The Founder of Wado Ryu

Hironori Ohtsuka Wado Ryu Karate founder creator

by Tim Shaw


It has always been my intention to provide a more detailed and comprehensive profile of the founder of Wado Ryu karate than appeared in the first version of this site, as I very much see all articles featured within the site as "work in progress". Bearing in mind that the memory and the message of the late Ohtsuka Sensei is considered the wellspring of knowledge for all Wado practitioners and inspiration for all true followers of the Way, I feel it is my duty to present a more detailed study of the life of the late grandmaster to make the information more accessible to Wado karate practitioners.

The cast of characters in his life story reads like a Who's Who of Japanese Martial Arts and what has always seemed significant to me is not just the dramatis personae but also the coincidence of the timeframe these events took place in.

In some ways Japan at that particular position in history was almost a unique experiment, conspired and played out by the hand of fate, a collision of circumstances historical and social. If it were possible to devise a "planetary alignment" of divine social experimentation that resulted in the fruition of hundreds of years of refinement in the field of human hand to hand combat this is arguably where it would occur.

Although there are those who would say that the martial apex had been reached two hundred years earlier and what we saw at the end of the 19th century was an arrest from extinction, snatched from the abyss by the hands of social engineering. Indeed, the fighting skills of the clan warrior had been in decline for some considerable time, but the essence remained intact and this was a martial heritage that was to survive through its ability to remain relevant to a modern developing society, while retaining most of its original character and integrity. The embodiment of "adapt and survive".

I have made every effort to acknowledge the sources of the details of the life of Hironori Ohtsuka within this feature. However, clarification and corroboration of certain incidents and events have not always been easy to confirm and as time slips by the sources of this information become more difficult to access.

The background.
The early 1890s in Japan was a time when the country was experiencing major growth and economic expansion. The political scene was far from stable. The demise of the Tokugawa period and the unsettling establishment of the Meiji Restoration remained fresh in people's memories. The transformation of the former Samurai class into paragons of civic society was already well established and the abolition of the four feudal classes emancipated and liberated the nation. The former Samurai, previously repelled by the thought of handling money or finances (the domain of the vulgar merchant class) now slid comfortably in to key financial and banking positions, comforted by the thought that they would be serving the Emperor and the nation.

The main instigators of this cultural revolution were the Samurai themselves. Their martial and philosophical legacy became property of the common people, as these aspects were carefully filtered into the national education system by those in control, namely the same noble families that held the reins prior to the "abolition" of the warrior class.

Early Life.
It was into this background that Hironori Ohtsuka founder of Wado Ryu Karate was born in Shimodate City, Ibaragi Prefecture on the 1st June 1892. He was originally named Kuo, [1] the name "Hironori" is a type of martial arts nickname or title that he adopted at a later stage in his life.

He was the eldest son and the second of the four children of a well-to-do doctor of medicine Dr. Tokujiro Ohtsuka [2] and his wife Sato. Tokujiro had graduated from Jikei Medical College at the head of his class and was a qualified pediatrician who practiced at the hospital in Shimodate City. This well-respected position commanded a very high salary and it is reported that he earned up to fifteen Yen a day, a handsome sum in the 1890's. This level of income not only helped him to secure a prominent position on the social ladder but also enabled him to procure land and property for his family's future.

Kuo (Hironori) Ohtsuka was a sickly child of weak disposition [3], and it was decided that practice of the martial arts would help strengthen his constitution (as seems to be common with the great martial artist of this era.). Initially it was thought that Kendo would be the discipline that the youngster would benefit from (more his idea than that of his family), but his mother, fearing for the welfare of her eldest son, spoke up against the idea, concerned that the constant whacks on the head would damage his brain [4].

It is highly likely that young Hironori had little difficulty in complying with the idea that martial arts training would benefit his general health, as from a very early age he would listen to tales of Samurai exploits told by his mother's uncle, Chojiro Ebashi, who was a martial arts teacher in the Tuchiura clan [5]. In fact it was this same great-uncle who in 1897, when Hironori was just five years old, first formally instructed him in the art of Koryu ("old school") Jujutsu, a discipline that he was to exclusively and fanatically study for the next twenty-five years. It is unclear as to exactly which School ("Ryu") the great-uncle taught, but it definitely gave the youngster the sound grounding in the traditional skills.

