Wado Ryu Karate
June 1, 1892 - January 29, 1982
Still lean and hard at over eighty years of age, Master Hironori Ohtsuka (also spelled Hironori Otsuka) was a robust example of how the martial arts can give a man a long, healthy life. Master Hironori Ohtsuka (Otsuka) was the founder of the Wado-Ryu School of Karate. Before his death, he was also Vice-Chairman of the All-Japan Karate Federation, and Director of the Japan Classical Martial Arts Promotion Society. Master Ohtsuka is considered by his disciples to be one of the three men responsible for originating the modern Japanese martial arts.
Master Ohtsuka (Otsuka) was born on June 1, 1892 in Shimodate city, Japan. He was the son of Mr. Tokujiro Ohtsuka, a doctor of medicine. In 1898, when he was six years old, Master Ohtsuka began practicing Jujitsu under the tutelage of his father. He also studied jujitsu under Chojiro Ebashi. By the age of 13 (1905), he was enrolled in the Shintoyoshin School of Jujitsu, where, along with 35 other young students, he studied under Master Tatsusaburo Nakayama. Whereas most Jujitsu schools specialized in throwing and ground techniques, the Shinto-yoshin-ryu stressed atemi striking and kicking.
In the spring of 1911, when Master Ohtsuka was 19, he entered Waseda--one of Japan's finest universities. While majoring in Business Administration, Master Ohtsuka also started training in Atemi-style Kempo and continued his practice in Shinto-yoshin-ryu and other Jujitsu schools. The death of Master Ohtsuka's father in 1913, during his junior year at Waseda, forced him to withdraw and go to work in a bank in the city of Shimodate. As it turned out, he was never able to return to complete his final year and graduate.
Eight years later, on June 1, 1921, Master Ohtsuka celebrated his 29th birthday with the award of the coveted menkyo-kaiden, designating him the successor as master of this style, and taking over the mastership of the Shinto-yoshin-ryu from Nakayama upon receipt of a certificate of "full proficiency" in the Jujitsu school.
The next year, (1922) an article in a newspaper reporting on Crown Prince Hirohito's visit to Europe was destined to profoundly affect Master Otsuka's life and provide a new direction in his martial arts career. The article said that the Crown Prince had also visited Okinawa, where he was entertained with a dancing performance and a demonstration of 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 ball 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 in introducing himself to the diminutive martial arts master. "Funakoshi-san welcomed me," Master Ohtsuka recalled, "and said he would gladly teach me Karate. Although most Okinawans appear to be naturally suspicious," Master Ohtsuka added, "he was surprisingly open and frank -- even innocent." From then on, Master Ohtsuka practiced Karate virtually every night at the Meishojuku and eventually became Funakoshi's senior student. By 1928, he was assistant instructor at Funakoshi Sensei's Dojo.
From his first introduction to the Okinawan martial art, ideas started whirling through his head about adapting the techniques he had learned in Jujitsu to Karate. However, Funakoshi regarded karate as a true martial art, and felt it could not be practiced in a competitive way and still retain its character. Ohtsuka disagreed and wanted to test karate techniques through safe competition, so he eventually broke away (1935) and founded Wado-Ryu Karate in 1939.
In 1927, Master Ohtsuka (35 years old) quit working at the bank and set himself up as a medical specialist in the treatment of persons injured in the martial arts. 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. As early as 1934, he developed rules and regulations for competitive free-sparring. The first Japanese karate match was held at Ohtsuka's instigation, and in the end his way prevailed, and karate competition is now widely practiced in all the major karate ryu.
After 1930, Master Ohtsuka 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. The big day in Master Ohtsuka's life finally arrived in the fall of 1934 (42 years old) when he officially inaugurated his own unique style of Karate. He called his new school the Karate Promotion Club. But it wasn't until 1940, when the Butokukai requested each of its member groups to submit the name of its founder and the official name of the style or school, that Master Ohtsuka finally devised the name -- Wado-Kai, or the "Way of Harmony". In the 1980's, the name was formally changed to Wado-Ryu.
In 1939, Master Ohtsuka organized the All Japan Karate-Do Federation, Wado-Kai, with headquarters in Tokyo. In 1967, the government honored him with the Fifth Order of Merit of the Sacred Treasure (the Cordon of the Rising Sun) for his contributions to Karate. He was the first karate master to receive this distinguished award. In 1972, Master Ohtsuka was awarded the title of "Hanshi" by the emperor, which made him the head of all martial arts systems within the All Japan Karate-Do Federation. This was the first time this title had been awarded to anyone, and no one else was considered for it until after Master Ohtsuka's death.
Master Ohtsuka built his Wado-Ryu style of karate around nine basic kata, five of which are regarded as the fundamental techniques. The basic movements are called taisabaki. The techniques of Jujitsu have had a strong influence in the formation of Wado-Ryu karate. Master Ohtsuka also incorporated the naga-waza (throwing techniques) into his blended style of karate.
Before his death in 1982, Master Ohtsuka was teaching Karate twice a week at one of the university clubs or company dojo affiliated with Wado-Ryu. The other four days he spent inspecting his string of dojo around Tokyo, taking care of his duties as vice-chairman of the Federation of All Japan Karate-Do Organizations, or pursuing his continuing study of Karate techniques. He also spent time giving special demonstrations of Wado-Ryu Karate and overseeing the annual All-Japan Wado-Ryu Tournament. He even had enough energy to walk up five floors when he instructed at the Tokyo Dental College. Master Otsuka claimed his secret of longevity was to "never fret about the past. I concentrate on the present and plan for the future.".
Master Ohtsuka had four children - two sons and two daughters. His younger son Jiro had taken over most of Master Ohtsuka's teaching duties since the end of the war (World War 2) and, since his father's death, is currently the head of the Wado-Ryu schools. At 5'8" Jiro stands three inches taller than his father, and at 155 pounds outweighs him by 35 pounds. By 1978, Jiro was also a Sho-Dan in Aikido.
By 1978, there were some 300 Wado-Ryu dojo in Japan, including 70 university clubs and 230 company, government office, and private dojo. Overseas, 80 dojo had been established in the United States, Canada, Brazil, Australia, and other countries around the world. These numbers have grown significantly since then.
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