The most famous Anime character in history, Son Goku, has been at the forefront of Dragon Ball since its inception. “There’s no Dragon Ball without Goku, just like there’s no gaming laptop without a kickass graphics card”.
He has really come a long way from being the little boy in the woods, living a quiet and peaceful life, to be amongst the strongest in the Multiverse, making the G.O.Ds themselves stand in awe.
Episode 110 of Dragon Ball Super broke the internet; crashing streaming sites and making anxious fans wait for a solid hour or two.
Goku’s ascendance to Ultra Instinct left fans and the Gods speechless. It continues to be a spectacle even today.
But what was the journey like? When did it begin? Some fans have this incorrect assumption that Goku pulling off Ultra Instinct in the T.O.P was some kind of an asspull that came out of nowhere.
In this article, I narrate the aforementioned journey and demonstrate that Ultra Instinct was being hinted at throughout the series and we just didn’t notice it.
PS: This insanely cool featured image is made by @ravencrest_212 on Instagram! Do go and check out his content!
The Path to Ultra Instinct
Believe it or not, the journey of Goku achieving Ultra Instinct began right from his days in early Dragon Ball!
The majority of his teachers are Gods or beings with divine origins. These include Korin, Popo, Kami, King Kai, Whis and Merus.
Each of them gave a pretty meaningful lesson on how to achieve unearthly skills. And all of them pointed Goku to one specific path – mastery of self-movement. And that’s what Ultra Instinct is all about.
As Roshi said, “We don’t master martial arts to win fights but to conquer ourselves. Until you learn not to get caught up with the opponent’s raw power, you’d never improve”.
“Power… Plain old fighting strength… That’s not the way to measure up things”, says Roshi.
Dragon Ball always emphasized technique and skill than just power. Even with power, it’d be of no use if you can’t hit your opponent. That’s where speed, durability and quick thinking come in.
Focusing on quick movements, less thought generation and Spirit Control are the ways of the Divine. Let’s take a closer look at Goku’s training with each of his divine instructors.
In early Dragon Ball, Goku climbs Korin tower to obtain the so-called “Holy water” in order to defeat the fearsome assassin General Tao (aka Tao Pai-Pai).
After reaching atop, he finds himself in the presence of a cat hermit who once trained Master Roshi himself. Roshi took 3 years to catch Korin and get hold of the jug that contained the water, whereas Goku took 3 days.
Hmm… that’s quite the time gap between the two. Not to mention a big difference in combat experience. Then again, Goku is a Saiyan after all. Fighting is in his blood.
And he tickled his way to grab hold of the jug. But knowing Roshi, I’m sure he’d have thought even dirtier tricks. Hehehe.
During those three days, Goku struggles a hell lot to catch Korin. He’s merely reacting to what the opponent does and didn’t think where he will be.
Goku adopts this teaching later on but, the tendency to attack head-on, instead of staying calm and think what will the opponent if he does this or does that, is strong.
As a result, he wastes energy by making too many unnecessary or extra movements.
Overthinking is also a cause of this, which Ultra Instinct rectifies. The body itself makes movements to evade just at the right moments, which helps in retaining energy.
However, this teaching was kinda swept under the rug as Korin decides to make Goku run down and climb the tower again to improve his lung efficiency, which improved his physical capabilities.
After catching Korin’s stick, Goku drinks the “holy water” but nothing happens (it turned out to be just ordinary water). He didn’t realize that his training with Korin itself increased his strength.
Goku, after this, wouldn’t meet his next mentor anytime soon. Post King Piccolo’s defeat and with the desire to revive the Dragon Balls to wish his friends back, the monkey boy climbs Korin tower again to go beyond.
He uses his Nyoibō or Power Pole to connect the top of Korin’s house roof to the bottom of Kami’s lookout. There, he first meets up with Dragon Ball Z Abridged’s fan-favorite character.
Mr. Popo & Kami
Goku climbs to the Lookout in order to ask Kami to remake the Dragon Balls. Before that, he encounters the embodiment of fear. The person whom the gang fears the most amongst all.
