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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 samurai warrior.

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 karate.

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 Naihanchi kata.

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 dedication.

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 = School.

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, 1982.

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.

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