The Martial Arts Behind Yakuza/Like a Dragon
The Like a Dragon (formerly known in the West as Yakuza) franchise is a JRPG/Beat ‘Em Up hybrid series set in Japan. The game series is known for its intricate, serious, crime stories based around passionate men trying to stop organised crime syndicates and corrupt police officials – juxtaposed with absolutely bonkers gameplay, minigames and combat.
Today we’re going to look at four of the franchise’s main characters and some of the martial arts that have influenced their diverse range of fighting styles. We’re going to be assessing what styles most closely resemble the characters approaches, and how a fan looking to get into martial arts thanks to these games could learn in order to emulate those characters movements.
First we should look at the main protagonist of the majority of the series. Kiryu’s fighting style has a very broad range of influences, from both hard hitting technical displays to brawling and more wrestling heavy approaches.
For the sake of ease we’ll be looking at Kiryu’s ‘Dragon Style’, the style he learned from his sensei Komaki which he uses in the majority of the games. Unlike a lot of other video games from Japan, the characters in Like a Dragon don’t use any particular martial arts, and are usually meant to have been either self taught, or taught by someone who created their own style.
This means pinning down what exact styles influenced Kiryu largely comes down to influence, but if I had to guess, I would say it Kiryu’s style is most likely based upon Kyokushin. The truth is that Kiryu’s style has so many different looks from the kind of hand trap to elbow techniques you see in Muay Thai and Kung Fu styles, to outright pro wrestling moves. Yet Kyokushin is the one that kept sticking out to me purely because of the combos that Kiryu uses in his fights.
His style is very hook heavy, he’ll commonly throw a combination of left and right hooks only to finish it at the end with a surprise high kick. That’s something that you won’t usually see in most styles, but Kyokushin fighters do it all the time.
Kyokushin rules prohibiting punches to the face mean that the primary method for hitting the opponents head is to throw up quick high kicks. While Kiryu’s high kicks comparatively are kind of sloppy, his willingness to continuously go to them after combinations evokes Kyokushin to me, more than any other style.
Equally Kiryu’s use of judo style throws evokes Kyokushin. While that may sound silly given that I literally called them judo throws, Mas Oyama, was specifically a judo black belt and he allowed that to cross pollinate with his own style. Ashihara Karate and Kudo, two offshoots of Kyokushin take it even further.
Yagami is the second character to have a whole game to himself in the mainline series, appearing in the spinoff game ‘Judgement’ and it’s sequel. Unlike Kiryu, we actually have a very easy way of knowing what styles influenced his self taught kung fu approach, because the styles are named after them.
Yagami’s style stems from three specific kung fu styles, Tiger, White Crane and Snake. He will switch between these three styles depending on what needs to be done. Tiger is a very powerful hard hitting style, befitting the animal that it came from. Whereas White Crane employs faster more kick heavy approaches that are meant to deal with crowds.
Finally we have the snake style, which yagami uses for striking into grappling exchanges, wrapping around his opponents like a snake to throw them or put them on the ground.
The third character to get his own game, Ichiban Kasuga differs from other characters in that his fighting style depends largely on what job he is assigned through gameplay. As such we’ll be focussing on his exclusive styles, which its fair to say are the styles that he uses in canon.
Ichiban’s style is based around professional wrestling, which is helpful for anyone wanting to learn to emulate him generally, but probably not so helpful for those who want to actually fight like him in competition.
While professional wrestling with an emphasis on performance, including running drop kicks, is clearly what has influenced this overly exciteable character, the best legitimate martial art to emulate Ichiban would be catch wrestling, the martial art that pro wrestling stems from. There you will find all the suplexes, locks and holds that Ichiban makes use of.
Finally we’ll take a look at Shun Akiyama, the smooth talking, chainsmoking loan shark with a heart of gold. Akiyama holds an impressive distinction for me in that he is possibly the only video game character I have ever seen that doesn’t have a single punch in his move set. Everything he does is a kick.
He will start a combination with a kick, and end it with a different kick, including somehow going from a lead leg kick and swinging that leg up in mid air while and down into an axe kick. Akiyama is another character that is supposed to be largely self taught, but for someone looking to learn the style of their favourite loan shark, there isn’t an easier decision to make than learning Taekwondo.
Although unlike some of the other characters on this list, I’m not even sure what Akiyama does is physically possible, so it may be a few solid years of training Taekwondo before you get close to his level.
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