The founder of Wado-ryu karate, Hironori Ohtsuka (1892-1982), was born on 1 June 1892 in Shimodate City, lbaraki prefecture, Japan. By the time he was six years of age, he had already started training in ju jitsu, studying under his maternal great-uncle. Upon entering middle school at the age of 13, he started to study Shindo Yoshin-ryu ju jitsu under Tatsusabaro Nakayama. These studies continued with Nakayama throughout his education at Waseda University, resulting in Ohtsuka being awarded his menkyo (licence-level proficiency) in Shindo Yoshin-ryu under Nakayama in 1921.
In 1922, Ohtsuka heard of the karate demonstration given by Gichin Funakoshi in Tokyo and was determined to meet him. Throughout this studies of ju jitsu, Ohtsuka always sought out other styles of ju jitsu, trying to visit as many different dojos as possible. Ohtsuka could not contain his excitement at the advent of a completely new, weaponless martial art. He met Funakoshi at his residence, the Meisei Juku, a boarding house for Okinawan students, in the same year. They talked for several hours discussing their interpretations of the martial arts and, but the end of that evening, Funakoshi agreed to accept Ohtsuka as a student at his karate jutsu.
Ohtsuka started training with Funakoshi immediately, and his enthusiasm and martial arts background meant that he he quickly grasped the physical techniques that he was being taught. In just over a year, he had studied and knew the movements of every single kata that Funakoshi had taught him. Kata was the only aspect of karate that Funakoshi taught at that time. THoughout this period, Ohtsuka did not cease his training in ju jitsu and began to incorporate this into his karate jutsu. In April 1924, Ohtsuka , aged 31, along with six others was graded to black belt by Funakoshi. He thus became one of the first Japanese black belts in karate-do.
The continued devotion of Ohtsuka to ju jitsu and karate-do led to Ohtsuka becoming a Shihan (grand master) of Shindo Yoshin-ryu and Funakoshi's assistant instructor. He also began to train with other famous martial artists, such as Kenwa Mabuni, founder of the Shito-ryu style, and Choki Motobu, famed as a fighter in karaet. As a proficient karate instructor, Ohtsuka began taching at Tokyo University and his methods began to conflict with Funakoshi's teachings.
Ohtsuka's brand of karate incorporated his ju jitsu techniques, enabling his students to practise free sparring. This was not to Funakoshi's liking and, as his concept of karate differed greatly from Ohtsuka's, Funakoshi felt that actual fighting, jissen, was far too dangerous and would immediately result in the death of one of the participants. On the other hand, Ohtsuka believed that, with specific guidance and rules, the students could use techniques in free fighting without severe injury. Ohtsuka's departure from Funakoshi was inevitable.
Reproduced with kind permission from Chris Thompson.