In the seminal martial arts epic “Fist of the North Star” (Hokuto no Ken), there is a scene near the end of one of the early major story arcs, where the brothers Raoh and Toki face off.
These two are practitioners of the eponymous Hokuto Shinken, (北斗神拳, “the Divine Fist of the North Star”), a fictitious Kenpou style that allows its users to perform superhuman feats of combat and gymnastics. This style is divided into two sub-styles: “gou-no-ken” or “gouken” and “juu-no-ken”, I’ll be looking into how these not only are translated, but also the deeper meaning of them in context of martial arts and Hokuto no Ken’s story.
Note that all translations within this text are wholly my own.
The words share the element “(no) ken” (の拳, “fist (of)”), thus the modifier of this compound noun are the nouns themselves, “gou” (剛) and “juu” (柔), these mean, according to Jim Breen’s online dictionary:
剛 – Sturdy, strength.
柔 – Tender, weakness, gentleness, softness.
And the Nihon Daijikoku Jiten(日本国語大辞典, “Great Dictionary of the Japanese Language”) defines these as:
〘名〙 (形動) (古くは「こう」) つよいこと。たけく勇ましいこと。また、そのさま。あるいは、そのような人。
(Noun) (Adjectival noun) (Anciently read “kou”) Strength. Fiercely brave. Additionally, such a state. Also, such a person.1
〘名〙 (形動) やわらかいこと。おとなしいこと。また、そのさまやそのもの。
(Noun) (Adjectival noun) Softness. Meekness. As well as related things.2
Thus they form perfect opposites in terms of semantics. In martial arts these also reflect the approach towards hard versus soft strikes, there are even styles of martial arts that use the compound noun “goujuu” (剛柔, “hard and soft”) to describe these technical duality.
Hence Raoh’s variant of the martial art is based on brute force whereas Toki’s is one of graceful movements and pliantly using the opponent’s strength against them, this sense is also shown in the real life martial arts juudou and juujutsu, where the 柔 is the first element in both – both of these centre on using the opponent’s strength as well as movement against them.
In context of the story, Kenshiro, the youngest of their brothers, remarks:
Suki o sarasou Toki no juu no kento Raou no gou no kendewa shoubu wa tsukanu mashite Toki ni wa yamai ga…
“Toki’s Fist-of-Pliancyfinds gaps in Raoh’s Fist-of-Strength, this bout shan’tbe settled, and Toki’s is sick, as well…”
(p. 81, volume 12, “Hokuto no Ken”)
The official Viz translation by Joe Yamazaki renders this as:
“Toki’s fist of fluiditywhich finds vulnerability in Raoh’s fist of domination… This will end up in a stalemate, not to mention Toki is sick…”
It gets the meaning of the sentence albeit renders the key terms of this analysis as “fist of domination” and “fist of fluidity” which are more descriptive in their translation rather than direct, reflecting the personality and movement of the brothers rather than the martial arts elements of it, as well as their more literal meanings.