Hironori Ohtsuka and the introduction of Karate to the Japanese Mainland
Hironori Ohtsuka

Master Ohtsuka was born on June 1st. 1892 in Shimodate City, Ibaragi Prefecture, Japan, where his father, Dr.Tokujiro Ohtsuka operated a clinic. As a boy he listened to his mother's uncle, Chojiro Ebashi tell thrilling stories of samurai endeavours. He himself was a respected samurai warrior. Master Ohtsuka began martial arts training at the age of 5, practising jujutsu under his uncle's instruction.

By the age of 13 he began his formal training during his school days (1906-1911) in Shindo Yoshin Ryu Jujutsu, a traditional Japanese martial art from which modern judo was derived.
This was under the direction of Tatsusaburo Nakayama (1870-1933). This style stressed kicking and striking techniques, in contrast to the throwing techniques of most jujutsu styles.

In 1911, Ohtsuka entered Waseda University to study business administration. It was during this period that Ohtsuka began studying atemi style Kempo, while he continued his studies in Shindo Yoshin Ryu Jujutsu. When his father died in 1913 he was forced to quit school and return to Shimodate to work at the Kawasaki Bank.

By 1921 at the relatively young age of 29, he was awarded the coveted menkyo kaiden, which was a charter making him the grandmaster of the Shindo Yoshin Ryu Jujutsu school. A year later he began karate training with Gichin Funakoshi, one of the men who introduced Okinawan Tode to Japan from Okinawa.

Gichin Funakoshi and Shinkin Gima had been sent to Japan by a council of Okinawan karate masters in order to introduce Okinawa-Te (Tode) to the Japanese. This was at the request of the Crown Prince Hirohito. Ohtsuka heard of this visit and journeyed to Tokyo to witness the demonstration.

Funakoshi eventually stayed in Japan to promote karate. Ohtsuka visited him at the Meisei Juku (dormitory for Okinawan students) and spent many hours discussing their ideas about the martial arts. At this time Ohtsuka began training with Funakoshi. Ohtsuka immediately saw the advantages of combining the Okinawan Shuri type karate with the techniques and principles of Japanese Shindo Yoshin Ryu Jujutsu.

Because of his experience and knowledge of jujutsu martial art skills, he was able to grasp and understand the principles of karate very quickly.

Funakoshi recognised these abilities and in 1924 Ohtsuka earned his black belt in karate making him one of the first Japanese to be promoted in this art.

In 1927 he left the bank at Shimodate, and became a medical specialist (bone setter) treating injuries in order to devote more time to the martial arts.

Ohtsuka studied with Funakoshi for over ten years and became Funakoshi's senior student. After Ohtsuka began to teach karate at Tokyo University in 1929, he began to have differences of opinion with Funakoshi over the introduction of jujutsu techniques and the practice of ji yu kumite (free fighting), as Funakoshi did not approve.

Funakoshi thought that the introduction of Japanese jujutsu and free fighting into the Okinawan Shuri type karate was wrong, Ohtsuka disagreed and was now beginning to realise the limitations of Funakoshi`s experience and knowledge, in brief, he was being held back by what he believed was Funakoshi`s outmoded viewpoint and beliefs.

Ohtsuka began to train with Kenwa Mabuni and Choki Motobu. He wanted to learn as much as possible from the masters who had instructed Funakoshi. It was his belief that Funakoshi had over simplified and modified (changed) several karate techniques and katas in the interests of teaching large groups of beginners.

Ohtsuka combined his new knowledge of karate with several of his own adaptations from his original jujutsu and Japanese Bushido (Way of the Warrior) to form Wado karate. He also discarded techniques which were ineffective. He introduced different kinds of body shifting techniques, a more upright stance for mobility, and reliance on evasion and counter techniques. Its emphasis was on skill and technique, as opposed to brute force or strength, and the traditional Okinawan Tode techniques gave an all round effectiveness and efficiency to Wado Ryu unique in Japanese karate. Jujutsu joint locks and attacks, as well as throwing routines were also introduced into this system.

Ohtsuka is also credited with the introduction of the first rules and regulations for competition free fighting to be incorporated into his system, the first karate style to do so, the other's followed.

Ohtsuka's Wado Ryu is a lightning fast and agile, manoeuvrable style. As well as founding the Wado Ryu Karatedo Renmei Federation, he was a founding member of the Kokusai Budoin (International Martial Arts Federation) and Director of the Japan Classical Martial Arts Promotion Society.

