Puroresu: The Art of Japanese Wrestling

Sports is one of the many forms of entertainment all over the world. It is among the biggest industries out there as many people are into watching sports on television or live. There is something exhilarating and exciting about sports that make fans go wild when they watch these tournaments. Specifically, in Japan, sports like baseball is something that the Japanese people like doing. Baseball season is anticipated every year, with tickets selling out really fast. However, another sport that is also quite popular in the Land of the Sun is wrestling. Many people may mistake this as just Japanese sumo wrestling. In reality, professional wrestling similar to those seen in the US is also highly popular in Japan. While some people think that wrestling is too violent to be considered a sport, it still takes a lot of training in order to become a professional wrestler in Japan.

The Japanese Form of Professional Wrestling



The popular term used for the style or genre of professional wrestling in the Land of the Sun is known as puroresu. This style of professional wrestling was developed in Japan. This word was derived from the Japanese pronunciation of the English words “professional wrestling” or プロフェッショナル·レスリング, which has a shortened version of just “puroresu” to avoid the mumble jumble of syllables. Hence, the term “puroresu" can be actually just be transliterated as “pro-wres.”

The popularity of this Japanese term emerged among fans who speak English because of the activities of Hisaharu Tanabe in the online Usenet community. Instead of staying in the traditional US style of wrestling, puroresu grew out and eventually became an entity itself. What sets puroresu apart is its distinction in psychology, as well as presentation, of the sport. 

Recognized as a legitimate fight, puroresu is done with hits by opponents but with fewer theatrics. Stories are being told in Japanese matches but these stories revolve on the spirit and perseverance of the fighter to win the match. The main style of Japanese pro-wrestling is known as the “strong style.” This style focuses on full-contact martial arts strikes as well as shoot submission holds.

The main basis of traditional professional wrestling in Japan was also a former sumo wrestler who is known by the name of Sorakichi Matsuda. He was the first Japanese person ever to get himself into catch wrestling. While subsequent attempts were made to make the sport popular in Japan both prior to and after the Second World War, these were not successful. However, things changed with the advent of the first huge star of the sport in the year 1951 known as Rikidozan. Since then, he was recognized by many Japanese to be the “father” of professional wrestling in Japan.

With the help of his Japanese Wrestling Association or JWA, Rikidozan grew Japanese professional wrestling into a popular sport in the country. However, he was murdered in the year 1963. Nonetheless, puroresu continued to soar high even after his passing. With the development of puroresu, various personalities, styles, and promotions emerged. Thanks to puroresu, various cultural icons were recognized, such as Rikidozan, Minoru Suzuki, Antonio Inoki, Tiger Mask, Mitsuharu Misawa, Taka Michinoku, Giant Baba, Jushin “Thunder” Liger, Keiji Mutoh or The Great Muta, and Kenta Kobashi.

Several promotions were distinguished and developed through the years that puroresu became popular and thrived. However, while many have opened, many promotions have also closed through the years. Still, there are still those that maintained its popularity. Probably the most popular company and the top promotion in Japanese professional wrestling today would be none other than New Japan Pro-Wrestling.

There are many similarities between Japanese professional wrestling and the more well-known style of professional wrestling in the United States. However, there are also certain aspects in Japanese professional wrestling that make it different from the Western style. Known for its “fighting spirit,” puroresu centers on wrestlers going for full contact strikes. Several Japanese wrestlers learn not just the art of wrestling but also various martial arts styles. This makes Japanese wrestlers flexible and knowledgeable prior to going in the ring. Typically, doctors and trainers are present at ringside during and after a match to assist with any injuries that the wrestlers might have attained.

Most, if not all, professional wrestling matches in Japan aspire and maintain clean finishes. Moreover, most promotions do not utilize any angles or gimmicks just to encourage fans to watch the match. A relationship between Japanese professional wrestling promotions and other mixed martial arts promotions is also being cultivated. Antonio Inoki, a wrestling and martial arts icon, typically organizes MMA fights and wrestling matches on the same card.

Up to this day, puroresu is still highly popular in Japan and attracts big crowds from the major promotions. It is treated as a combat sport by not just wrestlers but also the audiences. A side note regarding the term “puroresu”: in Japan, this word refers to all professional wrestling with no regard to the country of origin. Hence, puroresu may also refer to WWE or Global Force Wrestling from the United States.

The Rules and Names in Japanese Pro-Wrestling



Aside from the style, puroresu also has distinctions from wrestling in other countries in terms of rules. For one, puroresu is under no governing authority. Instead, a general standard has been developed, which puroresu must follow. Every promotion, of course, has its own style of promoting, but their variations must all be similar enough so as to prevent confusion. Each promotion also has its own codified rules and regulations.

Basically, the general structure of the matches is that it is held between at least two sides known as corners. Every corner may have a wrestler though there are some that consist of a team of two wrestlers or more. Typically, team matches follow tag team rules. To win a match, the wrestler must score a “fall,” which follow standard professional wrestling. This includes pinning, which basically the wrestler trying to pin the shoulders of the opponent to the mat while the referee counts to three. On the other hand, submission victory is the submission of the opponent to loss by either tapping out or verbally submitting.

