|Cecil T. Patterson
Keeping the Wado Flame Burning
|By Jim Mahanes
Cecil T. Patterson is proof you can’t judge a book
— or a martial artist in this case — by it’s cover.
Having been named the highest-ranking occidental in the
Wado system by the founder himself, one might think it
odd to see such a man wearing a white belt. But for
Patterson, wearing a white belt after 45 plus years of
training is the only natural thing to do.
“’Master’ is a word that’s thrown around a lot today,
but it’s literally impossible for someone to master
any style in a lifetime. .....It’s the goal to work
toward, but it’s rarely attained. The only master is the
Grandmaster of any style.
“Master Ohtsuka was a fabulous person, very meek, kind,
gentle. To look at him, you’d never know what he was
actually capable of doing. I don’t think any five or
six people...young people...could have touched him. He
was just amazing, yet, when he taught us how to throw a
basic front punch, he’d say he couldn’t do it correctly
— if he couldn’t do it correctly, who could? I feel
like I’ll always be a student of this art. For that
reason, I wear a white belt.”
Patterson has devoted his life to keeping the flame of
traditional Wado Ryu alive as head of one of the largest
karate organizations in the United States, the US
Eastern Wado Ryu Karate Federation.
Now some 20,000 members strong, the USEWKF was founded
under a directive of Wado Ryu founder and Grandmaster
Hironori Ohtsuka, who gave Patterson the daunting task
of helping spread his art to America.
Like many of the patriarchs of the early American
martial arts movement, Cecil T. Patterson was introduced
to karate in the early 50s, as a serviceman stationed in
Japan following the war. It was not his first
introduction to budo, however, but the one that would
change his life.
After falsifying his age and joining the Navy at the 15,
Patterson ended his first tour of duty and returned to
his East Tennessee home and began pursuing a career in
law enforcement. That is when he was introduced to
simple self-defense tactics used by the FBI. While it
had little to do with budo, it sparked a desire to learn
more about the art of self-defense.
reinduction in the Navy soon took Mr. Patterson from the
Tennessee hills to the small village of Iwakuni, located
on the banks of Japan’s Inland Sea, where he was
formally introduced to and accepted as a student of
Sensei Kazuo Sakura - one of Ohtsuka’s high ranking
The training was hard, taking place six or seven days
every week for hours upon hours each day.
One must understand that back in those days an American
could not simply go into a martial arts dojo and start
training. After several attempts he finally accepted me
only due to another American intervening and after
talking to Sakura Sensei, he allowed me in the dojo.
Sakura Sensei told me that I would never make it. At
times I thought him correct, but I hung in there and we
(Sakura Sensei) in latter years became good friends and
eventually helped me with getting the 1st
Grand Master over to the U.S.A..
The year was 1955 and Gichin Funakoshi (founder of
Shotokan and said to be the father of modern day
karate-do) was still actively training. Though Ohtsuka
was considered one of Funikoshi’s top students, the pair
had long since parted ways and Wado Ryu had come into
its own as a formidable fighting style.
Though it was often intense and grueling training, Mr.
Patterson’s devotion and hard worked earned him the rank
of Ni-dan (second-degree black belt) within two years,
before his tour of duty ended and Patterson was shipped
Once back in the states, he continued to train in Wado,
earning his San-dan (third degree black belt) by 1959,
and Yon-dan (fourth degree) by 1964. But it became
increasingly difficult to stay true to the style have
virtually no Wado senseis in the United States to guide
his progress. He did like many other servicemen and
began training whenever, wherever and with whomever he
could. This cross-training brought him in contact with
other styles such as Goju Ryu and Shorei Ryu. He was
also introduced to other soon-to-be famous American
budoka (martial arts practitioners), such as Robert
Trias and Harrold Long. But Wado remained his first
“(Though) I'd been involved in Goju Ryu, Wado Ryu and
Shorei Ryu training, for me, Wado offered the best
technique,” he said. “Let me stress that this is the
best style for me, someone else may find another
style works best for them, but for me, professionally
and personally, Wado was best designed for me.”
More than 40 years, and a host of accomplishments later,
Patterson will tell you he’s still very much a student
of the martial arts.
• • • • • • • • •
Shihan, when asked what sets Wado Ryu apart from other
styles, Master Ohtsuka was quoted as saying “We don’t
block like other styles.” Can you expound on that?
“What he was referring to was Taisabaki.”
“Literally translated, Taisabaki means ‘body shift.’
The concept is simple, if you’re not there, you can’t be
“Most traditional styles of karate inherently teach to
block and counter, utilizing strictly limb movement —
bone on bone. Shorei Ryu, Shotokan, these are good
examples, they teach power blocks.
