Go-ju is the oldest and strongest of the initial five styles of Japanese karate. The old maxim, “the shortest distance between two points is a straight line” is exemplified in the training we practice. As a result, our competitive and free-sparring skills have or demonstrate a direct and lineal approach. Your opponent may initiate a fight, but you strike before his or her punch or kick lands on you.
Although karate, specifically Go-ju karate, has its roots in Okinawa, the Japanese have long since assimilated the values, principles and techniques into today’s Go-ju ryu, [ryu meaning school].
Go-ju may be translated from Japanese in two ways. The literal translation is fifty, Go meaning five and Ju meaning ten or tens. The other interpretation is hard/soft. For our purposes it is the second translation that best describes the spirit and philosophy of Go-ju karate. The phenomenon hard/soft is both a natural and a human characteristic. Observations of nature reveal the importance of the concept of hard/soft. For example, water can be a soft surface, its movement rhythmic and flowing. Conversely, the same placid surface can prove to be as hard as concrete, as any water-skier will attest.
To emulate the natural phenomenon is probably the easiest way to gain an understanding of Go-ju karate. Movements, whether in fundamentals or in sparring, need fluidity and suppleness for speed. Power is gradually applied and is at its peak at the very conclusion of a punch, kick or block. Too much power at the onset of the movement reduces the speed since muscles are working against each other. Balancing the aspect of hard/soft, though difficult, is part of the art of Go-ju.
Another term used with Go-ju is kai, which simply refers to people or an association.
Karate simply means empty hand. Kara means empty and te means hand. Both give us the martial art that has been handed down to descendants and disciples for generations. In order to remain viable in a changing world, refinement and evolution have improved the techniques throughout the decades.
Modifications are continual and karate endures because it responds to the new contexts which society creates. Karate-ka, or practitioners of karate, are no longer primarily trained to defend themselves against swordsmen and spearmen; we now train to defend ourselves against a variety of opponents in a variety of situations.
However, the essence of today’s fighting spirit remains the same as in the past. Our goal is to do the best possible in the best or worst of situations. To accomplish this goal one never stops learning, adapting or thinking.
Combat or competition, though a part of training, need not be the focus of training. The ultimate application of our art would be to never need to employ our skills. Even though the roots of karate lie in the active role of combat, karate is also meant to develop the entire person. Self-control of one’s emotions and actions, discipline and ethics are a few of the passive elements of karate.
While the ability to fight is one aspect of karate, the ability to live in harmony is the entire essence of karate. Internal processes are just as important as external actions. We seek to enhance the student’s humanity and the ability to be human.