Wado-Ryu is a popular karate style that was founded in 1934 by the legendary karateka Hironori Otsuka. It’s considered a soft style, much softer than Goju-Ryu and Shotokan, for example. This style was designed for self-defense, but today in many dojos it is geared more towards competitions.
It employs grappling and striking techniques. It places an emphasis on evading enemies’ strikes and counter-attacking, rather than instigating attacks. It’s also compared to Aikido and Japanese Ju Jitsu, with which it shares various grappling techniques, since its founder Hironori Otsuka was a Ju Jitsu practitioner.
Now, let’s check out the pros and cons of this style when it comes to self-defense application.
1. Emphasizes self-protection
Wado-Ryu focuses on evading the enemies strikes and counter-attacking. This is a different approach to styles like Goju-Ryu where you are trained to execute hard punches and kicks and block the opponents attacks with your body from close range.
2. It’s easier to train than other karate styles
Wado-Ryu emphasizes evading attacks and leveraging the opponents body position rather than forcefully getting your way in a fight. This is why it’s more “passive” and “relaxed”, focusing on the “flow” of the fight.
This makes it somewhat easier to train. Also, much of the training involves around practicing katas (forms), of which there are officially 15, although only 9 are practiced in most dojos.
3. Effective against larger opponents
Wado-Ryu focuses on the “flow” of the fight and evading strikes. This approach can come in handy when you have to fight a larger opponent, since you wouldn’t be able to fight them on equal terms.
If you can evade the opponent for long enough and get him to tire out, you can then use your greater endurance, speed and body positioning to counter-strike successfully.
4. Many stances, punches and kicks for self-defense
In Wado-Ryu you learn many useful techniques for dealing with opponents of varying sizes such as the roundhouse kick, groin kick, foot sweep, elbow strike and much more.
Overall, there are 10 kicks and 10 punches that are practiced regularly. There are also 10 stances that you can choose from depending on the circumstances.
For example, if you wanted to execute faster attacks, you’d get in the “heron/crane stance”. A stance like “reverse cat” would be better if you wanted to act more defensive and you were dealing with more than one opponent.
Of course, everything depends on the details of the situation. But you’d have enough options in your arsenal to choose from.
1. It lacks hard contact sparring
This is a major problem with many Wado-Ryu gyms. Hard sparring or kumite is essential for learning how to fight in real life. If you’re not practicing with a moving, uncooperative opponent, you won’t know what to expect in a real fight.
You’d be surprised how difficult it is to strike a person successfully when they’re moving and bouncing around and when they know how to block your strikes. You need to build up this experience in a dojo. You also need to feel what it’s like to get punched or thrown on the ground, otherwise you’ll be in a state of shock if it happens for the first time against a real opponent.
However, this doesn’t mean that you have to go extremely hard at each other during sparring. But you should at the very least pressure-test techniques regularly.
2. Body conditioning is lacking
With its emphasis on katas rather than kumite training, Wado-Ryu is not as physical as some other karate styles.
You will still get the health and fitness benefits like improved endurance, mobility and strength, but you will not become as tough as you could be if you practiced a tougher karate style like Goju-Ryu. Or if you practiced a different martial art like boxing or kickboxing where full contact sparring is a regular part of training.
3. It takes time to master
As a general rule, whenever a martial art is on the soft side, it takes more time to become effective at it for real fighting application. It’s because the goal of softer martial arts is to defend yourself almost perfectly, without getting punched or kicked and without causing too much damage to the opponent.
It’s like trying to do the perfect thing. If you fail, you will fail miserably. If you succeed, you’re a true master, a legend. I mean, if you try to punch Steven Segal, he’ll probably do some Aikido wizardry and stop you in your tracks with or without breaking your hand in the process. If you try to punch someone who’s been practicing Aikido for 6 months, they’ll probably end up with a bloody nose instead.
The same is true if you compare karate in general with a fighting style like boxing. Karate is more complex, so it will take longer to become somewhat good at it. With boxing, you’ll get decent at it with only 6-12 months of regular training.
So whether Wado-Ryu will be useful for your self defense purposes also depends on how much time you’re willing to invest in practicing it until you reach that level. If you’re a beginner, it will take at least 2 years to get decent enough where it could come in handy.
Wado-Ryu can be effective for self defense if hard sparring is part of the training process. It contains many useful kicks, punches, joint locks and grappling techniques. It also teaches you how to evade the opponents strikes and counter-attack them. That way you can reduce the likelihood of getting hit while dealing significant damage to your opponent.
However, it’s considered a “soft style” that emphasizes harmony and flow. Against a very aggressive attacker this approach is not always effective. You need to really dial in the techniques and become a master of this style before you can rely on it completely in a self defense scenario.
So if you want to practice this karate style for self defense, be willing to train hard and consistently for a couple of years in a good dojo, not a McDojo that only has you practicing katas (forms) without kumite.