A Modest Response: A Primer to Strong Style and King’s Road

Strong Style is quick transitions between wrestlers but slower build and focus. A strong style match will feature a long breakdown of a bodypart during counterwrestling that will go back and forth. The “story” as such, does less to play into the finish as it does to establish wrestling as an alternative combat sport, different from judo, boxing, etc. Inoki (and later Hashimoto) would face many men from different combat sports in order to prove wrestling strong style was the superior. The finish to a match which featured leg work might not actually feature leg attacks as such, but would rather flow from the “game of human chess” elements and what is established earlier as an individual’s strengths.

Shoot style is something of an evolution of this. Where Strong Style is still clearly wrestling, they use the ropes and such, it’s merely more realistic, shoot style eschews wrestling tradition far more notably, getting rid of running the ropes and uncontested slams and suplexes. The worked shoot is essentially a shoot match that tells a story. No selling beyond what is realistic. Strong Style instead is wrestling that attemtped to ground itself in reality. UWFi is often considerred the height of Shoot Style, while late Inoki and rising Hashimoto would be the most important Strong Style.

King’s Road is a far deeper performance that eschews realism for depth in storytelling. The main characteristic of King’s Road is building upon a story begun years before. Every wrestler in every match is continuing both their own story and the story of King’s Road as a style. This naturally, eventually became untenable. Here’s how it worked- Each wrestler has a tier of moves, weakest to strongest, and major signature moves, including numerous finishers. The story is built around two things. First is the progression from weaker moves to stronger moves. Kobashi might begin with his usual chops against Honda for example, but Misawa would warrant a spinning chop far sooner as Kobashi must break out higher offense. Honda, to defeat Kobashi’s regular chops, would need to go to a lot of his higher tiered offense to counter signifying that Kobashi is higher ranked and more dominant. To stop a regular chop, Misawa wouldn’t need more than a simple elbow. Were he to do anything else, it would build up a story of Kobashi getting ahead in the match and a totally different strategy and story would emerge. This is due to learning from spots.

Each wrestler has a series of spots and counters. As guys wrestle more and more and the style evolved further and further, these became almost absurd in length and brutality, as rising to new heights and coming up with new twists on series of moves from years before became the norm. This would lead to a constantly heightening drama with long combinations, tons of very close near falls escalating to the pin, all by one wrestler as he steps his game up while weakening the opponent. To add to the realism lost by this highly dramatic style, intense stiffness and head drops became the norm. Naturally, over time, this devolved into a “who can do more moves” at the end of the match, with regard for the epic individual and King’s Road storyline waining and instead the tiering of moves overtaking it in their balance of importance. Kobashi is often blamed for this, though it isn’t his fault. Misawa and Kawada, along with Kobashi and Taue, were the masters of this style. To see the story, one should usually start with the first match in the style- Tsuruta vs. Tenryu from 6/5/1989. There’s stuff important to the story before then, but that’s where you have to begin if you want to check out the style since it’s nearly impossible to see everything. This was All Japan’s signature style in the 1990s, with an NWA/Strong Style hybrid being worked earlier.

Tsuruta, by the way, is likely the best ever. He worked Strong Style very well occasionally, notably in the 80s with Choshu, Tenryu and others but was in many of the best ever Flair-Steamboat style NWA matches ever during the 1970s with Billy Robinson most notably. In the early 90s he was the very best at King’s Road before injuries and age robbed him of that ability, meaning he masterred all three of the major, difficult styles of the world during his time wrestling while basically invented the most artistically expressive, King’s Road, and being a former Amatuer Champion, being excellent at the Strong Style realism as well.

Tags:

Join our newsletter

never miss the latest news, reviews, live event coverage, audio podcasts, exclusive interviews and commentary for Movies, TV, Music, Sports, Comics, Video Games!