Introduction to the martial arts.
In 1905, when he was thirteen years old, Hironori Ohtsuka entered the Shimozuma middle school. It was at this school that he began his formal training in the Shindo Yoshin Ryu school of Koryu Jujutsu under the guidance of Tatsusaburo Nakayama Sensei (1870 - 1933), who was a Kendo Instructor at the school for twenty years, as well as an Instructor of Jujitsu. At that time it was not unusual for a Kendo Instructor to train in Jujitsu in order to obtain a bone-setters licence. Tatsusaburo Nakayama obtained his licence after training in Shindo Yoshin Ryu, but he was originally a student of Jikishin Kage Ryu swordsmanship.
(For further details about Shindo Yoshin Ryu see "Wado and Jujutsu".)

The brand of Jujutsu that Ohtsuka was taught by master Nakayama had a heavy emphasis on the striking aspects of the art, which included precision strikes to vital points involving blows with the feet as well as the hands. (It was these particular skills that enabled him to so easily absorb the next major transition in his martial arts training). It has been speculated that the main branches of Yoshin Ryu Jujutsu specialised in the striking of anatomical weak spots on the human body because the two historical founders of the Ryu were medical men, knowledgeable in the traditional arts of Chinese and Japanese medicine.

Five years later, then aged eighteen, Hironori Ohtsuka entered Waseda University, Tokyo, to major in business administration and commerce. It was during this time as an undergraduate that he chose to take advantage of furthering his skills in Jujutsu by studying at a number of the many Jujutsu schools within the city. He pursued this study for four years but seems to have come to the conclusion that much of what he was learning, irrespective of style, was repetitive and basically the same. He then ceased visiting these Dojos and continued to train on his own in his original discipline, namely, Shindo Yoshin Ryu Jujutsu.

There has been much speculation as to which schools he visited during his four itinerant years. He is said to have studied Tenshinshinyo Ryu Jujutsu as well as Kito Ryu Jujutsu [6] and also, according to historian Dr Ryozo Fujiwara, it is possible that Ohtsuka Sensei trained with Butokukai Instructor Motoo Kanaya in Yoshin Koryu Jujutsu between the years 1919 to 1921, but this has yet to be confirmed [6].

In 1912 his father died and as a result of his mother's increasing concern for his infatuation with the martial arts, pressure was put upon him to withdraw from his studies and leave the University to go and work in the Kawasaki bank, which was owned by his great uncle. He was to remain in employment at the bank for the next twelve years, mainly out of a feeling of duty towards his mother and her wishes. Naturally he did not neglect his studies in the martial arts.

On his 30th birthday, 1st June 1921, Ohtsuka Sensei was granted the Menkyo Kaiden [7] (acknowledgement of full transmission) in Shindo Yoshin Ryu Jujutsu by Master Nakayama.

A new discipline - Okinawan Karate.
In 1922 Ohtsuka Sensei saw a newspaper article reporting Crown Prince Hirohito's visit to Europe. It told of how the Prince had stopped off on the Island of Okinawa and was treated to a display of dancing and a performance of something called "Karate". This article must have fired Ohtsuka Sensei's imagination. He was sufficiently interested to make enquiries about the possibility of someone coming over from Okinawa to teach Karate on the Japanese mainland at the residence of local government officials which was situated across the road from the bank where he worked, he even thought of traveling to Okinawa himself. It transpired that shortly after this Okinawan karate master Gichin Funakoshi arrived in Tokyo to demonstrate their indigenous art to the people of Japan. It was this that convinced Ohtsuka Sensei that he must track Funakoshi down and study with him.

Ohtsuka Sensei heard that Funakoshi Sensei was living in Meiseijuku dormitory, a hostel for Okinawan students. He found that Funakoshi was teaching karate to a group of students in the dining room of the dormitory and wasted no time in introducing himself. Ohtsuka Sensei recalled,

"Funakoshi-san welcomed me and said he would gladly teach me karate", and, "Although most Okinawans appear to be naturally suspicious he was surprisingly open and frank, even innocent." [8]

From that initial introduction Ohtsuka Sensei threw himself in to practicing karate virtually every night under the watchful eye of master Funakoshi. Funakoshi was astounded at Ohtsuka's skill, particularly in the striking aspects of his art and asked him if he had practiced karate before. It took Ohtsuka Sensei only one year to assimilate the fifteen katas that Funakoshi Sensei brought with him from Okinawa.

