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Which is better Shotokan or Goju-Ryu?

Shotokan and Goju-Ryu are two of the most popular styles of karate practiced around the world today. Both styles have roots in Okinawa and were later brought to mainland Japan, but they evolved differently over time. Shotokan emphasizes long, deep stances and strong linear techniques, while Goju-Ryu focuses more on circular motions and close-range fighting. There are passionate practitioners of each style who will argue for the superiority of their art. However, both Shotokan and Goju-Ryu have strengths and weaknesses, and it is difficult to definitively state that one style is outright “better” than the other.

History and Origins

Shotokan karate was founded by Gichin Funakoshi (1868-1957), who is considered the father of modern karate. Funakoshi studied both Shuri-te and Shorei-ryu styles while training under masters like Anko Itosu and Anko Asato in Okinawa. In 1922, Funakoshi brought karate from Okinawa to mainland Japan and gave demonstrations at the Japanese Ministry of Education. He simplified the various karate styles he had learned into a streamlined system focused on linear punching and kicking techniques executed from deep stances. This style became known as Shotokan, named after Funakoshi’s pen name “Shoto” (waving pines).

Goju-Ryu has its origins in Naha-te karate, which emphasized circular blocking and striking motions. Goju-Ryu’s founder, Chojun Miyagi (1888-1953) studied Naha-te under Kanryo Higaonna. In addition to his karate training, Miyagi practiced Okinawan kung fu and Chinese martial arts, which influenced his style. He blended hard and soft techniques into Goju-Ryu, with “go” meaning hard and “ju” meaning soft. The style incorporates both linear punches and kicks as well as circular open hand strikes. Close-range fighting and trapping techniques are emphasized in Goju-Ryu.

Training Methods and Techniques


One major difference between Shotokan and Goju-Ryu is in the stances. Shotokan utilizes very deep, long stances like zenkutsu-dachi (forward stance) and kokutsu-dachi (back stance). The wide, rooted stances allow power generation through the entire body in punches and kicks. Goju-Ryu stances are higher and more upright, favoring mobility and fast footwork over rootedness.


Shotokan is known for its deep front kicks and side kicks. The front kick or mae geri is an integral long-range technique in Shotokan. Goju-Ryu relies more on low circular kekomi geri (thrust kicks) and short quick knee strikes at close range. High, flashy kicks are not often practiced in Goju-Ryu.

Hand Techniques

Punching is essential in Shotokan, with the reverse punch or gyaku zuki being the fundamental attacking technique. Great emphasis is placed on developing fast, powerful punches that penetrate straight through the target. Goju-Ryu does practice linear punches and strikes but also incorporates open hand techniques like palm heels, spear hands, and circular slapping motions. Joint locks, takedowns, and grappling are also part of the Goju-Ryu arsenal.


Both styles utilize pre-arranged kata for practice and preservation of techniques. Shotokan kata are generally longer and focus on linear movements and dynamic tension. Prominent Shotokan kata include Bassai-Dai, Kanku-Dai, Jion, and Tekki Shodan. Goju-Ryu kata involve more circular motions and breathing methods. Notable Goju-Ryu kata are Sanchin, Saifa, Seiunchin, and Suparinpei.

Here is a comparison of some key training methods:

Training Method Shotokan Karate Goju-Ryu Karate
Stances Long, deep stances like zenkutsu-dachi and kokutsu-dachi Higher, upright stances for mobility
Kicks Linear front and side kicks Thrusting low kicks and knee strikes
Hand Techniques Strong linear punches Circular open hand strikes
Kata Bassai-Dai, Kanku-Dai, Jion, Tekki Shodan Sanchin, Saifa, Seiunchin, Suparinpei

Strengths and Weaknesses

Shotokan Strengths

– Great for developing powerful long-range techniques like front kicks, side kicks, and reverse punches

