The Dragon Ball series—which includes the original Dragon Ball, and the spin-offs Dragon Ball Z, Dragon Ball GT, and now, Dragon Ball Super—is one of the most popular anime franchises of all time. In fact, Dragon Ball Z—the best known series in the franchise—is one of the most popular TV shows ever, outright, ranking in the top 100 of IMDb’s top 250 highest-rated television shows. For context, it is rated ahead of The Office, Better Call Saul, The X-Files, House, The West Wing, Dexter, Daredevil, Friday Night Lights, and dozens of other beloved programs.
Much of Dragon Ball’s popularity can be attributed to its main character Goku, a happy-go-lucky and sometimes dopey hero with boundless power and a heart of gold.
Over the course of Dragon Ball’s almost 30-year run, Goku has inspired dozens of avid viewers to hit the gym and get involved in the martial arts. Unfortunately, as mere humans, none of us will ever be able to master his bafflingly powerful energy attacks. You can spend as many hours in the gym as you want, but you’ll never be able to fire a Kamehameha Wave or Spirit Bomb. Several of Goku’s other attacks, however, are based on legitimate martial arts techniques, which means you, a mere mortal, can put them into practice.
Here’s a quick rundown of a few of Goku’s attacks that you can pull off.
Goku has thrown hundreds of roundhouse kicks over the course of his time on our screens. He’s used them against foes like Frieza, Cell, Majin Buu—even Vegeta, who has evolved from his biggest rival into one of his most trusted allies.
The roundhouse kick, of course, is not some otherworldly technique conjured up by Dragon Ball creator Akira Toriyama. Instead, it is a fairly rudimentary strike that we can find in real-world martial arts like Taekwondo, Muay Thai and Karate.
Though the roundhouse kick is fairly difficult to master, its mechanics are quite simple. The attacker torques the hips, swings the kicking leg in a semicircular motion, and slams thee foot or shin into the body or head of their opponent. Goku has used it to defend our planet from alien invaders and android attackers, and you can use it in your next competition or sparring session.
Goku has thrown dozens of knee strikes in Dragon Ball and its various spinoffs, and just like the roundhouse kick, this technique can be found in many popular martial arts—most notably Muay Thai.
Knees, which are generally thrown from the double collar tie or clinch, can also be thrown at range or at the peak of a jump—which can lead to some devastating, Goku-esque impacts.
The knee strike might look pretty simple, but like most martial arts techniques, mastery of it requires plenty of practice and attention to detail. At its most basic, however, this technique comes down to slamming your knee into the head, ribs, solar plexus, stomach, or even thigh of your opponent, generating force by bucking the hips forward, and pointing the toes to create a dangerous, torpedo-like impact.
The one-inch punch may have been popularized by martial arts legend Bruce Lee, but it has also been used by Goku. The Dragon Ball hero applied this technique against Frieza in the film Dragon Ball Z: Resurrection ‘F’, and later in the new Dragon Ball Super series.
The idea of this strike is to generate massive amounts or force with just one inch of wind-up. And while the effectiveness of this strike is often debated—it was even tested on an episode of Myth Busters—it is absolutely one that you can test yourself, as it requires little more than a punching bag or willing pad-holder to practice.
It worked for Goku, maybe it’ll work for you too!
Ok, so the “Dragon Throw” is admittedly a pretty unconventional technique. You’re not going to find it in any legitimate martial arts—not even arts that specialize in throws or sweeps like judo or shuai jiao. That being said, this is a technique that can be applied in real life.
The Dragon Throw is used by Goku during his seemingly never-ending battle with Frieza on the crumbling planet Namek. It involves grabbing one of your opponent’s limbs, spinning them around, and throwing them. Goku uses Frieza’s tail, but a leg could be used to the same end.
Now, as I said, this is not a technique you’re likely to find in any legitimate martial art. It has, however, been put into practice in real-life martial arts competition. Though it’s unlikely Japanese MMA legend Genki Sudo knew he was channelling Goku when he did it, he executed a very similar technique in a 2000 bout with Craig Oxley, using it to roll into position for an Achilles lock, and ultimately, a submission win.
Though the Kamehameha is Goku’s famous attack, it is predated in his arsenal by his Rock, Scissors ‘n Paper technique, which he learned from his adoptive father, Grandpa Gohan, in the earliest episodes of the original Dragon Ball series, and used against opponents like Yamcha and Jackie Chun.
While this technique is applicable in real-life situations, however, I have to implore you to use it at your own peril—it is unlikely to be very effective in a self-defence situation, and will probably get you disqualified in martial arts competition.
All that being said, it’s really pretty simple. Just like the game Rock, Paper, Scissors, the user surprises their opponent with one of three. In this case, however, rock is represented by a hard punch to the face, paper is represented by an open palm strike, and scissors is represented by a poke in the eye. Like I said—use it at your peril. Better yet, don’t use it at all!