History of Wado-Ryu Karate-Do

A martial art born from the essence of Jujitsu, Karate and Kenjutsu

History and Timeline of the Development of Wado Ryu Karate-Do

1300 –

Karate takes it’s early origins from the Ryukyu Islands (Now called Okinawa, Japan).  From the mid to late fourteenth century a trade relationships between Ryukyuans and nearby China were established.  Relations grew and in 1392 a large number of Chinese families from Fujian Province (known as the ‘Thirty-Six Families’) moved to Ryukyu as part of a cultural exchange.  There they established  the community of Kumemura. As they integrated with the Ryukyuans they began to share their knowledge of science and arts. This also included the Chinese martial arts such as Shaolin Kung-Fu and other similar styles.

Until the fourteenth century Ryukyu Islands consisted of a collection of small scattered domains and three main kingdoms. In 1429 King Sho Hashi began a program of conquering the ruling principalities in order to unify  Okinawa. This was the start of the Sho Dynasty. The Sho Shin Dynasty took over in 1477 and banned on all weapons to prevent uprisings against the new King. This served to push the two forms of weaponless fighting systems (to-de and kung-fu) underground where they continued to be practiced in secret.

In 1609 the Shimazu Clan of the Satsuma domain sent a samurai expeditionary force to Okinawa which they easily conquered. Again in order to prevent any future uprisings the Satsuma Clan imposed another weapons ban on the Okinawans. This meant that the well equipped Samurai with their swords and jujutsu had the advantage.  It was during this weapons ban that the Okinawans developed new weapons from their farm implements and tools (SaiBo,Nunchuku, Tonfa and Kama).

In 1629 both the To-de and Kung-fu societies decided to combine their fighting styles calling the new  style ‘Te‘ (Hand). This new blend proved to be very effective  against the ruling samurai.

In 1875 Okinawa was officially made a part of Japan, as it still is today

These Early styles of te are often generalized as Shuri-teNaha-te and Tomari-te, named after the three cities from which they emerged. Each area and its teachers had particular Kata, techniques, and principles that distinguished their local version of te from the others. Shuri-te was destined to become the most influential style of to-de.

In 1806  Kanga Sakukawa who had studied punching and striking and Bo (staff) fighting in China under the tutelage ofKosokun (originator of Kushanku Kata), began to teach his fighting method in the city of Shuri that he called “Tudi Sakukawa” which translates as ‘Sakukawa of China hand‘.

Around 1820 Sakukawa’s most significant student Sokon Matsumura, also began to teach a blend of  te (Shuri-te andTomari-te) and Shaolin Kung Fu styles that later  became to be called ‘Shorinryu’.  One of the students that Matsumurataught was Yasutsune (Anko) Itosu. Itosu was to become considerd the ‘Father of modern Karate’.  Itosu adapted two Kata forms that he had learned from Matsumura. These were Kushanku and Chian Nan.  Some of Itosu’s students went on to become some of the most well known masters of Karate including Gichin Funakoshi, Kenwa Mabuni and Motobu Choki.

Shuri-te (the style of Funakoshi and Itosu) is considered the parent style to Wado-ryu, Shotokan, Shito-ryu and many others popular modern day Karate styles.


Born June 1st, 1892 in Shimodate City, Ibaraki Prefecture, Japan, Kou Otsuka was the second child and eldest son of four of Dr. Tokujiro and Sato Otsuka. While Kuo is his real name he later used Hironori as his ‘martial art’ name.  While growing up Otsuka would often listen to the stories  of Uncle Choujiro Ebashi.  Ebashi was a samurai and martial arts teacher for the Tuchura Clan.  He would often excite young Kou with the tales of the adventure and exploits of the samurai. It is thought that it was these stories that seeded Otsuka’s love and interest for the martial arts.

Otsuka was a sickly child and his parents thought that it would help his health if he were to study and practicejujutsu. At the age of five years old and despite the prevalent mood of the time regarding the ‘antiquated’ and irrelevant skills of the samurai warrior, Kuo began to learn jujutsu from his Uncle Ebashi to improve his health.


In April of 1901  Shuri-te master Anko Itosu opened  a to-de class at the Shuri Jinio elementary school for the purposes of physical exercise.  To-de was considered to be too dangerous for young children , so Itosu develops a simplified version much more  suitable for his elementary school. In this process he introduces a modified Pinan Kata.


