Master Hironori Otsuka

Founder of Wado Ryu Karate
June 1, 1892 — Jan­u­ary 29, 1982

Master Hironori Otsuka

Mas­ter Hironori Otsu­ka
Founder of Wado Ryu Karate

Mod­ern karate has its begin­nings so far in the past that its ear­li­est his­to­ry is lost. What we do know is that the roots of Wado Ryu come from the mar­tial arts tra­di­tions of Chi­na, Oki­nawa, and Japan. Those ele­ments came togeth­er in the last cen­tu­ry due to the efforts of a most amaz­ing Japan­ese mar­tial artist named Hironori Otsuka.

Karate is a term which orig­i­nal­ly meant “T’ang hand”. This is in ref­er­ence to the T’ang Dynasty of Chi­na from which the Oki­nawans adapt­ed many karate con­cepts. In the 15th and 16th cen­turies the Oki­nawans had devel­oped a sys­tem of unarmed com­bat called Oki­nawate or Tode or some­times sim­ply Te. This art was sup­pos­ed­ly enhanced by the influ­ence of Chi­nese emis­saries in the 17th Cen­tu­ry, who intro­duced kata, or forms, and oth­er Chi­nese prin­ci­ples. Among the kata believed to have been intro­duced were, notably, Kusanku and Chin­to which were named after the men who intro­duced them. This was at a time when Oki­nawa had come under the con­trol of Japan and Oki­nawans were required to sur­ren­der their weapons or be exe­cut­ed. The emp­ty hand­ed fight­ing arts may have been stud­ied so that the Oki­nawans might defend them­selves from their con­querors. More recent inves­ti­ga­tion reveals that the “Pechin” class, who were respon­si­ble for law and order as well as for the mil­i­tary, prob­a­bly devel­oped the emp­ty hand­ed fight­ing sys­tems of Okinawa.

In 1933, Funakoshi changed the kan­ji, or writ­ten form for “karate” from one that meant Chi­na (T’ang) hand to one which meant emp­ty hand (though pro­nounced the same). The term “emp­ty hand” car­ries with it many Japan­ese Zen con­no­ta­tions appro­pri­ate to the con­cept of a “do” or “way” and was prob­a­bly more accept­able to Japan­ese, due to the polit­i­cal sit­u­a­tion at that time. Main­land Japan already had sev­er­al indige­nous emp­ty hand com­bat arts (i.e., jujit­su, aik­i­jit­su, aiki­do, ken­po and judo), and many Japan­ese found karate to be high­ly com­pat­i­ble with these exist­ing systems.

Oki­nawate is often described as hav­ing devel­oped in three main areas around the towns of Naha, Tomari and Shuri and was taught secret­ly for cen­turies, usu­al­ly with­in fam­i­lies. We often asso­ciate dif­fer­ent empha­sis in inter­nal, exter­nal, and lin­ear tech­niques as being rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the tode from these three areas. Over time this art also came to be called karate jit­su (Chi­nese-hand fight­ing art).

Hironori Otsuka Family Portrait

Hironori Otsu­ka (stand­ing lef) with his moth­er, broth­er, and sisters.

Mas­ter Hironori Otsu­ka was born June 1, 1892 in Shi­mo­date City, Ibara­gi (or Ibara­ki) Pre­fec­ture, Japan, as the first son (sec­ond of four chil­dren) of Toku­jiro (a doc­tor) and Sato, his real name was Kou (Hironori is the name that was used for the mar­tial art). As a boy he lis­tened to his mother’s uncle Cho­jiro Ebashi, a samu­rai and the offi­cial mar­tial arts instruc­tor of the Tsuchiu­ra Clan, tell thrilling sto­ries of samu­rai exploits. This may well have been where the first seeds were sown that would lat­er be some of the guid­ing prin­ci­ples and philoso­phies of Wado Ryu Karate.

