Miyagi Chojun Sensei chose the name Goju-Ryu from the third of the Eight Precepts of traditional Chinese Kempo, as found in the document “Bubishi.” They are as follows:
1. The mind is one with heaven and earth.
2. The circulatory rhythm of the body is similar to the cycle of the sun and the moon.
3. The way of inhaling and exhaling is hardness and softness.
4. Act in accordance with time and change.
5. Techniques will occur in the absence of conscious thought.
6. The feet must advance and retreat, separate and meet.
7. The eyes do not miss even the slightest change.
8. The ears listen well in all directions.
These eight precepts are the essence of the martial arts and are the elements one strives to achieve in Goju-Ryu Karate-Do training. Such training shall serve to lead humankind to rediscover our natural instincts and capabilities.
Goju-Ryu has many distinguishing characteristics. Beginners often think of the “Go” (hard) in Goju-Ryu as associated with the linear attacks and blocks, while the “Ju” (soft) is associated with circular moves. Being hit with a “Go” technique is like being hit with a two-by-four, while being hit with a “Ju” technique is like being hit with a whip.
As students advance they come to understand that both Go and Ju energy can be transmitted by both linear and circular moves.
Goju-Ryu is known for its close-in fighting. Many applications to the kata begin by holding a steady position, rather than retreating, and then advancing toward the partner.
Goju-Ryu fighters sometimes make use of the elbows and knees when striking, since they are in proximity to do so, unlike some other styles, in which fighters keep a greater distance. Various throws and joint locks can also be witnessed in Goju-Ryu fighting, many of which are derived from the kata.
The breathing kata of Goju-Ryu, Sanchin and Tensho, are another specialty of the style. C.W. Nicol visited a Goju-Ryu dojo in Tokyo in 1960 and in his book, Moving Zen, made the following observations:
“It was powerful and menacing, and its followers developed iron-hard bodies through their special breathing exercises, and by dynamic tension and relaxation, moving in the dojo like angered tigers crouching in the bamboo, breath hissing and rasping through nostrils and throats, now moving slowly, slowly, and then with incredible swiftness.”
(1 C.W. Nicol, copyright 1975, William and Morrow and Co., Inc.)
While not all Goju-Ryu practitioners resemble angry tigers, there are many proven benefits to the breathing kata, including lowering blood pressure, increasing circulation and stress-reduction.
Goju-Ryu is also known for its powerful and graceful kata (see About Kata), each containing different moods and characteristics. The self-defense techniques found in the kata appear complex to the untrained, but can be extracted from the kata and taught to beginners as basic movements. They are particularly effective, based on sound physical principals and include many practical moves, such kicks to the knee and groin, finger-jabs and simple escapes from holds.
In his book, The History of the Martial Arts Sensei Morio Higaonna quotes from a speech given by Sensei Chojun Miyagi in 1936. An excerpt from this speech eloquently characterizes the benefits of Goju-Ryu karate, all of which hold true today:
1. A large training area is not necessary.
2. Can be practiced by oneself or in a group setting.
3. Can be practiced in a short period of time if necessary.
4. Does not discriminate against men, women, the elderly or children. Weak or strong, all can practice with the selection of those training techniques and kata that are appropriate to one’s physical condition.
5. Little money is required for the practice of karate. Moreover, only simple training equipment is used; if this is not available, karate can be practiced with no equipment at all.
6. Karate training is extremely effective in developing a robust and healthy body, proof of which can be seen in the many practitioners of advanced years who are still in excellent health.
7. Training the body and mind in karate results in the cultivation of a strong character and an indomitable spirit.