Medical skills and experience.
While all of this was happening Ohtsuka Sensei was continuing to develop his skills in bonesetting (Seikotsu) and orthopedic medicine. He had been studying bonesetting and the complementary skill of Kappo, or traditional methods of resuscitation, and by extension Katsu, since 1913.[9]

To some extent the medical traditions long established in the Far East complemented the study of martial arts. After all, knowledge of how to repair a broken body and heal injury would ideally go hand in hand with the knowledge of how to damage the body and cause trauma and possibly loss of life. For the martial artist they would be like the two sides of the same coin and would help to fill an ethical vacuum, particularly within the developing framework of the vision for Japanese Budo. Within Koryu Jujutsu some knowledge of these systems was considered essential.

Indeed Ohtsuka Sensei's knowledge and skills in this area were so highly thought of that when Funakoshi published his Masterwork on karate, "Karate do Kyohan" in 1935, the section on the vital points on the body and the effects of attacks to those points and the diagram were said to have been a gift from Ohtsuka to Funakoshi. These type of charts and diagrams are quite common in Japanese Koryu, but outside of the "Bubishi" do not seem to feature in Okinawan martial arts [10].

Members of the wider public also benefited from the medical skills Jujutsu teachers who were accomplished in bonesetting and repositioning of dislocated joints and other associated treatments.

The skills of resuscitation are still practiced today within some circles of Kodokan Judo. Three such techniques within the Kodokan curriculum are; Sasoi Katsu, Eri Katsu and So Katsu each involve methods of inducing breathing through direct massage to the abdomen and diaphragm. These are typical of the strategies used, involving a very physical, hands-on approach. The stricken person is placed in such a position that ensures that they are sufficiently accessible to enable the necessary manipulation to take full effect. Other strategies involved striking specific points on the body and even the use of Kiai!

On full graduation and qualification in the above mentioned skills, Ohtsuka Sensei teamed up with another doctor of orthopedics, Ryotaro Kanai, who asked him if he would be interested in creating a focus group of Jujutsu/Judo experts to examine the issue of injuries sustained during Jujutsu/Judo practice. Ohtsuka Sensei became Vice-President of this group that is still in operation to this day. Ohtsuka Sensei opened his own bone-setting and orthopedic clinic which was called "Nagurado" in Suehirocho, Kanda Tokyo. The clinic was only marginally successful as Ohtsuka Sensei was too frequently away from his duties because of his commitment to teaching karate. The clinic ran from around 1924 to 1938 and in the latter years Ohtsuka Sensei was also involved with the treating of wounded soldiers returning from the war.

Further developments in Karate.
It is clear that Ohtsuka Sensei was greatly inspired by the system explained to him by Funakoshi, it seems to have sparked his natural creativity and very early on he was experimenting with methods of marrying the core root of his martial training with the systemised structure of training employed by the Okinawan karate experts.

By 1924 Ohtsuka Sensei had developed a series of "Yakusoku Kumite" (pre arranged fighting techniques) as well as Idori No Kata, Tachi Ai No Kata and Shirahatori No Kata. In May of the same year Ohtsuka Sensei and Funakoshi Sensei demonstrated Yakusoku Kumite in public for the first time. Ohtsuka Sensei is also shown in one of Funakoshi Sensei's early books working Idori type techniques and taking Uke for Funakoshi on these very same techniques.

Although Funakoshi Sensei was rallying support for the introduction of karate to mainland Japan by recruiting from the intelligentsia and the people with influence, by degrees Ohtsuka Sensei became more and more important to him, often assisting him in teaching and demonstrations.

Very early on Funakoshi Sensei saw fit to establish the first recognised diplomas, or Dan ranks, designed to fit the format already established by Jigoro Kano in Kodokan Judo. Although the first person to be awarded this rank by master Funakoshi was Gima, the second cohort of Dan ranks were, Kasuya, Akiba, Shimizu, Hirose and Hironori Ohtsuka.

A year later Funakoshi's third son Yoshitaka (also known as Gigo) came to support his father and was to be a major player in the development of what is now known as Shotokan karate.

However not everything was rosy in the garden.

Although Funakoshi Sensei had his eyes cast towards the future his feet were firmly rooted in the past, and I am convinced that many of those around him adopted this same mindset. It is possible that resentment directed towards the creative ideas espoused by Ohtsuka Sensei caused cracks to appear in the relationship between the two men.