Hironori Otsuka

Hironori Otsu­ka in 1912

He was a sick­ly child of weak dis­po­si­tion, and it was decid­ed that the prac­tice of the mar­tial arts would help to strength­en his con­sti­tu­tion. In 1897, when he was five years old, Otsu­ka began to study Koryu Jujit­su under Ebashi. In 1905 Otsu­ka entered the Ibara­gi Pre­fec­ture, Shi­mot­suma junior high school. It was at this time he start­ed train­ing at the dojo of Yokiyoshi Tat­sus­aburo Nakaya­ma (1870–1933), who was a teacher in his junior high school, in the art of Shin­do Yoshin Ryu Jujit­su. Where­as most schools at that time stressed throw­ing or grap­pling tech­niques, this school stressed ate­mi (strik­ing and kick­ing tech­niques). His mar­tial arts train­ing con­tin­ued even when, in 1911, he entered Wase­da Uni­ver­si­ty to study busi­ness admin­is­tra­tion. It was dur­ing this peri­od that he began study­ing ate­mi style Ken­po, while he con­tin­ued his stud­ies in Shin­do Yoshin Ryu. When his father died in 1913 he was forced to quit school and return to Shi­mo­date to work at Kawasa­ki Bank as a result of his mother’s increas­ing con­cern for his infat­u­a­tion with the mar­tial arts.

Eight years lat­er, after much ded­i­cat­ed study, he over­took the mas­ter­ship of Shin­do Yoshin Ryu Jujit­su from Nakaya­ma after being hon­ored with the “Menkyo Kaiden” (Cer­tifi­cate of Full Pro­fi­cien­cy) in that art, mak­ing him the Fourth Grand Mas­ter of Shin­do Yoshin Ryu Jujit­su. This was on June 1, 1921, his 29th birth­day, and was an out­stand­ing accom­plish­ment for a man so young.

Gichin Funakoshi

Gichin Funakoshi

Mean­while a lit­tle before the begin­ning of the last cen­tu­ry, karate jit­su began to be taught in pub­lic schools in Oki­nawa as a means of phys­i­cal exer­cise for youth and as a way of prepar­ing them for mil­i­tary con­scrip­tion. Hiro­hi­to, while Crown Prince of Japan, saw a karate demon­stra­tion while on a vis­it to Oki­nawa and sub­se­quent­ly asked that some­one come from Oki­nawa to demon­strate karate­jit­su on main­land Japan. The Oki­nawans, want­i­ng their art to be rep­re­sent­ed by a refined, gen­tle­man­ly per­son who was also an accom­plished mar­tial artist, chose Gichin Funakoshi to rep­re­sent their art. Funakoshi was a Shu­rite styl­ist and was accom­plished in poet­ry and calligraphy.

A first vis­it by Funakoshi was not suc­cess­ful, as the demon­stra­tion was giv­en pri­mar­i­ly to rep­re­sen­ta­tives of samu­rai fam­i­lies who were not much inter­est­ed in an emp­ty-hand­ed art but a lat­er demon­stra­tion in May of 1922 at the first pub­lic sports fes­ti­val in Tokyo caused a great deal of inter­est in karate. Otsu­ka heard of this vis­it and jour­neyed to Tokyo to wit­ness the demon­stra­tion and after­wards met with Gichin Funakoshi at the Mei­sei Juku (a res­i­dence for Oki­nawan stu­dents) where he was stay­ing at the time, and they spent many hours dis­cussing ideas about the mar­tial arts. Funakoshi was asked to stay and teach his art, and in Sep­tem­ber, agreed to accept Otsu­ka as a stu­dent of his karate.

Otsu­ka imme­di­ate­ly saw the advan­tages of com­bin­ing the karate of Funakoshi, espe­cial­ly the kata, with the tech­niques and prin­ci­ples of Shin­to Yoshin Ryu Jujit­su. Because of his mar­tial arts skill, he was able to grasp the prin­ci­ples of karate very quick­ly, it took him only one year to learn the 15 katas that Funakoshi brought with him from Oki­nawa. By 1924 Otsu­ka had become his chief assis­tant instruc­tor, which raised more than a few eye­brows, par­tic­u­lar­ly among Funakoshi’s Oki­nawan stu­dents and on April 24th of that year Otsu­ka became one of the first sev­en men to receive the rank of ShoDan (black belt) in karate. He soon intro­duced the con­cept of yaku­soku kata (pre-arranged fight­ing tech­niques), which was warm­ly accept­ed by Funakoshi.

