Wado-Ryu Karate is a Japanese martial art founded by Hironori Ohtsuka Sensei in 1934. Ohtsuka Sensei developed Wado-Ryu after studying the Samurai martial art of Jiu-jitsu, and Shotokan (another style of Karate). This combination, according to Ohstuka Sensei, is a softer, more natural means of self-protection.
When Wado Instructors are asked to describe the essence of their style of karate to new beginners, or to any prospective initiate, or just to the curious bystander, they have a tendency to give the familiar stock reply. "Wado is a blend of Okinawan karate and Japanese Jujutsu". When pressed further, explanations tend to dry up.
Even the authors of the official literature fall back on the easily available but sketchy profiles of Hironori Ohtsuka founder creator of Wado Ryu Karate-Do. There always seems to be an assumption that western students of Wado karate will fill in the gaps for themselves, and these gaps are often cultural gaps. I am certain that students in the west have a tendency to regurgitate "facts" and take them to be truths.
The historical facts behind the creation of what we now practice as Wado karate are generally thin, particularly when we consider that here is a style/school of karate that was only officially created about sixty two years ago and whose founder died in 1982. This historical information is our joint martial cultural heritage and warrants serious study. The following information barely scratches the surface of a very complicated series of circumstances; of a collision of cultures, historical epochs and meetings of remarkable men.
Hironori Ohtsuka founder of Wado Ryu Karate-Do first came into direct contact with Okinawan Karate upon his introduction to Okinawan master Gichin Funakoshi in 1922 and parted ways with Funakoshi in 1935. By any standards this is a remarkably short time to master the principles of Okinawan Shorin Ryu karate (later transformed into what we know as Shotokan karate).
Although Ohtsuka Sensei never claimed to have mastered the system and by his own admission felt a need to amplify his knowledge of kata and other technical aspects by learning from other Okinawan masters, namely Kenwa Mabuni and Choki Motobu. It must be remembered that Ohtsuka Sensei did have a peerless background in traditional Japanese martial arts, and it was this background that undoubtedly enabled Ohtsuka to be receptive to the Okinawan principles of combat and to absorb the techniques of karate. (It would be interesting to speculate if Funakoshi saw 29-year-old Hironori Ohtsuka, master of Shindo Yoshin Ryu Jujutsu, as instrumental in helping him to create a toehold for what was in some quarters considered a foreign art within the hierarchy of the ultra nationalistic Japanese martial arts community.)
What do we know about Hironori Ohtsuka and his achievements in the traditional Japanese martial arts before his meeting with Funakoshi?
Before we explore Ohtsuka Sensei's pedigree in this area, it is worth looking briefly at traditional Japanese Jujutsu.