Many of the senior Funakoshi's followers had noticed how Ohtsuka Sensei had started to inject his own ideas into his teaching. Yasuhiro Konishi remembered witnessing an occasion at the Meisojuku when Funakoshi remonstrated with Ohtsuka in front of the students for introducing certain jujutsu elements into the training.

Issues became murkier when money and loyalty became intertwined.

When Ohtsuka Sensei resigned from the Kawasaki Bank he had amassed a retirement fund of 1000 yen. He decided to commit 200 yen towards a fund dedicated to building a permanent Dojo for Funakoshi Sensei. As he had worked as a banker he held the Dojo building fund in an account set up for that purpose. Other supporters of Funakoshi Sensei also contributed to the fund that at that time totaled 600 - 800 yen.

Meanwhile, Funakoshi Sensei's oldest son, Giei Funakoshi had allegedly been accumulating gambling debts and put pressure on Ohtsuka Sensei to release some of the money in his holding to pay off some of these debts. As eldest son of the master he must have considered it his right to make such a request. Ohtsuka Sensei folded to the pressure and decided to call a meeting of the other senior students to see if they could loan Giei the money. Out of feelings of loyalty to Funakoshi it was decided to loan the son the money, but unfortunately Giei neglected to pay the money back. To compound this already delicate and embarrassing situation Giei allegedly concocted a rumour that Ohtsuka Sensei had kept the money for himself.[11]

This, coupled with resentment of Ohtsuka Sensei's technical innovations, made his position within the group more and more untenable. It is difficult to establish exactly when the break between Ohtsuka Sensei and Funakoshi Sensei occurred. Ohtsuka Sensei said that in all he trained with Funakoshi Sensei for about ten years, from July 1922 to some time in 1932/33[12]. It is possible that despite the difficulties created that the two men maintained a mutual respect and remained on good terms for many years afterwards.

Meetings with remarkable men - Konishi, Motobu and Mabuni.
A little while after Ohtsuka Sensei's initial meeting with master Funakoshi he was beginning to feel that the answers he was getting did not fulfil his thirst for knowledge. There seemed to be distinct gaps - and so Ohtsuka Sensei felt a need to explore other avenues. The opportunity presented itself when, (probably through contact with Yasuhiro Konishi), Ohtsuka Sensei was introduced to both Kenwa Mabuni and Choki Motobu.

Yasuhiro Konishi (1893-1983) appears to have been an important individual in the development of Karate in the early 20th century. Not only does he act as connecting factor between the key representatives of the various factions, both Okinawan and Japanese, but he also seems to have pulled strings behind the scenes in some very important areas instrumental to bringing about the acceptance of karate to mainstream Japanese Budo/Bujutsu.

Konishi was of a similar age and from a similar martial arts background as Ohtsuka, he had started training in Muso Ryu Jujutsu at the age of six and then in high school switched to Takenouchi Ryu Jujutsu, a style which had a significant element of striking and kicking in its curriculum, which obviously later complemented his study of Okinawan karate.

In 1915 he entered Keio University in Tokyo and embraced Kendo practice in addition to furthering his studies of Jujutsu. His obsession for training resulted in him remaining at Keio University for a total of eight years and even after his graduation he remained with the University to coach the Kendo club.

In 1923 he opened his own full time Dojo (the Ryobu-Kan) teaching both Kendo and Jujutsu.

It was in September 1924 that Gichin Funakoshi and Hironori Ohtsuka appeared at the Keio University Kendo Hall and introduced themselves to Konishi. They presented him with a letter of introduction from Professor Kasuya, lecturer in German at Keio University and Funakoshi politely asked him if it was possible that they could use the Dojo to practice Okinawan karate. Konishi had been exposed to karate before, when a few years earlier he had been intrigued by the skills of an Okinawan student he had met while an undergraduate at Keio. Konishi's interest was reignited by this meeting with Funakoshi and Ohtsuka and an Okinawan karate club was formed as subsidiary to the Kendo Dojo.[13] After a short while the established instructors were Funakoshi, Ohtsuka and Konishi.

According to some sources in the early days at Keio traditional Japanese Jujutsu-ka came to issue challenges to Funakoshi and his new fighting system. As was the standard etiquette these challenges were met by the senior students, i.e. Konishi and Ohtsuka, who were never once defeated, the vanquished were then lectured by Funakoshi on the benefits of practicing Karate.

