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Dragon Ball Super: Why Goku Can't Master Ultra Instinct

WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for Episode 116 of Dragon Ball Super, "The Sign of a Comeback! Ultra Instinct's Huge Explosion!!" which debuted Saturday on Adult Swim.

The fight between Goku and Kefla for the fate of their respective universes in the Tournament of Power resumes in the latest episode of Dragon Ball Super. Narrowly avoiding elimination from the martial arts competition by reflexively transforming into his newfound Ultra Instinct form, Goku overpowers the fused Saiyan warrior Kefla, forcing the Universe 6 champion to transform into Super Saiyan 2 to match his significant power increase.

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While Goku is able to elude and defend against Kefla's attacks in his heightened state, the Dragon Ball protagonist finds himself unable to land any decisive blows against Kefla and eliminate her from the contest of champions when he goes on the offensive.

As Goku's current martial arts trainer Whis watches him struggle against Kefla, the heavenly attendant points out that his student has not yet mastered his new form, resulting in an incomplete transformation that doesn't take advantage of Ultra Instinct's full potential. However, the reasons behind Goku's imperfect upgrade aren't power level-related but come from psychological constraints within the Universe 7 warrior himself.

Whis notices that Goku is able to rely entirely on instinct when fighting defensively, but he still overthinks his techniques and strategies whenever he moves on the offensive. As a result, his attacks lack the full power that Ultra Instinct can provide, which gives Kefla enough of a window to successfully evade their full, devastating impact.

As Vegeta watches his longtime frenemy continue his battle against Kefla, he realizes that Whis had been training him and Goku with the goal of one day unlocking the Ultra Instinct transformation, a form with unconscious godly power, and vows to attain the form himself during the Tournament and master it.

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When Goku's strength begins to leave him from sustaining Ultra Instinct for a prolonged fight, he announces his next attack will definitively defeat Kefla. Panicked, the fused Saiyan launches her own all-out assault against Goku, which obliterates most of the arena, but not Goku, who continues to use his superior defensive abilities. Goku begins charging up a Kamehameha Wave as he leaps into the air, and Kefla launches a massive energy blast, thinking that he won't be able to move while powering up in midair. However, this all proves to be an elaborate ruse, with Goku somersaulting and sliding over her attack to hit her with his fully powered Kamehameha point-blank and blast Kefla out of the ring, eliminating her.

The powerful blast destroys Kefla's Potara earrings, effectively ending her fusion and splitting her back into Kale and Caulifa once again. Exhausted from pushing his body beyond its physical limits for an extended period, Goku is victorious but visibly weakened from the prolonged engagement. Meanwhile, with Kale and Caulifa eliminated, the only remaining fighters from Universe 6 are Saonel and Pilina, with the alternate reality almost certainly facing extinction after its coming loss.

Ultra Instinct was a surprise transformation that resembled a silvery, shimmering version of Kaio Ken, a technique Goku regularly employed to push his abilities above their normal limits. However, Whis' observation reveals that not only is the current transformation incomplete, but Goku is unable to attain it through psychological limitations and not physical ones.

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With Jiren still waiting in the wings for an inevitable rematch against Goku and Vegeta attempting to unlock the form for himself, the mastered Ultra Instinct is virtually guaranteed to make an appearance before the end of the tournament.

Newly dubbed episodes of Dragon Ball Super air on Saturdays at 11 p.m. ET/PT on Adult Swim.

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