The History of Wado Ryu Karate

Hironori Ohtsuka

Hironori Ohtsuka 10th Dan Meijin

The “Wado” story began on 1st June 1892 when Hironori Ohtsuka was born. He was born in Shimodate City, Ibaragi, Japan, the first son of Dr Tokuiuro Ohtsuka, a Doctor of Medicine. Ohtsuka was first introduced to the Martial Arts by his great uncle Chojiro Ebashi who began teaching him Jujitsu. On the 1st April 1897, Ohtsuka started school where he studied Shindo Yoshin Ryu Jujitsu, under the supervision of Shinzaburo Nakayama Sensei, the third Grand Master of this style of Jujitsu. Ohtsuka continued his studies of Shindo Yoshin Ryu Jujitsu whilst at Waseda University from 1910 to 1917 reading commerce. Ohtsuka also studied different styles of Jujitsu, experimenting between styles concentrating on their “positive quality”. Ohtsuka was awarded on 1st June 1920 the highest degree of Shindo Yoshin Ryu Jujitsu, which allowed him to succeed his master’s position as fourth Grand Master.

The 1922 sports festival in Tokyo was to continue his obsession with all Martial Arts. For the first time, Ohtsuka was to encounter Karate. Gichin Funakoshi Sensei was invited by the Japanese Education Department to demonstrate his style of Okinawan Karate (Tode). Kano Sensei, a renowned Martial Arts Instructor, accepted that the spirit behind karate was the same as Japanese Martial Arts, which served to promote its message and style.

Ohtsuka was impressed with this newly promoted Martial Art. He visited Funakoshi Sensei on numerous occasions during his stay, discussing techniques and other aspects of Karate. Funakoshi Sensei prolonged his visit by invitation from the Japanese Education department. He was “impressed” by Ohtsuka’s enthusiasm and determination to understand Karate and agreed to teach him all he knew about Karate. Within the space of a year, Ohtsuka Sensei had studied all the Katas that Funakoshi had brought from Okinawa, although he found certain movements and techniques difficult to implement and understand. This led Ohtsuka in his search for a deeper understanding of Karate to practice Kata with Mabuni Sensei the founder of Shito-Ryu Karate.

His prowess in the Martial Arts had led him to be the Chief Instructor of Shindo Yoshin Ryu Jujitsu and an assistant instructor at Funakoshi Sensei’s dojo. By the year 1929 Ohtsuka was a registered member of the Japan Martial Arts Federation.

The year of 1934 proved to be a major year for Ohtsuka and “Wado” Karate during this year Wado-Ryu Karate was also “born” and officially recognised to be an independent style. Ohtsuka Sensei’s personalised style of Karate was officially registered in 1938 after he was awarded the rank of “Renshi-go”. He presented a magnificent demonstration of “Wado” Karate for the Japan Martial Arts Federation who were impressed with his style and commitment and successfully acknowledged him as a high ranking instructor.

The next year the Japan Martial Arts Federation asked all the different styles of Karate to register their names. Ohtsuka registered the name of “Wado-Ryu”, other styles to register included Shotokan Ryu, Goju-Ryu and Shito-Ryu. The next few years witnessed Wado Ryu karate growing from strength to strength, new dojos were opening and karate was being taught at the Universities.

Ohtsuka himself was becoming a recognised figure within the World of Martial Arts. Ohtsuka Sensei in 1972 was historically awarded with an honour never before bestowed upon any Karate master, the president of the International Martial Arts Federation, a member of the Japanese royal family, presented Ohtsuka with the title of “Meijin” – the first excellent Martial Artist in Karate (10th Dan) it was the greatest title possible and bestowed upon him.

Ohtsuka Meijin continued to lead the World of Wado-Ryu Karate until the 20th November 1981, when he finally decided to abdicate his possession as Grand Master of Wado-Ryu Karate and nominated his son Hironori Ohtsuka 2nd as his successor.

Hironori Ohtsuka Meijin peacefully passed away on 19th January 1982, two months later.