In 1967 the Emperor of Japan awarded Ohtsuka the Fifth Order of Merit (the Shiju Hoosho Medal) for his outstanding contributions to karate. He was the first karate master to receive this distinguished award.

In 1972, he was the recipient of the Hanshi Award, an even greater honour. Ohtsuka was again the first karateka ever honoured by the Japanese Royal family with the title of Meijin.      

Along with this award came the honour of being ranked at the head of all martial arts systems within the All Japan Karate-do Federation (Judan or 10th degree Black Belt).  

Shortly before his death Ohtsuka was recognised as the oldest practising karateka in the world. Ohtsuka said "The difference between the possible and the impossible is one's will," and he always emphasized that the karateka should always hold true, three vital elements - the heart, mind and spirit.

Even an above average man in his eighties would probably have been content to rest and let others continue his work, but Ohtsuka was not. Never believing that he or the martial arts in general had learned all that there was to know, he continued to practice. Putting on his gi (training uniform), he would train every day for twenty minutes on just one technique, and continue this for a full month. Those who have studied with him remarked how he enjoyed walking on the crowded streets of Tokyo, so that he could practice smoothly weaving and twisting (Taisabaki waza) without letting anyone touch him.

Hironori Ohtsuka practised karate daily until his death on January 29th. 1982.

History of Shindo Yoshin Ryu Jujutsu

The founder of Wado Ryu karate Hironori Ohtsuka said and wrote on many occasions that he had trained in Shindo Yoshin Ryu Jujutsu under Nakayama Tatsusaburo (1870-1933). It is quite natural that our interest extends to Shindo Yoshin Ryu Jujutsu and Nakayama Tatsusaburo, our roots.

Shindo Yoshin Ryu Jujutsu was founded by Matsuoka Katsunosuke (1836-1898). He was a doctor (in Chinese medicine), and studied Tenjin Shinyo Ryu Jujutsu and Yoshin Koryu Jujutsu together with Jikishinkage Ryu kenjutsu and Hokushin Ittoryu kenjutsu. He was fully licensed in Tenjin Shinyo Ryu jujutsu in 1855 and opened  a dojo of Tenjin Shinyo Ryu in Tokyo in 1858.

In 1864 he started his own style of jujutsu, Shindo Yoshin Ryu and in 1870 he opened the Shindokan Matsuoka dojo where he taught both kenjutsu and jujutsu.

Matsuoka Katsunosuke founded Shindo Yoshin Ryu, but it has a long historical background that comes from the stream of Yoshin Ryu Jujutsu.  

Unfortunately there is not very much material regarding Shindo Yoshin Ryu except the names of techniques. The terminology in Shindo Yoshin Ryu is quite identical with that in Tenjin Shinyo Ryu, which is quite natural when you look at the historical background. Today Tenjin Shinyo Ryu group is quite active and annually demonstrating at the Budokan. A book about Tenjin Shinyo Ryu was published in 1893. Punch and kicks are included in any jujutsu school, but it seems like these are used more in the Yoshin Ryu stream. The impression is that the techniques that are used in Kihon Kumite such as escaping (Nogare), avoiding (Sabaki), floating (Nori) and sweeping away (Nagashi) are often used in kenjutsu. This is because Nakayama Tatsusaburo was a kendo instructor who trained in Jikishin Kageryu and Onoha Ittoryu kenjutsu. There is monument to the memory of Nakayama in Shimotsuma.

Wado Kai Karate

Wado Kai Karate was developed in 1934, originally called the Karate Promotion Club. In 1940, when Ohtsuka was requested to submit an official name by the Butoku-kai in Kyoto he registered the name Wado Kai. This ceremony took place together with Shotokan, Shito Ryu and Goju Ryu. This occasion is regarded as the first official naming of Karate styles.

Ohtsuka originally devised the name for his system as Shinshu Wado Jujutsu. This was later shortened to Wado. The term wa means "peace" or "harmony", but it also represents Japan as a shortened form of Showa, which was the name for the era of Emperor Hirohito. Do means "the way". By putting the two together you get the way of peace and/or harmony.

(The dove is also the messenger of Hachiman,the Japanese god of war)

Originally the style was referred to as Wado Kai which is "Wado house or group" but upon becoming a hereditary system, the name became Wado Ryu which is "Wado style."

For further history read our training manual on our General page

© Wado Kai College 1985-2016

The “Wado Kai College” and the “Wado Kai College of Karatedo” and the “Wado Kai College” Logos are the copyright of Tam Darcy, Principal Coach of the Wado Kai College.