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Today many schools of Karate exist throughout the world. The 5 main styles being Wado Ryu Karate, Shotokan Karate, Goju Ryu Karate, Shito Ryu and Kyokushinkai Karate. Many others exist and are practiced throughout the globe. The styles are often poorly compared in terms of some physical variation such as deep stances or circular blocks. The fundamental difference is however in the principals each style is founded upon. The most important aspect of training was often debated amongst many of the founders and so their individual styles reflected their own preferences. This is a living example of Shi Ha Ri. The modern difference comes however that many of the styles became commercial and started to influence throughout the globe and not just Japan. But the start of the Karate story is not in the modern division of styles but in China. This complete story spans several hundred years with traditions and teaching being passed from teacher to student, from the ancient and powerful samurai of Japan, all the way to Staffordshire, England.

Karate’s Origins can be traced back to early Chinese Boxing. The original province is a source of much debate in the modern martial arts community. However some Kata’s still have names that are unmistakably Chinese in origin and can often be traced to either the name of a town/province or the individual that founded them. The melting pot however, was the island of Ryukyu, or as it is known today, Okinawa. It was on this small island that trade with China, India and Japan allowed for cultural combination of Martial arts to exist. Japan occupied Okinawa for hundreds of years and had long banned the public display or practice of conventional weapons such as the Katana (sword), Yari (Spear), and eventually early firearms. Weapons systems were developed from designs of instruments common to the islands, often from farming implements. The origin of these weapons is again a source of much debate with many theories been put forward, it is false to assume however that weapons such as the Nunchaku were exclusive to Okinawa and some Chinese weapons, similar weapons were also common throughout Europe from periods long before the Kingdom of Ryukyu became part of Japan. Both Kobudo (weaponry) and Karate (Empty Hand) developed together and it was here that they became the arts that we can easily relate to today.

In 1868 there were two very significant events, the first which held a more significant change for Japan was the end of the Tokugawa Shogunate and power returning to the emperor. This began the period known as the Meiji Restoration. This is when the industrialization of Japan began in a significant way. This is often considered to be the end of the samurai era. Martial Arts would forever be changed, as many retired samurai would go on to a form a living teaching martial arts, for the first time the arts of the Samurai which had been zealously guarded for hundreds of years slowly became available to the general population. The second significant event which relates more to the history of Karate was on the 10th of November 1868, the birth of Gichin Funakoshi. Funakoshi was the founder of Shotokan Karate, (although it was never called this during his lifetime.) This is probably the most commonly practiced form of Karate throughout the world. Funakoshi believed in only 3 types of training, Kihon (basics), Kata, and Makiwara training. He believed if these three types of training were completed correctly then no further training was required. It was this personal Preference that would inevitably cause the creation of Wado Ryu Karate.

1892 was the year in which the founder of Wado Ryu Karate, Hironori Otsuka, was born. He was first introduced to martial arts by his great-uncle Chijiro Ebashi, who began his instruction in Ju jutsu. At the age of five he began to learn from Shinzaburo Nakayama, sensei, beginning his training in Shindo Yoshin Ryu Jujutsu. 23 years later on his 28th Birthday Otsuka was given the highest rank in Shindo Yoshin Ryu Jujutsu and succeed his teacher as the fourth grandmaster in the style.

Image of masters

Funakoshi however began his training at approximately age eleven. His two main teachers were Azato Anko, and Itosu Anko, the creator of the Pinan series of Kata. Itosu served as the secretary to the last King of Ryukyu prior to the abolishment of the Monarchy by the Japanese. It was in this position were he was highly influential in getting Karate (or Tode as it was known then) into the Okinawan school system. By 1912 Funakoshi had become the president of the Okinawan Shobukai. In 1921 it was Funakoshi sensei who was responsible for officially introducing the Japanese mainland to Karate with its first public demonstration, however several other teachers were already instructing Karate in Japan such as Kenwa Mabuni, Founder of Shito Ryu. Jigiro Kano the founder of Judo was also to play a role. Kano was an educator academic, even becoming so high up as the head of the Japanese Olympic Committee. Several years after Karate was introduced to Japan it was incorporated into some schools as exercise for children to complement judo which it was ultimately Kano’s aim to promote, however Kano’s role in allowing this to happen is significant.

In 1922 Otsuka witnessed a Karate demonstration for the first time. He was immediately enthusiastic about the potential for Karate and meet Funakoshi on several occasions discussing the art. Funakoshi was said to be impressed by Otsuka’s enthusiasm and preceeded to instruct Otsuka in every Kata in just one year. Over this period Otsuka spent time as an assistant instructor for Funakoshi as one of his most significant students. Otsuka was however already a grand master in Jujutsu and started to combine Karate and Jujutsu methodology. He also began to instruct students in what he would become famous for developing, Ippon/Kihon Kumite. He disagreed with Funakoshi’s philosophy that only Kihon, Kata and Makiwara training was necessary believe only by training with a partner could a karate-ka learn correct timing and distancing. The two masters different ideologies were the root of there split and they slowly but surely grew apart. Otsuka continued to learn from many of the contemporary Karate masters including Kenwa Mabuni and Choki Motobu. By 1929 Otsuka was a registered member of the Japan Martial Arts Federation and was now running his own Bone setting practice. The precise date for the split of Otsuka and Funakoshi is not accurately recorded however it can be estimated to have been some time during 1930-31. The details of the affair are also still somewhat of a mystery, however what is known that the two great masters always kept a large mutual respect for each other.

