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


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