As the son of one of history’s most celebrated karate legends, one could say Jiro Otsuka’s legacy was mapped out from day one.
Jiro Otsuka was born February 28, 1934 — the year his father, Grandmaster Hironori Otsuka, formally established his own unique fighting art with the Japan Martial Arts Federation. The Dai Nihon Karate-do Shinko Club, as it was known, was based on the elder Otsuka’s many years of training in Shindo Yoshin Ryu JuJitsu and as one of Gichin Funikoshi’s top karate students.
Eventually becoming known simply as Wado Ryu Karate-Do, Otsuka’s style incorporated karate techniques he learned not only from Funikoshi, but also from other Okinawan masters such as Kenwa Mabuni (Shito Ryu) and Choki Motobu, as well as techniques he learned from Morihei Ueshiba, founder of Aikido.
Jiro Otsuka began training in Wado Ryu at 15 years old. For the next 33 years his father would groom him to one-day head the style he created. That day came on January 19, 1982 when Grandmaster Hironori Otsuka I passed away. In following his father’s wishes, and true to Japanese tradition, Jiro assumed his father’s name and became the second Grandmaster of Wado Ryu Karate-Do, or Soke, as it’s referred to in Japan.
Now in his 60s, Grandmaster Hironori Otsuka II continues to teach Wado Ryu Karate throughout the world as head of the International Wado Ryu Karate-Do Renmei. Today, he commands a following of more than 40,000 karateka throughout the world who, true to his father’s wishes, recognize him as the single head of the Wado Ryu style.
Sensei, this is not your first trip to America, how many times have you visited the states?
“My first visit was in 1969. I do not remember how many times I have visited since then, I believe it is more than 10 times.”
When you come to America and view American karateka, what do you see is our greatest strengths and weaknesses?
“American students seem to follow and do what their teachers show them in a proper manner. That’s one of their strengths.
As for weaknesses, many American students perform karate with excessive power (force) in their technique.
“I think they could be much better if they mastered ‘yawarakai taisabaki’ (relaxed and smooth body movement, or control without excessive power or force). If American students learn and master ‘yawarakai taisabaki,’ the Japanese could be in trouble. “Remember in Wado Ryu, we do not ever use excessive force, excessive motion and excessive techniques.”
As far as teaching Japanese students VS non-Japanese students, what is the main difference there?
“Karate taught in Japan today tends to be sport oriented, so it is simple. In America and Europe, especially in Europe, students want to learn more than just sports karate.
“Learning karate as a sport does not satisfy them. They want to learn karate as a martial art and more of them are taking karate because of it.
“I mainly teach karate as a martial art to meet that need.”
Can you define the major difference between Karate as a martial art and karate as a sport?
“A majority of young people today want to take karate as sports. However, as one gets older, they will want to take karate as martial art because they are no longer satisfied by sports karate.
“In learning karate simply as a sport, one will surely quit or retire from it as physical strength declines. That is because the objective of sports karate is simply to compete and win (tournaments).
“Karate as martial art, or ‘Shou gai Budo’ (life time martial art), you are able to continue practicing as long as your hands and legs can function. The objective of karate as a martial art is building character or creating ‘Jin kaku shuyo’ (an disciplined, upstanding person).
“It is fine to be a winner of a karate tournament, however I want (Wado Ryu students) to be winners of ‘Hin kaku’ (Dignity, Grace). Winning tournaments is not important. “Winning ‘Hin kaku’ is the most important thing.”
Sensei, are you familiar with the No Holds Barred events such as the Ultimate Fighting Championship, Pride, and K1, which have grown in populatirity in recent years?
In your opinion, are these competitions good for the martial arts?
“These types of competitions come and go with the passage of time. (They) tend to get people’s attention at first, but sooner or later, they go away. I have seen it in the past in Japan.”
The one thing these competitions have fostered, especially in America, is a tendency for martial artists to cross train in many different arts. Your father could be considered one of the first and best-known cross trainers, having switched from a Ju-Jistsu background to karate. Sensei, do you see cross-training as a good thing for martial artists?
• (Author’s Note: It is well documented that while studying karate under Gichin Funikoshi, Hironori Otsuka I never neglected his first art, Shindo Yoshin Ryu JiuJitsu. In fact, it was his incorporation of the atemi-waza (striking techniques) of Funikoshi’s karate with the jiujitsu that came as second nature to him that contributed to their eventual parting of ways and the establishment of Wado Ryu as a separate art.)