Hironori Ohtsuka and Gichin Funakoshi perform Demonstration

(1 & 2) Oht­su­ka (uke) demon­strates Tantodori (defense against knife attack) with Shimizu Toshiyu­ki (tori).
(3 & 4) Gichin Funakoshi (uke) demon­strates Idori tech­nique (defense in sit­ting posi­tion) with Otsu­ka (tori).
Images from Gichin Funakoshi’s book “Karate-do Kyohan”

In Sep­tem­ber of 1924 Funakoshi and Otsu­ka went to Keio Uni­ver­si­ty Kendo Hall and intro­duced them­selves to Yasuhi­ro Kon­ishi, (who most like­ly intro­duced Otsu­ka to both Ken­wa Mabuni and Cho­ki Moto­bu), and asked him if they could use the dojo to prac­tice their Oki­nawan karate. Kon­ishi was inter­est­ed, and an Oki­nawan karate club was formed as a sub­sidiary of his Kendo dojo. In their ear­ly days at Keio, tra­di­tion­al Japan­ese jujit­su­ka would come to issue chal­lenges to Funakoshi and his new fight­ing sys­tem. As was the stan­dard eti­quette these chal­lenges were met by the senior stu­dents, in this case Kon­ishi and Otsu­ka, who were nev­er once defeat­ed. After his vic­to­ry the chal­lengers were then lec­tured by Funakoshi on the ben­e­fits of karate. One sto­ry recount­ed in the “Nihon Budo Taikei” tells of a meet­ing at Konishi’s dojo between Moto­bu and Funakoshi, also present was Otsu­ka, and a judo 4th degree 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 was obvi­ous that the odds were against Funakoshi, the much younger judo­ka hav­ing estab­lished a firm grip, but he game­ly tried to dis­en­gage with soto ukes and uchi ukes, with no suc­cess and was final­ly lift­ed up and thrown against the wall of the dojo. Otsu­ka was then asked to try his luck. He rose to the chal­lenge and with his jujit­su back­ground, had no dif­fi­cul­ty in deal­ing with the sit­u­a­tion. A sto­ry is told of anoth­er time when he was teach­ing at Shichi Toku­do, a stu­dent named Kogu­ra from Keio Uni­ver­si­ty, who was a 3rd degree in Kendo, for rea­sons unknown, decid­ed to face Otsu­ka with a razor sharp sword. The oth­er stu­dents watched in hor­ror as Otsu­ka watched his adver­sary calm­ly, and as Kogu­ra made his move and leapt in with a would-be lethal blow, Otsu­ka swept him off his feet.

In 1927 he left the bank at Shi­mo­date and became a med­ical spe­cial­ist treat­ing mar­tial arts injuries, (set­ting bones and resus­ci­ta­tion), in order to devote more time to the mar­tial arts. He was now free to devote his time exclu­sive­ly to his stud­ies. Undis­tract­ed, he sort­ed through a vari­ety of styles and tech­niques, reject­ing the triv­ial, retain­ing the sig­nif­i­cant, refin­ing the essen­tial, com­bin­ing the strengths of many, while using the warrior’s code as his basic phi­los­o­phy. He stud­ied many styles and with many peo­ple includ­ing, Yoshin Koryu Jujit­su from Motoo Kanaya (ca. 1919–1921). He also began to train with Ken­wa Mabuni (the founder of Shi­to Ryu Karate, 1889–1952), Cho­ki Moto­bu, (a stu­dent of Bushi Mat­sumu­ra (the founder of Shorin Ryu, 1796–1893)), Yasut­sune (Anko) Ito­su, (cre­ator of the five Pinan katas, 1831–1915), and Yasuhi­ro Kon­ishi, (1870–1944), and oth­ers, from whom he learned much addi­tion­al infor­ma­tion, espe­cial­ly con­cern­ing kata. Dur­ing the late twen­ties it is known that Otsu­ka was on good terms with both Mori­hei Ueshi­ba (founder of Aiki­do, 1883–1969) and Gogen Yam­aguchi (founder of Gojo Ryu, 1909–1989), while it is not doc­u­ment­ed whether Otsu­ka ever stud­ied under them or not.