Ohtsuka and Konishi both recognised that the exclusive reliance on kata training alone had its limitations and very early on sought to introduce pairs drills based upon their experiences of paired forms found in Kendo and Jujutsu. These ideas seem to have been accepted by Funakoshi, who went along with them up to a point. It must have been obvious to him that things had to move with the times and some changes were inevitable.

During the 1920's Funakoshi was not the only Okinawan to arrive on the shores of Japan keen to promote and teach Okinawan karate. Two other key individuals important to this story were Okinawan masters Kenwa Mabuni (1889-1952) and Choki Motobu (1871-1944). Mabuni was originally from Shuri City in Okinawa and trained under both Anko Itosu (1830-1915) who incidentally was also one of the main teachers of Gichin Funakoshi, and Kanryo Higashionna (1845-1915). The former of Shuri-te lineage and the latter Nahate, therefore Mabuni's school was developed as a blend of both traditions.

Choki Motobu, although not as successful in his attempts to establish a school of his own as Funakoshi with what was to be known as the Shotokan school and Mabuni with his Shito Ryu, all the same secured for himself a formidable reputation as a knowledgeable and practical fighter. There seems to have been a two-way exchange of ideas between Ohtsuka Sensei and Motobu. Motobu was interested in traditional Japanese Jujutsu and Ohtsuka, in return was keen to find out more about the deeper aspects of Okinawan karate. Indeed it has often been said that the Wado version of the kata Naihanchi is closer in comparison to Motobu's Naihanchi Shodan than the versions practiced by Funakoshi and Mabuni. That Motobu had respect for Ohtsuka's ability as a fighter is beyond doubt.

Within modern Wado attempts have been made to identify the influences of these various renaissance figures within the accepted curriculum. It is probably easier to recognise the origins of Ohtsuka Sensei's katas and connect them with a particular tradition through a key individual within that tradition than any other area of influence, although the actual ideas and intentions behind the content of the katas are very much pure Ohtsuka.

Okinawan karate has a certain accessibility, a very straightforward logic which is much easier for the western mind to accept. It translated well to the teaching of large numbers, particularly when it was taken out of the packed-earth backyard training areas of Okinawan and transferred to the large Kodokan-style training halls of Japan. It is not difficult to see how easy the transition was to take karate to the West. But here is where the subtlety of Ohtsuka Sensei's ideas could be lost, misinterpreted or diluted. Many of his ideas for the Kihon, Kata and Kumite of Wado are from the distinct Japanese Budo systems, which although not incompatible with the Okinawan methodology are nevertheless distinct in their own historical development and philosophical influences. Karate taught en-masse can fall prey to mistranslation - very different to the hands-on intimacy common to the Japanese Koryu Budo/Bujutsu systems. Without a doubt Wado is a very difficult system to absorb, both physically and intellectually.

The founding and naming of Wado Ryu.
In 1934 Ohtsuka Sensei founded his first Karate organisation, which he called the Dai Nippon Karate Shinko Club ("Dai" meaning "Great", "Nippon" for "Japan" and "Shinko" to "promote"). At this time Ohtsuka Sensei was still considered part of Funakoshi Sensei's group, which he was to remain connected with until 1935 when most researchers agree that the real parting of the ways occurred.

It is believed that in 1938 Ohtsuka Sensei chose another name for his group, this time calling it the Dai Nippon Karate-Do Shinbukai. But things took some time to settle.

He recounted the later events of the year 1938:

"Every year, for purposes of promoting the Japanese martial-arts, the Butokuden in Kyoto held a national festival. In 1938, the festival focused on the originators of each martial art, however, no originator of Japanese Karate had been identified. I named the originator of the first true Japanese style of Karate-Do as Shiro-Yoshitoki Akiyama (the founder of Shinto Yoshin-ryu Jujitsu[14]) and named this new style of Karate-Do, 'Wado-Ryu' meaning: 'Japanese-way school' or also 'Peaceful-way school' since the Kanji lettering for 'Wa' can mean both."[14]

Accounts vary but Ohtsuka Sensei seems to have experimented with an appropriate name for his school over the next few of years[15]. The accepted version is that the name came out of discussions with his then most senior students, and it was one such student, Kihara of the University of Agriculture who actually originally registered the name with the festival organizers as "Shinshu Wado Ryu Karate Jujutsu"

After taking advice from the 9th headmaster of Yagyu Shinkage Ryu Kenjutsu, master Gihachiro Kubo, Ohtsuka Sensei decided to drop the "Shinshu" because "Shinshu" like "Wa" can also mean "Japan", so it would have been too repetitious.

