Hironori Ōtsuka was born in Ibaraki Prefecture, Japan, in June 1892. In 1898, Ōtsuka began training in martial arts, first in jujutsu and then, in 1922, in karate under the tutelage of Gichin Funakoshi. Funakoshi was the creator of Shotokan karate and under his training Ōtsuka became one of the first students granted a dan grade. Broadening his knowledge through his study of different techniques, Ōtsuka quickly developed a unique style, incorporating both jujutsu and karate. In 1929, only seven years after beginning his training in karate, Ōtsuka opened the first karate club at Tokyo University.
In 1938, Ōtsuka registered his own style of karate. What would eventually be called Wadō-ryū was originally named Shinshu Wadō-ryū Karate-Jūjutsu, a name that recognises the influences in the style. Also in 1938, Ōtsuka was awarded the rank of Renshi-Go, followed by the rank of Kyoshi-Go only four years later. It was around this time that Tatsuo Suzuki began training in Wadō-ryū. In 1944, Ōtsuka was appointed Japan’s Chief Karate Instructor. To further the teaching of Wadō-ryū, Ōtsuka published Karatejutsu no Kenkyu, while in 1963, he dispatched his principal student Tatsuo Suzuki, alongside Toru Arakawa and Hajimu Takashima, to spread Wadō-ryū around the world.
In January 1982, Hironori Ōtsuka passed away. A year later, Jiro Ōtsuka succeeded him as grandmaster of Wadō-ryū. Tatsuo Suzuki tried in vain to reunite those involved in the teaching of Wadō-ryū. However, he found that just as he had seemed to bring an end to disagreements within those organisations based in Japan, they seemed to reignite on his leaving for London. His dissatisfaction with these arguments led him to create his own group within Wadō-ryū, Wadō Kokusai, or Wadō International Karatedō Federation (WIKF). Tatsuo Suzuki was the only man left who had studied intensively with Ohtsuka Sensei and many feel that he is the best placed to carry on the tradition of Wadō-ryū karate.
Wadō-ryū karate is a fluid style that stresses the importance of body movement and evasion. Techniques are light, fast and move along with the attacker to best aid the defender in either moving out of harm’s way or to launch a counter-strike. Ōtsuka Sensei taught that one’s physical movement is a manifestation of one’s spirit. A key principle in Wadō-ryū is tai sabaki, which refers to the manipulation and management of the attacker and defender’s bodies in harmony during any strike. The defender can strike simultaneously or immediately thereafter.
For Ōtsuka Sensei, though, Wadō-ryū is not solely the art of fighting. Instead, he believed it to be a personal philosophy. About Wadō-ryū, he wrote, “When you practice Wadō-ryū as a martial art, it not only means committing yourself to the way of Wadō-ryū , but also committing yourself to a certain way of life, which includes hard training, overcoming obstacles in life and finding the way to lead a healthy and meaningful existence in the time you have on this planet. Through this way of life, you can reach the centre of Wadō-ryū and lead a life of wholeness.”