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Once a Secret - Shorin Ryu Karate
by Eihachi Ota


The French have a saying, "Vive La Difference" which means, just in case you don't have a good grasp of French, long live the difference, or if you prefer, it's good to have a choice. Until recently we had no choice when it came to martial arts videos. They were poorly made, they were boring, and they rarely featured great martial arts talent. This all changed when in late 1994 Tsunami Productions launched a new martial arts video experience entitled "Power Training," by Morio Higaonna which they described as "ninety minutes with the master." Well it was, and he is, and this started a revolution which continues with the recent publication of a video on Okinawan karate by Eihachi Ota, entitled "Once A Secret." Driven by the urge to see how they produced their videos, I finally managed to get an invitation to visit the new Tsunami Productions facility in Oxnard, California. I wanted to see the new equipment they had made such a fuss about, and also to preview the production they were putting the finishing touches to.

On the appointed day I presented myself at the reception desk of the studio and was promptly ushered into the womb-like interior of the new edit bay. To say that I found myself in strange surroundings would be an understatement. To one who is only now adjusting to computers, to sit in the darkness surrounded by banks of humming tape decks, blinking monitors and flashing lights is both exciting and unsettling. I was, however, determined to see the new video I had heard so much about, and therefore tried to settle down and adjust to the unfamiliar surroundings. Tsunami videos are produced by a small but dedicated group of individuals, all of whom are multi-talented.

At the helm, as it were, is Paul Moser the director and motivating force behind the project. With his hands hovering above the controls, descending occasionally to twist a switch here and slide a handle there, the monitors and speakers came to life, and the show began. The title of this video, "Once A Secret," comes from the concept that not so long ago karate was a secret, and a closely guarded one at that. This video by Eihachi Ota, a senior Shorin Ryu stylist, takes one back to an Okinawa long since seen where the men were tough and the karate tougher. But it's not just the karate and weapons training that are fascinating, the show is actually a martial arts experience that will intrigue even a casual observer.

Clearly they wouldn't thank me if I gave everything away, but I can say that several famous figures from history are involved, the music is simply wonderful, and the images stunning. I watched the whole show several times, and with every viewing saw something I did not see before. Perhaps my eye became keener with each viewing, or perhaps my brain simply needed more time to efficiently process the wonderful images the video presents. It really is captivating. The blend of eastern and western culture, the images, the color, the music--a moving experience rather that simply a thing to look at. And in the centre of it all is Ota Sensei. Implacable, his face showing absolutely no emotion, as he circled his body with a razor sharp kama at the end of a cord less than half an inch away from serious injury. His karate is of the old time-fast and relaxed yet powerful and destructive. His apparently relaxed punching and kicking techniques, at the point of impact, become cruelly focussed for a second then just as quickly relax again.

Nowhere is this more evident, to the untrained observer at least, than when he breaks a pile of wooden boards. Unlike those who seek to please a crowd or recruit students with these antics, Eihachi Ota is as relaxed and inexorable as before. He simply piled up the pieces of wood a few inches off the floor, without spacers or other similar "helpers" and broke them with a fast, but apparently relaxed punch. The truth of it could be seen from the slow motion shot of the impact. As the knuckles came into contact with the wood, the fist tightened, twisted very slightly, and just as quickly it was gone. The whole thing lasted only a few frames, but I suspect that there was more than one secret of karate contained within that deceptively simple movement. Eihachi Ota was known in Okinawa as a man with an extraordinarily strong punch-one that could, and often did break dojo makiwara. Watch it-you may see something that I missed!

I lack the eloquence to describe to the reader the feeling one gets when watching a program of this quality, and can only suggest that you invest a few dollars to experience it first hand. The eye is engrossed and the pulse races as the brain processes these strange and wonderful images. I personally found both the introduction and the ending breath takingly emotional, thought-provoking-what can I say.
 

To see the author performing his incredible kama techniques with the ocean rushing in behind him looking, as it boils and surges in the setting sun, like a cauldron of molten gold is sheer visual poetry that even the most talented film maker frequently fails to capture, but which Paul Moser and the "Gang" did! As one would expect from karate talent of this calibre, the kata, sparring, weapons training and demonstrations are first class. This is Okinawan karate at its best and it shows.

Now as you will have gathered, I am not one of those who worships at the alter of technology but I can tell you this, when you see videos like this one that are made in the Betacam SP format you will notice the difference. On the professional studio monitors at Tsunami that probably cost the same as a small car, the color saturation and clarity is excellent, as is the sound. On my office TV set, which costs about the same as a pair of sneakers, I was astounded to find that the quality was little changed from what I had experienced at the studio. Clearly the magic is in the video tape technology and not necessarily the hardware that it is played back on. The first video from Tsunami, "Power Training" by Morio Higaonna was in a class of its own. So far Tsunami has not put a foot wrong. They have recruited the very best talent from the worlds of video production and martial arts, put them together seamlessly, and with care, and come up with products that are in a class of their own. The days of the back yard martial arts video are, hopefully, over. Vive La Difference. Vive Tsunami!

Once A Secret by Eihachi Ota. 40 mins running time, color, music and commentary. Filmed and professionally edited entirely in Betacam SP. Includes an historical perspective, kata, sparring, weapons training (bo & kama) etc.

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