Hironori Otsuka Karate Club Dinner

Left to Right: Kanken Toya­ma, Hironori Otsu­ka, unknown, Gichin Funakoshi, Cho­ki Moto­bu, Ken­wa Mabuni, Gen­wa Naka­sone, Shinken Taira

In 1929 Otsu­ka start­ed the first karate club at Tokyo Uni­ver­si­ty, and the next five years would see him con­tin­ue to estab­lish clubs in many oth­er uni­ver­si­ties. At about this time, Feb­ru­ary of 1934, Jiro Otsu­ka was born. Hironori Otsu­ka had two sons and two daugh­ters. On April 1, 1934,Otsuka start­ed his own school under the name of Dai Nip­pon Karate Shinko Club (Dai = great, Nip­pon = Japan, Shinko = to pro­mote). At this time Otsu­ka was teach­ing at his home in Kashi­wa­gi, Shin­juku, and his most promi­nent stu­dents were list­ed as Eto and Kawaka­mi (both of Mei­ji Uni­ver­si­ty), Kihara (Agri­cul­ture Uni­ver­si­ty), Hirakawa (St. Paul Uni­ver­si­ty), Lee (Chuo Uni­ver­si­ty), Shimizu (Japan Den­tal College).

Hironori Otsuka Throw DemonstrationCon­stant­ly learn­ing, teach­ing, build­ing and nev­er con­tent with the sta­tus quo, he was among the first to study ways of orga­niz­ing the kumite tech­niques of the dojo (at that time taught in a man­ner that fre­quent­ly result­ed in injury) into con­trolled meth­ods of free-style fight­ing that could be used in com­pet­i­tive match­es. He was also the first to devel­op kumite kata for karate, which would become a major inno­va­tion adopt­ed by many styles. He intro­duced dif­fer­ent kinds of body shift­ing tech­niques, a more upright stance for mobil­i­ty, and reliance on eva­sion and counter tech­niques. He also intro­duced throws and joint locks into the reper­toire. As described by Masa­fu­mi Shiomit­su, 8th degree, Wado Ryu may be con­sid­ered a syn­the­sis of four ele­ments: Shu­rite Karate Do, Shin­do Yoshin Ryu Jujit­su, Toda Ryu Kodachi, and Yagyu Ryu Ken­jit­su. To the lin­ear tech­niques of Shu­rite are added the body move­ment prin­ci­ples and grap­pling tech­niques of Shin­do Yoshin Ryu, the naga­su tech­niques of Toda Ryu (which is a sys­tem of fight­ing with short sword against longer weapons), and the move­ment and flow of Yagyu Ryu style of swords­man­ship. From these sources are defined sev­er­al prin­ci­ples which are fun­da­men­tal and par­tic­u­lar to Wado Ryu.

