Master OtsukaWado Karate History

Hironori Otsuka, Founder of Wado Ryu Karate, was born on June 1st 1892 in Shimodate City, Ibaraji, Japan. He was the second child of four children. His father, Dr. Tokujiro Otsuka, operated a clinic at their home in Shimodate, lbaraki Prefecture. His mother’s uncle, Chojiro Ebashi, was a samurai warrior who kept young Otsuka spellbound with his true tales of exciting samurai adventures.

In 1898, when he was only six years old, Hironori began practicing Shindo Yoshin Ryu Jiujitsu under the tutelage of his father.

The Shindo Yoshin Ryu Jiujitsu School was founded in 1864 by Katsunosuke Matsuoka (1836-1898), although its lineage goes back to the early 1600s through the line of Yoshin Ryu Jiujitsu, founded by Akiyama Yoshitoki . Matsuoka was a doctor of Chinese medicine and a subject of the Tokugawa shogunate. He learned Tenjin Shinyoryu Jujutsu and Yoshin Koryu Jujutsu together with Jikishinkageryu Kenjutsu and Hokushin Ittoryu Kenjutsu in the martial arts school of the shogunate. Matsuoka established his own school in Asakusa, Edo (present day Tokyo) and was also promoted to the governor of the shogunate possession in Ueno Village, Hitachi County (Ibaraki Prefecture).

Whereas most Ju Jitsu schools specialised in naga waza (throwing and ground techniques), the Shindo Yoshin Ryu Jiujitsu School stressed atemi striking and kicking. This, combined with the fact that other bujutsu arts were taught in the school, had an influence on the style of karate he was to create as it provided a common ground between the classical Japanese bujutsu and Okinawan karate.

Matsuoka’s successor was Matakachi Inose (1836-1898), who was succeeded by Tatsuo Matsuoka (1893-1989), who was succeeded by Otsuka’s teacher, Tatsusaburo Nakayama(1870-1933). By 1905, Otsuka began to study Shindo Yoshin Ryu Jiujitsu along with 35 other young students under this respected master , who was also a skilled Kendo instructor. During his school years (1906-1911) he continued to excel. Whereas most jujitsu schools specialized in throwing and ground or striking techniques, the Shindo Yoshin Ryu Jiujitsu also stressed atemi–striking and kicking. This Kendo influence is still seen today in the Kihon Gumite, and the demonstrations of tachi-dori and tanto-dori that frequently accompany Wado instruction.

In the spring of 1911, when Otsuka was 19, he entered Waseda University-one of Japan’s finest universities. While majoring in business administration, Otsuka also started training in atemi-style kempo and continued his practice in Shindo Yoshin Ryu Jiujitsu and other jujitsu schools. The death of Otsuka’s father in 1913 during his junior year at Waseda University forced him to withdraw and to go to work in at Kawasaki Bank in Shimodate. And as it turned out, he was never able to return to complete his final year and graduate.

Eight years later, on June 1, 1921, Otsuka celebrated his 29th birthday by taking over the mastership of the Shindo Yoshin Ryu Jiujitsu from Nakayama upon receipt of a Menkyo Kaiden certificate of “full proficiency” in the jujitsu school. He also studied Yoshin Koryu from Kanaya Motoo (circa 1919-21).

Although it seems that Otsuka stopped training Shindo Yoshin Ryu Jiujitsu as a stand-alone discipline around this time, many of its techniques and principles were incorporated into what would become Wado. Shindo Yoshin Ryu Jiujitsu doesn’t appear to be practiced on a widescale anymore, but there are some external groups that still train it such as the Takamura Ha Shindo Yoshin Ryu Jiujitsu line, the Uke Takeski (a student of Otsuka) line , and the Dr. Ryozo Fujiwara line of Shindo Yoshin ryu Domonkai in Tokyo. Another similar style that is still commonly practiced is Tenjin Shinyo Ryu Jiujitsu, which still does demonstrations at the Budokan.

The next year in 1922, an article in a newspaper reporting on Crown Prince Hirohito’s visit to Europe was destined to profoundly affect Otsuka’s life and provide a new direction in his martial arts career. The story said that the Crown Prince had also visited Okinawa, where he was entertained with a dancing performance and a demonstration of Shuri-te style Tode (not yet known as Karate). It added that an Okinawan named Gichin Funakoshi had arrived in Japan and was planning to demonstrate the local martial art at a public hall in Tokyo.

