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Goju-Ryu and Shorin-Ryu Connection: Part 5

Sometimes you have to step back to see where you are... and where you came from.

One way to view Goju-Ryu and Shorin-Ryu is as representatives of the "internal" and "external" styles of martial arts. This distinction has been made (correctly or incorrectly) for some time in China. Even in Okinawa, the arts were characterized by early Karate writers as being either "Shorei" or "Shorin," the former being better suited for stocky students and the later being best for students with a slight build.

Now, if you ask me, I could not tell you whether Goju-Ryu is an "internal" style or an "external" style, whether is is "soft" or "hard". The same would apply to Shorin-Ryu. It is difficult, if not impossible to characterize a style. You can only characterize the person practicing a style or art, at a given point in time. A certain person might act in a harder or softer manner compared to other students, but the style itself encompasses both -- as in the name Goju ("hard, soft").

My friend, Stan Henning (who lives here in Hawaii) wrote:

Yin-yang theory encompasses concepts such as stillness overcoming movement and the soft or pliant overcoming the hard or inflexible, but the ideal is not emphasis on one or the other of these contending attributes. Instead, it is their application in tandem with the ebb and flow of combat--as the Chinese say, "hard and soft complement each other" in application of force. Thus, according to theory, a martial art that ignores or over emphasizes either attributes is flawed--at least in the real of self-defense.
"Chinese Boxing: The Internal Versus External Schools In the Light of History and Theory", Journal of Asian Martial Arts, Vol. 6, No. 3, 1997. Page 16.

He continues:
The artificiality of attempts to describe Chinese boxing in terms of so-called Shaolin or External and Wudang or Internal schools, whose differences are said to lie in the external display of strength of the former versus the internal cultivation of energy and application of force of the latter, becomes evident after one becomes familiar with the theoretical foundations and historical backgorund of the martial arts.
Page 18.

In a nutshell, Mr. Henning, who also practices Hsing-i, says that there really is no distinction between external and internal, hard and soft. Real martial arts involve -- must involve -- both.

I highly recommend his articles, references to which can be seen at:


So how does this apply to Okinawan Karate? It follows that there really is no distinction between external and internal, hard and soft, Shorei and Shorin. Different styles may have different kata (forms) and emphasize different techniques -- but in the end any real martial art must integrate external and internal, hard and soft.

In discussions with Mr, Henning, he said that any great martial artist will have integrated both forms of energy. Any great martial artist of any style will have accomplished this. Only beginners and lesser students will be rigidly one way or the other. Real martial arts involve the "ebb and flow." Real martial arts involve hard, soft, and the transitions between the two.


Charles C. Goodin