Grandmaster Hironori Ohtsuka – founder of Wado-Ryu.

Hironori Ohtsuka (1892 – 1982), founded Wado Ryu, the ‘way of peace’, in 1939.

The founder of Wado Ryu karate, Hironori Ohtsuka, was born on 1st June 1892 in Shimodate City, Ibaraji Prefecture, Japan, the first son of Dr. Tokuiruro Ohtsuka.

He started school on the 1st April 1897 where he studied Shindo Yoshin Ryu Jujitsu, under the supervision of Shinzaburo Nakayama Sensei, the third Grand Master of this style of Jujitsu. Unlike the other schools of jujitsu at the time, Yoshin Ryu specialised in kicking and punching techniques in addition to throwing, twisting and locking techniques.

The essence of this art lays emphasis upon the nature and the grace of movement. It was originally inspired by Yoshitoki Akiyama Sensei after observing how the willow tree laden with snow yielded to the elements of nature, yet maintained its versatility and flexibility to outside forces without damage. This study of movement impressed upon the young Ohtsuka the importance of natural flowing movements. These lessons play a major part in today’s Wado karate. In defence and attacking techniques the use of the opponent’s body and weight and movement play an equally significant role in defeating your enemy as your own body movements.


Ohtsuka continued his Jujitsu studies whilst at Waseda University from 1910 to 1917 reading commerce. He also studied different styles of the art, experimenting between styles while concentrating on their “positive quality”. During this period he was able to examine the techniques of other Martial Arts. He developed and improved certain techniques, combining them with other “innovative” movements. Whilst studying Jujitsu, Ohtsuka learned a great deal about the body’s “vital points” both for attacking and healing purposes, he also studied the art of “bone setting”.

In 1917 Ohtsuka joined the Kawasaki Bank; also during the year he met Morihei Ueshiba Sensei, the founder of Aikido; this was to prove a deep and influential friendship. After two years at the bank Ohtsuka decided to become a full time martial artist against the wishes of his mother. Out of respect for her and his family he postponed his ambitions, but continued to study Jujitsu.

The 1922 Sports Festival in Tokyo was to see a continuation of his obsession with all Martial Arts. For the first time, Ohtsuka was to encounter Karate. Gichin Funakoshi Sensei (1886 – 1957) was invited by the Japanese Education Department to demonstrate his style of Okinawan Karate (Tode).

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 the Art. Within the space of a year Ohtsuka Sensei had studied all the kata’s that Funakoshi had brought from Okinawa, although he had difficulty executing certain movements and techniques which he found difficult to 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

In 1925 Ohtsuka’s mother died and was left in a period of indecision about his career. Three years later he left Kawasaki Bank and set up a “bone setting” practice, similar to a small hospital. His prowess in the Martial Arts had led him to be appointed the Chief instructor of Shindo Yoshin Ryu Jujitsu and an assistant instructor at Funakoshi Sensei’s dojo.

At this time Okinawan Karate only concentrated upon kata, Ohtsuka thought that the full spirit of Budo, which, concentrates both upon defence and attack, was missing. Meanwhile he had been developing Yakusoko Kumite to compensate for the lack of attacking techniques. He thought there was a need for a more fluid type of Karate and decided to leave Funakoshi Sensei to concentrate on developing his own style of Karate, Wado-Ryu.

In 1934 Grand Master Hironori Ohtsuka established his own organisation called “Dai Nihon Karate-do Shinko Club” which was the parent organisation of Wado-Ryu Karate-Do. When first registered with the Japanese Butokukai in 1939 the style was called ‘Shinshu Wadoryu Karate-Jutsu’, a name which reflects the hybrid nature of Wado.

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