The 30-year-old bank clerk promptly packed himself off to Tokyo to take a first-hand look at what this Okinawan master had to offer. He wound up at Meishojuku, the gymnasium where Funakoshi was training some students in karate, and wasted no time introducing himself to the diminutive martial arts master. “Funakoshi-san welcomed me,” Otsuka recalls, “and said he would gladly teach me karate. “Although most Okinawans appear to be naturally suspicious,” Otsuka added, “he was surprisingly open and frank-even innocent.” From then on, Otsuka practiced karate virtually every night at Meishojuku. And from the first introduction to the Okinawan martial art, ideas started whirling through his head about adapting the atemi techniques he had learned in Shindo Yoshin Ryu Jiujitsu into this ’new’ karate. Because of his martial arts skill he was able to grasp the principles of karate very quickly.

Within four years, Otsuka was Fuakoshi’s assistant instructor, organising classes and demonstrations as well as traveling with Funakoshi throughout Japan to spread Karate. The 1923 great earthquake brought with it devastation to Japan, and in it’s wake, many changes. The old schools of jujitsu began to fade in popularity and modern martial-arts such as Judo, Aikido and Karate began to attract the interest of the public. From this time on, Otsuka all but gave up teaching Shindo Yoshin Ryu Jiujitsu, concentrating on Karate and on supporting Funakoshi’s efforts to spread Karate.

In September, 1924, Otsuka and Funakoshi arrived at the kendo training hall at Keio University and approached the Sensei, Konishi Yasuhiro (who taught kendo and jujitsu there and also invented the Shindo Jinen Ryu style of karate) with a letter of introduction from Professor Kasuya of the University. Funakoshi Sensei asked if it would be possible to use the training hall to practice Ryukyu Kempo To-te jutsu (as it was still then called). With Konishi Sensei’s help, Funakoshi and Otsuka established a To-te club at Keio University. This was to be the first university karate club in Japan. During this same time, Master Funakoshi recognized Otsuka, and granted him his black belt in karate making him one of the first Japanese to be promoted in this art.

In 1927, Otsuka quit working at the bank in Shimodate to practice traditional medicine like his father, specialising in the treatment of martial-arts injuries. This left his time more flexible for Karate and also kept him in touch with many martial-artists and schools throughout Japan. He continued his training in karate, and two years later he organized the first school karate club at Tokyo University. But more importantly, in 1929 he launched a study into a method of arranging kumite (free-style fighting) into competitive matches, laying the basis for present-day kumite-style tournaments. Even back then, Otsuka stressed kumite over kata, in sharp contrast to Funakoshi’s teaching methods. By 1929, Otsuka Sensei was a registered member of the Japan Martial Arts Federation.

Master Otsuka studied under Master Funakoshi for over ten years and became one of Master Funakoshi’s senior students. After 1930, Otsuka went increasingly on his own, setting up a string of karate clubs at various universities in Tokyo in the manner of Funakoshi. Besides Todai (Tokyo University), they included Rikkyo and Nihon Universities as well as Tokyo Dental College.

Faced with the reality that many of the blocks and techniques taught in traditional Okinawan kata did not seem to work in sparring, Otsuka began to blend the practical fighting methods of jujitsu with karate. He experimented with masters such as Shito-Ryu Founder Kenwa Mabuni(1889-1952), Naha-te Fighting Master Choki Motobu(1871-1944) and in other martial-arts with Jigoro Kano of Judo and Morihei Ueshiba of Aikido, blending the practical and useful elements of Okinawan karate with traditional Japanese martial-arts techniques from jujitsu and kendo. He worked tirelessly and sometimes practiced by himself and with others for six hours a day.

However, the relationship between Otsuka and Funakoshi was growing strained because of the young man’s bright new approach to teaching. He stressed Kumite over Kata, in sharp contrast to Funakoshi, and developed many pre-arranged kumite techniques much to the dismay of Funakoshi who believed that basics and kata were enough. Influenced by the direction taken by kendo and also by his new and influential friend, Choki Motobu the legendary Okinawan Karate master, he began full contact free-sparring with students wearing the new Kendo protective armour. This was the beginning of the modern style Karate championship and pretty much the end of Otsuka’s relationship with Funakoshi.

