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Wado Ryu Karate - vol. I
by Hironori Otsuka & Yoshiaki Ajari


Wado Ryu karate is one of the largest and most influential styles of karate in Japan. During the 1960's, led by Tatsuo Suzuki, Masufumi Shiomitsu and others, it conquered Europe and in doing so strongly influenced many karate fighters who would go on to challenge their contemporaries and its country of origin, Japan. America, as ever, seemed more impressed with horsepower than road holding. JKA Shotokan, a minority group in Japan, but one with a strong business plan, some powerful commercial connections and a flair for publicity, made a strong impact on the U.S. market. Wado Ryu, more conservative and much less commercial, did not do as well even though qualified and talented teachers were strategically located in the U.S. Nonetheless, the following it had was energetic and loyal and therefore, the founder of Wado Ryu karate, Hironori Otsuka, made fairly regular visits here. One of these took place in 1965, when, to all intents and purposes, our story begins.

Hironori Otsuka was at that time seventy-two years old, and still very fit and vital. At the request of, and assisted by Yoshiaki Ajari (the leading Wado Ryu instructor in the U.S.) he gave a lengthy private demonstration of the basic techniques, kata, and fighting techniques of the style he founded, which was professionally recorded on 16mm film. This has been stored for the last thirty years, unused in the original film can, only to come to light during the pre-production phase of this program.

The quality of the footage is really quite remarkable, and far superior to anything else that I have seen. The images are very sharp, the action extremely impressive, and the color first class. The film shows an Otsuka Sensei that most of us have not seen before. Fast, powerful, and precise, his performance is incredible for a man his age, and makes one realize why he is the only karate instructor ever to be awarded the title of Meijin by the Japanese Royal Family.

The program created by Tsunami Productions around this karate treasure is immaculate. Some very creative and beautiful introductory material gives way to an historical section that describes the founding of Japanese karate in general, and that of the Wado Ryu style in particular. This section is supported by more that fifty period photos which also serve to build a biography of Hironori Otsuka. Then comes the first of the sections showing the founder performing, in this case, the basic punching techniques. I won't go on about the historical value of the footage--it's priceless.

The second historical section deals with the origins of Wado Ryu kata, and the instructors of the period such as Choki Motobu and Kenwa Mabuni, who clearly influenced the thinking of Hironori Otsuka. This is followed by the founder performing the kata; Pinan 1 to 5 inclusive, Kushanku, Naihanchi, Seishan at full speed and in slow motion, with applications performed by Ajari Sensei. The program then examines, once again with many historical photos and footage, the development of Kihon Gumite, the combat training methods that are unique to Wado Ryu. Finally the founder demonstrates Kihon Gumite exercises 1 to 5 assisted by Yoshiaki Ajari in great detail and with slow motion sequences so the action is very easy to follow.

The ending, or more appropriately perhaps the finale, is quite an experience. I won't spoil your enjoyment by telling you about it other than to say that it is remarkable, unique, and I have never seen another martial arts production that is anything like it. This is the first program of several on the subject, and I understand from the producer that there is yet more rare footage of the founder to follow in the subsequent one, as well as instruction in the techniques that consistently put Wado Ryu stylists on the winner's rostrum in the big national championships in Japan. This program, in addition to the archival footage and the wonderful old photos, includes a mass of solid instructional material, and is the best value I have ever encountered in a martial arts production. The music by Masayuki and Michiyo Koga is quite excellent, the editing a work of art, and the special effects appropriate and enjoyable. And that ending really is something special. Five star without a doubt!

Wado Ryu -- The Way of Peace and Harmony   Hironori Otsuka and Yoshiaki Ajari. Running time: 60 minutes.

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