In Search of Ju

When I started in goju-ryu way back when, the point was driven home that not only was the system training in the “go” or hard aspects of martial combat, but also the “ju” of its softer side.

Unfortunately, the ju aspects were mostly given lip service without much emphasis in the daily training, at least through my level of black belt.

Many think of ju in terms of soft blocks, like kake uke and mawashi uke. But there’s far more involved than simply hooking or circular blocks, both in application and theory.

A quick review is in order. Okinawan goju-ryu (and its Japanese proponents, namely the Yamaguchi Goju-Kai in which I started) subscribes to the theory of a “one-technique kill.” Namely, that the punch or strike must be so focused, penetrating and devastating to the target that it would suffice as a “kill shot.”

This is the emphasis of jiyu kumite, or ippon (point) kumite. Hit your oppopnent’s opening in an allowed area of the body with a powerful strike, for which you’re awarded a point.

That’s all well and good. But from a combat standpoint, it’s lacking since rules disallowing low kicks, strikes to groin or face are inherently limiting and breed bad habits in actual fighting. Any karateka who gets into a scuffle will learn this first-hand when they pull a punch, and then get the snot kicked out of them.

It’s much the same with the ju side of the art. Hard blocking (force redirecting force) and punching work well, but as anyone knows who’s had their instep, ankle or shin smashed by a gedan barai, it takes a certain mindset and willingness to give and absorb such punishment.

The ju aspects of goju are much more forgiving, and hold out a course of ongoing study for advanced practitioners. For the ju side of goju emphasizes evasion, movement, redirection and control on the blocking side of things.

And for the attack, ju draws upon the use of qi/ki/energy to both shield the body from incoming, otherwise-penetrating strikes and kicks (think “iron shirt” training), and to project such energy into the opponent through your own.

I see kung fu — the umbrella classification for most of the Chinese martial arts, including the systems that Higaonna learned and brought back to Okinawa — as generally falling into two categories: external and internal.

External relies on force generated by muscular movement, usually with some element of focus, tension or strength applied to the point of impact. Like in karate, the fist is the “point of the spear” that is thrust into your adversary.

Internal relies on energy applied through relaxed movement. In defense it requires moving out of the way and joining with the oncoming strike to deflect and control it. In attack the internal is applied without tension, with absolute relaxation and coordination of the body and breath to expel qi into the point of contact.

The ju of goju is based on these principles and techniques of the Chinese internal systems. The Japanese systems of aikido and judo are based upon them as well, generally absent the projection of ki or qi into the opponent.

It is this internal side I hope to impart to you here.

Training Ju

Our training in ju will focus on several things:

  1. Movement. Not just to avoid an oncoming attack, but also the coordination of the entire body when blocking, striking or kicking.
  2. Deflecting. Hooking or circular blocks work best when applied with proper movement and body mechanics. Many other blocks, like those taught in Tensho, have the potential to be “soft” or ju if such movement is incorporated into the technique.
  3. Strikes, primarily with the palm, where the body is completely relaxed and coordinated to “mobilize” qi and project it through the attacking limb, as if water flowing through a hose and into the opponent’s body. Such energy is typically not applied in a linear fashion, but in a manner that rolling qi cascades or rolls past the surface and explodes in the interior of the body like a wave crashing upon the shore.

Yet, despite all the talk of movement and technique, the internal arts begin where our traditional practices let off — with meditation in one form or another.

The meditation I would like you to start with is really not a traditional meditation at all (e.g., sitting with eyes closed in focused contemplation). Rather, it is a standing meditation that is a core practice of the internal arts, particular those with taoist roots.

Standing meditation postures are a regular part of qigong, the Chinese art that practices the gathering and movement of energy.

While there are many postures for standing meditation, each used for a specific purpose, let’s start here. Assume this posture:

It can also look like this one:

In my first standing posture, the hands were rotated to face AWAY from the body, but you can do it either way.

The eyes are looking into the distance, focused on a pinpoint there with the “look of the eagle,” with a soft, out-of-focus gaze taking in all else (without focusing upon it).

Palms are open, fingers spread. Elbows sink, allowing the shoulder to relax. Think of it like you’re holding a ball of energy.

Weight is evenly balanced on the feet (between heel and toe), and between the feet.

Stance should be approximately shoulders’ distance apart, either parallel or slightly toed outward.

Breathing and body are relaxed and natural, not forced.

Stand for 5 minutes (I had to start with that, then work up to 60 minutes at the start of each morning.) then increase as you can. Try to practice at the same time daily.

Keep the weight underside of your limbs. Elbows slightly outward so the armpits are hollowed. Chest sinks inward slightly.

Then just stand. And stand some more. We’ll work on the qi side of things in future posts.

This should give you a good starting point. Enjoy.

Drop me a line if you have any questions.