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Paul Herbert 5th Dan
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Tanaka The Master

Legend Productions

Shotokan Karate has many ‘Legends’ that epitomise the truest spirit of Karate-Do. Such names that must be listed are the likes of Enoeda, Asai, Kanazawa, Yahara, Abe, Osaka, Nakayama; the list could go on and on. One name however that must be placed up there with the best is Master Tanaka.

There are many books and articles out there on Master Tanaka, but no words can ever fully illustrate the power of his karate. The only way you’ll fully appreciate this skill, is if you’re unlucky enough to be at the receiving end of his destructive techniques. Since most of us will never get hit by Tanaka though, this DVD by Legend Productions is the closest you’ll get to seeing his fantastic skill.

This DVD is a profile of a Master who has been at the forefront of Shotokan Karate and its developments. With brilliant footage, this DVD explicitly highlights why people continue to travel thousands of miles just to experience ‘Tanaka’ and the skills that have earned him his terrifying reputation.

The DVD opens with footage of Tanaka striking a makiwara, and with every strike he pounds with total commitment; you see absolute concentration and a focused conviction. At one point the camera is angled it films his face as he strikes. His eyes are dark and penetrative and makes you want to run down to B&Q, buy yourself some timber and some straw that you can stand in your garden. Holding myself back, as I don’t have a garden, I just decided to just sit and enjoy the rest of the feature.

This DVD aims to give a balanced and objective look at the many aspects of Tanaka’s karate. With excellent competition footage, we are given a brief insight into a period of competition history that is commonly described as the ‘Golden Era’. As he competes, he dominates his opponents and with a fixed stare he fights as if it’s a duel to the death. This is Budo karate, and although the referee overlooks the fight, you can see he is totally in the moment and overflowing with energy. This is very exciting to watch, and although some of the footage is thirty years old, it remains exciting and truly inspirational.

In contrast to this competitive footage, we have a look into JKA karate at the Honbu dojo, where Tanaka teaches his students and practice alongside his peers. This for us not lucky enough to have travelled to the ‘Heartland’ is very exciting, and certainly captured my imagination. There is also footage of Master Tanaka teaching one on one with two of his students. Here, Tanaka is stressing the importance of body movement and positioning whilst in kumite, and you can see how personal and patient he is in the passing down of his knowledge. With terrific control, he easily plants technically excellent mawashi-geris upon the one of his students. I just wonder how real a presentation this is of Tanaka though, as a camera in front of you can demand that you present a somewhat ‘nicer’ version of yourself. This is just a wondering though.

Apart from competing at the very highest level, and gaining a reputation as a very technical instructor, Tanaka was also renown for his demonstrations he performed to highlight the many skills of Shotokan karate. Both in a competition setting and for private filming, Tanaka performs his dynamic demonstrations that I must admit are a little frightening. The pains the ‘opponents’ experience as they are kicked around even draw a tear to my eyes, and I could just imagine that being in the audience must have been electric and this footage really does encapsulate the essence of Tanaka and his karate.

Apart from this superb footage of Tanaka, we are also lucky enough to watch footage of other JKA Masters, the likes of Shoji and Asai, who perform a fantastic rendition of Jitte. As a group kata performance goes, I found this brilliant, for although all of the Master perform the same kata, you can see their own personality in their performance. Add to this a competitive performance of Jitte by Imura and Lida, which again is simply brilliant, and you can feel rather amateur.

This DVD is excellent, as all ‘Legend Productions’ are. I love this DVD because you’re given an intense and explicit look into the world and skills of Tanaka. The only criticism is that there is little footage of Tanaka performing kata himself. There’s a brief section of him performing Heian Sandan, but I feel a total performance of his kata, maybe Gankaku (Which he’s become quite renown for) would help make a more rounded illistration of Tanaka as a karateka. Despite this, which I must add is just a very small criticsm, I’ve enjoyed this DVD seven times so far. When I need inspiration, this footage helps make me appreciate that this level of skill and success that can be achieved through hard work and devotion to the art.

Shaun Banfield

02/11/06