After Otsu­ka began to teach his karate at Tokyo Uni­ver­si­ty, he began to have con­flicts with Funakoshi over the intro­duc­tion of jujit­su tech­niques and the prac­tice of jyu kumite (free spar­ring), of which Funakoshi did not approve and in 1935 there was a part­ing of the ways. Research seems to sug­gest that most of the prob­lems between Otsu­ka and the Shotokan group seemed to have cen­tered around Funakoshi’s third son, Yoshi­ta­ka (also known as Gigo, 1906–1945). It is also pos­si­ble that resent­ment and embar­rass­ment over a mon­ey issue con­tributed to the sep­a­ra­tion. By the time he resigned from the bank Otsu­ka had saved 1000 yen for his retire­ment. He put 200 yen toward a fund he set up for the pur­pose of build­ing a per­ma­nent dojo for Funakoshi. Oth­er sup­port­ers of Funakoshi also con­tributed bring the total to about 700 yen. Mean­while Funakoshi’s eldest son, Giei, had alleged­ly been accu­mu­lat­ing gam­bling debts and pres­sured Otsu­ka to loan him some of the mon­ey from the fund to pay off some of these debts. Otsu­ka bowed to the pres­sure and called a meet­ing of the oth­er senior stu­dents to approve the loan to Giei. Out of feel­ings of loy­al­ty to Funakoshi it was decid­ed to loan the mon­ey but unfor­tu­nate­ly Giei nev­er paid the mon­ey back. Then to com­pound an already del­i­cate and embar­rass­ing sit­u­a­tion, Giei implied that Otsu­ka had kept the mon­ey for him­self. Any­way, it seems that senior Shotokan black belt Gen­shin Hironori sug­gest­ed to Yoshi­ta­ka Funakoshi that for the good of the Shotokan orga­ni­za­tion Otsu­ka should be dis­missed. Anoth­er Shotokan senior stu­dent, Mit­susa­ka Hara­da, con­firms that it was Yoshi­ta­ka who expelled Otsu­ka from the group. Obvi­ous­ly some­thing hap­pened because in 1934 Yoshi­ta­ka Funakoshi replaced Otsu­ka as the instruc­tor of the Wase­da Uni­ver­si­ty Karate Club.

In May of 1938 the Dai Nihon Butokukai, a gov­ern­ing body for Japan­ese mar­tial arts, hon­ored him with the title Ren­shi Go. In 1939 Otsu­ka want­ed his stu­dents and new style to be rep­re­sent­ed at a mar­tial arts fes­ti­val com­ing up in Kyoto. Otsu­ka and his stu­dents had dis­cussed a new name for the orga­ni­za­tion between 1934 and 1939 and when the mar­tial arts board in Kyoto asked Kihara the name of his orga­ni­za­tion, he list­ed it as Shin­shu Wado Ryu Jujit­su. After the name reg­is­tra­tion Otsu­ka was advised by Mas­ter Gihachi­ro Kubo (the suc­ces­sor of Yagyu Shink­age Ryu in the Tosa Clan) that since the char­ac­ters for Shin­shu and Wa both can be rep­re­sen­ta­tive of Japan, his name was rather redun­dant. 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. Otsu­ka heed­ed this advice and the next year, on May 5, 1940, while par­tic­i­pat­ing in the “Cel­e­bra­tion for 2600 B.C. and 44th. Butoku Fes­ti­val”, when request­ed to sub­mit the name of the founder and the offi­cial name of the style by the Dai Nihon Butokukai, Otsu­ka reg­is­tered the short­ened “Wado Ryu” along with Shotokan, Shi­to Ryu and Goju Ryu. This was a big step for Wado Ryu because this occa­sion is con­sid­ered to be the first offi­cial nam­ing of the karate styles.

