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Understanding Fighting Spirit: Successful Newbie Conversion
I'm currently in the process of working on a newbie, which for great puroresu fans is a true honor if there is a successful conversion. He, unlike myself, grew up strictly on Vince MacMahon's hit-and-miss, kid-oriented, history-ignoring WWF. Though that was what I was most endeared to, my brothers and I were Apter mag-aholics. Through this we followed the NWA, which we could see every once and a while, the AWA, which was in its dying years, and Memphis, which was similar to the NWA viewing-wise, but the intricate angles were easily understood. I suppose that's why I'm not a huge critic of Bill Apter because his readily available magazines helped me keep a broad perspective (considering I didn't have cable for most of those years).
This friend's Japanese viewership is pretty normal as he hasn't seen much outside of the IWA King of the Death Match tournament (which is historic, but bad) and some Onita-era FMW, which isn't consistently good either. I decided to slowly bridge things, he was an ECW fan, so I showed him my extensive library. I also emphasized the importance of junior heavyweights, whom he already enjoyed thanks to WCW. Recently, I've been showing him early-90s WCW stuff that has a better workrate then many US promotions ever did. Eventually I'll turn him onto the late 90s FMW, which is an excellent bridge into Japan. Then from there you can go to the All Japan classics, which if you can fully enjoy, the you are usually educated to the style quite well.
I tried this with my eldest brother a few years back as he has similar interests to me, except he's a mark for charismatic talkers (though he'll admit if they stink in the ring). It wasn't going to happen though because you just can't go from Rock and Austin to Misawa and Kawada, it just doesn't happen. Then for my birthday last year he bought me one of those god awful (well the commentary is) FMW tapes. He even requested to borrow and much to my shock and amazement, he told me about how he enjoyed Hayabusa and so on. Now any mark can like Hayabusa in death matches or spotfu's, but he was talking about a good solid Hayabusa match. Unfortunately I rarely see the guy, so I can't convert him, but at his age and stuff, I don't think he'll be shelling out much cash for wrestling when he loves so many other sports.
The purpose of this story is basically that Americanized puroresu is the logical first step from Sports Entertainment to Strong Style. Now it can't be so Americanized that it's bad like current FMW, some Big Japan and even some Toryumon, but it must provide a bridge. FMW at its peak is my preference, but it depends on the newbie.
But why does it have to be Americanized? Simply put, if there is no bridge the newbie will fall into a river of confusion. When I first saw lucha libre on Galavision, I thought it was horrible because it was so utterly confusing and thus seemed chaotic and disorganized. For the Strong Style it is the same, the fan must "get it" or it seems stupid. I watched Kobashi-Awesome and was there to explain everything, including Awesome's inferiority and how this was an average level (if that) match for Kobashi. The Burning Lariat win confused the guys I was watching it with, who compared it to Masato Tanaka's Roaring Elbow. Basically, newbies have to grasp the concept of submission and striking finishers, which the WWF rarely if ever has. I explained most Strong Stylists have a move, a submission and a strike and any of which can win a match. This makes the finishes more interesting and so fourth, rather than Austin using several Stunners to beat the Rock. This has everything to do with martial arts in Japan. In America, submissions are seldom very over, especially realistic ones because the martial arts are not revealed to us in that context. Strikes are similar, but since American fans are so particular to brawls (and usually boring, unbelievable ones at that), a hard shot just isn't going to win a match.
That problem aside, there is also the issue of cultural shock when watching the two. Everyone knows about samurais and so fourth, but for many Americans it just doesn't click. Generally and historically speaking, the Japanese people are a very proud, respectful, traditionalistic people. In contrast, American wrestling fans (the hardcore-loving mutants, marks, and so fourth) prefer wrestlers who are brash, edgy and tough. I'll admit I was pretty much ignorant to Japanese history and culture and since obtaining a semesters-worth of Ancient to Modern history, puroresu makes much more sense.
Religion has a very important role in Japan's history. The system of worship developed from basically worshiping spirits. Similar to some Native American groups in this country, it was widely believed spirits (kami) are all around. There is also a strong sense of honor in representing family, though with Japanese wrestling, it tends to be individual, stable, or company pride. This idea was used in the pro wrestling ring as "Fighting Spirit," which exists in the US, but not in the same sense. From Hulk Hogan's 'hulking up' to Rey Mysterio Jr.'s 'never say die' attitude, we've seen it, though it often put over as goofy. In Japan, it is much more; it is a wrestler summoning power from beyond. Though many wrestlers do it, I think Kenta Kobashi's is the premier delivery and even the smartest fan has to mark out for it.
Puroresu is perhaps the last leg for traditionalists. It offers the solid championship matches with old school psychology and a modernized approach. The work is stiff and believable, the moves are high-impact and seemingly dangerous, and the finishes are enthralling and exciting. I myself was watching the WWF and WCW begging to see classics and seldom got them. Puroresu offered me something different, but similar that I feel in love with instantly. It has made me want to learn more about the culture that produces this excellent wrestling product.
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