The big day in Otsuka’s life finally arrived in the fall of 1934 when he officially inaugurated his own unique style of karate. He called his new school the Dai Nippon Karate Shinko Club (Japanese Karate Promoting Club). It was at this time That the term Wado Ryu was coined by Eiichi Eriguchi.

In 1935, Gichin Funakoshi’s book, “Karatedo Kyohan”, was published and featured pictures of Otsuka demonstrating Idori techniques with Funakoshi.

In 1938 the name was changed to Dai Nippon Karatedo Shinbukai (Japanese Karate Martial Promoting Federation). Also in 1938 Otsuka appeared, with Toshio Kato in Genwa Nakasone’s book ’Karatedo Tai-kan’. In it Otsuka shows 7 Tantodori techniques (defence against knife attacks, called ’Tanken-tori – Omote’in the book) against Kato Toshio. That same year the Dai Nippon Butoku Kai awarded him the rank of Renshi-Go and his style was registered as, “Shin Shu Wado Ryu”.

By 1940, the Dai Nippn Butoku Kai held the 44th Budo festival in Kyoto and requested each of its member groups to submit the name of its founder and the official name of the style or school. Wado was registered under the name Wado Ryu Karate Jutsu; along with Goju-Ryu, Shito-Ryu, and Shotokan-Ryu. Otsuka registered some 36 official kihon kumite techniques, tanto dori, idori, tachidori, and other techniques, as well as 16 kata including Pinans 1-5, Kusanku, Naihanchi, Seisan, Chinto, Passai, Niseishi, Wanshu, Jion, Jitte, Rohai, Suparinpei , and became the founder of the first and possibly the only truly Japanese karate style in Wado Ryu Karate.

Otsuka first devised the name Shinshu Wado Jujutsu. This was later shortened to Wado. The term wa means “peace” or “harmony”, but it also represents Japan as a shortened form of Showa, which was the name for the era of Emperor Hirohito. Do or doh means “the way”. By putting the two together you get the way of peace and/or harmony. Originally the style was referred to as Wado kai which is “Wado-style” but upon becoming a hereditary system, the name became Wado-Ryu which is “wado-school.”

Wado is perhaps the purest form of Karate-Do, steeped in Traditional Japanese Jiujitsu and Classical Japanese Bushido (the Way of the Warrior)along with the principles of Kendo and Yagyu Shinkage Ryu the art of the Japanese long sword (which he was taught from Gihachiro Kubo), as well as Toda Ryu, or the art of short sword techniques; and applied all of these influences into his style and teaching teaching. He rejected hardening certain parts of the body such as callousing the knuckles of the hand, believing it was useless preparation. He also discarded techniques which he felt were ineffective. He introduced different kinds of body shifting techniques, a more upright stance for mobility, and reliance on evasion and counter techniques. Its emphasis of technique as opposed to strength and the traditional Okinawan karate maneuvers gave a softness to wado ryu unique in Japanese karate. He also introduced throws and joint locks into the repertoire.

He had developed rules and regulations for competitive free sparring to be incorporated into his system, the first karate style to do so. These rules have been wholly or patially adopted by virtually all modern martial arts competitions. It is the sparring element in todays’ karate that appears to attract many to the art.

The aim of Wado Karate is perfection of technique as well as development of a mind that is tranquil yet alive, able to react intuitively and without hesitation to any situation. The training required in Wado helps the student acquire inner strength and calmness of character. They learn as well the virtues of self-control and true humility.

Master Otsuka’s wado ryu is a tremendously fast style. Its techniques and movements are the total expression of the practitioner’s mind. As well as founding Wado Ryu Karatedo Renmei Federation, he was a founding member of the Kokusai Budoin (International Martial Arts Federation) and Director of the Japan Classical Martial Arts Promotion Society.

Karate for Mr.Otsuka was primarily a spiritual discipline: “Violent action may be understood as the martial arts, but the true meaning of martial arts is to seek and attain the way to peace and harmony.”