At the Dai Nihon Butokai reg­is­tra­tion in 1940 Otsu­ka reg­is­tered six­teen katas. These were the five Pinan katas: Nai­hanchi, Kusanku, Niseishi, Pas­sai, Chin­to, Jion, Jitte, Rohai, Wan­shu, Seisan, and Suparem­pei. He also reg­is­tered thir­ty-six kihon kumite katas. It was believed in order to have a new style reg­is­tered a founder would need quite a volu­mi­nous syl­labus. This might have been the rea­son for this num­ber of katas. In 1970 ‘Karate­do Vol. 1’, by Otsu­ka, was pub­lished. He said, “Wado Ryu has only nine katas, which is already too many if you want to train seri­ous­ly”, and pre­sent­ed nine Wado Ryu katas, the five Pinans, Nai­hanchi, Kusanku, Seisan, and Chin­to. He orig­i­nal­ly stud­ied the Pinans under Funakoshi (Funakoshi was called Pinan Sen­sei in Tokyo, today they call these katas, Heians), but mod­i­fied them after work­ing with Mabuni and also incor­po­rat­ing some ideas from Shin­do Yoshin Ryu. He said he took Nai­hanchi from Moto­bu. Both Kusanku and Chin­to are very sim­i­lar in Shi­to Ryu and Shotokan. It is obvi­ous that he took Seisan from Funakoshi (Shotokan today, calls this kata Hanget­su), in no oth­er style is Seisan per­formed in this way. Pas­sai of Shi­to Ryu, Shotokan and Wado are basi­cal­ly the same, but Otsu­ka took his direct­ly from Funakoshi. Jion, Jitte, and even Jiin seem to be katas of sim­i­lar type, they are basi­cal­ly the same in Shi­to Ryu and Shotokan. He may have stud­ied Niseishi under Funakoshi but he lat­er mod­i­fied it to Mabuni’s way. Otsuka’s ver­sion of Rohai is Rohai Sho, from Mabuni, while Funakoshi ran Rohai Ni. It is prob­a­ble that he took Wan­shu straight from Funakoshi. As the years went by many orga­ni­za­tions added back many of the old katas but with so much time elapsed it is not sur­pris­ing that these katas were run a bit dif­fer­ent­ly from one school to the next. For some rea­son many Wado orga­ni­za­tions failed to add Suparem­pei back into the kata set. Suparem­pei was taught to Otsu­ka by Ken­wa Mabuni. By stream­lin­ing the Wado Ryu kata set Otsu­ka was stress­ing qual­i­ty over quan­ti­ty. Today, Wado Ryu schools run only ten Kihon Kumite katas, culled from the orig­i­nal thirty-six.

Hironori Otsuka KihonThe kan­ji that Otsu­ka used for “kata” was dif­fer­ent than oth­er styles. The kan­ji they use (also called “Iga­ta”) means “mold”, stan­dard­ized, not trans­formable, and not chang­ing. Otsu­ka believed kata should not be like that but should be alive and able to con­form and change as sit­u­a­tions dic­tate. He taught that while doing any part of a kata you should not think of the move before, or after, but live only in the moment of the par­tic­u­lar action leav­ing you able to deal with what­ev­er may happen.

In 1942, Otsu­ka obtained the title Kyoshi from Dai Nihon Butokukai. Dur­ing World War II he was involved with the treat­ment of wound­ed sol­diers return­ing from the war. In the imme­di­ate after­math of World War II the new­ly formed Wado orga­ni­za­tion got it’s first per­ma­nent home. The dojo was locat­ed in front of the Tsuk­i­ji police sta­tion, in Tokyo, and was large enough to accom­mo­date 24 tata­mi. He only remained there for three years then relo­cat­ed to the gym­na­si­um of the Nakano Pri­ma­ry School in the north of the city.

Otsuka’s abil­i­ties and ded­i­ca­tion brought him fame and hon­or, bestowed from many quar­ters. As well as found­ing Wado Ryu Karate­do Ren­mei he was vice-chair­man of the All Japan Karate­do Fed­er­a­tion, a found­ing mem­ber of the Koku­sai Budoin (Inter­na­tion­al Mar­tial Arts Fed­er­a­tion), and Direc­tor of the Japan Clas­si­cal Mar­tial Arts Pro­mo­tion Soci­ety. In 1966, Emper­or Hiro­hi­to hon­ored him with Shi­ju Hoosho Medal (Fifth Order of Mer­it, Cor­don of the Ris­ing Sun) for his con­tri­bu­tions to karate. Otsu­ka was still active­ly teach­ing at the Tokyo Den­tal Col­lege when on Octo­ber 9, 1972 he became the first karate­ka ever hon­ored by Prince Higashi Kuni No Miya, the younger broth­er of the emper­or, and the pres­i­dent of the pres­ti­gious Koku­sai Budo Ren­mei (Inter­na­tion­al Mar­tial Arts Fed­er­a­tion). Prince Higashi Kuni No Miya bestowed him with the title of Mei­jin, this made him the head of all mar­tial arts sys­tems with­in the All Japan Karate do Fed­er­a­tion. Otsu­ka held this title until his death.

