Hironori Ohtsuka: Karate & Jujutsu pioneer

A look at the Karate of Hironori Ohtsuka (10th Dan Meijin, Kokusai Budoin). Founder of Wado Ryu Karate

The Okinawan art of Karate Jutsu (previously Toshu Jutsu) was introduced to mainland Japan by Okinawan Gichin Funakoshi and his Okinawan assistant Makoto Gima. Among the earliest Japanese students was Hironori Ohtsuka, also a master of Jujutsu. Ohtsuka went on to create his own school of Karate and Jujutsu-Kempo called Wado Ryu. His approach to Karate and Jujutsu which foreshadowed both Nihon Jujutsu and the Bushinkai school was extremely progressive. Ohtsuka was one of the founders of Kokusai Budoin (IMAF) and came to be recognised as one of Karate’s few genuine 10th Dans and held the title of Meijin. This article examines his life and approach to the martial arts.

Early life

Hironori Ohtsuka was born on June 1 1892 in Shimodate City, Ibaragi, Japan. He was the first son of Dr. Tokujuro Ohtsuka and hi first teacher was his great uncle Chojiro Ebashi, a member of the Samurai class who taught him Jujutsu.

From the age of five he studied Shindo Yoshin Ryu Jujutsu with his great uncle and father. from the age of 13 he studied the art under Shihan Shinzaburo Nakayama Sensei who was also adept in Jikishin Kage Ryu swordsmanship.

Ohtsuka in 1912

Ohtsuka in 1912

He began attending the famous Waseda University in 1910 and continued his Jujutsu studies. In 1917 Ohtsuka joined the Kawasaki Bank, during the year he met Morihei Ueshiba Sensei, the founder of Aikido and this began a deep founded influential friendship.

Studying Jujutsu

Shindo Yoshin Ryu was founded by Katsunosuke Matsuoka (1836 – 1898) making it a very young style/. Matsuoka originally studied Yoshin Ryu Jujutsu and was also a student of Jikishin Kage Ryu Kenjutsu  and Hokushin Ittoryu Kenjutsu as well as being a certified as a teacher of Tenjin Shinyoryu Jujutsu. It was in 1864 that Matsuoka formed his own style of Yoshin Ryu Jujutsu, calling it Shindo Yoshin Ryu Jujutsu. The next generation was Matakichi Inose (1852 – 1921) and finally Ohtsuka Sensei’s teacher Tatsusaburo Nakayama (1870 – 1933). It is sometimes states that Ohtsuka was the 4th grandmaster of Shindo Yoshin Ryu – but this is not the case. Tatsusaburo Nakayama was not the 3rd headmaster of Shindo Yoshin ryu as is frequently stated. In 1917, the 2nd headmaster, Motokichi Inose awarded Tatsuo Matsuoka, grandson of Shindo Yoshin ryu’s founder, a menkyo kaiden and handing over the Sokeship. Tatsuo Matsuoka died without formally appointing a successor.

Ohtsuka, back row left with his family

Ohtsuka, back row left with his family

Studying Karate

In 1922 he met the Karate master Gichin Funakoshi. Ohtsuka became Chief Instructor of Shindo Yoshin Ryu Jujutsu at the age of just 30, and an assistant instructor at Funakoshi Sensei’s Karate dojo. In 1924 the two met Yasuhiro Konishi who would become the next piece in the Karate puzzle. Konish was a well respected Kendoka and had studied Muso Ryu Jujutsu at the age of six and then in high school switched to Takenouchi Ryu Jujutsu – he was therefore a natural Karate practitioner.

Funakoshi and Ohtsuka doing kneeling defences

Funakoshi and Ohtsuka doing kneeling defences

In the 1920s Ohtsuka also trained with Choki Motobu, It has been suggested Motobu had no respect for Gichin Funakoshi, but it seems he did respect the young Ohtsuka. otobu taught his version of Naihanchi (Tekki) to Ohtsuka, who may well have reciprocated with Jujutsu teachings. At this time Ohtsuka also had chance to train with Shito Ryu head Kenwa Mabuni.

The “Nihon Budo Taikei” tells of a meeting at Yasuhiro Konishi’s dojo in 1929, between Choki Motobu and Gichin Funakoshi. Also present, Hironori Ohtsuka and a Judo fourth Dan who was accompanying Motobu. 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 is obvious that the odds were greatly against Funakoshi, the much younger Judoka having established a firm grip. He gamely tried to disengage with Soto-uke and Uchi-uke with no success and he was lifted up and thrown against the wall of the dojo. Ohtsuka Sensei was then asked to try his luck. He rose to the challenge and because of his Jujutsu background had no difficulty in dealing with the situation.

Ohtsuka, middle row, second left with his teacher Gichin Funakoshi

Ohtsuka, middle row, second left with his teacher Gichin Funakoshi

Ohtsuka being awarded his black belt by Funakoshi

Ohtsuka being awarded his black belt by Funakoshi

His desire to adapt Funakoshi Sensei’s Karate by introducing more Kumite elements caused him to grow apart from his teacher.

The birth of Wado Ryu

In 1934 his son Jiro was born and he also registered his style of Karate as Wado Ryu.