Basics – punching, kicking, blocking, guarding, striking, joint twisting and prearranged and free-style sparring comprise the training foundation of Wado Karate. Equally emphasized and fundamental to Wado is taisabaki – body shifting to avoid the full brunt of an attack – a technique derived from swordsmanship. The atemi techniques of jujitsu have had a strong influence in the formation of wado karate. Otsuka also has incorporated the nage-waza (throwing techniques) of jujitsu into his blended style of karate.

As developed by Otsuka, wado karate consists of two practice styles: maai, the proper distance from one’s opponent; and kiai, timing, or finding the best chance to attack. Attacking is also considered defense, since offense and defense are part of the same movement. A blocking movement is often transformed into an attacking movement in what amounts to one continuous motion. In other words, the arm used to block an opponent’s thrust is immediately redirected toward the opponent’s body as a counter thrust, or Sen no Sen. Another feature of wado is its flexibility. When one kind of attack is blocked or stymied, a wado-kai man will instantly shift to another type of attack aimed at different parts of his opponent’s body. He also tends to feint against one part in order to effectively attack another part. Thrusts are not always delivered along a level plane, but can also be directed from a low stance along an upward plane to the body or from a high stance downward. Moreover, attacks are variously made, from orthodox punches and kicks to knife-edge slashes, knuckle jabs and palm thrusts against the chin.

Other concepts that weigh heavy into the study of Wado consist of Nagasu, or side-stepping to avoid an attack; Inasu, or blocking and countering at the same time; Noru, timing your counter at the right moment so to maximize force generated by forward motion; Zanshin, being constantly aware of your surroundings so as to be in harmony with them; Yasume, being relaxed except at the moment of impact; Irimi, or entering your opponent; and Mudana no Waza, or the elimination of unnecessary motion.

In 1942, the Dai Nippon Butoku Kai awarded Otsuka with the rank of Kyoshi Go. In this same year, a young Tatsuo Suzuki began his study of Wado. Later in 1944, Otsuka Sensei was appointed Japan’s Chief Karate Instructor.

During the war, Otsuka continued instructing students in his newly -established style of karate as well as working as a medical specialist in budo injuries. Although the occupation forces banned the practice of martial arts immediately after the war, Otsuka continued teaching karate, since his club, like many others, operated under the disguise of offering boxing instructions.

In the early postwar years, wado-kai got its first permanent home, a hombu dojo (Sanko Dojo) in front of the Tsukiji Police Station in downtown Tokyo. It had a wooden floor large enough for 24 mats. After three years, however, Otsuka shifted his dojo headquarters to the gymnasium of the Nakano Primary School in north Tokyo where it is still situated. Later around 1949, Otsuka’s son Jiro began to study Wado, as well as Iaido, Kendo, and Judo; and would begin the training that would one day carry on the tradition of his father.

During the 50s and 60s, Wado continued to grow in Japan becoming one of the 4 largest styles of karate. In 1951, the ban on the practice of Martial Arts was lifted, and Wado Was ready for its next to take the step from a style previously contained within Japan, to a style that would soon reach around the world.

In 1952, Otsuka instituted “Wado-Ryu Rules” and the Wado-Ryu headquarters was established in the Meiji University karate club and in the Osaki Police Station Budojo.

In 1954 it’s name was changed to Zen Nippon Karate Renmei (All Japan Karate Federation) though it was a Wado Ryu private organization. A demonstration (embu-kai) in commemoration of 20th anniversary of Wado-Ryu and to celebrate the foundation of “Zen Nippon Karatedo Renmei” was held at Hibiya Public Hall. This was the same year that Otsuka awarded Tatsuo Suzuki with the rank of 5th Dan, which was the highest rank given in Wado at that time. Thereafter, Otsuka named Suzuki the head instructor of the Tokai Region in Japan. Suzuki moved to Hamamatsu city and taught in many clubs and universities, throughout the area and was responsible for Wado Ryu becoming the leading style of karate in the Tokai Region; this as a foreshadowing of what was to come later down the road.

In 1955, Otsuka published the book, “Karatejutsu no Kenkyu”, which demonstrated the nine core Wado katas, and was the basis for his 1970 book, “Wado Ryu Karate”.