1934 was the birth of Wado Ryu, as it was in this year that is was Otsuka’s Karate (and Karate in general) was officially recognised as a martial art. When Otsuka was asked in later years Otsuka claimed he could not remember the precise date for when he came up with the name, however it was some time during the 1930’s. 1935 was the year Otsuka became a full time Karate instructor but it wasn’t until 1939 that the term “Wado-Ryu” was registered, along with the other styles of the time, by Otsuka. In 1940 it is known to have been used publicly at a Demonstration in Kyoto. It should also be noted that on the 4th of May 1938 the martial arts world was rocked by the first death of one of the major founders of the arts we practice today, Jigoro Kano, the founder of Judo.

In 1942 Otsuka was given one of the many titles he would earn throughout his life, the title of Kyoshi-go. Later that year the man responsible for bringing Wado Ryu Karate to England began his training under Otsuka, Master Tatsuo Suzuki. In 1945 martial arts in Japan were banned. Otsuka continued to teach in private until the ban was lifted in the 1950’s, classes were forced to change names, a common one for Karate was Japanese Boxing. Generally speaking the 1950’s was a quiet decade. It was a prosperous time for Wado with Otsuka training many of the masters of today during this time. It was also the first time a Karate World Championship was held. However the 1950’s did bring some sadness to karate-ka all over the world, on April the 26th 1957, Gichin Funakoshi sensei the father of modern Karate passed away.

1963 was the year Wado Ryu Karate would began its major contest of the world. Otsuka sent three of his top students to demonstrate Wado Ryu Karate throughout the western nations. The Three students would later become masters of the art and continue Otsuka’s legacy throughout the world. The three students were Toru Arakawa, Takashima and Tatsuo Suzuki. After finishing the tour, each of the distinguished masters were presented with offers from various countries to teach. Tatsuo Suzuki Sensei whose only other language was English, decided upon either America or England. Fortunately for us in January 1965 Suzuki moved to England and still teaches in Croydon, London. Since he was the original Wado Ryu Karate teacher in England most schools can be traced back to him. Since he was the only Japanese Instructor in England at the time the demands on his time were vast and he was featured in practically every martial arts publication of the time, further promoting Wado Ryu Karate in England.

Back in Japan in 1966 Otsuka was awarded yet another honour; This time from the Emperor of Japan Hirohito for dedication to Karate. The award was Kun-Goto-soukuo Kyuku Ju-jitsu Shou. Later in 1972 he received his highest honour, the highest title is it possible to bestow, and Otsuka was the first karate-ka to ever receive it. Otsuka had earned the title Meijin.

By 1980 Otsuka was considering who would succeed him. Many high ranking students could not agree upon who should succeed the master and there were always those that would never be satisfied, therefore many of them began their own associations and branches of Wado Ryu. On the 20th of November 1981 Otsuka handed over the position of grandmaster to his son, who to honour his father changed his name to Hironori Otsuka 2nd. Two months later on the 29th of January 1982, Grand Master Hironori Otsuka, Meijin, passed away. Although his spirit was gone his legacy lived on in all of his students throughout the world. I was once honoured to train with Tatsuo Suzuki sensei, on the final day of the course I asked Suzuki one question. What was Otsuka Sensei like? A smile came over Suzuki Sensei and he replied, “He was like an old Samurai.” He paused and then said “He was like a Father to me.” And I think that is truly legacy Otsuka left. He was more than just a sensei, but a father to thousands of Karate-ka all around the globe.

Wado Ryu Karate continued to grow throughout the world and in no place was that more true than in Britain. One significant early student of Suzuki sensei’s who furthered the advancement of Karate throughout England was Toru Takamizawa Sensei who taught at the temple in Birmingham. Takamizawa sensei helped to develop a strong group of Wado Ryu Karate-ka in Birmingham and the Midlands area. Toru was also one of Sensei to teach my original Karate instructor. Through each of these great masters passing on their wisdom and knowledge to each generation of students, the dynamic Art of karate travelled from the home of karate in Okinawa, Japan; to our dojo in Rugeley, Staffordshire.

Although the History of Karate has its significant individuals who helped shape it into what we know today, and the events that encouraged its growth throughout the world, we must remember that sensei does not mean teacher, merely “one who has been before”, and that know it is our responsibility as students to carry on the lessons learnt, and continue to learn, embrace the principal of Shi Ha Ri to keep our arts alive for the next generation. After all we can always remember the 2nd Club Motto, “Flowing Water never becomes Stagnant.”