As for knockout, it basically constitutes the failure of the opponent to regain composure upon the command of the referee. There is also countout, which is the failure of the opponent to come back to the ring upon the command of the referee. This is determined by the referee counting to twenty, which is different compared to federations in other countries wherein they count only to ten. Lastly, there is disqualification when an opponent breaks the rules and regulations.

There are also additional rules to follow that determine the result of the match. An example of this would be the rules of the Japanese Universal Wrestling Federation. This association does not allow pinfall victories over submissions and knockouts. This is because this action is viewed as an early influence of mixed martial arts. There are some wrestlers who stray away from traditional wrestling endings to matches so they can attain legitimate outcomes. Also, more promotions do not allow punches in the ring. Instead, wrestlers can use open-handed strikes as well as stiff forearms. This rule also governed the early stages of Pancrase.

New Japan Pro-Wrestling: A Japanese Puroresu Promotion and Its Games

By ゾーヒョー (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

More commonly known as New Japan Pro-Wrestling or Shin Nihon Puroresu in Japanese, this promotion is considered as the top Japanese professional wrestling promotion in Japan today. Often referred to as NJPW or just New Japan, it was founded by Antonio Inoki in the month of January in the year 1972.

The promotion was sold to Yuke’s by Inoki in the year 2005. Seven years later, Yuke’s sold this promotion to Bushiroad in the year 2012. Its headquarters is located in Nakano, Tokyo, Japan. The area it serves is worldwide. The Chairman of the promotion since the month of September in the year 2013 is Naoki Sugabayashi while the President of the promotion since the month of February in the year 2016 is Katsuhiko Harada. Its revenue is 3.7 billion yen as of the year 2017.

Recognized as the biggest professional wrestling promotion in the country, New Japan has its own TV program that is aired on TV Asahi. Because of this airtime, the promotion is highly popular among the Japanese people. The NJPW is also the second biggest promotion in the world. One of its affiliation at certain points of its history is the National Wrestling Alliance. New Japan has also established agreements with several MMA and professional wrestling promotions throughout the globe. The NJPW promotions also include dojo and  wrestling stables such as Suzuki-gun

This includes WWE, American Wrestling Association, Total Nonstop Action Wrestling, UWFi, Pride Fighting Championships. World Championship Wrestling, World Class Championship Wrestling, WAR, Ring of Honor, and Jersey All Pro Wrestling. Held every single year since the year 1992, the January 4 Tokyo Dome Show is the biggest event operated by the NJPW. This event is also being promoted under the Wrestle Kingdom banner.

Some other tournaments include G1 Climax, World Tag League, New Japan Cup, Best of the Super Juniors, Super J-Cup, Young Lion Cup, IWGP Heavyweight Championship, and G2 U-30 Climax. These tournaments are held in different times of the year, some of them in March or August. Created in the year 1991, G1 Climax is the biggest annual tournament of New Japan. The tournament was designed mainly for heavyweight though there is no official weight limit. Its format is primarily in a round-robin format.

Strong Style and King’s Road: How Japanese Wrestlers Move in Their Shoes in the Ring

By Harry Li (R0014583) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

The popularity of New Japan Pro-Wrestling has been growing through the years and not just locally. The NJPW is actually being recognized worldwide now. In addition, the arrival of Shinsuke Nakamura in WWE has been causing quite a stir. Hence, it is no wonder that Japanese professional wrestling is becoming well-known all around the world. The most well-known style associated with Japanese professional wrestling would be none other than the “Strong Style.” This is the style that is being represented not just by the NJPW but also the current NXT Champion.

Two dominant promotions in Japan set the dominants styles of Japanese professional wrestling. The first dominant promotion known internationally is none other than the NJPW, of course. Headed by Antonio Inoki, the approach of “strong style” in wrestling is seen as a combat sport. Kicks and strikes hailing from the disciplines of martial arts are incorporated in this style. Submission wrestling is also strongly emphasized in this wrestling style. Some of the top stars from the NJPW include Shinya Hashimoto, Keiji Mutoh, and Riki Choshu, whose names may have been heard all over the world.

The second dominant promotion is Japan is All Japan Pro-Wrestling. Headed by Shohei Baba, the promotion uses a style known as “King’s road.” This style was heavily based on a typical style incorporated in American wrestling. Top wrestlers from National Wrestling Alliance are known to use this style in their matches. These wrestlers include Dory Funk Jr., Harley Race, and Terry Funk, all of whom had a match against Baba in Japan. The style focuses on working of holds and brawling. It also centers on the storytelling elements of puroresu.

Between the two, “strong style” is probably the more popular option. A style heavily influenced by martial arts, “strong style” incorporates strikes over traditional moves. This style also heavily represents the Japanese professional wrestling moves. Today, this style is strongly associated to Japanese puroresu. As with proper representation in global wrestling matches, many fans are in awe of such style being incorporated into the ring. Another Japanese promotion would be Pro-Wrestling Noah with promotions and wrestling titles like GHC Heavyweight Championship.

Puroresu is not just about slamming the opponent’s body and making sure that they no longer have the energy or strength to fight. It takes effort, time, and discipline in order to master the art of Japanese professional wrestling. Furthermore, even though these opponents fight inside the ring, their respect for each other remains the same so long as no one tries to break any rules. It is a sport well-loved by the Japanese people not just for the entertainment but also for the culture it brings to the table. Truly, it is a sport close to the heart of the Japanese people.