Instantly recognisable by his bald head and long white beard, Hideo Ochi looks like a genial grandfather. However, he is one of the best fighters to have come out of the JKA. He is a three-time JKA All Japan Grand Champion and a charismatic instructor, respected all over the world.
Hideo Ochi was born on 29 February 1940 in Saigo, Japan. He was the fifth child of Kinji and Take Ochi. His father was a farmer/fisherman. Kinji Ochi and his family eked out a living in a ravaged post-war Japan.
Ochi first began Karate in 1954 aged fourteen. Four years later he enrolled at Takushoku University to study economics. This was a financial load on the family. However, his father was willing to pay for his studies.
At Takushoku University Ochi joined the university’s Karate Club. His main instructors were Masatoshi Nakayama, Hidetaka Nishiyama and Teruyuki Okazaki. He was selected to be a member of the club’s Karate team, that often competed against other university teams. Katsunori Tsuyama was team captain and offered much guidance to his teammates. Ochi would eventually succeed Tsuyama as team captain.
In 1962 Ochi graduated from Takushoku University with a degree in Economics. A year later he was invited to in enrol on the JKA Instructors Course by Nakayama.
Ochi Graduated from the gruelling Instructors Course in 1964, alongside Takahasshi Anki, Jitsuhara Shoji, and Itaya Michihasa. He became an instructor at the JKA Hombu in Tokyo. By this time, he had been promoted to 4th Dan.
In 1965 Ochi took part in the 8th All Japan Karate Championships. In the kata event he faced Maasaki Ueki in the final. Over the next couple of years both men would compete for who would be crowned JKA Grand Champion. Ueki defeated Ochi in the final. Ueki also defeated Ochi in the kumite event, who finished third, on the way to the defeating Katsuya Kisaka in the kumite final. Ueki won the first of his three Grand Champion titles.
At the 9th All Japan Karate Championships Ochi defeated his rival, Ueki, to claim the kata title. He also won the kumite title defeating Yukichi Tabata in the final. He was crowned Grand Champion. He repeated the feat the following year at the 10th All Japan Karate Championships. He defeated Takeshi Oishi in the kumite final. However, he finished second to Ueki in the kata final.
In 1968 at the 11th All Japan Karate Championships, Ochi lost to Ueki in the kata and kumite events, finishing third and second respectively. Ueki won his second Grand Champion title. It appears that Ochi’s rivals had not wanted him to win a third consecutive title. In the kumite event they tried to foul him. In one match he was punch to the face, pushing his two front teeth back. He staffed a handkerchief in his mouth to push his teeth forward and continued fighting.
Ochi won his third Grand Champion title at the 12th All Japan Karate Championships in 1969. He finished third in the kumite event and first in the kata event where he defeated Yoshimasa Takahashi in the final.
In 1970 Ochi was sent overseas to teach by Nakayama. He had wanted to go to England as his wife, Tomie, was an English teacher. However, Keinosuke Enoeda was already in England. Ochi was recommended by Hirokazu Kanazawa to take over from him as the National Coach of the German Karate Federation (DKB).
Initially Ochi faced difficulties in Germany. There was a language barrier to contend with. His wife was back in Japan and he had no real contacts in Germany. There were also issues with his residency permit. This meant he had to leave Germany for a short period. He travelled to London, where he was a guest of Enoeda.
By 1971 Ochi had returned to Germany and settled in the city of Freiburg. His permit issues had been resolved with the help of Dr Wolfgang Hagedorn and others. He also had been joined by his wife Tomie.
Ochi became the Chief Instructor for the JKA Europe in 1971. Also, as Head Coach of the German National Team he began to build a strong national side. At the 1972 European Championships his team won the team kumite title.
In 1973 Ochi organised his first one-week summer Karate course. He invited top instructors from around the world to teach the attendees. Over the years Masatoshi Nakayama would attend the course to teach.
Ochi moved to the city of Bottrop, Germany. Because of its central location Bottrop was a suitable place for his duties as German National Coach.
Success continued for Ochi and the German National Team. In 1975 he coached the side to first place in the team kumite event at the European Championships. In the same year the 1st IAKF World Championships took place in Los Angeles. Ochi’s German team defeated a strong English team, consisting of Andy Sherry, Terry O’Neill and Billy Higgins on the way to the final. In the final they lost out to a very strong Japanese team consisting of Masahiko Tanaka, Norimasa Hayakawa, Toshihiro Mori, Takeshi Oishi and Mikio Yahara.
Two years later Ochi coached the German National Team at the 2nd IAKF World Championships held in Tokyo, Japan. At the event held at the Budokan, the home of Japanese martial arts. Again, the team lost to Japan in the final. Ochi also coached the German National Side at the 3rd and 4th IAKF World Championships, held in Bremen in 1980 and Cairo in 1983. Both times they lost to Japan in the final. Ochi made Germany into one of the top kumite nations in the world. He had also been appointed the National Coach of the German Karate Association (DKV) in 1979.
At the age of thirty-six Ochi entered the 19th All Japan Karate Championships, in 1976. He had not competed in six years. At the time he was on holiday in Japan. He won the kata event, defeating Yoshiharu Osaka in the final. Three years later he met Osaka in the kata final of the 22nd All Japan Karate Championships. This time he finished second behind Osaka. At the age of thirty-nine this was his last competition.
In 1993 Ochi resigned as National Coach of the German Karate Association (DKV). He was unhappy at the increasing development of Sport Karate. He wanted to return to a more traditional approach to Karate.
Ochi founded the DJKB (Deutscher JKA-Karate Bund) as the German branch of JKA. The aim of the DJKB was to help German Karate return to a more traditional approach to Karate and away from the growing influence of Sport Karate. Around 15,000 karateka joined the DJKB.
In 1997 Ochi was awarded the German Federal Service Cross. This was in recognition for his contributions to the development of Karate in Germany and for also helping the communication between Japan and Germany. He became the second Japanese national to receive the award. 1997 also saw him promoted to 8th Dan.
Following Keinosuke Enoeda’s death in 2003, Ochi succeeded him as the Chief Instructor of JKA Europe in 2004. He became responsible for holding seminars and training camps across Europe.
In 2015 Ochi celebrated his 75th birthday. To mark the occasion a training camp was held in Lenzkirch-Kappel, located in the Black Forest region of Germany. The following year he was promoted to 9th Dan.
Away from Karate Ochi is involved in a lot of charitable work. With funds from his training courses he helps destitute sportsmen. He also supports a school in Benin, West Africa, and has taught at his own expense in some South African townships. If that was not enough, he and his wife Tomie (a martial artist in her own right) have financed an orphanage in Cambodia.
Hideo Ochi is one of the best instructors to come out of Japan. Although a tough task master, he is a charismatic instructor, respected around the world for the depth of his knowledge. He has also helped elevate German Shotokan Karate. His technical skills and fighting spirit saw him crowned JKA All Japan Grand Champion, a feat only ever achieved by a few very exceptional karateka.