“It is ok to cross train in other arts in order to reinforce your life-time martial art style. It is not ok to cross train if you do not have a lifetime martial art style. Simply, trying (studying) a little bit of every martial art does not help anything.
“The people who leave what they are practicing and switch to new style, then switch again when another (fad) comes up, end up learning nothing. Like water runs in a main stream one should stick to a main style that he believes in (and) stick to it no matter what comes up.
“Today, in Japan, karate is not considered as highly respected a martial art as Judo or Kendo. Why? Because ‘Karate ni Hinkaku ga nai’ (karate has lost its dignity or manners).
“As a matter of fact, newspapers and TV (highlight) Judo or Kendo events all the time but as for karate, you need a magnifying glass to locate an article about karate in the newspaper. As long as karateka practice simply to win a game, dignity can not be built in the individual. Kendo is performed for winning like Karate is, but Kendo is more respected because it has built dignity through practice. Kendo teaches, win in your heart, loose in your heart, karate does not have that respect.
Sensei, it’s been 60-plus years since your father founded Wado Ryu. How do you see his style evolving in the 21st century?
“In the next century, Wado Ryu needs to become a more family-oriented organization. “We need to focus on Wado Ryu karateka becoming ‘Kou Jinkaku sha’ (of high noble character). That is lacking in karate today. My hope is that all Wado students in the world remember its true meaning in 21st century.
“‘Do’ stands for ‘The Way.’ Figuratively speaking, ‘Do’ is like a road, and there are many different roads one can take. There are wide ones, narrow ones, curvy ones, dead-ended ones, clean ones, dirty ones, dangerous ones and safe ones. The ‘Do’ in Wado Ryu stands for the right way of learning karate. It is the way that leads one to the place where they can learn (truth).
“Wado Ryu students should also learn ‘right mindedness.’ There are ‘right minded’ and ‘wrong minded’ people in this world. A ‘right mind’ person (is) clean, pure, kind, thoughtful, loving and respectful. A ‘wrong mind’ person stands for hatefulness, jealousy, etc. We should develop ‘right mind’ students and remove ‘wrong mind’ from our ranks.
“For children especially, it is important to practice karate with a soul that is thoughtful, gentle, clean, pure and kind. In that way beauty (can be) reflected in their techniques.”
It’s been 20 years since your father passed away, and those who were his direct students will also someday pass on too, leaving his art in the hands of today’s third- and fourth-generation students … How can they best keep your father’s memory alive? How can they keep what he originally founded as Wado Ryu Karate-Do pure?
“The relationship of master to student should be like that of parent to child. Just as in traditional Japanese arts such as Kabuki and Sumo, theory and techniques are taught from parents to children. That is the best way to preserve the tradition.
“Theory and technique of the style should be learned from the Soke (original family) then taught to later generations.
“The most important thing to remember about this is that theory can be taught correctly even (if) the teacher is different. Techniques may look different when you see my father do them compared to how I do them. When the same technique is shown, people think the technique is different. Why? Because we have different height, body shape, etc. Even when (other instructors) show techniques, it still does not look the same. But the most important thing is that the theory and content of the technique is correctly taught. As long as the theory and content of technique are shown correctly, it is OK.”
Sensei, what is the one single message you have for all Wadou Ryu karateka throughout the world?
“Learning Wado Ryu is difficult. In a period of a few years, one cannot learn true Wado-Ryu karate perfectly — it takes many years of training. It is like becoming a doctor. In order to get ‘Hakase-go’ (a doctor degree) in Japan, you have to complete six years of elementary school, six years of high school, finish four years of university and then four years of graduate school. After you get the degree you still have to pass the national exam, then practice at the hospital for several years to become a professional doctor or professor.
“To become a Wado Ryu professional, it takes the same effort.
“The best known and most respected doctors in the world are those who make efforts day and night. Whenever they have time they work to develop or improve their own theory or techniques. This process makes them unique from others and is why they become well known and famous.
“To become a true student of Wado Ryu Karate one must follow:
“It sounds easy, but it is a difficult thing to do.”
© Jim Mahanes, 2001
C o p y r i g h t 2 0 0 5 - 2 0 0 6 U n i t e d S t a t e s E a s t e r n W a d o R y u K a r a t e F e d e r a t i o n