“Wado focuses on side-to-side movements, we don’t meet
force with force. Instead, we work on shifting our
bodies to avoid contact.
“The natural movement of the body is forward. You have
to train yourself to move not only backwards, but from
side to side. Wado teaches side-to-side movements along
with softer techniques, both of which work off fluid
body movements — using soft tap-like or deflecting
blocks. We’d rather move slightly and deflect a
technique and keep its energy moving instead of trying
to bring an attack to a dead stop.
“This is the essence of Taisabaki.”
sounds like a relatively simple concept, is it?
“No. In order for Taisabaki to work, one must be
totally relaxed. Your movements from point A to point B
must be fluid, just like water running on a downgrade —
“That’s hard to teach because there’s too much emphasis
being placed these days on speed. Oftentimes while
people are training for speed, they’re not thinking
about their technique or foundations. All they are
concerned about is how fast they are.
“There needs to be more emphasis placed on the
movement. One of the best ways to achieve this is
through an in-depth study of kata.
“Katas have to be analyzed. You can learn a lot from
kata, as long as you analyze what the kata is trying to
teach you. You can’t just get out there and dance.
Katas were designed to teach combat tactics not just
techniques. Timing, stance, body movement and
positioning, form — these are the things you can learn
when you look beneath the surface of a kata and start
looking at its concept. It’s only after the concepts of
kata are learned can a person ever be truly relaxed and
ready for a combat situation.”
Americans, we seem to have a hard time with relaxation.
I’ve heard a few Asian sensei talk about how Americans
use a lot of wasted energy because we aren’t relaxed.
“Well, first of all, I don’t feel it’s just Americans
who have problems relaxing, but relaxation of the body
is key to any martial art, especially in Wado Ryu in
order to perform Taisabaki correctly. Taisabaki will
not work if a person is not relaxed ... this takes a
great deal of training.”
How do you teach that state of relaxation to your
stress the mental facet of the martial arts. If someone
hasn’t been trained in the mental aspects of martial
arts, they should try to find someone who will train
them. There’s no question whatsoever, if you train the
mind, the physical will develop.
“You don’t train for speed, you train for technique.
Once technique is perfected, speed will come.
“That gets back to training in kata. Americans seem to
always want more. They don’t stop to realize that
simple kicking and punching are not easily mastered, let
alone more complex ideas like proper movement, timing,
breathing and relaxation.
“Most are just concerned with learning the movements of
a kata and learning as many katas as they can learn …
they never stop and think about what a particular kata
is designed to teach. Traditional Wado Ryu only has
nine katas and Master Ohtsuka felt that even nine katas
were too many. He felt that it’s not how many katas one
knows, but how well a person knows the kata he’s
Shihan, Master Ohtsuka asked you to help establish his
art in the United States through the USEWK, following
what I understand was a grueling seven-day, one-on-one
training period. What was that session like?
“Master Ohtsuka arrived around 6 or 6:30 p.m. and wanted
to go directly to the dojo and start training ... I
talked him out of it and took him to my home and we sat
around and talked. He couldn’t speak English, but he
had an English/Japanese dictionary. He’d find a word
and show it to me ... that's the way we conversed.
“The next morning, we arrived at the dojo around 8:30
a.m., and I thought we’d train for about an hour or so
and let it go at that ...we finished around 10 or 11
p.m. that night.
“We then went back to my home and sat around and talked
until 1 or 2 O’clock in the morning, then we were back
at the school the next morning before 8 O’clock. This
went on for seven days. I learned more about karate
during those seven days, than I had in the entire time I
was in Japan.
You obviously worked a lot of technical skills and had a
lot of physical workouts, but what did you take away
from that visit as far as a deeper meaning, on a
spiritual level, if you will, of the martial arts?
“Number One, he mentally built self-confidence in me.
Number Two, he taught me relaxation.
really didn’t know anything about relaxation. I wasn’t
really taught that in Japan, probably because of
language barrier, there was no English spoken in the
dojo I was in. I think I missed that aspect of karate
while I was there. Those were two of the big things he
taught me during that first visit.”
Shihan, getting back to Taisabak, how does Wado Ryu
utilize that concept?
“The Wado system teaches Taisabaki through several
means. First of all would be relaxation. But we’re
also unique in that we use a 45-degree hip line. Most
systems teach a full hip — squared off to their opponent
when punching, kicking or blocking. With the hip at a
45-degree angle, it gives a person more body power, and
better reach. Add that with total relaxation up until
the point of contact (focus or kime), and you have the
ability to deliver a stronger blow. This, of course, is
a personal belief, based on my training.
