Anime | Fan Questions

What Martial Arts Does Goku Use in Dragon Ball Z?

If you’re a Dragon Ball or Dragon Ball Z fan like me, then you’ve probably used it as inspiration to start training martial arts. But perhaps you’ve also wondered, What type of martial arts are they using? Is this a real fighting style? Well look no further my anime-loving friend, because in this post I am going to dissect and explain the martial arts styles used by Goku (and friends) in the Dragon Ball series.

Goku uses a hybrid fighting style inspired heavily by Wushu (Kung Fu), Wing Chun, and Karate. This is evidenced by his wide stance, which is very similar to the Gong Bu stance used in Shaolin Kung Fu. His blocks and open-palm strikes are nearly identical to those used in Wing Chun, and his kicking style is based on karate.

Breaking Down Goku’s Fighting Style

As mentioned in the quick answer above, Goku’s fighting style is a hybrid of several martial arts, which is a smart way to fight, as no martial art encompasses every aspect of fighting. At first glance, Goku is primarily a kickboxer with quick reactions, and incredible strength.

However, there are details in Goku’s fight sequences that let us hone in on the exact martial arts he uses, and how frequently he uses them while fighting.

Goku while attacking Super Android 13.
Goku while attacking Super Android 13.

As most Dragon Ball Z fans know, fights in the series usually consist of mostly back and forth punching between the fighters. I would attribute this common fighting style to a boxer, as Goku extends his arms straight out and with an angled stance to land punches the way a boxer does, while using good head movement to avoid getting hit.

There are many things you can miss when watching the Dragon Ball Z fight sequences, and one of those is Goku’s kicking style. A vast majority of Goku’s kicks are aimed at his opponent’s head. At first this may seem like an obvious thing to do, as the most damaging blows will be to the head.

However, martial arts such as Muay Thai, where kicks to the opponent’s legs are common, have shown that leg kicks are powerful enough to end a fight. If you want to know more about how effective Muay Thai can be compared to Boxing or Taekwondo, check out my post on the most effective striking style.

Goku’s kicking style shows a preference in striking primarily to the head and occasionally to the body, a trait that is seen mostly in Karate and Taekwondo. In the case of Taekwondo for example, leg kicks are officially banned in the Olympics.

As for Goku’s blocks, these are derived mostly from Wing Chun, where use of the forearms comes into play. Blocking strikes with your arms is a defense that every martial art uses in some form or fashion. The difference is that in boxing for example, your guard stays up and ready to block attacks, whether you anticipate one coming or not.

In Wing Chun, wooden dummies are used to practice blocks and counters.
In Wing Chun, wooden dummies are used to practice blocks and counters.

In Wing Chun, the guard is lower than in boxing, and you use your arms to deflect and block attacks as you see them coming. In order to practice these blocks, students use a wooden three-pronged dummy, such as this one on amazon, where the prongs represent an incoming punch. This style is best paired with quick reflexes, a trait that Goku has.

How the Writer Created Goku’s Style

Akira Toriyama is a Japanese manga artist and also the creator of Dragon Ball and Dragon Ball Z. Toriyama has stated that Goku’s fighting style is based on Jackie Chan’s fight scenes. So it is to no surprise that Toriyama is a HUGE fan of Jackie Chan, something that is well known by his fans.

In fact, his initial meeting with Jackie Chan is well documented by Toriyama himself, a meeting in which Toriyama conducted a sort of interview of Jackie Chan, which you can see in the image below.

Toriyama references Jackie Chan in the anime when Goku’s master, Master Roshi, enters the first martial arts tournament. To enter the tournament without anyone knowing it is him, he enters with the name ‘Jackie Chun’, an obvious reference to Jackie Chan.

Akira Toriyama (left) with famous actor/martial artist Jackie Chan.
Akira Toriyama (left) with famous actor/martial artist Jackie Chan.

However, Jackie Chan is not the only martial artist Toriyama took inspiration from. Toriyama has revealed that he is a fan of Kung Fu in general, and inclusively is also a big fan of Bruce Lee. Toriyama, through fight scenes he had seen on films starring Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan, created Goku’s unique and interesting martial arts fighting style.

In a nod to one of Jackie Chan’s movies, Drunken Master, Toriyama gave Master Roshi (disguised as Jackie Chun) a ‘drunk’ fighting style, similar to Jackie Chan’s in the movie.

How Effective is Goku’s Style in Real Life?

So far we’ve learned that despite being from an anime, Goku has a martial arts style that is comparable to techniques used in real life. However, what we haven’t addressed is the actual effectiveness of the techniques in the real world.

Although his style isn’t seen too often in real combat, there are cases of fighters with styles similar to Goku’s who have had success in real combat scenarios.

A good example of someone with Goku’s fighting style in real life is UFC fighter Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson. Thompson comes from a traditional martial arts background, due to his father owning a karate school in his hometown.

