What is Wado-ryu?

Italiano ♦ English

What is Wado-ryu? Answering this question, at the beginning, may appear even too much easy. Wado-ryu is a Karate style founded by a scholar of Gichin Funakoshi, the Karate Grand Master that in the early twenties of the past century brought the chinese hand outside the Okinawan shores, introducing it first to the Japanese mainland and then all over the world. That scholar, who even was himself one of the main martial arts experts of his time, was called Hironori Ohtsuka.

Master Ohtsuka started studing Funakoshi’s Karate in 1922, and instantly fell in love with that art. At that time the thirty-years-old Hironori was one of the most qualified masters of Shindo Yoshin-ryu, the more important and ancient style of the Japanese soft art – the Jujutsu, and in a very few time became Funakoshi’s assistant and friend. Twelve years later, in 1934, Ohtsuka decided to leave his Master and found a Budo school where he could express his own view on Karate, starting someway a new style. He named that style Wado-ryu (和道流), and his choice suggests us that answering the title question ain’t that easy.

The Japanese word Wado-ryu is a fusion of three different kanji (ideograms): wa (和), do (道), ryu (流). The last one recalls the idea of a flow (like a river) or a stream and it is commonly traslated as style or school. “Do”, instead, literally means “way”. The first kanji 和 (wa) is the most interesting. In the western Karate environment “wa” is usually traslated as “peace”, so that Wado-ryu is reported as “Way of peace”.

Unfortunately, Japanese people say “heiwa” (平和) to mean “peace”: in this word the wa kanji contributes to shape the meaning of peace without meaning it by itself. On the other hand, one of the real meanings of wa is harmony. “Style of the harmony” actually sounds very Japanese. Traditionally, Japanese people are unrelentingly in search of perfection in every single action and gesture they do through the achievement of a deep harmony between agent (tori) and patient (uke), subject and object. This is probably the reason why another meaning of 和 (wa) is Japanese. All in all, “Japanese way” seems to be a better Wado-ryu translation: it was the first non-Okinawan Karate style, actually.

But it isn’t. Let’s say it better: it is not exactly like that. The main meanings of “wa” are sum, total, union. And in my opinion those were the meanings Hironori Ohtsuka was thinking at when he decided his Karate style name. The union of the soft Japanese martial art (Jujutsu means soft art) he firstly mastered and the powerful Okinawan art learnt from Funakoshi sensei (and later from Motobu Choki and Kenwa Mabuni, the Shito-ryu founder). The union and harmony between hardness and softess, punches (atemi) and dodges (taisabaki), contrast and pliability, masculine and feminine, Yang and Yin.

That’s why some people think Wado-ryu shouldn’t be considered just a Karate style but a specific and independent martial art born from the fusion of Karate and Jujutsu. In the name of some Wado association the word Karate doesn’t even appear, forgetting that the Wado founder Ohstuka, when he was alive, had ever called his creature Wado-ryu Karate-do.

Whoever looks at Wado-ryu as something separate from Karate-do in my opinion disown his nature and his reason why: to be the way of the union. To make able any practisioner of this beatiful art, during a lifelasting learning, to finally embody the sum instead of just an addend, the whole thing instead of just a part. ♦ Leggilo in italiano

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