He predicted Krillin’s death even before the Namek Saga. The only person capable of taking out Zeno-sama in a single shot. The one and only – Lord Popo.
I must be out of my mind for talking about Popo’s training (breaking the first rule of Popo’s training), but here goes…
Popo (takes one step closer to death for not addressing him as Lord) proceeds to test Goku to see if he’s fit to be trained under Kami.
Unfortunately, he’s not impressed (Goku, you better run for your life). He tells Goku to go home.
But the latter is determined to meet the Earth’s guardian and wish his friends back.
Seeing his resolve, Popo is intrigued and decides to train the boy. He makes some significant points that are still relevant today.
You (Goku) have considerable power, but you don’t use it well. Even with all that power, you are weak in both spirit and skills. You defeat Piccolo and think you’re the strongest in the world. You forget that there is always someone stronger. Therefore, you can’t win against Mr. Popo by strength alone.Mr. Popo, Dragon Ball Chapter 163-164
Out of all of the teaching, I believe Goku did not pay close attention to Popo because his teachings are among the most profound I’ve ever witnessed.
“You must crouch as silently as the sky and strike as quickly as lightning.” And Popo proceeds to make his heart still and gives a blank expression.
This panel is really interesting. I’d like to raise a couple of noteworthy points:
- Making your heart and mind calm and tranquil are two different things. A change in the heart manipulates Ki Control and the type of Ki the user emanates.
- The heart, figuratively, is believed to be related with the emotional sentiments while the mind is believed to be related mostly with rational thinking.
- What it means is, when you learn to control your emotions, even in a tense situation that shakes you up, is even you achieve true mastery of self-control and self-awareness. Merus touches upon this subject matter as well.
- The mind contributes to tranquility. By reducing thought generation, your heart remains calm. This is explained further by Whis later on.
- When Popo stills his heart, the atmosphere around is quiet and Goku almost can’t sense his Ki, even though he’s standing right in front of him.
- Recall DBS Chapter 64 when Goku activated Perfected Ultra Instinct against Moro. The wind and tide pick up speed, and the ground shakes as the transformation occurs.
- After that, it became so quiet. The strong winds and tides disappeared. Piccolo and Gohan feels the exact same way as Goku did after Popo stilled his heart.
“And now, quicker than lighting” After saying this, Kami’s attendant then zips past Goku. The latter couldn’t see him passing by.
While having his back on Goku, Popo knows every movement his opponent makes. Goku is shell-shocked.
Ara Ara. Now this looks familiar. Keep in mind Goku’s question and Popo’s explanation. Now, look at the following panel from Dragon Ball Super.
Context: Beerus dodges the attacks of other G.O.Ds in the Zeno Expo (Manga Version) and Goku is stunned.
It’s not exactly the same situation but the concept is similar.
Anyway, there’s no doubt in my mind that Ultra Instinct or mastery of self-movement was hinted at way before Whis even talked about it in Super.
The final nail in the coffin was when I rewatched Dragon Ball Episode 127 – “Quicker than Lightning.”
“To be as tranquil as the sky and quicker than lightning”, Popo instructs Goku to empty his mind of thoughts. “You must be like a stone” he says. Almost be devoid of emotions and thoughts. This is again, what Whis mentions and elaborates on.
Goku painstakingly tries to sit silently, but his monkey brain cannot keep quiet. He starts thinking about his previous battles and wonders how everyone is doing.
Popo notices and tosses a walnut towards Goku and it hits his head. Then the Saiyan boy clears his mind of thoughts almost completely. “Stones aren’t supposed to think of anything”, he reminds himself.
Popo tosses a walnut again and this time, Goku raises his head a bit and dodges it on instinct.
This is the first time we witness the principles of Ultra Instinct at work.
His body reacted to the approaching walnut on its own. He didn’t have to consciously feel and dodge at the right moment. It was automatic. Just like Goku dodging Jiren’s and Kefla’s punches in the T.O.P.