– Kata emphasize balance, precision, and dynamic tension

– Strong rooted stances allow generation of maximum power

– Linear techniques penetrate directly through the target

Shotokan Weaknesses

– Lacks extensive close-range fighting techniques

– Circular motions and defenses are not heavily emphasized

– Deep stances reduce mobility and speed

– Can be overly reliant on strength over technique

Goju-Ryu Strengths

– Excellent for close-range fighting with a variety of hand techniques

– Quick, upright stances allow for mobility and reactiveness

– Hard and soft techniques complement each other

– Circular motions allow flowing movement from one technique to the next

Goju-Ryu Weaknesses

– Not as hard-hitting from long distances

– Lacks the strong rooting of deep stances

– Less focus on powerful linear techniques

– Kata can be short and simplistic compared to other styles

Competition Results

Karate competition can provide an objective measure of each style’s effectiveness. Most international competitions follow Word Karate Federation (WKF) rules. These rules favor long-range kicking and punching techniques that are well-suited to Shotokan practitioners. Statistics show Shotokan competitors tend to dominate open WKF style tournaments:

Competition Winner Style Runners-Up Style
2020 Olympics Men’s Kumite Shotokan Shotokan
2019 WKF World Championships Men’s Kumite -67 kg Shotokan Shotokan
2018 WKF World Championships Women’s Kumite -61 kg Shotokan Shotokan

However, Goju-Ryu competitors have also found success in continuous sparring formats that allow close-range engagements. Notable Goju-Ryu champion world champions include Tadashi Nakamura (sevens-time Open Karate Champion) and Morio Higaonna (15-time All Okinawa Champion). While the statistics favor Shotokan, Goju-Ryu practitioners can still excel with the right competition format.

Training Facilities and Availability

Due to its widespread popularity, Shotokan training is easy to find throughout the world. Most major cities will have multiple Shotokan dojos to choose from. Goju-Ryu has fewer adherents globally, so there tend to be fewer dedicated training facilities. However, it is still fairly easy to find qualified Goju-Ryu instruction in areas with large martial arts communities like California, Hawaii, New York, and Texas. Both styles have national and international organizations that can help students locate schools.

Popularity and Cultural Reach

Shotokan is thought to be the most widely practiced style of karate in the world. Due to Funakoshi’s efforts to spread karate to Japan, Shotokan became integral to Japanese culture and martial arts. Today, there are millions of Shotokan practitioners worldwide due to the large number of international Shotokan offshoots like SKIF, JKA, and KWF. While the number of Goju-Ryu practitioners is smaller, the style still has an outsized cultural impact. It became popular in Okinawa as a blending of Chinese and native martial arts. Famous practitioners like Morio Higaonna have helped spread Goju-Ryu globally through organizations like the IOGKF. Both styles have influenced modern martial arts culture, but Shotokan’s impact has been greater.

Self-Defense Application

For self-defense, both Shotokan and Goju-Ryu can be effective since they teach striking and blocking skills. However, some nuances favor one style or the other for real-world application:

Shotokan strengths:
– Strong linear punches and kicks end fights quickly
– Penetrating techniques get through defenses
– Kicks keep opponents at a safer distance
– Stances provide stability against tackles/grappling

Goju-Ryu strengths:
– Close-range techniques effective in confined spaces
– Trapping and grappling useful in uncontrolled situations
– Upright stances aid mobility and reactiveness
– Circular blocks work against various angles of attack

For a primarily striking-based defense, Shotokan has advantages due to its powerful long-range techniques and stability. But Goju-Ryu’s versatility could be beneficial in chaotic close-quarters situations where fights go to the ground.


In conclusion, both Shotokan and Goju-Ryu have unique strengths but remain closely matched overall. Shotokan’s emphasis on strong linear techniques gives it superior reach and power from long distance. But Goju-Ryu’s blend of hard and soft techniques makes it effective at close quarters where fights often occur. For competition, Shotokan fighters excel under common point sparring rules. For self-defense, Shotokan offers go-to techniques while Goju-Ryu provides adaptability. In terms of availability and popularity, Shotokan is undoubtedly the larger style globally. However, neither style has a clear superiority over the other in all aspects. The best style ultimately comes down to an individual practitioner’s preferences and goals. Karate students should experience both Shotokan and Goju-Ryu training to see which approach resonates with them personally. With hard work and dedication, either style can produce skilled karateka.