Shotokan and Wado Ryu are two of the four largest styles of Japanese karate. Both of these styles have a shared root and at first glance much in common. Having enjoyed world wide success, each style has a huge following, so what is the difference?
To the untrained eye of the potential student an obvious difference is that Wado Ryu traditionally lacks the same variety of colour belts displayed in a Shotokan class. Clinging to just four colours, white green brown and black Wado Ryu clubs generally have not awarded a separate colour for each of their eight grades before black belt.
In making the goal orientated westerner go through two nerve wracking and costly gradings and still have to wear the same white belt Wado Ryu has done itself no favours. By awarding yellow and orange belts for the all important early grades particularly , Shotokan has offered a powerful incentive to keep students motivated during their first year or so of training.
To a casual observer the low stances of a Shotokan class would stand out as a hallmark of this kind of karate. While the shallow higher stances of Wado are a distinguishing feature of that style.
Wado places a great deal of emphasis on fast combination attacks natural movements and quick evasions and deflections and it’s short high stances reflect this.
Shotokan stresses a strong lunging attack that can cover an impressive distance in one move.
Driving fully from the floor and hips the impression to the observer is of power and strength.
Low stances will encourage the student over time to lower their centre of gravity, focus on their hips and push from the ground.
Higher stances feel more natural are more practical in tournaments and in self defence situations. Both high and low stances have advantages in training and a combination of both approaches could well be the best of both worlds if introduced at the right time?
Gichin Funakoshi The founder of Shotokan believed in nothing but the practice of kata, he was dead set against sparring or any aspect of sport being brought into karate.
His one time student Hironori Ohtzuka the founder of Wado Ryu, broke away from him because he wanted to develop free style sparring and himself put far less emphasis on kata, the solo drills of traditional karate. It is of little surprise therefore that while Shotokan has a great variety of Katas numbering in some organisations twenty five or more, Wado Ryu has only fifteen with the founder in later years saying that only nine of these were essential.
The katas of Wado are very similar to their counterparts in the Shotokan style. The most striking differences being the height of the stances slightly changed angles and a different pace and rhythm.
Two Person Kata.
Ohtzuka was very experienced in Japanese Jujitsu before he started Karate. Jujitsu along with many traditional Japanese fighting styles put a lot of emphasise on two person katas or drills.
This is why the two man Katas or kion gumites were to Ohtzuka the distinguishing feature of Wado Ryu and contained all of the important principles of his unique style.He developed many two man katas but eventually considered only ten to be the embodiment of his karate system. This is not to say that a Shotokan class will not feature fixed two person prearranged sparring drills which are necessary to have some idea of timing and distance control before engage ing in free sparring.
The ten kion gumites or two person katas distinguish Wado Ryu as a blend of Japanese jujitsu with Okinawan Karate. Shotokan remains purely an Okinawan karate style at its root.
Karate as a sport.
Ohtzuka on his first visit to England at a seminar at Pickets Lock Sports Centre in London,clearly claimed that he had developed karate sparring and had been heavily influenced in this by Western boxing. Wado Ryu it seems from the onset was developed with a strong sporting element while the more reserved and traditional Shotokan style has adapted itself to having a sporting element over a period of time.
Nag ashi zuki, a punch unique to Wado Ryu.
Nag ashi zuki, this technique expresses the essence of the Wado style in one movement. On the surface it could seem similar to the jumping punch common to both styles, however it has been inherited from Japanese swordsmanship rather than Okinawan karate.
Nag ashi zuki has proved to be a tournament wining technique on many many occasions and is equally effective against straight line punches and round house kicks.
This versatile powerful point scoring technique requires very good timing and a subtile change of angle causing the avoidance of the opponents attack by a hairs breath. The hip action and timing involved in the trade mark punch of the Wado style takes a lot of practice. It is a key feature in many of the two person katas of Wado Ryu including Sanbon kumite jodan uke
number three and kihon gumite number seven.
The powerful round house kick of Shotokan.
Whilst the Wado Ryu round house uses the instep to strike with Shotokan uses the ball of the foot. Striking with the ball of the foot delivers a stronger technique but calls for more training and a greater degree of flex ability in the hips. It could be said that in a violent encounter on the street with the karate student wearing shoes the instep would be the more practical area to strike with.
The knife hand block.
To the experienced eye watching each styles version of the same kata the differences in the knife hand block would stand out immediately. While Wado has a distinctive face high ninety degree version, Shotokan favours a forty five degree mid level block.
In Wado ryu the knife hand block is not considered a practical fighting move but as an effective training aid for the hips.
Hard and soft, youth and old age.
Shotokan, with it’s powerful deep straight line attacks, would be considered a hard style of karate. This approach suites the strength of youth but as we age we have to adapt our fighting style to suit limiting physical conditions.
Hirokazu Kanazawa, widely recognised as a superb technician of traditional Shotokan, teaches Tai Chi to his students as they age enable ing them to evolve their karate into a softer free flowing style. His version of Shotokan accommodates every age and not just the young person at their brief physical peak.
Wado Ryu, retains the circles evasions and emphasis on timing that spring from its Japanese jujitsu heritage. It could be said that this makes it easier for the Wado Ryu stylist to change and soften their approach to karate as they age.
Shotokan, an open minded attitude to learning from other styles.
I remember watching a seminar back in the early eighties given by Morio Higaonna the standard bearer of Okinawan Goju Ryu Karate in Liverpool. I was impressed by the row after row of black belts training that day and counted well over a hundred. I was even more impressed upon learning that most of them were Shotokan black belts humble enough to learn from a great master of another style.
This interest in and open minded ness to other styles may well have happened in other places but for me at least this was a unique experience in the martial arts scene of that time.
Two similar styles, different enough to make cross training interesting.
If your already well versed in one of these two renowned styles of Karate to experience something of the other is an eye opener. Similar enough to be familiar and yet different enough to be interesting, cross training can only add to your knowledge of karate.