However, Goku became too relaxed. So much so that he fell asleep.
Being too relaxed is one of Goku’s key weaknesses as well. It’d take more time for him to get rid of that pesky problem.
This was Goku’s most important lesson in early Dragon Ball and unfortunately, he forgets about it. Ma boy had the biggest chance of learning Ultra Instinct (at least its principles) and God Ki as a kid and he blew it.
He thought of himself as the worst apprentice who never listened.
As a kid, he didn’t take those training sessions very seriously and goofed around here and there. Now he regrets and atones for all of that.
There was no direct mention in the Manga, but Kami played a big role in polishing Goku’s mental stability, especially in shocking situations (like going back in time and meeting Roshi as a young adult).
All this training helps in controlling his emotions.
King Kai didn’t directly contribute to Goku’s ascension to Ultra Instinct, but his introduction to gravity training showed him the way to increase his physical might and stamina.
To wield Ultra Instinct, you need a calm mind and a body that could withstand its overwhelming pressure.
King Kai puts emphasis on both if Goku wanted to be the best. Like no one ever was! (Plays the Pokémon theme in my head)
The Genki-Dama or Spirit Bomb is, in one sense, a mind training of sorts where you spiritually connect with the plants and animals of the planet and request them to share some of their energy. So it all helps…
Now, coming to Whis’ training. This is where Goku formally gets to know Ultra Instinct and its meaning. Whis makes it very clear.
The sad part is, even after this, some fans still think Ultra Instinct wasn’t hinted at anywhere. Smh.
This is also the key in obtaining God Ki but that discussion is for another time.
And speaking of God Ki, one cannot wield Ultra Instinct without it. Being an Angel specialty, I don’t see why it can’t be the case.
It was Whis who first introduced the concept of God Ki and how it is different from regular Ki. By training under the Angel, Vegeta was able to tap into Divine energy and achieve the Super Saiyan God form.
Anyway, Whis’ training is one of the most game-changing sessions for the Saiyan duo as they grew stronger faster than normal. Whis is also the only teacher whom the Saiyans haven’t surpassed yet.
The Angel emphasized on Ki containment and keeping your heart and mind calm and tranquil at all times, while increasing physical strength at the same time.
Preventing Ki from leaking out and reducing thought generation helped Goku and Vegeta achieve the Super Saiyan Blue form, an ascension of the God form.
Step-by-step, Whis trains the Saiyan duo with a clear goal in mind. But he couldn’t successfully bring about the required change during training itself.
In the English Dub of DBS Episode 110, after Goku rises from the rubble in his new form, Whis says “I hoped for this! But I have to admit, I wasn’t sure if the Saiyan would ever be able to achieve it. Oh, I have tried to steer him towards this forever!”
We all know the famous scenes of Goku attaining Ultra Instinct for the first time. In the Anime, the Spirit Bomb served as the catalyst.
In the Manga, a certain person took its place. A person very dear to Goku, the master who taught Goku everything about the foundations of Martial Arts.
Toyotaro, in the Manga, shows a different way the Saiyan activating Ultra Instinct. Master Roshi served as the catalyst as he imitated some of its principles against Jiren.
Roshi, although divine, was an all-rounder when it came to teaching. His whole training regimen in Dragon Ball was about strengthening the legs, muscles, arms and fists. It includes training the mind as well, but Goku sucked in that department.
He also taught about how Martial arts is not about winning but conquering ourselves and our weaknesses. In DBS Anime, Goku and Krillin sought Roshi’s training once again and this time, he sent them to an island.
He was basically testing the duo’s mental stability and the ability to remain calm even in the face of your worst nightmares. And the final lesson from the Master to his strongest student was how to move fast and well.
Physical and mental strength, knowledge and agility. The Turtle Hermit really was the greatest teacher Goku ever had.
“And my master’s as good a teacher as ever.” I loved this line. Shows how much respect the Saiyan has for his Master.
Poetically, Roshi’s first tested Goku on his agility (the 100-meter dash between Goku and Krillin) and the last lesson he gave was on agility.
