Grand Master Hironori Otsuka
Grand Master Hironori Otsuka (1892 - 1982),
the founder of Wado Karate studied the martial arts for 85 years,
ending his illustrious career as First Generation Karate-do Master of
the 10th Dan -– the greatest title that can be achieved in martial arts.
Born on June 1, 1892, in Shimodate City,
Ibaragi Prefecture, Japan, he was one of four children of Dr. Tokujiro
Otsuka, a medical doctor who operated a clinic at their home.
Otsuka Sensei began jujutsu training at the
age of five, under the direction of his great uncle Chojiro Ibashi, a
At 13 he began training in Shindo Yoshinryu
jujutsu under Tasusaburo Nakayama (a kendo instructor, 1870-1933) who
had inherited the style from D. Matsuoka. Tasusaburo was the third
master, Chin style jujutsu.
This particular style, which stressed atemi
(smashing) and kicking amalgamated with throwing, grappling, and
free-falls, can be traced back to 1610.
In 1911, Otsuka Sensei studied Toshin-Kenpo
and attended other jujutsu schools while a student in business
administration at Waseda University in Tokyo. He also studied Yoshin
Koryu with Kanaya Motoo.
Unable to complete his studies as a result
of his father’s death, he became a clerk at the Kawasaki Bank,
repressing his desire to become a full-time karate instructor out of
respect for the wishes of his mother.
On June 1, 1921, at the age of 29, he was
awarded the Menkyo-Kaiden, a certificate of full proficiency, and was
designated the “Style’s Successor” for Shindo Yoshinryu jujutsu. This
made Otsuka the fourth master.
Otsuka Sensei discovered karate in 1922 and
started training under the legendary Funakoshi Gichin (the founder of
Shotokan Ryu, 1868-1957) who has just arrived in Tokyo from Okinawa.
This was the start of a long and close
friendship between the two most important people in martial arts in the
20th century. Otsuka trained virtually every night at the Meishojuko
Dojo and began to have ideas on how to adapt his atemi techniques to
During this period he also trained under
Kenwa Mabuni (1889 - 1952), the founder of Shito-Ryu in Tokyo, and it
was with Mabuni that he clarified the Pinan katas (between 1928 and
1929). Otsuka worked with Choki (Saru) Motobu (1871-1944) on the
He also studied Kobudo, the Okinawan
ancient weapons arts.
In 1927, Saikô Shihan Otsuka set himself up as a medical
specialist in treatments of martial arts injuries. By 1928 he was the
assistant instructor to Gichin Funakoshi.
At the time, Okinawan karate only
concentrated on kata. Around 1929 Otsuka Sensei started the study of
jiu-kumite (free fighting) for competitive purposes, teaching ippon
(one-step) and sanbon (three-step) kumite (sparring) -- laying the
foundation for modern free style karate kumite tournaments.
He felt that the full spirit of Budo, which
concentrates on defence and attack, was missing, and that kata
techniques needed the support of realistic fighting situations (Goshin)
and competitive sparring (Jiu Kumite).
As a result of differences in teaching
style, especially in the performance of kata and in the introduction of
free fighting, Saikô Shihan Otsuka and Grand Master Gichin
Funakoshi parted ways in the early 1930s.
On April 1, 1934, Otsuka started his own
school the Dai Nippon Karate Shinko Club (Dai = great, Nippon = Japan,
Shinko = to promote, bu = martial, kai = association) at 63 Banchi
Suehiro-Cho Kanda-Ku Tokyo-Shi.
He merged Okinawan karate with traditional
Japanese jujutsu into Wado-Ryu Karate-Jutsu and Wado-Ryu-Jujutsu kenpo.
From Okinawan karate comes the hard punches and kicks, and from jujutsu
and kendo the use of body movement and joint locks and pins.
Wado is, in essence, a primary combination
of both Gichin Funakoshi’s teaching of Shotokan and Tasusaburo
Nakayama’s teaching of Shindo Yoshinryu jujutsu.
According to Grand Master Otsuka, Wado-Ryu
is primarily a spiritual discipline. For him, "ten-chi-jin, ri-do"
(heaven - earth - man, principal way) is a harmonious union to be
respected and sought through austere discipline and untiring
Wado-Ryu Karate was officially recognized
as an independent style of karate in 1934. This recognition allowed
Otsuka Sensei to leave his medical practice and fulfil his life's
ambition to become a full-time martial artist.
By 1938 the Dai Nippon Karate Shinko club
was little more than a name. The name went through several changes
before becoming Wado Ryu. It was changed to Dai Nippon Karate-do
Shinbu-Kai, followed by Ko-Shu Wado-Ryu Karate Jutsu, then to Wado-Ryu
Karate Jutsu and then Wado Ryu.
Wado Ryu means “School/ The Way to
Peace/Harmony”. Wa = peace/harmony, Do = The way, and Ryu =
In 1940 Wado Ryu was registered at the
Butokukai, Kyoto for the demonstration of various Budo, together with
Shotokan Ryu, Shito Ryu and Goju Ryu. In 1944, Otsuka Sensei was
appointed Japan’s chief karate instructor.
On August 25, 1967, “Karate Do, Volume 1” by Saikô Shihan
Otsuka was published. This book was not for sale and contained mainly
kata. On August 25, 1970 “Karate-Do 2nd. Volume - Fundamental Kumite”,
also by Otsuka, was published.
Through his writings, Otsuka taught that
the way of martial arts must not be mere fighting technique, but the
way of "peace and harmony," not violence.
“The path of martial arts is the path for peace. By mastering the path
of martial arts, which is the path of peace and desiring the path of
peace consequently, is indeed the true path of the martial arts.
“The essence of the path of martial arts
lies in the peace and happiness of all human beings.”
In 1968, Otsuka Sensei
appointed Top Master Masaru Shintani as the
head of all Wado Karate-do in North America, and conferred on him the
title of supreme instructor.
Their close relationship was clearly
demonstrated in the 105 letters written to Master Shintani and his
mother by Otsuka Sensei between 1969 and 1981, and by Otsuka’s trips to
Canada to demonstrate and promote Wado Karate-do there.
On Nov. 15, 1979, Grand Master Otsuka
personally awarded Master Shintani the ranks of Hachidan (8th Dan) and
Kudan (9th Dan).
Throughout his career, Saikô Shihan
Otsuka received numerous outstanding awards including: the Kun-Go-To,
“The Fifth Order of Merit of the Sacred Treasure”, awarded on April 29,
1966 by the Emperor of Japan.
The Emperor also decorated him with the
Soko Kyokujitsu-Sho medal for his promotional efforts in karate.
As well, the International Martial Arts
Federation, Kokusai Budo, conferred on him the title “Shodai Karate-do
Meijin Judan” (First Generation Karate-do Master of the Tenth Dan) on
October 9, 1972.
This was the first time that this award has
been given to a practitioner of Karate, and was the same status as that
of Kyuzo Mifune in Judo and Hakuko Nakayama in Kendo.
Grand Master Otsuka died on January 29,
After his death the Wado Karate-do
community split into four separate worldwide organizations. This was
triggered by differences in teaching style and in leadership.
The four organizations were Wado-Kai, Japan
Karate-do Federation, based in Japan; Wado-Ryu under Jiro Otsuka in
Japan; Wado-Ryu under Tatsuo Suzuki in Europe; and Wado-Kai under
Masaru Shintani in North America.