Go = Hard

Goju means “hard-soft.” So why is that important? Let’s look at their application.

Go, or hard, refers to the application of force against force in blocking.  Basically, you move your arm, hand or leg to stop or forcibly deflect the oncoming attack. It can be painful to both attacker and defender alike.

Traditional upper block (age uke), middle block (chodan uke) and lower block (gedan barai and haraotoshi uke) are all techniques that in standard application forcibly deflect attacks. And as any practitioner can tell you, when bone strikes bone (in an area not padded by muscle), it HURTS.

Some Okinawan systems, such as Ishin Ryu (as well as in Thai kick boxing), condition the arms and shins to withstand such attack and disable the opponent’s attacking limb.  In those systems, a block is not just a block, but also a disabling, simultaneous counter-attack to “defang the snake” by making it less usable by the opponent.

Thankfully, traditional goju ryu does not generally include such limb conditioning as a regular part of practice, though gung ho students may take it upon themselves to “harden” their limbs by being hit repeatedly over time, or rolling a rolling pin over the shins to deaden the nerve endings.  Gung ho indeed.


Ju = Soft


This is where goju ryu shines, at least in theory (because rarely are true “soft” applications taught or practiced in class).

Soft refers to NOT meeting the force of an oncoming attack with opposing force.  The theory is to avoid the attack by moving out of the way (sidestepping), and controlling or redirecting the opponent’s momentum (energy in motion) to gain advantage.

These softer aspects are derived from the Chinese arts brought over to Okinawa by Master Higaonna, and later passed down to Chojun Miyagi and other high-level Okinawan students. These Chinese systems are known as “internal arts,” relying as much upon the generation and application of ki (qi or chi) projected into the target on offense/counter-attack, as well as the avoidance/control aspects of the soft defense.

Elements of three primary internal arts appear to have influenced goju’s roots: tai chi chuan, pa kua chan (ba gua zhang), and hsing yi (xingyi).  While you know tai chi as soft and circular health-enhancing practices, it is also a foundation for totally-relaxed movement in combat.  Ba gua is more spiral-oriented, moving up, down and around the opponent, deflecting its attacks, often with simultaneous counter-attacks that flow from the defense.  Xingyi is more of a straight-line attack system with perhaps the strongest punches (by qi generation) of any martial system, applied in coordination with short stepping motions and lunge punches, usually horizontally or  palm up, that often seem like waves crashing upon a shoreline.

As an aside, readers may want to check out Jet Li’s movie, The One, in which Jet li plays both hero and villain.  In the famous factory fight scene at the end, one character fights with ba gua style movements, and the other xingyi.  It is a fascinating demonstration of these “soft” systems in action.

Again, it should be noted that soft does not mean feather light punches. Rather, the strikes are more like getting kicked by a mule, combined with the expulsion of ki into one’s adversary.

Applications of Soft to Goju Ryu

Two goju techniques come to mind that are derived from its internal style Chinese roots.  The first is kake uke, or hooking block.  In goju it is applied by hooking around the outside of the wrist of the oncoming attack, and deflecting it across the body (closing the opponent to minimize opportunity for counter-attack).

The second is mawashi uke, the double circular block that deflects and controls both a middle and upper punches at the same time.  It is also a similar movement to that used in applying an arm bar.

However, in goju neither of these is applied as would the internal systems of defense discussed above. For truly the best defense is not to be where the opponent is attacking, so body pivoting, side-stepping, and in-stepping are essential to apply them with minimal force and maximum control.

Moreover, in both tai chi and bagua, the defensive block is also used to grab and secure the attacking limb, continuing its forward moment to point of over extension, or else letting it harmlessly pass while attacking fulcrum points like the chin, neck and waist to off-balance and control the opponent.  In my bagua practice, I often likened some techniques to “screwing your adversary into the ground” as their energy is used against them and redirected in spirals upward or downward.  For those unfamiliar with these internal arts, I suggest looking at videos of Aikido and the movements of Master Ueshiba, which apply similar principles with joint locks, off-balancing  and redirection.

We will from time-to-time introduce aspects of these internal systems to allow you to understand their principles and uses, and incorporate them into your practice as appropriate.