Seeing his beloved teacher go out of bounds, Goku reminded himself of who he is as he activated Ultra Instinct for the first time – “Even now, I’m Son Goku of the Turtle School!”
I like this way of Goku achieving Ultra Instinct than in the Anime. He saw the principles of UI being used firsthand before transforming.
Roshi wanted Goku to transcend humanity in terms of combat skills. He literally and figuratively served as the starting point and the catalyst for Goku to enter into the domain of the Gods and go beyond.
A truly magnificent moment in Dragon Ball Super.
Later on in the fight against Jiren, Goku’s silver-haired form or Mastered Ultra Instinct showed up, did cause some damage but was ultimately defeated by the Pride Trooper. This was all, again, in the Manga.
Goku’s body couldn’t handle the pressure of the godly technique due to his lack of training. So once again, back to grinding. And grinding he did, the 2nd master to teach him about Ultra Instinct was Merus.
Merus… the former Angel in trainee and Whis’ brother. He took great lengths in teaching Goku how to wield MUI at will and even gave him the trigger to achieve it.
Merus was also an irreplaceable teacher who played a big role in making Goku what he is today.
It all started with Goku wanting to test out Merus’ true power. Moro humiliatingly defeated both the Galactic Patrol and the two Saiyans.
Vegeta parted ways and went to do some training on his own (with the Yardrats), while Goku stayed back at the ship.
Intrigued by the mystery covering Merus’ capabilities, he wanted to spar with him.
Even with Super Saiyan 1,2 and 3, the Saiyan from Earth couldn’t land a single blow on the Angel-in-trainee.
Goku noticed Merus knows more than he does about Martial Arts. Dodging like that with little to no effort is not an easy maneuver.
Sensing the Galactic Agent has more in him than what meets the eye, Goku decides to train with him.
He said it’ll help him get closer to mastering Ultra Instinct and Merus agrees. So they move to a place that resembled the Hyperbolic Time Chamber.
While they were sparring, Goku was making mistakes and had trouble controlling his emotions, which were all over the place. Then Merus gave one of the most important lessons in mastering Ultra Instinct.
Not only did this foreshadow Goku transforming into the silver-haired form when Merus was erased but, this is a piece of important advice in general. Remaining calm amidst a huge blow to your emotions is very very tough.
We saw how Goku snapped when Frieza killed Krillin back on Namek. His emotions took control and let himself loose. Like a hungry lion pouncing on a deer.
Stilling the heart (the source of one’s emotions) and clearing the head of unnecessary thoughts, just like Popo and Whis said. It is the key to achieving self-balance. The Buddhists know this all too well.
So when Goku found himself in a situation where varied emotions rushed in cause’ of Merus’ disappearance, instead of giving in to his anger (like he did against Frieza), he calmed down, did some self-reflection, thought about what Merus said and transformed into the silver-haired Ultra Instinct form.
The last lesson or favor Merus did for Goku, is to give him a situation where he had no choice but to transform (replicated a condition of extreme crisis, as he spoke about in Chapter 53). Merus’ final move as an Angel is to facilitate that scenario.
While spending a good deal of time in that form, Goku managed to get some grip and activate at will.
Even with his Angelic powers stripped, Merus is still a great teacher to Goku and one he’ll remember for days to come.
Now that Goku has some sense of Ultra Instinct, his only desire right now is polishing it.
Goku on Mastering Ultra Instinct
I elaborated on MUI Goku in another article. Do check it out!
But just to give a brief outline on where he is right now, he’s currently learning how to remain in the Ultra Instinct state at all times and in all forms and relying on the silver-haired form only when there’s no other way around.
Whis decided this would be the final goal for Goku in his journey of achieving mastery of Ultra Instinct or self-movement.
Goku is pretty determined to master the divine technique as good as the Angels someday.
Only time will tell whether he’ll be able to pull it off.
So how do you feel about Goku’s journey in achieving Ultra Instinct so far? Let me know in the comments below!