(For a more detailed description of Ohtsuka Sensei's ideas for the true meaning of "Wado" see, "The Philosophy of Wado Ryu".)

The development of Wado Ryu.
Accolades and honours continued and in 1942 Ohtsuka Sensei was awarded the rank of "Kyoshi Go".

At the end of the war in 1945 the practice of Martial Arts was forbidden by the occupying Americans. Ohtsuka Sensei continued to train and teach in secret, as many karate instructors were able to continue under the noses of the new authorities by claiming to offer boxing lessons, which seemed acceptable to the occupying forces. It was only in 1951 that the ban was finally lifted.

It was in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War that the newly formed Wado organization gained its first permanent home, a main Dojo, a Headquarters in front of the Tsukiji Police Station in Tokyo, which was a space large enough to accommodate twenty-four Tatami. Ohtsuka Sensei only remained there for three years and then relocated to the gymnasium of the Nakano Primary School in the north of the city.

In the postwar period Japanese karate flourished, particularly within the University system and Wado was able to grow and develop as more and more and more young people were able to avail themselves of the benefits both physical and ethical inherent to the structure of karate training.

The Wado style expanded, not just within Japan but also abroad and with this growth came the benefits and the pitfalls. On the plus side, Wado went global and has always been considered worldwide as one of the major styles of Karate. But with size comes the potential for over extension and political wrangling. But details of schisms and acrimonious disputes do little to forward the quest for an understanding of what is at the core of Wado karate and can too easily colour the views of the casual enquirer.

Ohtsuka Sensei was tireless in his involvement with the development of a distinctly Japanese karate system. In 1966 Ohtsuka Sensei was awarded "Kun Goto Kyokujitsu Shou" by Emperor Hirohito for his dedication to the introduction and teaching of Karate.

In 1972 he was awarded the highest title possible, "Meijin". The first man in history to receive this great honour.

Hironori Ohtsuka the man and the martial artist.
When Tatsuo Suzuki (1928- ), one of Ohtsuka Sensei's senior students, was asked in an interview what sort of man the late grandmaster was, he replied;

"He was a real Japanese Samurai - I have never met such a great personality of a man, Ohtsuka Sensei was of course one of the greatest karate men but also technically and physically I have never seen such a complete martial artist."

Ohtsuka Sensei weighing about 120 pounds, stood five foot five inches in height and was willowy and lean. He maintained relatively good health throughout his long life, he never drank and even though he was a heavy smoker until he was in his sixties, he maintained a health conscious regime to the end of his days.

He preferred to walk if given the opportunity and when riding on trains would choose to stand rather than sit - he shared this preference with his good friend the famous Kendo master, Hakudo Nakayama, who also liked to challenge his balance by remaining standing on streetcars and trains.

A characteristic common to all dedicated Budoka is that their minds are never far away from the Dojo - Ohtsuka Sensei was no exception. He advocated that Wado techniques of body shifting and Taisabaki could be practiced when moving through crowds and was always vigilant about rounding street corners, preferring to take the corners wide to avoid the possibility of collision or attack. Even in the later days of his life he would train daily and would rise early in the morning and practice for twenty minutes. He would concentrate on only one technique and would work on that particular technique solely for one month before moving on to another.

When asked about his secrets of good health and longevity he said,

" I never fret about the past. I concentrate on the present and plan for the future."

Ohtsuka Sensei was also a family man. He and his wife Toki had four children; two sons and two daughters. His youngest son Jiro (born 1934) was designated to take over from his father and assume the mantle of Wado Ryu Grandmaster in the event of his death.[16]

As a Martial Artist very few could match him in terms of dedication and wealth of experience. His ability was in no doubt.

A story from the early years of karate training in Japan illustrates not only the skill attributed to Ohtsuka Sensei as a result of his rich Martial Arts background, but also the relationship between the various Okinawan experts. This tale is recounted in "Nihon Budo Taikei" and tells of a meeting at Yasuhiro Konishi's dojo in 1929, between Choki Motobu and Gichin Funakoshi. Also present, Hironori Ohtsuka and a Judo fourth Dan who was accompanying Motobu.