Otsuka Hironori JiroOtsu­ka was as unique and full of vital­i­ty as the style of karate he found­ed. Even an above aver­age man in his 70’s or 80’s would prob­a­bly have been con­tent to rest and let oth­ers con­tin­ue his work but Otsu­ka was not. Nev­er believ­ing that he or even the mar­tial arts in gen­er­al had learned all that there was to know, he con­tin­ued to prac­tice. Putting on his gi he would train every day for twen­ty min­utes on just one tech­nique and con­tin­ue this for a full month. He remarked one time how he enjoyed walk­ing on the unbe­liev­ably crowd­ed streets of Tokyo so he could prac­tice smooth­ly weav­ing and twist­ing with­out let­ting any­one touch him. Otsu­ka was a very moral man and always showed great con­cern for his stu­dents. Many of his stu­dents, now senior instruc­tors, called him a gen­tle man and con­sid­ered him a father fig­ure. Otsuka’s belief in karate­do as a pow­er­ful means for spir­i­tu­al and moral improve­ment is reflect­ed in his poet­ry and writ­ing on the sub­ject. Otsu­ka, weigh­ing about 120 pounds, and stand­ing 5′5″, 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, main­tained a health con­scious regime to the end. He pre­ferred to walk when pos­si­ble and when rid­ing trains would stand rather than sit, in order to chal­lenge his bal­ance. When asked about his secrets for good health and longevi­ty he said, “I nev­er fret about the past. I con­cen­trate on the present and plan for the future”. With his health fail­ing, on Novem­ber 20, 1981 Otsu­ka abdi­cat­ed his posi­tion of Grand­mas­ter of Wado Ryu. In front of, and with clear agree­ment and acknowl­edg­ment of all his lead­ing stu­dents, Otsu­ka appoint­ed his son Jiro, as Grand­mas­ter of Wado Ryu Karate Do. On Jan­u­ary 29,1982 Mas­ter Hironori Otsu­ka passed away. He prac­ticed karate up until his death and at the age of 89 was the old­est prac­tic­ing karate­ka. His son Jiro took his father’s name along with the mas­ter­ship of the Wado style at his father’s death. Otsu­ka formed one of the most com­plete sys­tems of self-defense ever devised. A fit­ting epi­taph for him could sure­ly be a state­ment made by him; “the dif­fer­ence between the pos­si­ble and the impos­si­ble is one’s will”, for sure­ly to this giant of a Budo­ka noth­ing could seem impossible.

Due to Otsuka’s com­mit­ment and inno­va­tion of tech­nique, Wado Ryu has rapid­ly become one of the most pop­u­lar karate sys­tems through­out the world. Unfor­tu­nate con­flicts in 1981 short­ly before the death of the founder, caused Wado to be split into two orga­ni­za­tions, usu­al­ly referred to as Wado Ryu and Wado Kai. Wado Ryu Karate is direct­ed through the Wado Ryu Karate Do Ren­mei in Tokyo, Japan, which is head­ed by Hironori Otsu­ka Ni Dai, 10th degree and son of the founder. Wado Kai is rep­re­sent­ed by JKF Wado Kai in Japan, head­ed by Eichi Eriguchi. In 1989 a third major orga­ni­za­tion, Wado Koku­sai (Wado Inter­na­tion­al Karate Fed­er­a­tion) was found­ed by Tat­suo Suzu­ki Sen­sei in Lon­don, after split­ting from Wado Ryu Ren­mei. Wado Kai orga­ni­za­tions retained the orig­i­nal sym­bol of a fist enclosed by a dove. Wado Ryu Karate Do Ren­mei has adopt­ed the kan­ji for “wa” enclosed by the dove as it’s sym­bol, and the Wado Inter­na­tion­al Karate Do Fed­er­a­tion has adopt­ed the ris­ing sun enclosed by the dove as it’s symbol.

Many thanks to Shi­han Wayne Tyler and David Everett sen­sei for the exten­sive research and guid­ance in the cre­ation of this biog­ra­phy of Mas­ter Otsu­ka. Many sources were used in this arti­cle. All mis­takes how­ev­er, are the author’s own. Don­ald Mor­ris, 5th Dan Wado Ryu Novem­ber, 2009

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