Hironori Otsuka was a Japanese master of karate who created the Wado-ryu style of karate. He was born on June 1, 1892 in Shimodate City, Ibaraki, Japan. He was one of four children born to Tokujiro Otsuka, a medical doctor. At the age of 5 years, Otsuka began training in the martial art of jujutsu under his great-uncle, Chojiro Ebashi who was a samurai. Otsuka’s father took over his martial arts education in 1897. At the age of 13, Otsuka became the student of Shinzaburo Nakayama in Shindō Yōshin-ryū jujutsu.
In 1911, while studying business administration at Waseda University in Tokyo, Hironori Otsuka trained in various jujutsu schools in the area. Before his studies were complete, his father died and he was unable to continue studying so he took a job working as a clerk at the Kawasaki Bank. Although he wanted to be a full-time martial arts instructor, he did not pursue this course at this time out of respect for his mother’s wishes.
On June 1, 1921, Hironori Otsuka received the menkyo kaiden (certificate of mastery and license to teach) in Shindo Yoshin-ryu jujutsu from Nakayama Tatsusaburo. It is thought by many that along with this certificate Hironori Otsuka became the “4th Grandmaster” of Shindo Yoshin-ryu. This is not accurate as the 3rd Grandmaster, Tatsuo Matsuoka, actually outlived Otsuka by almost 8 years.
In 1922, Otsuka began training in Shotokan karate under Gichin Funakoshi, who was a new arrival in Japan. In 1927, he also established a medical practice and specialized in treating martial arts training injuries.
By 1928, Hironori Otsuka was an assistant instructor in Funakoshi’s school. He also trained under Choki Motobu and Kenwa Mabuni, and studied kobudo, around this time. Otsuka began to have philosophical disagreements with Funakoshi, and the two men parted ways in the early 1930s. This may have come, in part, from his decision to train with Motobu. Funakoshi’s karate emphasized kata, a series of movements and techniques linked by the fighting principles. Funakoshi did not believe that sparring was necessary for realistic training. Motobu, however, emphasized the necessity of free application, and created a series of two-person kumite called yakusoku kumite.
On April 1, 1934, Hironori Otsuka opened his own karate school the Dai Nippon Karate Shinko Kai at 63 Banchi Suehiro-Cho, Kanda, Tokyo. He blended Shotokan karate with his knowledge of Shindō Yōshin-ryū jujutsu to form Wado-ryu karate, although the art would only later take on this name several years later. With recognition of his style as an independent karate style, Otsuka became a full-time instructor. In 1940, his style was registered at the Butokukai, Kyoto, for the demonstration of various martial arts, together with Shotokan, Shito-ryu, and Goju-ryu.
Following World War II, the practice of martial arts in Japan was banned. After a few years, the ban was lifted; through the 1950s, Otsuka held various karate competitions. In 1964, three of Otsuka’s students Tatsuo Suzuki, Toru Arakawa, and Hajime Takashima) from Nihon University toured Europe and the United States of America, demonstrating Wado-ryu karate.
On April 29, 1966, Emperor Hirohito awarded Ōtsuka the Order of the Rising Sun, Fifth Class for his contributions to karate. In the next few years, Otsuka wrote two books on karate: Karate-Do, Volume 1 (1967, focused on kata) and Karate-Do, Volume 2 (1970, focused on kumite). On October 9, 1972, the Kokusai Budo (International Martial Arts Federation) awarded Ōtsuka the title of Shodai Karate-do Meijin Judan (first-generation karate master 10th dan); this was the first time this honor had been bestowed on a karate practitioner.
Hironori Otsuka continued to teach and lead Wado-ryu karate into the 1980s, and died on January 29, 1982. In 1983, his son, Jiro Otsuka, became the second Grand Master of Wado-ryu karate and honored his father by taking the name “Hironori Otsuka II.”