Fighting games cannot subsist on colorful characters alone. Every fighter needs a few special moves to act as a calling card and set themselves apart from the rest of the roster. While Street Fighter is full of such special moves, the Hadōken and Shōryūken are really the two Street Fighter abilities that have entered the upper echelons of pop culture.
It’s hard to find someone who doesn’t know about, or has at least seen, a Hadōken or Shōryūken. Even though the moves are primarily associated with the characters Ryu, Ken, Akuma, and Sakura, those attacks are so iconic that they are used as shorthand for Street Fighter references in other media. Audiences who have never played a round of Street Fighter more than likely know about the Hadōken or Shōryūken thanks to references in shows like Family Guy and Gravity Falls.
Those references are fun and all, but they can somewhat diminish the histories and significance of those attacks. They also contribute to a legacy for those moves that goes beyond their actual origins. Yes, believe it or not, there is more to a Hadōken than a fireball, and Shōryūken is not just a weird rising corkscrew punch. Actually, the true meaning of those moves’ names is quite fascinating…
Street Fighter: Hadōken Meaning Explained
As previously stated, the Hadōken is widely regarded as a simple fireball move, albeit blue. However, reducing the move, its origin, and its meaning to that concept isn’t just reductive; it’s plain wrong.
When translated from Japanese, Hadōken literally means “Wave Motion Fist” or “Surge Fist.” That doesn’t really sound like the kind of name you’d give a fireball, and that’s because a Hadōken isn’t one. The “Street Fighter II Official Fanbook” explicitly states that a Hadōken is only as warm as a regular human body, which precludes the possibility of it being a fireball. Actually, the Hadōken is supposed to be its user’s willpower focused into tangible energy and forced out through the fists. In other words, a Hadōken is little more than a ki blast, not unlike the moves used in anime like Dragon Ball Z. More than a coincidence, that association may be by design.
Street Fighter was originally directed by Takashi Nishiyama, and he created many of the special moves players use in the game (including the Hadōken). In an interview with the now-defunct site 1Up.com, Nishiyama claimed he drew from popular anime and manga of the time. The Hadōken is specifically pulled from the show Space Battleship Yamato. That series probably doesn’t seem related to something like Street Fighter, until you realize that the titular vessel’s signature weapon is “Wave Motion Gun” (or the “Hadōhō” in Japanese), which fires a blast of blue energy. Nishiyama basically shrunk the attack down to fit in the palm of a hand and replaced the word “gun” with the word “fist.” Many people also believe that Nishiyama drew from Dragon Ball to create the Hadōken since the stances fighters take when they use a Kamehameha Wave and Hadōken look similar. Plus, the Dragon Ball manga predates Street Fighter by several years, and Nishiyama did say he was inspired by popular anime and manga properties. However, that connection is otherwise tenuous and superficial at best.
Street Fighter: Shōryūken Meaning Explained
The Shōryūken is arguably one of the most infamous special moves in video game history. A mistranslation of the maneuver sent gamers on a wild goose chase for the nonexistent secret boss called Sheng Long, simply because localizers mistakenly made Ryu’s victory speech reference that “Sheng Long” guy instead of his Shōryūken. However, the translators didn’t pull that mistake out of thin air.
The word “Shōryūken” literally translates to “Rising Dragon Fist,” which explains how the mistake was made to begin with. After all, the “shōryū“ of “Shōryūken” is “sheng long” in Chinese. What about the move name itself, though? Well, according to this 1Up.com interview, Takashi Nishiyama created the Shōryūken by drawing from real martial arts moves and exaggerating them. However, he wasn’t the Shōryūken’s only architect.
In the book “SF25: The Art of Street Fighter,” an interview with Nishiyama and co-Street Fighter creator Hiroshi Matsumoto reveals that Matsumoto came up with the idea to make Ryu invincible while using the Shōryūken. Those invincibility frames were removed after Street Fighter II, but that wasn’t the only way the move was nerfed. Actually, in the original Street Fighter, the Shōryūken was designed as a multi-hit move that would guarantee a knockout if every hit landed. The attack wasn’t just overpowered because of poor game balance but also because of its lore.
The Street Fighter II manga refers to the Shōryūken as an assassination technique invented by Goutetsu: the man who taught Ryu and Ken’s teacher, Gouken. In the story, Goutetsu taught Gouken and his other student, Akuma, the Shōryūken but forbade them from using it unless they had no other choice. In fact, in Street Fighter IV, Gouken can’t use the Shōryūken save for a super combo called the Forbidden Shōryūken.