Kata of Wado Ryu:

  • Pinan Nidan (known in Shotokan as Heian Shodan)
  • Pinan Shodan (Heian Nidan)
  • Pinan Sandan (Heian Sandan)
  • Pinan Yondan (Heian Yondan)
  • Pinan Godan (Heian Godan)
  • Kushanku (Kanku Dai)
  • Naihanchi (Tekki)
  • Seishan (Hangetsu)
  • Chinto (Gankaku)
  • Bassai (Bassai Dai)
  • Jion (Jion)
  • Niseishi (Nijushiho)
  • Jitte (Jutte)
  • Rohai (Meikyo)
  • Wanshu (Empi)

Ohtsuka demonstrating Kata:


Ohtsuka demonstrating Kumite and defence drills:

In 1938 aged 46 he was awarded the Renshi title, implying a grade of around 4th or 5th Dan. In 1942 Ohtsuka Sensei was awarded the rank of “Kyoshi Go” suggesting a grade of at least 6th or 7th Dan.

in 1963, a three man team left Japan to demonstrate Wado-Ryu Karate to America and Europe. The team was composed of Arakama Sensei, Takashima Sensei and Suzuki Sensei.

Tatsuo Suzuki introduced Wado Ryu Karate to England, although technically it had already been taught here by Hiroo Mochizuki who began his studies in Yoseikan/Shotokan but then trained with Ohtsuka Sensei. Among the early British pioneers in Wado were Ticky Donovan and John Smith (Bujinkai). My old sensei Bob Carruthers started in Bujinkai in 1972.

Hironori Ohtsuka and his student Kazuo Sakura who named his school Bushinkai

Hironori Ohtsuka and his student Kazuo Sakura who named his school Bushinkai

In 1966 Ohtsuka Sensei was awarded “Kun Goto Kyokujitsu Shou” (something like an OBE) by Emperor Hirohito for his dedication to the introduction and teaching of Karate.

On October 9, 1972, the Kokusai Budoin (International Martial Arts Federation) awarded Ōtsuka the title of Shodai Karate-do Meijin Judan (first-generation karate master 10th dan); this was the first time this honour had been bestowed on a Karate practitioner.

Recognising Hakuda as Karate

In the Bushinkai school our Karate/Jujutsu system is called Hakuda Kempo Toshu Jutsu. The Hakuda aspect refers to southwestern Japanese Jujutsu such as taught by Akiyama. This was a percussive art and in many ways was a mainland Japaese version of Karate.

Hironori Ohtsuka also had this view he wrote:

“Every year, for purposes of promoting the Japanese martial-arts, the Butokuden in Kyoto held a national festival. In 1938, the festival focused on the originators of each martial art, however, no originator of Japanese Karate had been identified. I named the originator of the first true Japanese style of Karate-Do as Shiro-Yoshitoki Akiyama (the founder of Shinto Yoshin-ryu Jujutsu) and named this new style of Karate-Do, ‘Wado-Ryu’ meaning: ‘Japanese-way school’ or also ‘Peaceful-way school’ since the Kanji lettering for ‘Wa’ can mean both.”

The combined legacy of Karate and Jujutsu 

Yukiyoshi Takamura, head of the Takamura Ha Shindo Yoshin Ryu Jujutsu, a branch of the Ryu descended through from Shigeta Ohbata said in Aikido Journal 117, Autumn 1999:

The Wado-Ryu Jujutsu Kempo headquarters dojo still teaches Shindo Yoshin-Ryu in Tokyo. Wado-Ryu founder Hidenori Otsuka held a Menkyo Kaiden in Shindo Yoshin-Ryu. He received his license from Tatsusaburo Nakayama Sensei around 1921.”

“My grandfather knew Otsuka only slightlly but thought highly of him. He was a man of exceptional reputation.”

“I hope that Wado-Ryu does not loose its Jujutsu roots which makes it one of very few karate styles to have a Bujutsu heritage.

When he died in 1982, Ohtsuka’s son Jiro took the name Hironori Ohtsuka II and succeeded him as headmaster of Wado Ryu.

One of the systems that owes its origins to Wado Ryu is Shizuya Sato’s Nihon Jujutsu. Sato Sensei was assistant to Ohtsuka Sensei in the 1950s. Sato also trained in Judo with Mifune and Ito, in Kendo with Nakayama and in Aikido with Kenji Tomiki.

Hironori Ohtsuka (10th Dan IMAF) was a master of Jujutsu and Karate

Hironori Ohtsuka (10th Dan IMAF) was a master of Jujutsu and Karate

Shizuya Sato, 10th Dan Nihon Jujutsu and chief director of Kokusai Budoin trained with Ohtsuka Sensei

Shizuya Sato, 10th Dan Nihon Jujutsu and chief director of Kokusai Budoin trained with Ohtsuka Sensei

Hironori Ohtsuka (Meijin 10th Dan Kokusai Budoin) is remembered as founder of Wado Ryu Karate and Wado Ryu Jujutsu Kempo and the inheritor of Shindo Yoshin Ryu Jujutsu.

Simon Keegan 5th Dan Renshi
– Founder of Hakuda Kempo Toshu Jutsu
– Inheritor of Sakugawa Ryu and Kigan Ryu

– 5th Dan Shobukan Karate (WUKF, IKU)
– 4th Dan Freestyle Karate & Jujutsu (WKA)
– 3rd Dan Karatedo (Kokusai Budoin)
– 2nd Dan Nihon Jujutsu (Kokusai Budoin)


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