Wadokai to Taekwondo What I Learned About Myself

Benjamin C. Smith

Writing this paper was difficult for me. It would be easy to compare and contrast the two styles of martial arts that I studied in my life but I will also be writing about my personal journey in martial arts and what I have learned about myself. I feel that what I have learned about myself matters just as much as the differences in the forms and kicks.

I started in Karate when I was six years old. Following the advice of my godfather, I attended a Wadokai school that taught Wado-Ryu Karate. Wado-Ryu was a style created in Japan in the early 20th century. The founder of the style, Hironori Ōtsuka, studied Jujitsu as a child. He later studied Shotokan karate and became an instructor at the Tokyo school in 1923. In 1934 Hironori Ōtsuka opened a school teaching a martial arts style influenced by both Shotokan karate and Jujitsu.

The school where I studied focused more on the teaching of Shotokan and less on Jujitsu. We only did grappling and other forms of ground fighting a few times. We primarily focused on punches and kicks. What both styles of Wado-Ryu Karate and Taekwondo have in common is a very close relationship to Shotokan. This is most evident in the Taekwondo forms and in the Karate Katas. I had similar katas in Karate to all of my basic Taekwondo forms, form Pyong Cho Dan to Passai. The same can be said with the one steps. The differences in style are evident in small details such as the path a block is thrown and in kicks. Taekwondo forms tend to have more kicks and more emphasis on the foot movements with slightly different angles on certain forms.

The Wado-Ryu school remains very traditional in placing a heavy emphasis on discipline and spirit. I remember having to announce entering the school with the “ous”, something akin to sir. That same response was required every time you were addressed in class. Failure to respond in this manner resulted in having to do knuckle pushups or “bunny hops.” The discipline aspect remains in Taekwondo as is the emphasis on showing others respect.

At times I was afraid to make mistakes or a misstep in Karate class and this leads to my journey in martial arts. I have learned punches and kicks, self-defense and respect in both styles of martial arts. Most importantly I have learned a great deal about myself. I failed tests, lost in tournaments and been beaten so soundly I thought I would never win another match. I learned that a measure of a martial artist is not how many medals you collect or the rank you achieve but being able to absorb the self-doubts, take the disappointments and still continue to work and improve at it. I learned that failure only happens when you stop trying and stop growing. I learned that a boy who was afraid to make mistakes and was much harder on himself then any teacher could be, can find a part of himself that enables him to achieve and excel. Those are the most important lessons in my martial arts journey.