When almost 13 years old Otsuka began to attend the  Ibaraki prefecture Shimotsuma junior high school. There under Master Yokiyoshi Shinzaburo Nakayama he studies Shinto-Yoshin-Ryu jusutsu.  While most schools stressed the jujutsuelements of throwing and grappling, Nakayama’s differed by emphasizing atemi-waza (striking and kicking techniques).


Over the past 10 years the term to-de was  gradually being replaced by karate.

Master Chomo Hinagi publishes ‘Karate Soshu Hen’. In this title the character ‘kara’ is replaced by another which is still pronounced as ‘kara’, but whose meaning is different. In the first case the meaning of ‘kara’ was ‘T’ang’ ( a reference to the origins of To-de being from China). The new meaning became ’empty’.  So now “Chinese hand’ now becomes ’empty hand’.


In October Anko Itosu writes a letter to the Prefectural Education Department in which he declares:”….The reason I write this letter is because I’m convinced that all the students of the Okinawa Prefecture Teacher’s Training College should learn To-de, so that when they graduate they can teach the children the same way I thought them. Within ten years To-de will have spread across Okinawa and the Japanese mainland. This will be a major contribution to our militaristic society……”


Hironori Otsuka begins to study commerce at Waseda University in Tokyo.  He spends the next  four years, learning and training in many different jujitsu schools. It was during this time that he also studied atemi style Toshin-Kenpo.  After all of this Otsuka decides that all these styles are not that much different and stays with Nakayama’s Shinto Yoshin Ryu.


Otsuka’s father passes away and he is forced to quit school and return to Shimodate to work in the Kawasaki Bank. This was done at the request of his mother as she became concerned with her son’s infatuation with jujutsu.

Despite the demands of his day-job, Otsuka starts to study bone-setting and Kappo (Japanese martial art resuscitation). These skills are traditionally necessary in order to be the head of a dojo.


Otsuka continues to train other styles of jujutsu as well as participating in trial games such as Tejin-Shinyo-Ryu andKito-Ryu. In the following years Otsuka continues to study  and soon excels in Shinto Yoshin Ryu.


Nakayama presents Otsuka with a Menkyo Kaiden: a certificate of full proficiency, making him the fourth Grandmaster of Shinto Yoshin Ryu Jujustu. This is a great honor because a Menkyo Kaiden is rarely issued at such a young age (29), if at all. It implies a transmission of the style to the next generation. In other words: the holder of the Menkyo Kaiden is generally considered to be the ‘carrier’ of the style.


In the previous  twenty years karate jitsu was taught in Okinawan schools as a means of physical exercise and preparation for military conscription.  Around 1921 Crown Prince Hirohito while returning from a trip to Europe stops in Okinawa and sees a karate demonstration. He requests that somebody from Okinawa come to Tokyo and demonstrate karate on the mainland. The Okinawans wanted their art to be represented by a refined and distinguished martial artist. Gichin Funakoshi (poet and calligrapher) master of the Shuri-te style was their choice to represent them.

Upon arrival in Japan, Funakoshi decides to use the ’empty’ hand characters to indicate his art. He says: “Just as an empty valley can carry a resounding voice, so must the person who follows the Way of Karate make himself void or empty by ridding himself of all self-centeredness and greed. Make yourself empty within, but upright without. This is the real meaning of ’empty’ in Karate.”

Funakoshi’s first demonstration was not entirely successful as it was given to representatives of Samurai families who had no interest in an ’empty-handed’ art, but he had more success when he demonstrated karate at  the All Japan Athletic Exhibition in Tokyo.

Invited by Jigoro Kano, founder of Judo, Funakoshi extends his stay on the Japanese mainland to perform a series of demonstrations in the Tokyo area, including at the Judo Kodokan. As Funakoshi received more and more requests for demonstrations he decides to settle in Tokyo.

Around the middle of  1922 Otsuka reads about Funakoshi’s demonstrations of Okinawan Karate in a newspaper and he decides to attend a demonstration. This demonstration by Funakoshi  arouses Otsuka’s curiosity and he wants to know more about this art. In the July he visits Funakoshi at the Meisei Juku (a residence for Okinawan students) where he was staying at the time, and they spend many hours discussing ideas about the martial arts.