It was obvious that Motobu was intent on making mischief. Motobu arranged a challenge in which the Judoka took a grip on Funakoshi's collar and sleeve. Motobu then said,

"Now you are so proud of your basic kata, show me what value they have in this situation. Do what you wish to escape."

It is obvious that the odds were greatly against Funakoshi, the much younger Judoka having established a firm grip. He gamely tried to disengage with Soto-uke and Uchi-uke with no success and he was lifted up and thrown against the wall of the dojo. Ohtsuka Sensei was then asked to try his luck. He rose to the challenge and because of his Jujutsu background had no difficulty in dealing with the situation.

This was not going to be the only occasion when Ohtsuka Sensei was to be put to the test. A story in circulation recounts how when he was teaching at Shichi-Tokudo, a student named Kogura from Keio University, who was a third Dan in Kendo, for reasons unclear, decided to face Ohtsuka Sensei with a razor sharp sword.

The other students watched in horror as they knew that the chances were slim against a trained swordsman with a live blade. Ohtsuka Sensei viewed his adversary calmly and as Kogura made his move and leapt in with a lethal blow, Ohtsuka Sensei swept him off his feet.[17]

This story illustrates that he was superbly skilled in anticipating the style of attack and his confidence and timing must have been highly tuned, all as a result of his natural ability and his extensive experience in traditional Japanese Budo. It is also possible that he may have applied part of the strategy included in the advanced curriculum of some schools of old style Japanese Budo to operate on the level of mind control and manipulation of the aggressor. I have it on good authority that this form was taught at the higher levels of Shindo Yoshin Ryu Jujutsu as part of the Okuden[18] level of initiation and understanding. Naturally, that Ohtsuka Sensei employed this strategy is all guess work on my part, as the truth behind this incident has yet to be established.

It would be a mistake to assume that Ohtsuka Sensei's skills resided only in the unarmed aspects of combat. An identifying feature of the classification of Japanese martial arts known as "Koryu" Jujutsu ("Koryu", lit. "Old School".) of which Shindo Yoshin Ryu Jujutsu was one of the very last official schools to qualify, being founded in 1864 (1868 being the generally accepted cut-off for the qualification of Koryu.) was the complementary study of the traditional weapons, including swordsmanship. In 1938 Ohtsuka Sensei based his Karate Dojo within the environs of the Dojo of Yagyu Shinkage Ryu (Tosa clan) master Gihachiro Kubo and while there also took the opportunity to study the sword arts of master Kubo. He is also known to have studied the short sword skills of the Toda Ryu school of swordsmanship and incorporated some of the tactics and methods from both schools into Wado Ryu.

Ohtsuka Sensei continued to train, practice and teach even in his twilight years. Very few martial artists were able to amass the years of dedicated training that he achieved and his monument remains in the form of the system he left behind. And even though he always said that Wado was still a developing style, the ground rules he established have never been contradicted or proved to be hollow.

Hironori Ohtsuka 10th Dan, Saiko Shihan, Meijin, died at the age of ninety years on January 29th 1982 after a total of eighty six years of Martial Arts training.

In one of his last interviews he said of his own training,

"I am still struggling to the top of a high mountain".

Before he died he appointed as his successor his son Jiro, who out of respect, took his father's name, "Hironori" and became Hironori Ohtsuka II, second grandmaster of Wado Ryu.

The true spirit, as fostered by this great man, continues today in the practitioners of pure Wado Ryu Karate Do, who aim to keep the spirit of pure Budo alive in their training.

As with all great men, rumour and conjecture abound. Half-truths can develop the status of full truths and stories become either exaggerated or trimmed to suit the agenda of those telling the story. There are many such stories in circulation about Hironori Ohtsuka, I have deliberately kept these to a minimum.

I would request of anyone looking into the life of this great martial artist to remain objective, to understand the climate in which events occurred and to bear in mind that while much has remained undiscovered, what has so far been disclosed gives us enough of a picture to understand the unique qualities inherent to the design and creation of Wado Ryu as the work of one man, Hironori Ohtsuka.


[1] [2] [3] [5] [6] Many thanks for the kind permission granted by Saiko Shihan H. Ohtsuka II to include exclusive biographical information from the Wado Ryu Renmei Jujutsu Kempo website. It is Ohtsuka Sensei's wish that material from this source may not be reproduced without prior permission from the Ohtsuka family.

