. Now I don’t want this to turn into a History lesson as no doubt the origins of karate, or any other martial art, would be a murky story at best.

So instead, I am going to take this opportunity to give a recollection of ‘what is Goju Ryu Karate?’ the definition from the perspective of the karate student learning the art in today’s modern world. As surely we could discuss at length about the origins, its meaning and why it was developed way back when wars were being waged, technology was in its infancy and the stress of life and availability of time was not impacted by our Western influences.

In my post ‘the purpose of karate‘ I discussed that each student first starts karate training with some sort of purpose in mind, whether it is learning a self defence, getting fit or just to get involved in some sort of sport/training and meet new people. My purpose was to learn self defence because I was young, learning marketing and economics at University and with it hitting the town with my friends and getting into all sorts of dramas in the streets of Fortitude Valley, Brisbane. My purpose was to learn how to defend myself but also to be able to have my friends back or to protect the girls I was with if something was to happen. That aligns with one of my values of protecting and helping others, something that has resonated throughout my life and continues today.

It wasn’t until I met James Duggan Shihan and bombarded him with questions (as any good student does to their Sensei) trying to extract as much information out of him to achieve my purpose and be self sufficient in the art of self defence that I discovered that this ‘Goju Ryu Karate’ had a deeper purpose that extended beyond the physical but into the mental and philosophical. One of the initial findings about Goju Ryu Karate was that it extended beyond a physical self defence or fitness model and more into a system or way of living. The ‘do’ in karate do. This ‘way’ was all encompassing is something a student learns in the dojo but applies at work, in family life and in anything we put our mind and body into.  At that time it was just a concept but it was difficult to implement, I can say now that as a nidan I am now starting my journey into implementing the ‘do’ the ‘way’ into those other elements of my life.

“Karate’ then being the ’empty hand’ has both literal and philosophical meanings to the student. Literal in that the art of Goju Ryu Karate is weaponless as our body is used as the weapon but philosophical as to achieve peace without conflict by using the mind. Any conflict that can first be resolved without utilising the physical is an achievement of the karate ka. If the conflict escalates to the physical then the karate ka is able to apply the empty hand to divert the flow of energy between the realms of control or destruction. I.E minimal damage at first to your opponent through controlling the space that they occupy or if that fails to self preservation where our training and courage is called upon.

Finally the art of Goju Ryu can be disseminated. Ryu is simple, ‘style’, the curriculum of the Goju Karate system and what a karate ka needs to achieve in order to master the art. Whilst simple in translation it requires a journey of a lifetime to achieve and provides a continuum that determines the level of understanding of a karate ka. It is the measuring stick that we are assessed against and requires tools such as gradings, weekly training and conversation with our Sensei and fellow karate ka community to allow up to progress against it. This delves almost into the ‘Go’ (hard) and ‘Ju’ (soft) or the style. These two words are at the pinnacle of the style and are used philosophically to formulate the meaning behind the movements and physically to smoothly navigate attacks from our opponents to implement a level of control or to devastate our opponents and destroy them for self preservation.

Wow, what a mouthful! I hope that gives you some sort of understanding as to “what is Goju Ryu Karate” from my perspective and what I have learnt throughout my journey through the art. Naturally, I will probably change my mind about this stuff when I am older, wiser and have progressed further through the dan levels but hopefully I am on track. At least in my mind I am and I get results through training with this philosophy.

Finally, if you are thinking of starting Goju Ryu Karate do I highly recommend you find a local dojo such as Brisbane Goju Karate and get stuck into it. There is no reason to be scared of starting or to delay as every student that enters the dojo begins as a white belt and the shaping process begins to turn them into a martial artist. Good luck!

Domo Arigato and happy training!

Jay Killeen Sempai


Nidan Grading Part 2

Waking up early Saturday morning on the 11th of November, 2011, James Duggan Shihan took myself and Andrew (along with other students attempting gradings) to the seminar hall for some early morning Sanchin and Tencho training. In hindsight this was probably one of my most productive sessions not only to improve on some marginal changes that I required but also to prepare mentally for the grading that was to occur that afternoon.

The biggest change I had to deal with in my Sanchin kata was standing off centre in my sanchin stance. What I mean by this is that I was leaning back into my rear leg throughout the stance which was putting my weight distribution back too far. I had previously corrected this in my top half of my body by straightening my back but inevitably, when one problem is corrected you have to be cautious of other problems occurring. In this case it was sitting back into my stance, similar to slouching in your chair whilst driving a car or sitting in an office chair. But as always, just having Jamie Shihan there to take a look and give some feedback allowed me to at least give this a go at correcting in time for the grading. We also focused a lot on Tencho and finalising a few points in the breathing.

Later in the day, aft completing some of the standard sessions through the seminar, Glenn Stephenson Shihan (our head instructor for Goju Ryu Karate do Seiwakai Australia) took us through Seiunchin kata. This was intense as Glenn Shihan had very high expectations for us throughout this session. At one stage I recall the quote of the day being “This is Goju Ryu not kan ga roo”, referring to someone who was executing a yori ashi dachi by hopping onto the front foot instead of pushing from the rear and creating drive in the technique. All in all, it was another great session to prepare for the grading.

Let’s skip ahead now to the grading as I have delayed this way too long already (first post being back in November).


So after all this, I found out that evening that both Andrew and I passed our Nidan grading which made me extremely happy. I was also very happy that the grading was brought forward to Saturday afternoon (it was originally scheduled for Sunday afternoon) so I was able to have a few celebratory drinks and enjoy the Sunday a bit more without freaking out about the grading.

Nidan Grading Part 1

Before I start this post, I want to introduce my partner in crime through this karate journey, Andrew Kerridge Skinner, who started karate with me back in 2005 after moving to Brisbane from Hervey Bay, Queensland. Anyone that is close to me inevitably knows who Skinner is. We have been training together since that faithful night (for another post) when we met James Duggan Shihan and Kain Johnson Sensei and was taught more then a thing or two about physical and mental toughness.

So fast forward. What a month it has been! That is about all I can muster to sum up all that extra training, mental preparation and just overall karate ‘ness’ that is required when making that final climb towards your grading.

On Friday, 10th November Andrew and I along with James Duggan Shihan, Kain Johnson Sensei and most of the other senior students of Brisbane Goju Karate started the usual scurry to get everybody over to Jamie Shihan’s house and get over to the airport.

No time for coffee’s. Let’s just get in there, get to Sydney, take a train down to the ‘Gong’ and get started on this epic weekend. Late that afternoon we arrived in Wollongong for the first session of the Goju Ryu Karate do Seiwakai Annual Wollongong Camp for 2011. It was great catching up with all the students from around Australia and getting down to our karate business.

On the first night we got straight into kata with Glenn Stephenson Shihan taking us through both Sanchin kata and Tencho Kata, the pillars of Goju Ryu.  Jamie Shihan then took the group through kumite drills focussing on owning space and projecting energy. All the while I was thinking about the posts on this blog and the mental tips I had given myself leading up to this weekend. Trying to reflect on my own advice and putting it into action. In the end, a great high energy night with well over 100 students involved.

If there was one thing I could take out of the night, throughout the kumite drills, was the importance of Soto Uke blocking as the lead to any of the standard Jodan, Chudan or Gedan blocking. So this is a little reminder to myself to do a post on this down the track as it was quite evident that this basic technique required some explanation.

Part 2 will focus on the rest of the seminar at Wollongong which includes final preparation for the grading with Seiunchin kata training with Glenn Stephenson Shihan and the nidan grading itself which was completed late Saturday evening.

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