Otsuka wishes to  learning karate, but Funakoshi doesn’t have any students yet.  Funakoshi earns the 15 yen rent for his room by sweeping floors and doing kitchen work. Funakoshi rents  another room in the building and use it  a dojo(training hall). Now that he has a place to practice, Funakoshi soon gathers a small group of students, Otsuka among them.  “Funakoshi-san welcomed me,” Otsuka recalls, “and said he would gladly teach me karate.” “Although most Okinawans appear to be naturally suspicious,” Otsuka added, “he was surprisingly open and frank – even innocent.” From that point  on, Otsuka practices karate virtually every night at Meisei Juku.   In the beginning Funakoshi has to work many extra hours to be able to pay the extra rent. But soon the word spreads and his group of students rapidly grows.


Funakoshi adopts the practice of rank and belt as created by Jigaro Kano and used in judo and in the  April of 1924 Otsuka is among the first to receive a karate black belt certificate from Funakoshi.

Later in September Funakoshi and Otsuka went to Keio University Kendo Hall and there introduced themselves toYasuhiro Konishi and asked him if they could use his dojo to practice their Okinawan karate. Konishi was sufficiently interested, and an Okinawan karate club was formed as a subsidiary of his Kendo dojo.

In their early days at Keio, traditional Japanese jujitsuka would occasionally come to issue challenges to Funakoshiand his new fighting system. As was the standard etiquette these challenges were met by the senior students, in this case Konishi and Otsuka, who were never once defeated. After his victory the challengers were then lectured byFunakoshi on the benefits of karate.

A story recounted in the “Nihon Budo Taikei” tells of a meeting at Konishi’s dojo between Choki Motobu and Funakoshi, also present was Otsuka, and a judo 4th degree who was accompanying Motobu. It was obvious that Motobu was intent on causing mischief and he orchestrated 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 was obvious that the odds were against Funakoshi, the much younger judoka having established a firm grip, but he gamely tried to disengage with soto ukes and uchi ukes, with no success and was finally lifted up and thrown against the wall of the dojoOtsuka was then asked to try his luck. He rose to the challenge and with his jujitsu background, had no difficulty in dealing with the situation.

Another story tells of another time when Otsuka was teaching at Shichi Tokudo, a student named Kogura from KeioUniversity, who was a 3rd degree in Kendo and a black belt in karate, for reasons unknown, decided to face him with a razor sharp sword. The other students watched in horror as Otsuka watched his adversary calmly, and as Kogura  with his shinken (open blade) made his move and leapt in with a would-be lethal blow, Otsuka sweeps him off his feet. As this was unrehearsed, it attested to the skill of Otsuka. It also bore out Funakoshi’s philosophy that kata practice was more than sufficient in times of need.


Otsuka leaves his job at the Kawasaki bank and devotes all his time to martial arts and healing. He sets up his own orthopedic hospital called Nagurado which, however, did not have many patients because Otsuka devoted most of his time to karate.


By 1928, Otsuka was an assistant instructor in Funakoshi’s school. He also trained under Motobu and renowned Okinawan master Mabuni (founder of Shito -Ryu). Master Motobu  was known for his emphasis on kumite and theNaihanchi kata and Mabuni helped Otsuka modify the Pinan Katas.

Tatsuo Suzuki born in Yokohama in 1928.


In 1929 Otsuka started the first karate club at Tokyo University, and the next five years would see him establish clubs in other universities as one of Funakoshi’s most senior students. Also in 1929 Otsuka established himself as a registered member of the Japan Martial Arts Federation.

It was around the period of the late twenties early thirties that Otsuka separated from Funakoshi and set upon his own path. The actual time at which this happened is not clear. According to the Otsuka family it happened as early as 1926,    while the Nihon Budo Taikei, The Japanese Encyclopedia of Budo places Otsuka in Funakoshi’s dojo whenMotobu came to visit in 1929.  Harry Cook in ‘A Precise History of Shotokan’ has Otsuka leaving Funakoshi in 1934, and according to Shingo Ohgami it happened as late as 1935. Whatever the time this happened the growth of Otsuka’sview and opinion of karate was beginning to evolve.  Okinawan Karate concentrated only on Kata, a set sequence of movements against an imaginary opponent (or group of opponents). Otsuka thought that the full spirit of Budo, which concentrates on defense and attack, was missing, and that Kata techniques did not work in realistic fighting situations. He experimented with other, more combative styles such as Judo,  Kendo and Aikido.

