A direct student of Wado-Ryu Karate founder, Hironori Ohtsuka, Tatsuo Suzuki, was an instructor who lived and breathed Karate. He was a no-nonsense instructor who pushed his students to give their best. He did much to spread Wado-Ryu Karate around the world.
Tatsuo Suzuki was born on 27 April 1928 in Yokohama, Japan. He was the second of six children, having an older sister, a younger sister, and three younger brothers. His father owned a guest house and a restaurant that had passed to him through his wife’s family.
The Suzuki family decided to move to Tokyo in 1941. However, they moved to the village of Wadamura, because of the bombing of Tokyo by American bombers during World War II. They eventually moved to the nearby city of Hamamatsu.
In Hamamatsu, while attending school Tatsuo Suzuki had the opportunity to learn Kendo. He also participated in athletics, competing in the long jump.
In 1942 Suzuki began learning Wado-Ryu Karate from the older brother of a friend who was studying at Tokyo University. The training consisted mainly of fighting and very few basics.
After the war, Suzuki and his family returned to Yokohama. Suzuki found a job working on an American base at the post-exchange store.
Wanting to improve his English, Suzuki signed up for classes at the YMCA. The YMCA had Karate classes which he also signed up for. The classes were taught by Kazuo Kimura, a 5th Dan and one of Hironori Ohtsuka’s senior students.
After the war, the practice of martial arts in Japan had been banned by the occupying American force. The Karate classes were described as Japanese Boxing to get around the restriction.
Suzuki trained at the YMCA for six months before the group had to move. He trained at various locations before eventually training with Hironori Ohtsuka. Suzuki will travel to Tokyo several times a week to train with him.
In 1947, because of the consistency of his training, Suzuki was asked by Ohtsuka to be his assistant. He assisted Ohtsuka in many of the demonstrations he gave. He also had the opportunity to meet many great martial artists of the time, including Morihei Ueshiba, Kyuzo Mifune, Gogen Yamaguchi, Yasuhiro, Konichi, and Yukio Sugino.
In 1948, Suzuki was promoted to 3rd Dan, aged 19.
Suzuki enrolled at Nihon University on an athletic scholarship in 1951. He joined the university’s Wado-Ryu Karate club.
In 1951 Suzuki was promoted to 5th, Dan by Ohtsuka. He was aged 24. He jumped grades from 3rd Dan to 5th Dan. At the time 5th Dan was the highest grade in Wado-Ryu.
After graduating from university, Suzuki became a professional instructor. He helped Ohtsuka teach classes at the Wadokai Hombu. He also opened his first Karate club in Hamamatsu. This was followed by clubs in Shizuoka, Aichi, and Nagoya.
Suzuki also taught Karate at various universities, including, Aichi University, Shizuoka University, Nagoya University, and Meiji University.
In 1961, Suzuki married his wife Mineko. They would eventually have three children, two daughters and a son.
Hironori Ohtsuka decided that he wanted Wado-Ryu Karate to be promoted around the world. He sent Suzuki, 5th Dan, Toru Arakawa, and 4th Dan, Hajime Takashima.
In March 1963, the three men began a two-month tour. The tour began in Rome, Italy, followed by a stop in Milan. The tour continued in Switzerland, and Hamburg, Germany.
In Paris, France, they met Hiroo Mochizuki who was teaching in the country. This was followed by a visit to Spain and Holland. The final stop of the European tour was England where they gave a demonstration at the Shinto-Ryu Kendo Club.
The next stop of the tour was in the United States, where they carried out fifty demonstrations. The tour began on the East Coast. In New York, they gave a demonstration on the Japanese Pavilion at the World Fair. The next stop of the tour was Washington, where they visited the dojo of Taekwondo pioneer, Jhoon Rhee.
Following the visit to Florida, Suzuki, Arakawa, and Takashima visited the West Coast. In Los Angeles, they visited the Shotokan dojo of Tsutomu Ohshima, where they gave a demonstration of Wado-Ryu Karate.
Following their trip to San Francisco, where they visited the dojo of Yoshiaki Ajari, they visited Hawaii. This was the final stop of the tour.
