While most will say ryu is suposed to play defensively, I have learned the optimal way to play him in most matchups is a mid-range, burst damage character.
However, since he is so fundamentally based, you must also learn how to adapt to the player more than almost any other character.
What I would suggest is to stay just outside footsie (cr.mk/sps/st.mp) range and try to throw fireballs to build meter and feel out/condition your opponent. If he gets focus happy, this is when you either go for:
1: EX Hadoken, it’s a fast way to deter your opponent from getting predictable with walking forward or fishing for focus. Learn the optimal ranges and situations to use this move, as it does cost meter and only does 100 damage.
2: cr.mk xx hp srk. This does 260-300 damage, which is VERY good considering it started from a 5 frame low. This is the best focus deterent from just outside close range, because hp srk has invincibility frames, so you won’t get counterhit or trade with the focus attack. Be careful with this though, as if they backdash or you are out of range, it will whiff for a huge punish.
3: SPS (forward + hp), which is your max damage/range (for a normal) punish against focus. Learn to confirm off of a single hit of this into hp srk, as it will happen often when you start using it more. Also, learn the sps,cl.mk link, as it is much easier and leads to more combos than cr.hp. Learn the timing for the sps,cl.mk xx EX hadoken, U1 juggle, as it is a midscreen, 1 meter combo into ultra for solid damage
(Does not work on all characters). The downfall to this move is it is easily stuffed thanks to it’s slow startup.
Other than that, it’s mostly about staying in footsie range and bullying with cr.mk xx hadoken, and anti airing properly.
Oh yeah, and learn to react with the proper anti air at least 80% of the time!
This is super important to playing Ryu as it will make them not want to jump, and the extra damage is extremely helpful.
Lastly, try to incorparate his overhead into your game as much as you can without getting predictable. The extra 80 damage and mindgame is useful against good opponents more than you would think.
I forgot to mention, corner control is super important, so try not to cross them up or let them out of the corner. Keep them there as long as possible or you will lose more matches then you think. Corner control is more important to Ryu then people give it credit for. So learn when to end combos with hk tatsu
when you think you need that corner control.
Lol, last thing for real, but read maj’s footsie guide if you haven’t already, and practice your spacing and whiff punishing more then anything else until you are 100% comfortable with the ranges for all of his tools. Seriously, whiff punishing is necessary in any fighting game, so the faster you learn to react to it the better you will be at any fighter.