As the 60s began, Otsuka began to send instructors to Europe and America to begin demonstrating Wado to the West. In 1963, Tatsuo Suzuki, along with Toru Arakawa and Hajimu Takashima were the first to begin this westward movement of Wado, and the impression they left would make Wado soon to be recognized world-wide. In 1964 the name Wadokai was established under Japan Karate Federation (JKF). Thereafter other notable instructors began to move to Europe and teach Wado; familiar names such as: Mochizuki, Kojima, Kono, Toyama, Shiomitsu, Iwasaki ,Takamizawa, Sakagami, Kamigaito, Ohgami, etc; as well as instructors that began to teach Wado in the US like, Ajari, Osaka, Abe, Nishimura, Kurobane, Patterson , etc.

In 1965, Otsuka Sensei along with Yoshiaki Ajari, recorded onto film, which is now still available on two video tapes, much of his legacy of Wado Ryu Karate.
The first video, Wado Ryu Karate Volume 1, consists of: Indepth history and recollections, demonstrations of the 8 Kihon No Tsuki body shifts, the first 5 Kihon Gumite, and the katas: Pinans 1-5, Kusanku, Jion, Naihanchi, Seisan. The second video, Wado Ryu Karate Volume 2 consists of: more history, plus the katas Chinto, Niseishi, Rohai, Wanshu, and Jutte, as well as Kohin Gumite 6-10, along with application. These Wado treasures are still available.

In 1967 the Emperor of Japan awarded Master Otsuka the Fifth Order of Merit (the Shiju Hoosho Medal), and the Soko-Kyokujitsu-Sho Medal for his outstanding contributions to karate. He was the first karate master to receive this distinguished award.

In 1968 Otsuka instructed Cecil T. Patterson to establish the U.S. Eastern Wado Karate Federation, to oversee Wado instruction in the Eastern US. Around this same time, Yoshiaki Ajari was instructed to establish the U.S. Wado Kai Karatedo Federation, to oversee Wado instruction in the Western US.

In 1970, the master text “Wado Ryu Karate”, was published by Otsuka. It showed step by step demonstrations of each of the 9 core Wado kata, and shared much insight into the ideas and principles that Otsuka used to form Wado.

In 1972, The International Martial Arts Federation, Kokusai Budoin awarded him the Hanshi Award, an even greater honour. Otsuka was again the first karateka ever honored by the royal family with the title of Meijin. Along with this award came the honour of being ranked at the head of all martial arts systems within the All Japan Karate-do Federation (Judan or 10th degree Black Belt). This is the same status as that of Kyuzo Mifune in Judo and Hakudo Nakayama in Kendo.

In 1975, Otsuka promoted Tatsuo Suzuki, to Hachidan.

Shortly before his death Master Otsuka was recognized as the oldest practicing karateka in the world. Master Otsuka said “The difference between the possible and the impossible is one’s will,” and he always emphasized that the karateka should always hold true three vital elements – the heart, spirit and physical strength.

Even an above average man in his seventies or eighties would probably have been content to rest and let others continue his work, but Master Otsuka was not. Never believing that he or the martial arts in general had learned all that there was to know, he continued to practice. Putting on his gi (training uniform), he would train every day for twenty minutes on just one technique, and continue this for a full month. Those who have studied with him remarked how he enjoyed walking on the crowded streets of Tokyo, so that he could practice smoothly weaving and twisting (tai sabaki waza) without letting anyone touch him.

In 1981, some month’s before his death, a group with Otsuka’s son Jiro (who changed his name to Hironori Otsuka II) as its chief split off form the Wado Kai, and became a private organization known as the Wado Ryu Renmei.

Master Otsuka practiced karate daily until his death in his 90th year, on January 29th 1982.

In 1989, after continued attempts to reunite Wado into one organization, Tatsuo Suzuki left the JKF-Wado Kai and formed his own organization, the Wado Kukosai WIKF, with his goal of accurately teaching the techniques that he had learned from his Sensei Otsuka over the last 40 years.

To this day, these three organizations continue to promote Wado Karate, along with many other smaller, and independent organizations. And as Wadoka meet and exchange with each other from within and across these divisions, it is still very easy to see the strong spirit that Otsuka Sensei left behind binding all Wadokai into one family, each searching for the Way of Peace and Harmony.

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