Faced with the reality that many of the blocks and techniques taught in traditional Okinawan Kata did not seem to work in sparring,  Otsuka thought  that change was necessary in order to make karate much more effective in real life. Otsuka believed there was a need for a more dynamic and fluid type of Karate to be taught and he experimented with masters such as Shito-Ryu Founder Kenwa Mabuni (1889-1952), Naha-te Fighting Master Choki Motobu (1871-1944), and in other martial arts with Jigoro Kano of Judo and Morihei Ueshiba of Aikido, blending the practical and useful elements of Okinawan karate with traditional Japanese martial arts techniques from jujitsu and kendo. He worked tirelessly and sometimes practiced by himself and with others for six hours a day.

It was Otsuka’s  blend of the practical and useful elements of Okinawan karate with traditional Japanese martial-arts techniques from jujitsu and kendo, which lead to the birth of Kumite, or fighting, in Karate.

As Otsuka continued his development  the relationship between Otsuka and Funakoshi grew strained because of the young man’s new approach to teaching. Otsuka stressed Kumite over Kata, in sharp contrast to Funakoshi, and developed many pre-arranged kumite techniques, much to the dismay of Funakoshi who believed that basics and Kata were enough and that he denounces kumite as an impurity in karate training, with a potential for great injury due to the deadly nature of some karate techniques.

Influenced by the direction taken by kendo and also by his influential friend, Choki Motobu the legendary Okinawan Karate master, Otsuka began full contact free-sparring (jyu-kumite) with students wearing the new Kendo protective armor. This was the conception of modern style Karate championship.

Research suggests that there were other issues between Otsuka and the Shotokan group which seemed to have centered around Funakoshi’s third son, Yoshitaka (also known as Gigo, 1906-1945). It is possible that resentment and embarrassment over a money issue also contributed to the separation of Otsuka and Funakoshi. By the time he resigned from the bank Otsuka had saved 1000 yen for his retirement. He put 200 yen toward a fund he set up for the purpose of building a permanent dojo for Funakoshi. Other supporters of Funakoshi also contributed bring the total to about 700 yen. Meanwhile Funakoshi’s eldest son, Giei, had allegedly been accumulating gambling debts and pressured Otsuka to loan him some of the money from the fund to pay off some of these debts. Otsuka bowed to the pressure and called a meeting of the other senior students to approve the loan to Giei. Out of feelings of loyalty toFunakoshi it was decided to loan the money but unfortunately Giei never paid the money back. Then to compound an already delicate and embarrassing situation, Giei implied that Otsuka had kept the money for himself. Anyway, it seems that senior Shotokan black belt Genshin Hironori suggested to Yoshitaka Funakoshi that for the good of theShotokan organization Otsuka should be dismissed. Another Shotokan senior student, Mitsusaka Harada, confirms that it was Yoshitaka who expelled Otsuka from the group. Obviously something happened because in 1934 Yoshitaka Funakoshi replaced Otsuka as the instructor of the Waseda University Karate Club and puts an end to Otsuka’srelationship with Gichin Funakoshi


Otsuka’s son Jiro is born February 28.

Otsuka eventually opens his own dojo as the Dai Nippon Karate Shinko club along with a bone setting hospital inSuehirocho, Kanda, Tokyo. According to records published by Shintani & Reid (1998), the name changed to Dai Nippon Karate-do Shinbu-Kai, then to Ko-Shu Wado-Ryu Karate Jutsu, which was subsequently shortened to Wado-Ryu Karate Jutsu, followed finally by Wado Ryu. As early as 1934 Otsuka had developed rules and regulations for competitive free sparring to be incorporated into his system, the first karate style to do so. These rules have been wholly or partially adopted by virtually all modern martial arts competitions.


In May Otsuka was conferred the rank of “Renshi-Gou” from Dai-Nihon-Butokukai. In the same year, he participated in ” the style ancestor festival ” in Kyoto Butokuden, which Butokukai sponsored

Otsuka registers  the name of his style of karate as Shinshu-Wado-Ryu-Karate-Jutsu. This was the  first Karate style name to be officially authorized into the martial arts of Japan. Though, on the mainland of Japan a founder of a style of  martial art was held in esteem, a founder of a style of Karate held little importance at the time.


Otsuka changes his style name from Shinsu-Wado-Ryu to simply “Wado-Ryu“. Since then the name has remained unchanged up to present time. Wado-Ryu translates to “Peaceful Way School“.


Masafumi Shiomitsu born in Kagoshima, Japan November 24th 1940.


Tatsuo Suzuki begins his training in Wado-Ryu Karate.


Otsuka is appointed as the head master (SHUSEKI-SHIHAN) of Karate by the Dai Nihon Butokukai.


