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Tau's picture
Difference between Goshin and Jissen

Can anyone enlighten me?

"Goshin" is taken to mean self defence. In my experience, arts labelling themself as Goshin tend to be at the harder end of the spectrum. They claim to be solely focussed on effective as opposed to aesthetic or sport technique.

"Jissen" also refers to pragmatism or holistic effective combat methods.

So what, if anything, is the difference?

jeffc's picture

Hi Peter

As I understand it, Goshin means 'self-protection', but not just from a physical sense, but a more holistic sense, which also incorporates the spirit as well.

Jissen literally means 'actual fighting' and refers to real combat.

Thinking about Iain's Martial Map, maybe Goshin would be the full model as it incorporates the Martial Art, the Self-Protection and the Fighting aspects and Jissen would describe the fighting aspect of the model?

Just my thoughts and I am certainly no linguist!


Goshin Jitsu Karate ;-)


Black Tiger
Black Tiger's picture

I'll add detailing that I have on my website for this thread

This is a good observation from a Japanese Wado Ryu Yudansha (he trains with Hironori (Jiro) Ohtsuka II Sensei); of the two styles "After looking at the Chinese characters "Goshin" is "guard self" and "Jissen" is "true battle". It makes sense. You tend to find that Wado is very 'Goshin' because it is mostly based on jujutsu and became karate when Otsuka sensei studied with Funakoshi. It then broke away from Shotokan as it wasn't maybe 'aggressive' enough because there were no free sparring elements in Funakoshi's Shotokan. A Goshin base seems to be more for intercepting attacks 'should' they come not necessarily when they come. Wado in my opinion seeks to attack an opponent first but should the opponent attack then it can be intercepted. The Wado kata though seem based on only the moving around of attacks and then striking your opponent. Otsuka Sensei shows this well when he demonstrates...idori" Jissen seems very good for stand up battering each other but it seems to favour a power base over a speed base. Both require good Tai Sabaki however Goshin requires accurate strikes to critical points with speed in real situations but Jissen requires you to mess up your opponents form as much as possible then take them out with a powerful strike."

I have described it slightly different below for those who still do not see the difference

I suppose we could put it in another Context, the difference between Football (soccer for the Americans) and Rugby. Jissen being Rugby and Football being Goshin.

Jissen (Rugby) karate. Knockdown karate is very dare I say "aggressive" you can see that in the sparring - the same as in Rugby. The players are "aggressive" but it is a controlled "gentleman's" aggression you get more knocks and bangs and bruises etc. You're tougher, you can take more punishment before you 'fold' and you're stronger too as you need to be to be able to take on the bigger players. You tend to go straight in towards your opponent but you do twist and turn as your heading up the field.

Goshin (Football) karate. Traditional Karate is dare I say "passive" you can see that too in the sparring - the same as it Football. The players are "passive" but can react "aggressively" when required. The players are leaner and move quicker and are work more on timing and twisting and turning as opposed to going directly at their opposite player. It’s about tapping and "hit and run" in the game using your speed and accuracy rather than strength and aggression. Hope this helps to understand what was written - remember all is an opinion and can be amended and change as Karate Do is a way of life and we continually spend our lives correcting and amending and changing ethos regards our karate.

Hence why I have looked at the kata of Ashihara and keeping its core, which was Ashihara Kancho's brainchild.

I can see where you may say "Watching the new kata created for Ashihara karate to me anyway looks like drills found in kickboxing, nothing wrong with kick boxing but its not karate." Similar can be said to an outsider of traditional karate that "it looks like a "Dance" or "Yoga" that is just moving and twist the body in positions for no real reason"

I agree that for some it is just pre-applied combinations that can be found in a kickboxing school. At the beginning of my journey through Ashihara Karate that's what I thought too. Then I began to look more into the style of karate itself, looking at the kata thinking about each move. Why is it there? What's it for? Can it be used for anything else? I through my experience of Traditional Karate looking into the core of Bunkai. I amended most of the kata to make a more realistic approach and now the kata can support a various amount of Bunkai I've added moves, body twists, changed round kicks to front kicks, taken moves out included "grappling" techniques into the kata etc to make the Kata and style "complete" or "whole".

Once I have managed to film the kata and its Bunkai you'll understand what I mean.

Karate and kata go hand in hand, Kata was the Sensei's way of recording his/her fighting style for all time I say this as Naihanchi (Tekki) Bassai and Kushanku (Kanku Dai/Sho) were all fighting styles that are no longer practiced in main land China.

Gary Chamberlain
Gary Chamberlain's picture

Not being a linguist I always thought Goshin was more self-defence based while Jissen was more sparring based.

I remember one famous Kyokushin instructor who lived, trained, ate and slept in the dojo telling me Jissen was real fighting.  I must admit I nodded respectfully but thought not in Leicester at kicking out time it's not.  


Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

Typically "Goshin" tends to be tied to self-defence i.e. the Kodokan Goshin Jutsu kata of judo (in which we see Judo's gun and knife defence). Jissen" mean "Actual Combat" or "Real Fighting". In practise, those using either label are likely to focus on the practical aspect (as opposed to art, etc.) Personally I use the label "Jissen karate" - after consulting with others - as I feel it is less restrictive and could cover both the "consensual combat" and "non-consensual violence" aspects of our practise. However, the vital non-combative aspects of the self-protection side of things could be better captured by "Goshin"? Ultimately it's one of those "pick a label, but don't be defined by it" things for me. Like the term "karate" itself :-)

As an aside, Funakoshi was not keen on people using the term "Jissen" and he stated that using it shows a lack of understanding of the true nature of karate (Karate-do: My way of life). While Funakoshi may not approve, I feel such additional clarification is needed these days due to the radically different activities all using the term "karate". I feel the "Jissen" label captures the pragmatic emphasis of our approach. However, just like "karate" I accept different people may attach differing understandings to the label.

No need to get too hung up on it I feel. A rose by any other name would smell as sweet and all that ;-)

All the best,


Black Tiger
Black Tiger's picture

I suppose in insight its similar to comparing

Uchi Uke and Soto Uke

they mean complete opposites to some styles

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

Black Tiger wrote:

I suppose in insight its similar to comparing

Uchi Uke and Soto Uke

they mean complete opposites to some styles

Sort of, but I feel that’s more of a technical labelling i.e. the arm motion is starting from the outside and moving in … so we will call it an “inner-receipt” because it is moving inward … or the arm motion is starting from the outside and moving in … so we will call it an “outer-receipt” because it starts from the outside.  Once you’ve defined what you’re labelling, (start position or direction of movement) the label is pretty solid with zero opportunity for nuances to creep in.

To me, this issue is more like taking the English terms “combat”, “fighting” “self-defence”, “martial arts” etc, etc and then asking for one definitive meaning. They mean differing things to differing people and groups.

So “protect the body” would be a pretty good equivalent for “self-defence” or “self-protection”

So “Reality Combat” would also be pretty decent label for any reality based system.

All very straight forward, but, to me, it’s not so much the translation itself, but what we mean by the translation.

It is entirely possible to teach self-defence / self-protection – terms which in themselves some use interchangeably and which others take to mean differing things – without touching on physical technique. For the vast majority, addressing personal security and lifestyle issues are going to be a far more effective solution to the problem of criminal violence than physical technique will ever be.

So, it could be argued, that the vast majority of martial arts groups are not truly teaching self-defence (Goshin) as they are almost certain to place the biggest emphasis on the physical i.e. all they teach of self-protection is what to do if the things you should have learnt, but didn’t, fail.

As an example, the Suzi Lamplugh Trust is not a martial arts group and does not teach any physical technique. They do, however, do a great deal of good when it comes to educating people how to keep themselves safe from crime. Most martial arts based group ignore personal safety entirely (or just give it lip service) and hence I would say the Suzi Lamplugh Trust are much better at teaching self-protection than almost all martial arts groups are.


So you could say that the term “Jissen” is more appropriate than “Goshin” for martial arts groups due to the focus on the physical side of things i.e. we tend to concentrate on the “real combat” (Jissen) side of things as opposed the wider-ranging largely non-physical “self-protection” side of things (Goshin). However, you could argue the other way too ….

If you wanted to be similarly strict in labelling, “Jissen” (real combat) does not define what type of “combat” you are talking about. If you wanted to be dogmatic about it, you could say that all forms of combat are real (i.e. they are not imaginary) so that could include everything from points sparring, to full contact, to MMA, to push hands, to firing rockets from a tank … so long as it takes place in the real world as opposed to in a movie, in a person’s imagination or in a computer game.

To some the “real combat” they are discussing is consensual sparring; which is different in nature and objective to escaping non-consensual violence. So maybe “Goshin” is the best term as it makes it clear it is civilian violence that is being dealt with?

You can make a good case either way, and in different ways too!

So to me, it’s not really “Goshin” vs “Jissen” but what you mean by their English equivalents that truly matters. Neither term defines what I do exactly, and hence using either one would result in a “shortfall”, so I picked one … But crucially I clarify much further in teaching and practise.

I guess, it is a little like a book title. The combination of the title (and subtitle) broadly tell you about the book … But we all know we still need the blurb on the back to define things further. The key though is that we ensure the content of the book matches its description so the prospective student can “judge the book by the cover”. Far too often we see karate promoted with the title of “self-defence” when in reality what is being taught is art or fighting.

If this forum has shown anything is that if you get a group of martial artists to discuss definitions of “real fighting” and “self-protection” (and “martial arts” too for that matter), you will get as many opinions as participants (sometimes more :-).

So to conclude, either Japanese term can work for the practically minded martial artist … and the real issue is not what Japanese term you use; but why you use it, what you consider the definition of the translation to be, and how that can be seen in training.

Shakespeare was undeniably right when he said, “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet”. It is ultimately a matter of what we do, as opposed to the label we use for it.

All the best,


ky0han's picture

Hi everyone,

the first Kanji (Jitsu) of Jissen also means sincerity, fidelity, faith substance, essence or even seed. The second (Sen) means fight, battle, war or campain.

I personally translate Jissen as the essence of fighting or war which is to me to be able to survive a life or death situation.

Goshin is mere self protection which can end in Jissen if the $h!t really hits the fan and everthing went wrong.

But that is just my take on this.

As Iain pointed out it means different things to different people and it is another fancy japanese term to make things more interesting and cultural attractive to people (or to perplex them?).

Regards Holger