In January 1965, Suzuki moved to England setting up a dojo in Kings Cross, London. He had received requests from various European countries to come and teach. He had also been offered the opportunity to teach in California. However, he declined the offer as Tsutomu Ohshima was already teaching in the area. Because he spoke a little English, the decision to teach in England was easy.
Suzuki became one of the first resident instructors in the UK. Initially, he intended to stay for only 2 to 3 years. He ended up staying for over 40 years. In the beginning, he missed his home back in Japan, finding England too cold and the food not to his taste. He threw himself into his teaching and his mission of advancing Wado-Ryu Karate in England. In time he settled and established himself in England.
Once Suzuki was established in Britain, he invited Hironori Ohtsuka over to the UK every year.
On 1 January 1968, the UKKW (United Kingdom Karate-Do Wado-Kai) was established. It became the governing body of Wado-Ryu Karate in the UK. Suzuki became the Chief Instructor of the UKKW.
By the mid-1970s Wado-Ryu had become one of the major styles of Karate practised in the United Kingdom. This was largely due to the efforts of Suzuki.
On 9 June 1975, Suzuki’s book “Karate-do” was published. That year also saw him promoted to 8th Dan by the JKF (Japan Karate Federation) and the Wado-Kai.
In 1976 Suzuki was given the title of Hanshi by the International Budo Federation. He was presented with a silver cup by Higashi Kuni no Miya, the uncle of the Japanese Emperor.
On 29 January 1982, the founder of Wado-Ryu Karate, Hironori Ohtsuka died. He was succeeded by his son Jiro as the new head of the Wado-Ryu Karate.
Through the majority of the 1980s, Suzuki continued travelling around the world, conducting seminars and courses to improve the standard of Wado-Ryu Karate.
In April 1986, Suzuki travel to Greece to review a Karate club in Kefalonia. It was during this visit that he met Eleni Labiri, who eventually became his assistant. As his assistant, she travelled with him to various seminars and courses held around the world and assisted him in the demonstrations he gave. They eventually developed a close relationship due to their shared love of Karate.
Suzuki resigned as Chairman of the UKKW in 1988. This was primarily due to ill health. He remained as Chief Instructor. He was replaced as Chairman by Masafumi Shiomitsu.
In 1990 Suzuki established the WIKF (Wado International Karate-Do Federation). The aim of the Federation was to safeguard and promote the teachings of Hironori Ohtsuka.
1990 marked the 50th Anniversary of Suzuki’s Karate training.
On 22 April 1997, Suzuki married Eleni Labiri.
Despite bouts of illness, Suzuki continued teaching and pushing forward the lessons of Ohtsuka. By 1997 the WIKF had grown to 47 member countries. As Chief Instructor Suzuki made it a point to visit all of these countries to hold seminars and courses, while still teaching at his London dojo.
In November 2005 Suzuki suffered a heart attack. He had to stop teaching for a period of time. He slowly resumed teaching in 2006. However, in 2009, he underwent an operation for cancer.
Suzukis, autobiography “Suzuki, The Fullness Of A Life In Karate” was published in 2009.
On 12 July 2011, Tatsuo Suzuki died at his London home. He was aged 83. At the time of his death, the WIKF had over 60 countries in the Federation.
Tatsuo Suzuki was at the forefront of the development of Karate in the UK for many years. Many of today’s top instructors can trace their roots back to him. His students are too numerous to mention. Many of his students, including Ticky Donovan, Jerome, Atkinson, Hamish Adam, Pat McKay, Geoff Thompson, Jim Collins, and Vic Charles have successfully represented the United Kingdom at European and World levels.
During Suzuki’s time in England, he brought over some of the best young Japanese talents to be his assistant. Many of them have become renowned masters in their own right. They include Masafumi Shiomitsu, Yutaka Toyama, Kuniaki Sakagami, Katsumi Kobayashi, Teruo Kono, Takayuki Maeda, Toru Takamizawa, Hisaomi Fuji, and Fumio Sugasawa.
Away from Karate Suzuki loved reading. He was also a big boxing fan.