Otsuka participates in the establishment of the International Martial Arts Federation (IMAF).


Otsuka opens the Wado-Ryu headquarters Dojo at Tsukiji in Tokyo

On June 1st , the first Wado-Ryu Demonstration tournament was held in commemoration of the  20th anniversary of the foundation of Wado-Ryu Karate-Jutsu.

Otsuka also participates in forming the Japan Karate-do Federation


First All Japan Wado-Ryu Championships are held.

Publication of ‘Karatejutsu no Kenkyu’ (‘the study of karate’), based on the 1949 ‘Karatejutsu Oboega’ (‘the karate memorandum’) from the Tokyo University Karate Club. The book presents 9 Wado Katas and became the base of the book ‘Karatedo’ by Otsuka in 1970.

Wadokai starts publishing an illustrated bulletin for its members.


At the occasion of the Tokyo Olympics, Zen Nippon Karatedo Renmei (JKF) is founded, for the purpose of bringing together all the main karate styles. This organization was initially known as FAJKO, only later this was changed to JKF. The Wado body within JKF is called JKF-Wadokai.

Three senior wadoka, SuzukiTakashima and Arakawa, visit London to demonstrate at the Shinto-ryu Kendo Club in London.


Tatsuo Suzuki returns to England to stay. This marks the beginning of the spread of Wado in the UK and the European mainland.

Kazutaka Otsuka is born to Jiro and Aiko Otsuka.


Otsuka received the Kun-Go-To, or “The Fifth Order of Merit of the Sacred Treasure” from the Emperor of Japan, who also bestowed upon him the Soko Kyokujitsu-Sho medal for contributions to the development and promotion of karate.


Otsuka  becomes the First Vice-Chairman of the Japan Karatedo Federation.


First official Wado-ryu Karate Championships are held in London.

Publication of ‘Karatedo’ by Otsuka which presents 9 Wado Katas: Pinan 1 to 5, Naihanchi, Seichan, Kushanku and Chinto.


Founding of the Federation of European Wado-kai. (F.E.W.).

October 9, President Higashikuni of the International Martial Arts Federation (Kokusai Buso In) awards Otsuka the title of ‘ Shodai Karate-do Meijin Judan’ or  ‘First Generation Karate-do Master of the Tenth Dan‘ and was designated the head of all martial arts systems within the All Japan Karate-do Federation. This is the first time ever this honor is bestowed upon a karateka in Japan.


Nov 3, Otsuka established the International Federation of Wado-Ryu Karate-Do Organizations’ Headquarters Dojo inNerima Ward Tokyo.


The split between JKF-Wadokai and Wadoryu renmei occurs


Otsuka is recognized as the oldest practicing karateka in the world. Master Otsuka said “The difference between the possible and the impossible is one’s will,” and he always emphasized that the karateka should always hold true three vital elements – the heart, spirit and physical strength.

Even an above average man in his seventies or eighties would probably have been content to rest and let others continue his work, but Master Otsuka was not. Never believing that he or the martial arts in general had learned all that there was to know, he continued to practice. Putting on his gi (training uniform), he would train every day for twenty minutes on just one technique, and continue this for a full month. Those who have studied with him remarked how he enjoyed walking on the crowded streets of Tokyo, so that he could practice smoothly weaving and twisting (tai sabaki waza) without letting anyone touch him.

Master Hironori Otsuka practiced karate daily until his death on January 29th, 1982.

In following his father’s wishes, and true to Japanese tradition, Jiro Otsuka assumed his father’s name and became the second Grandmaster of Wado Ryu Karate-Do, or Soke, as it’s referred to in Japan.

Wado karate separates into several organizations based upon differences in leadership and teaching concepts.


Publication of Otsuka’s Kihon kumite book. (n.b.: this may not be the exact year of publication. Exact year unknown.)


August,  First World Wado-ryu Karate Championships in London.

A new split occurs: Tatsuo Suzuki founds Wado Kokusai. Shiomitsu forms Wado Ryu Academy.


JKF-Wadokai president Hideo Bo passes away

Suzuki creates the Wado International Karate-Do Federation (WIKF)


Ryutaro Hashimoto (later to become prime minister of Japan) becomes president of JKF-Wadokai.


Hashimoto resigns, Eiichi Eriguchi appointed acting president of JKF-Wadokai.


The book ‘Wado Ryu Karate’ by Hironori Otsuka is published in an exclusive limited edition. This book is an English translation from a 1977 manuscript.