Sunday, 10 October 2010

Getting to grips with the Wado-Way

Today marked my fourth session with Leicester Karate Association as I re-learn karate the Wado way. As a Black Belt in Traditional Shotokan and it's offspring Tsuyoi Ryu and after a twenty year break, I toured many of Leicester's Best and Worst Martial Arts schools looking for my new Martial Arts home. I've now settled on a new club, a new association and a new style.

So far settling into Wado has been a disconcerting journey, I'm often lulled into a sense of familiarity only to have the mat pulled from under me when a technique or kata is presented with a small but crucial difference. The focus on pressure-points is particularly unusual for me (although I know some Shotokan schools do teach these to some extent). I am pretty much a beginner when it come to this. Last week I made the mistake of admitting this to Sensei Chand, who then kindly demonstrated a range of attacks on me, leaving me with some attractively coloured bruises and recurring cramp in my left calf for the next three nights!

As kata goes, my part-knowledge is more a hindrance than a help. Some sequences of movements from the basic kata are so ingrained from years of practice that I have really struggled not to revert back to them, especially when moving at speed. For the last two weeks I have been working on the Wado version of Bassai. This is similar enough for me to get through but has higher stances, more disjointed moved, and no crescent kicks. I'm hoping that when I approach kata I remember less well; jion, chinte etc, that I'll be able to adopt the Wado approach more readily.

A bit of a treat for all members of the association was that today's session was led by Sensei Kuniaki Sakagami, VII dan. I found today particularly useful then as in a 3.5 hour lesson, Sensei Sakagami spent two hours working through the early Pinan katas and demonstrating bunkai which meant I got to see each move in great detail and examine the differences between the Shoto and Wado approaches. The first striking (!) difference in the Pinan kata (other than the fact that Nidan comes before Shodan which I still don't get) is that we must say goodbye to the basic H pattern of the Shotokan Heian version where only the final moves deviate to the 45° angle. Moves 10, 11, 12, 13, 18, 19, 20 and 21 are now at 45°. The very first move; a gedan barai (a low block) is now a Tetsui Hizo Uchi (side fist strike) but other than that and the shorter stances the next 8 moves are the same. At the end of the kata, the shuto uke (knife hand block at head height) becomes a Shuto hizo uchi (knifehand strike to the spleen) with the cross-over very specifically taught with one hand above the other (shown in this photo).

For Pinan Shodan, the differences, other than the loss of the H shape, are also minor. After the initial haiwan uke (square side block), instead of a jun zuki, augmented jab punch (sometimes bunkai'd as an arm lock) and kizami tzuke, Wado has a side-on gyaku tzuki (not sure if it has a name) followed by an age zuki (rising punch).

I'm hopeful that the more I practice the more the "new" way of doing things will embed itself. My stances are too low and wide still, especially my kokutsu dachi (back stance - with a 70:30 weight ratio on the back leg) which in Wado is almost always a neko ashi dachi (cat stance, 90:10). I'm determined that I adopt the Wado way, as I was in front of the junior grades today and I wouldn't want them to copy me, and get it "wrong".

I really enjoyed today, working with the seniors and revisiting basics, and there were a few opportunities for some take-downs and wrist-locks which is always a bit of fun. I'm starting to feel more at home in my bright new gi and scruffy old black belt.


  1. I'm glad you found a new club and are settling in. I can imagine it must be really hard to try and unlearn things that you spent years getting ingrained in your muscle memory! The good thing about the human body though... it's always ready to make new memories (even if it does take us a little while to get there!).

    Good luck with your Wado journey. I'll be following with interest.


  2. Em used to go to a Wado club in Loughborough.
    It did cause a bit of confusion when she was learning pressure points as an attack method and I was studying their health benefits tho!

    Good Luck with it all

  3. Cheers both! I'm off to the dojo tonight...

  4. Hi blackbeltsuze

    I think you have the makings of a very interesting blog! We have an ex Shotokan 2nd Dan in our dojo. She finds it a difficult transistion. I am sure you will find it fascinating. Apart from the techniques, stances and the different emphasis on body movement you will need to remenber that Wado's history is in Classical Japanese Ju Jitsu (as opposed to modern ju jitsu) and swordsmanship and as such has a completeley different mind set to that of Shotokan and indeed all other Okinawan karate systems. I'm sure you will find it will enrich you. I started in 1973 aged 10 and am still learning!

    I look forward to following your blog.

  5. Hello there! My name is Fran and I've been doing Wado for 3 years now. I am a 5th Kyu slowly heading to 4th Kyu. I really do like your Blog and I do hope you enjoy your Journey through Wado. I am still new to this myself so you do have some company there. Cheers.