[3] Liam Keely interview with H. Ohtsuka 1976-77.

[4] Mentioned in the footnotes of an Interview with Kazuo Sakai by Mike Clarke, Wado Journal, Vol. 1, No. 1.

[6] Information placed in the public domain by Shingo Ohgami Sensei on his Wado-Kai Sweden website. Research conducted by Dr, Ryozo Fujiwara. The reference to Yoshin Koryu suggests that the particular branch of Yoshin Ryu that Master Kanaya practiced was descended from the Miura branch of Yoshin Ryu Jujutsu, as opposed to the Akiyama branch (See Serge Mol, "Classical Fighting Arts of Japan".)

[7] Menkyo Kaiden, "Menkyo" means "a Licence" and "Kaiden" means "Everything passed on".

[8] Andy Adams, Black Belt Magazine article, November, 1971.

[9] The two Japanese characters that make up the word "Kappo" are "Katsu" meaning "resuscitation" and "Ho" meaning "method".

[10] Source, Charles Joseph Swift article, "Shotokan History", Dragon Times Vol, 21. Mr Swift also refers to this in an an article titled, "Kyushojutsu: Historical Development" (Fighting Arts). He cites the origin of this information as, "Gekkan Karatedo ed. (1999) "Kyusho no Himitsu (The Secrets of Vital Points)." Gekkan Karatedo (Karatedo Monthly Magazine) Special Edition."
I have examined and compared the relevant sections in "Karate-Do Kyohan" and a diagram of the vital points shown in a publication from an Ohtsuka family source and found some differences. In Funakoshi Sensei's text there is a reference to "certain schools of Judo" who prefer to utilize various vital points, suggesting that perhaps Funakoshi made amendments to the original material supplied to him by Ohtsuka Sensei. But all of this is conjecture on my part and is yet to be confirmed by more reliable sources.

[11] Information courtesy of the website of the Zimmerman Karate Schools USA ("BIOGRAPHY - GRAND MASTER HIRONORI OTSUKA I The official history of Wado-Ryu translated by Kazutaka Ohtsuka in an interview with Grand Master Hironori Ohtsuka II")

[12] In Liam Keely's 1976-77 interview Ohtsuka Sensei said that he trained with Funakoshi Sensei for about nine years from 1922/23 to 1932/33.

[13] The Okinawan student who first demonstrated Okinawan Tode jutsu to Yasuhiro Konishi was Tsuneshige Arakaki. Source: Web article, "The History of Japan Karate-Do Ryobu-Kai" by Howard S. High.

[14] Akiyama was the founder of the Yoshin Ryu jujutsu tradition, which he established possibly in the 1660's. (See Serge Mol, "Classical Fighting Arts of Japan".)

[15] In some quarters it has been suggested that the name "Wado" was the suggestion of one of Ohtsuka Sensei's senior students, Eichii Eriguchi.

[16] Andy Adams, Black Belt Magazine article, November, 1971.

[17] This incident was referred to in Richard Kim's book "Weaponless Warriors", also, Tatsuo Suzuki, one of Ohtsuka Sensei's most senior students, indirectly confirmed this story in an interview which appeared in Wado World magazine, No.1, Vol. 1. 1987. Interviewer; "In Japan, I heard a story about him (Ohtsuka) that one day he fought a 3rd Dan kendo expert at one of the universities in Tokyo for real and swept him off his feet. Is that true?" T.S. "Yes, I think so, I didn't see it but one of the old boys at Tokyo University saw this and told me it was true."

[18] "Okuden". This term is usually applied to one of the divisions, licenses or levels common to many koryu jujutsu schools and usually means "Deep initiation". (See Serge Mol, "Classical Fighting Arts of Japan".)


2002 All rights to this article reserved T. Shaw.











































Ohtsuka Sensei (seated centre) c1907








Hironori Ohtsuka as a young man
photo credit; Wado World






































Tim Shaw demonstrating Sasoi Katsu at Shikukai Chelmsford.
















Ohtsuka Sensei receives an award from Funakoshi Sensei. (photo credit, All Japan Wado programme.)



































Early group photograph with Master Funakoshi (centre right) sitting next to professor Kasuya. Top row, far right, is Ohtsuka Sensei. (photo and information courtesy Harry Cook.)



























Ohtsuka Sensei (seated 5th from the left) and group in 1939.

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