UFC Fighter Stephen Thompson has a stance very similar to Goku's.
UFC Fighter Stephen Thompson has a stance very similar to Goku’s.

When Thompson fights, he usually does so with a very wide stance, and with his guard wide, very similar to Goku’s stance. He uses a wide variety of kicks which are usually aimed at the head, also similar to Goku.

For someone who is inspired by the fighting style in Dragon Ball Z, I would recommend training in a similar manner to Stephen Thompson, as he has had a pretty successful career with this style, one which has earned him two shots at the UFC Welterweight title.

Using Thompson’s success as evidence, I think it’s safe to say that Goku’s fighting style is pretty effective in real life, especially when combined with proper training and diet. If you want to see an in-depth description on Karate-style fighting used in real life, check out this post: Is Karate Effective In MMA?

Other Martial Arts Seen in Dragon Ball Z

Qigong

There are many martial arts presented and used by characters other than Goku in the Dragon Ball series. Starting in Dragon Ball Z, many of the fighters can use their energy, otherwise known as chi, to perform extraordinary acts, such as fly and blast rays of energy at each other.

Although energy manipulation of this kind is not naturally possible in real life, there is a martial art that is based on this idea of chi manipulation. This martial art is called Qigong, and it was created in Ancient China.

The main purpose of Qigong is to cultivate what practitioners refer to as ‘life energy’ or chi. According to the people who practice Qigong, chi cultivation is used to improve one’s health, spirituality, and martial arts capability.

There have been several studies done on the effect of Qigong on certain medical conditions, such as high blood pressure. However, none of these studies are conclusive, as they are generally poorly performed tests that require more structure in order for them to be credible.

Here you can see Shifu Yan Lei practicing the "Iron Shirt" technique with a group of sticks.
Here you can see Shifu Yan Lei practicing the “Iron Shirt” technique with a group of sticks.

One thing that you can conclusively say about Qigong practitioners, is that they can take a hit. There are many demonstrations online done by monks who practice Qigong, demonstrations in which they show impressive feats of strength, pain tolerance, and endurance.

In a video by Shifu Yan Lei, a popular online martial arts instructor, he demonstrates how he is able to withstand attacks by an opponent through the manipulation of his chi.

In the video, Yan Lei does a quick warm up, and then proceeds to hit himself in the abdominal area with objects that get progressively harder, ultimately ending in him using an iron rod. He claims that the concentration of chi in the targeted area prevents him from feeling the pain or from being damaged by the hits he takes.

In Qigong, this is referred to as “Iron Shirt”, and it is one of the 72 arts of the Shaolin Temple. There is also a similar idea called “Iron Palm”, which consists of strengthening of the hands through conditioning and chi manipulation.

Kenjutsu/Iaijutsu

It’s not often you see characters in Dragon Ball using weapons in their fights. However, there are a few characters that wield swords in the anime, and the first of these is Yajirobe. Yajirobe has a samurai-like fighting style, and interestingly, is one of the few characters that does not have access to chi based attacks.

Due to his lack of chi-attacks, Yajirobe relies on his Kenjutsu skills in fights.
Due to his lack of chi-attacks, Yajirobe relies on his Kenjutsu skills in fights.

In real life, Japanese swordfighting martial arts start from Kenjutsu, which is the umbrella term for any fighting style that is based on sword use. To be more specific however, it seems that Yajirobe’s style is based on surprise, and quick, short encounters.

Yajirobe’s style of fighting would most likely fall under Iaijutsu. Iaijutsu is more of a technique than a martial art, and is best described as a sword drawing technique. Samurai were trained in Iaijutsu for quick sword drawing in order to help them react accordingly to a surprise encounter.

This aligns with what we see of Yajirobe in the Dragon Ball series. For example, when Vegeta lands on Earth to fight Goku and his friends, Yajirobe attacks him at some point. However, Yajirobe didn’t attack Vegeta head on. Instead, he surprised him from behind while Vegeta was hurt.

This method of attack aligns with the Iaijutsu principles, as Iaijutsu was created for less dynamic forms of attack, attacks which are both quick and decisive. Because this form of sword-unsheathing was generally practiced by Japanese Samurai, I would liken Yajirobe’s fighting style in general to a samurai’s.

In conclusion, Goku uses a hybrid fighting style of Karate, Wing Chun, and Kung Fu, a style which is hard to replicate in real life. However, one of the closest comparisons to Goku’s style would be Stephen Thompson, who has a Karate backgroud.

Thanks for reading my post! Feel free to look around the site to learn about various histories or applications of martial arts. I have a couple of other posts about martial arts in anime, such as those used in Attack on Titan and Naruto, which you can check out on the Anime page. They are great reads if you’re looking for martial arts inspiration!

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