“I’ll never criticize any other art or system. Each
organization is as good as its practitioners. If a
Shotokan student works out 16 hours a week and a Wado
student works out one hour a week, naturally the
Shotokan student is going to be more proficient, that's
obvious, there’s no room for discussion in that.”
You mentioned earlier about training in the mental
aspects of martial arts, how does that fit in with the
concept of Ki and how does that relate to Taisabaki?
“Performed properly, ki should flow like water. People
say I sound like a broken record, because I continually
stress the comparison of proper movement to water.
“Water is such a strong force. Flowing properly, we all
know water can destroy just about anything in its path.
“But water can’t flow unless it is relaxed. If water is
frozen it doesn’t flow. If it’s too hot, it boils and
can’t flow, water has to be in what could be considered
a relaxed state in order to flow. The same holds true
for chi and for Taisabaki. If your ki is not flowing
properly, you can never be truly relaxed.
“In karate, everything has to flow like water from what
we call the “sake ton” or the diaphragm. A movement
from point A to point B, C, D, or E has to be fluid. It
can’t be ‘step here with the feet, do this with the
arms, do that with the hips.’ You have to take all the
aspects of every movement and make them flow like one
“In combat especially, you have to move fluidly with
your opponent, to create an opening for an attack. If
you and I were working together, I would have to
consider any movement an attack. You don’t necessarily
have to throw a technique. If you move one way or the
other, I want to use Taisabaki to get around you or to
get in on you in order to perform an offensive
“Taisabaki eliminates the need for tremendous speed
because the body is relaxed enough not to have to rely
strictly on speed.”
Shihan, like many of karate’s founding fathers, Master
Ohtsuka named his son to head his organization after his
death. As we’ve seen with many styles of karate,
following the death of the founder, the organization
splits into multiple factions with most claiming to be
the true essence, or a better version, of the founder’s
style. Wado Ryu is certainly no exception, in fact a
majority of the Wado schools in the United States are
not affiliated to the Soke (Hironori Ohtsuka II).
You’ve kept your promise to Master Ohtsuka by
recognizing his son as the style’s chief sensei. Why?
“If a person were to have a second father, Master
Ohtsuka was that for me.
“Obviously, his death was a tremendous shock not only to
me, but to those around me. When he died, I wondered
what was going to happen to the organization.
“As a rule, the oldest son takes command of the
federation and when this happens, you’ll have a break
away of some people. This was a great concern of mine —
how many people would we lose when this happened?
“Following his father’s death, (Ohtsuka II) and I began
correspondence back and forth, which went on for a long
time prior to his arrival to America. During his first
visit to America as the style’s leader, he and I talked
about the Wado system and the present organization and
after a lengthy conversation, I relayed to him that I
would follow him as long as he didn’t change any of his
father’s techniques and katas, and if he did, well, I
would not have followed him.
“But as far as I’m concerned, the man has done a
wonderful jobwith taking the leadership role of the
international federation and he’s staying with his
father’s teachings. I can’t see any changes he’s made.”
Shihan, in closing, I’ll ask you the same question I
asked Master Ohtsuka (II), and the same one I ask
everyone: "What’s the biggest changes you’ve seen in
Martial Arts, not just Wado, since you began training?"
“The biggest thing is etiquette. Karate begins and ends
with etiquette. There just doesn’t seem to be the same
respect today as there was in the 60s and 70s. For
example, at tournaments today, you see participants
becoming belligerent and showing no respect to the
referees, or their seniors. This just didn’t happen
back in the 60s and 70s. Back then, senior rank was
highly respected by all karateka.
feel respect for the rank of black belt has dissipated
over the years. There are a lot of schools today that
are not holding with the traditional, ethical
backgrounds that should be involved with awarding the
rank of black belt.
“We don’t give black belts away. Those who wear a black
belt from our (federation) have earned them through hard
work and dedication to the system and the art. Of
course then we tell them that they’re not a black belt,
but rather have the potential to become a black belt.”
you think Master Ohtsuka I would be pleased with the
state of Wado Ryu as it is today?
“Let me put it this way. I think he would be well
pleased with what we (USEWF) are doing today. As
compared to what other people are doing, I don’t know.
That's one of those questions that's difficult to
answer. Yes, I think he’d be pleased with what this
organization has done.
After all your years in martial arts, you still seem to
have a fire about it, what keeps you going?
"Master Ohtsuka was a man who devoted his entire life to
teaching people how to better themselves through Wado
Ryu. I’ve tried to continue with that philosophy.
"My organization started with two people back in 1957,
it’s up to over 20,000 people now. What keeps me going
is seeing all the young people that come to us. Young
people we might have taken off the streets, taken drugs
out of their lives — it’s been a wonderful experience.”