Hironori Ohtsuka - Founder of Wado Karate

There hasn't been much English based text on the history of Wado Ryu karate as there has been on the likes of Shotokan and Goju Ryu karate.

We would deeply love to see a book on Wado Ryu karate history similar in depth to those written by Harry Cook on Shotokan (Shotokan Karate, A Precise, History 2001) and Morio Higaonna (The history of karate, 1995 Dragon Associates) on Goju Ryu.

The information here is only meant to be a brief history of Wado Ryu karate which will hopefully develop further as time goes by. We would be grateful is anyone could correct any of the dates which I have as I did get differing ones from various sources.

Hironori Ohtsuka, the founder of Wado Ryu karate, was born in 1892 in Shimodate, Ibaragi prefecture. He was the son of a doctor of medicine, Tokujiro Ohtsuka. Left is a picture of him (standing on the left) with his brother, mother (seated middle) and two sisters.

At the age of 5 in 1897, he started training in Shinto Yoshin Ryu Jujutsu with Chojiro Ehashi, who was his mother's uncle. Unlike other schools of jujutsu, this line of study stressed atemi strikes (to the vital points) and kicking as well as incorporating the throws and ground work. Katsunosuke Ishijima was the original founder of Shinto Yoshin Ryu Jujutsu. He later took his father's name of Matsuoka who was the official doctor to the hosokawa clan, kumamoto prefecture. He was later succeeded by Motokichi Inose and then Tatsusaburo (although we have also seen the name written as Shinzaburo as well) Yukiyoshi Nakayama.

In 1910 he moved to Tokyo to study at Waseda University majoring in Business Administration, whilst continuing his training at the dojo in Tokyo. The death of his father in 1913 forced him to return to Shimodate. He worked in a local bank and was not able to return and complete his final year of his degree. On his thirtieth birthday in 1921 he was awarded the menkyo kaiden and succeeded Master Nakayama and became the 4th Grandmaster of Shinto Yoshin Ryu Jujutsu.

In July 1922 he began to train with Gichin Funakoshi at the Meisei Juku, a dormitory for Okinawan students, which was a dojo in Koshikawa. Gichin Funakoshi is generally regard as the father of Japanese karate in that he gave up his position as a school teacher and brought the martial art known, formerly known as Tode, to mainland Japan and popularised it.

Tode, as an empty handed martial art, was a way of fighting which had developed on the islands of Okinawa and the earliest know records show its existence toward the late 18th century. The use and development of weapons, other than the sword and knife as these were banned by the Samurai classes, must have also occurred at the same time but that is another story.

Over time, passing traders and military envoys from China would pass on their knowledge of mainly Southern Chinese kung fu styles. It is even said that some of the katas like Kushanku were named after these individuals.

Ohtsuka had said "...When I met Master Funakoshi he explained to me that he had brought 15 Ryukyu Kempo Jutsu kata, the 5 Pinan, 3 Naihanchi, Kushanku, Jitte, Jion, Chinto, Seishan, Wanshu and Passai. On listening to him I was seduced by karate jutsu, I who had practiced martial arts since my childhood, and that is how I started to go to Meisei Juku and learnt the 15 kata."

Photos above left: Here is a pair of photographs taken from one of Funakoshi's early books, showing Ohtsuka attacking Funakoshi, demonstrating kneeling defences (Idori).

Ohtsuka can also be seen in the picture on the right showing knife defences. He is acting as uke i.e. he is the one receiving the attack. We believe these images are taken from Genwa Nakasone's book "Karate-do Taikan" (Encyclopedia of karate-do) published in 1938. This has further been reprinted in 1992 and you can get the Japanese-only copy from here. Both participants are wearing traditional jujutsu uniform.

It is said that there was some friction between Ohtsuka and Funakoshi's son Yoshitaka, which may have contributed in him leaving the dojo in 1934. Another factor could be that Ohtsuka wanted to develop karate by introducing free-fighting and a competitive side to karate. He then founded Wado Ryu Karate Jutsu and Wado Ryu Jujutsu Kenpo. The material we have showed that that Wado Ryu was registered with the Butokukai in 1939.

He had originally wanted to register his system as Shinshu Wado Ryu Karate Jujitsu but on the advice of Master Gihachiro Kubo of Yagyu Shinkage Ryu he scaled the name down to just Wado Ryu as Shinshu could also be taken as a phrase for Japan as well as "wa" and he didn't want it to be too patriotic sounding.

Right: This is a photograph of a meeting, in Tokyo, of the main karate instructors at that time. Ohtsuka is 2nd left, Funakoshi is 4th left, Choki Motobu 5th left and Kenwa Mabuni 3rd right.

There is a story that gets recounted and seeing as the main people are shown above, we will tell it here. The story was published in Nihon Budo Taikai and revolves around an encounter between Funakoshi and Motobu at Konishi's dojo (training hall) in 1929 where Ohtsuka was also present. Motobu was accompanied by a tall strong 4th Dan judoka (judo student) and he had planned to embarrass Funakoshi by staging a test where the judoka grabbed Funakoshi by the collar and sleeve and challenged him to escape. Funakoshi was 60 at this stage and was a lot smaller, but also had the disadvantage of being held by the judoka before the challenge. He tried to escape using inside and outside block but with no effect and was eventually thrown against a wall of the dojo. Motobu then asked Ohtsuka to try but as he had a strong background in Jujutsu and was highly skilled he was able to throw the judoka without much difficulty.

We still need to get more background information but I believe that Ohtsuka also trained with the likes of Motobu and Kenwa Mabuni, as well as other schools of jujutsu and kendo. It is also known that he was on good terms with Gogen Yamaguchi of Goju Kai, and Morihei Ueshiba of Aikido.

Photos above: Here is Ohtsuka demonstrating junzuki in his book of Wado Ryu. Demonstrating the first 2 moves of Pinan Shodan kata.

Ohtsuka has always tried to promote karate. Photo right: He is shown here at a ceremony with Master Iwata from Shito Ryu and Master Nakayama from Shotokan.

In 1981 on November 20, with his failing health, he abdicated his position as Grandmaster in front of the main leading students to his son Jiro Ohtsuka. Jiro was born in February 1934, and took his father's name after his death. Jiro had started to receive training from his father in 1945. In 1963, three senior students of Ohtsuka left for Europe and America to spread the teachings of Wado Ryu karate.

In 1972 he was awarded the title of "Meijin". Also in October that year he was awarded his 10th Dan. Some photographs of Ohtsuka and his son Jiro demonstrating Kihon Kumite and Kumite Gata.

The following year he passed away at the age of 90. He had practised martial arts until the very end and had formed one of the most complete forms for self defence.

Now Hironori Ohtsuka II (Jiro Ohtsuka) heads the Wado Ryu Karate do Renmei which is an international organisation dedicated to spreading the art of Wado Ryu as passed onto him from his father.

We think the picture on the left shows Hironori Ohtsuka II with his son, Kazutaka. He does the same technique as with his father in the previous picture. The picture to the right is of the same two persons.

Note: The photographs used have come from various sources both across the internet and from programmes and books. We fully acknowledge the rights of the original owners and thanks to Gordon Fong in allowing us to use this text.

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