From Karate to Karate-do 6: Hironori Otsuka and the Wado-Ryu (Tokyo, 1939)

The "elderly" Master Otsuka, evading a samurai sword.
The "elderly" Master Otsuka, evading a samurai sword.
The “elderly” Master Otsuka, evading a samurai sword.

 One of the first Japanese to welcome the arrival of Gichin Funakoshi in 1922 was Hironori Otsuka. Born on June 1, 1892, in Shimodate City, Ibaraki, Japan, Otsuka Shihan was one of four children to Tokujiro ?tsuka, a medical doctor. At the age of 5 years, he began training in the martial art of Jujutsu under his uncle, Chojiro Ebashi (a samurai). ?tsuka’s father took over his martial arts education in 1897. At the age of 13, ?tsuka became the student of Shinzaburo Nakayama in Shind? Y?shin-ry? Jujutsu.

In 1911, while studying business administration at Waseda University in Tokyo, ?tsuka trained in various Jujutsu schools in the area. Before his studies were complete, his father died and he was unable to continue studying; he commenced work as a clerk at the Kawasaki Bank. Although he wished to become a full-time instructor, he did not pursue this course at this point out of respect for his mother’s wishes.

In 1922, Otsuka Shihan pursued another martial (Karate-do) under the tutelage Gichin Funakoshi. He would later become one of Funakoshi’s foremost students and teach Karate-do full-time.

In 1939, he founded his own style of Karate-do, which he called the Wado-Ryu. Literally meaning the “way of peace”, the Wado-Ryu is very much like Funakoshi’s Shotokan, however, many elements from Jujutsu and Atemi-style Kempo were incorporated into the system. Wado-Ryu also emphasizes on the “soft” yielding to a “hard” attack and utilizes many tension-free snapping movements which depend upon speed for its power; in some ways, the Wado style is very much like Jujutsu.

Master Hironori Otsuka (left photo) with Master Gichin Funakoshi (right).
Master Hironori Otsuka (left photo) with Master Gichin Funakoshi (right).

In 1966, Hironori Otsuka was awarded the “Order of the Rising Sun, Fifth Class” by the Emperor of Japan for his contributions to the promotion and development of Karate-do. In 1972, he received the Shodai Karate-do Meijin Judan or “First Generation Karate-do Master of the Tenth Dan” and, was designated the head of all martial arts systems within the All Japan Karate-do Federation. Hironori Otsuka continued to teach Wado-ryu Karate-do into the 1980s until his death on January 29, 1982. He was succeeded by his son who later became the second Grand Master of Wado-ryu system of Karate-do. He later honored his father by taking the name “Hironori Otsuka II.”

Today, the Wado-Ryu has large numbers of practicioners not only in Japan, but also in Europe. Some of these countries are the United Kingdom, Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Portugal, Romania, Sweden and Switzerland. They also have many practicioners in Australia and Canada. Like the three leading styles mentioned earlier, Wado-Ryu is recognized by the WKF and the JKF, where Otsuka was once the Vice-Chairman.

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About George M. Hizon

George M. Hizon was the former Karate-do head instructor of Claret School. This was during his college years at the De La Salle University from 1980-81. He would later become the head instructor of the University of the Philippines from mid 1983 to 1984.