Wado-Ryu Karate-do : The Way of Peace

By it’s very definition. Karate-do is a way of life and in many aspects, almost a religion. One certainty is that it is very spiritual in nature. The precepts followed by the devoted practitioner are the foundations upon which many ecclesiastics sermonize to their congregations on a regular basis. The major difference is that the Karate-ka develops a sense of good will to all, respect, dedication, humility, and a peaceful approach to life, through physical movement and the assessment of their inner self. The strongest argument for this analogy can be found in any text documenting the introduction of exercises by Bodhidharma, a Buddhist monk and supposed to be the reincarnation of Buddha, to the monks of the Shaolin Temple when he arrived there from India in approximately AD 550. It’s inception to the Chinese culture at that point was the ‘pebble in the pond’ whose ripples would ultimately spread over the globe after first touching the shores of Okinawa where a sickly young man would feel their force and devote his life to their practice.

Eventually, through his practice and training, he would shrug off the ill health of his youth and go on to pave the way for Karate-do to be seen in the light of a New World being formed after the madness and devastation of global wars. In his lifetime, Gichin Funakoshi, the once sickly young man, would have an impact on many people. One person in particular would take what he learned from his former master and apply it to a style of martial arts that, even today, embodies the very maxims which the Buddha speaks of. That person was Hironori Ohtsuka and the style he developed from the combination of his own training in the art of Ju-Jitsu with that which he gained under the tutelage of Gichin Funakoshi would lead to the creation of Wado-Ryu Karate- do.

Born in Shimodate City, Ibaraki Prefecture, Japan, in 1892, Otsuka took up the practice of Ju-Jitsu at the age of 6. At the age of 13 he took up the study of Shindo Yoshin-Ryu Ju-Jutsu which he continued throughout his years of education at Waseda University. In 1922 Ohtsuka heard of the karate demonstration given by Gichin Funakoshi in Tokyo and was determined to meet him. Eventually the two met and Ohtsuka was accepted as a student under Funakoshi, although he continued his training in Ju-Jitsu. As time passed Ohtsuka became a proficient instructor and began teaching at Tokyo University, but his methods, incorporating his Ju-Jitsu techniques which enabled his students to practice free sparring, clashed with Funakoshi’s concepts of karate. Subsequently a rift was created and Ohtsuka departed.

By 1934 Ohtsuka had developed a style of martial arts which integrated many of the aspects he’d learned under the tutelage of his former masters. He named his style Wado-Ryu and quickly gained approval from the Dai Nippon Butoku Kai who awarded him the title Renshi in 1938.


Wado-Ryu has since flourished and is one of the more traditional styles still practiced today. The benefits of Wado-Ryu are many. Aside from the obvious physical aspects such as strength, fitness, agility and balance, Wado-Ryu emphasizes the development of respect, honor, discipline, and understanding in a mental as well as a physical capacity. To the follower of Wado-Ryu the main philosophy is to better their attitude both in the dojo and in the world they live in, thus practicing one of the main aims of budo (martial art). Aggression both within the dojo and without is not tolerated and the student, no matter what level of proficiency attained, is encouraged to avoid conflict by the simple act of being aware of their surroundings. For the Wado-Ryu practitioner, the best way to avoid conflict with the guy in the bar who is feeling belligerent is to pick up their own drink and move to a quieter spot. The very name Wado-Ryu, roughly translated, means “the way of peace”. However that attitude is not to be confused with cowardice. Many of the Kata (forms) performed in Wado-Ryu contain simple yet effective, and sometimes deadly, movements designed to incapacitate an opponent. One of the primary concerns of Wado-Ryu is Taisabaki (evasion), techniques which consist of evasive maneuvers to avoid contact if possible. The connection between this method and the principal of avoiding conflict is obviously apparent.

Another characteristic of Wado-Ryu is that large movements are kept to a minimum. Speed and efficiency of movement with each technique is more important than outwardly shown strength or physical effort. Great emphasis is placed on perfecting the basics, and it’s not unusual for an instructor to push their students to constantly work at perfecting the most simple of movements from a kata. Wado-Ryu encompasses harmony of movement stemming from a solid foundation of basics and kata. Through the physical techniques of kihon and kata students learn self-control, respect and humility along with a strong mental attitude in self discipline. Students must endeavour to clear their mind and relax their body while also being aware and ready. Wado-Ryu is built around nine basic kata, although most teachers include many others. While kihon and kata play a major role in the development of Wado-Ryu, a very strong and important ingredient has been the prearranged fighting techniques formulated by Otsuka. The atemi-waza (strikes), nage-waza (throwing techniques) and tai-sabaki (body shifting techniques) of jujitsu have had “a big influence in the formation of Wado-Ryu.” Sensei Otsuka passed away in January 1982.

Since it’s humble beginnings Wado-Ryu has spread to all parts of the globe. It has had many breakaways and there are now hundreds of clubs and associations throughout the world. But regardless of which association one may belong to, the underlying principles and philosophies within Wado-Ryu remain the same. Wado-Ryu is one of the most dynamic and diverse styles of karate practiced today.