Hironori Ohtsuka named his style of karate as Wadoryu — the way of peace. With this he wanted to bring out his idea of the inner meaning of practicing karate, where the purpose is to achieve a state where no violence is needed. This way of thinking can also be seen from some of the style characteristics of Wadoryu. Ohtsuka developed, for example, taisabaki techniques with the principle of moving off the attack line while blocking, so it requires using less force.
Hironori Ohtsuka (b. June 1st 1892) was one of Gichin Funakoshi’s closest and promising students during his early years in Tokyo. Ohtsuka separated with Funakoshi and created his own style, Wadoryu, at the turn of 1930’s. A specific date for founding Wadoryu is difficult to determine, since different sources tell inconsistent information. However, by 1929 Ohtsuka had defined most of the techniques of his karate and registered as a member of the Nippon Kobudo Shinko Kai (Japanese Classical Martial Arts Association). In May 1934 Ohtsuka’s karate was registered as an independent style with the name Dai Nippon Karate Do Shinko Club. Ohtsuka closed down his clinic and fulfilled his dream since 1919 of becoming a full time karate teacher.
In 1938 Dai Nippon Butoku Kai awarded Ohtsuka with the title “Renshi-go”. In the same year his style was registered with the name Shin Shu Wado Ryu. In March 1939 Dai Nippon Butoku Kai required that every style needed to officially register their names. Ohtsuka registered his style with the name Wadoryu. Other styles registered at the same time were Shotokanryu, Gojuryu and Shitoryu among others.
In 1942 Ohtsuka sensei was awarded with the title “Kyoshi-go” by the Dai Nippon Butoku Kai and in 1944 he was chosen as the head instructor of karate in Japan. In 1945, after the end of WWII, the training of martial arts was forbidden by the Americans. After the peace treaty was signed between Japan and USA in 1951, the training of martial arts was again allowed. This was followed by the first martial arts demonstration after the prohibition. The very first All-Japan Wadoryu Championships were held in 1955.
The way to Europe and Finland
Wadoryu was introduced in Europe in 1964 by three teachers from the university of Japan; Tatsuo Suzuki, Toru Arakawa and Hajime Takashima came to Europe to present Wadoryu karate. Already in the following year in 1965, Tatsuo Suzuki returned to teach Wadoryu in Europe and other teachers like Teruo Kono, Yutaka Toyama, Atsuo Yamashita and Masafumi Shiomitsu followed soon after him. Suzuki also introduced Wadoryu in Finland and the style is still one of the largest in Finland. Currently, approximately over twenty clubs under the Finnish Karate Federation practices Wadoryu karate. Additionally, there are some clubs outside the FKF that practice Wadoryu — mainly under Masafumi Shiomitsu.
The Finnish Wadoryu karate has later been influenced also by other teachers. At the end of 1980’s and in the beginning of 90’s, Rob Zwartjes, 7th dan, visited Finland several times having a strong influence. Also during the 90’s, Finland started the cooperation with Shingo Ohgami, 7th dan, based in Sweden and separating from the influence of Tatsuo Suzuki continued. Since the death of Hironori Ohtsuka in 1982, Wadoryu has splitted into several groups around the world. Currently, the Wadokai organisation represented by Shingo Ohgami, covers about 90% of the people practicing Wadoryu around the world. Wadokai organisation is also recognised by the Japan Karatedo Federation and the World Karate Federation. There are also other smaller groups such as Tatsuo Suzuki’s group and the son of Hironori Ohtsuka, Jiro Ohtsuka’s group. The latter in Finland is represented by the Finnish Wado-Ryu Karate Federation, which has often invited Masafumi Shiomitsu to teach in Finland.
Being natural is important
Wadoryu as a style is very natural. Being relaxed is important and the stances are slightly higher compared to the other styles. Using lower stances requires certain kind of way of using power which might cause unnecessary tension.
The kime phase, or focus, in techniques is short. A punch starts relaxed with just barely enough tension to control the direction and movement. The sharp and short moment of tension comes only at the very end and is immediately returned to relaxed state.
Wadoryu emphasises avoiding unnecessary movements. All techniques should be performed as simply as possible from the starting position to the finish. Therefore the techniques will become straightforward and plain, and compared to the wider movements of Shotokan, Wadoryu might seem very anaemic.
During his childhood, Hironori Ohtsuka studied Shindo Yoshin Ryu jujutsu. When creating Wadoryu karate, his jujutsu skills left their impression in the style, mostly in some holds. Avoiding hard contact, for example in blocks, in addition to taisabaki is a characteristic of Wadoryu. The direction of an attacking movement is many times taken advantage by blocking e.g. the punching hand parallel to the direction of movement while moving off the center line (nagashiuke). Usually the evasion is done forward sideways which makes simultaneous counter attacking possible. This has been developed to the maximum in Wadoryu’s fundamental pair techniques, Kihon Kumite, which propably contain the clearest examples of the style’s characteristics.
The natural movements of the style are also conserving for the practitioner. When executed properly, the techniques won’t cause too much strain to the joints and they avoid hard contact. This ensures that unnecessary injuries are avoided and one can study the art for a long time. A great example is the founder of Wadoryu, Hironori Ohtsuka, who died at the age of 89 on January 1st 1982. He never stopped practicing budo. He practiced martial arts for 84 years.
The katas have original names
When separating with Funakoshi, Ohtsuka kept the original Okinawan names of the katas. Ohtsuka also studied karate in Tokyo with Choki Motobu, who emphasised the original way of performing katas, and with Kenwa Mabuni, who taught his own style, Shitoryu, in Osaka.
The Wadoryu katas, like the style, are plain and therefore fail to be visually impressive. This leads to the fact that Wadoryu usually is not well represented in international all-style kata competitions. The katas are almost the same as in Shotokan, though less in numbers in Wadoryu. The Wadoryu katas mainly differ from Shotokan katas in the height where the blocking techniques are executed. Many of the middle level blocks are changed to upper level blocks in Wadoryu. Hironori Ohtsuka’s favorite kata was Naihanchi, which he once had the honor of performing it for the emperor of Japan.
That which Wadoryu loses in kata competition, it takes back in kumite or free fighting. The simple and straightforward movements, the skilful use of taisabaki and the timing peculiar to the style are a perfect fit for the modern competition situations.
Translated from the original text by Yrsa Lindqvist