Sensei Tatsuo Suzuki, karate legend, RIP

Suzuki Sensei, a Wado warrior.

Sensei Tatsuo Suzuki, who died on 12th July, 2011, aged 83, was one of the greatest Japanese martial artists of all time and was responsible for bringing his style of karate, Wado-Ryu, to Britain. Suzuki Sensei, 8th Dan Hanshi, from  the early 1960s encouraged other Japanese instructors to spread the word throughout Europe.

I first met Suzuki Sensei when I enrolled at his Fulham dojo in London in the mid-1980s. He was then about 55 and yet his physical speed, strength and technique were astonishing.

I had previously trained in Taekwondo and had some knowledge of judo, kung fu and aikido. But Wado-Ryu from the outset appeared special; and that was because of the man who led the way.

During this time I was a sub-editor on The Daily Telegraph and would work nights so I could only attend the lunchtime classes. When the Fulham dojo closed I felt that perhaps my Wado adventure had come to an end. As it turned out it was only really beginning.

In those halcyon days of fitness and relative youth I was very active sportswise. I ran several times a week, played tennis, lawners and Royal, at Queen’s Club, was a regular swimmer and trained in Wado.

One day I was running through Hurlingham Park in Fulham and I saw Suzuki exercising with a West Indian guy called Trevor, who would become a friend and fellow Wado fanatic. I stopped to say hello and somehow I got exercising with them and, as I discovered later, all sessions ended in sparring.

Suzuki Sensei and Dumdad prepare to spar at our "outside dojo" in Hurlingham Park, Fulham, in 1991.

I dubbed the area where we trained – near the rugby goalposts – as our “outside dojo”. In the five years or so that followed I would train outside with Suzuki, Trevor and another West Indian, John, who Suzuki considered very highly. John had a near magical sense of timing and his sparring was fluid and fast and nerveless. Suzuki recognized something in John that he himself possessed.

I, by comparison, was a far inferior martial artist but I reveled in sparring and training and chatting in this illustrious company. The star, of course, was Suzuki but he never gave himself airs and graces; he just loved to train and spar.

On one occasion, I was sparring with him and suddenly he disappeared from my sight; then bang! He caught me with a reverse back fist. I went down like the proverbial sack of spuds and momentarily lost consciousness. The next instance I saw Suzuki’s face starring down at me asking “you okay?” I was and as he pulled me up from the ground I said to him: “I thought Wado was meant to be good for you!” The great man laughed and I lived to fight another day.

Come rain or snow, we would train at our outside dojo; often I would be there seven days a week. One bitterly cold winter’s day I was training with Suzuki and Trevor and mentioned I was freezing and yet, hard men that they were, they didn’t seem to feel the cold. They both laughed and Suzuki peeled back his tracksuit bottoms to reveal thermal underwear! Of course. I was just in underpants and tracksuit. The next day I went to Marks and Spencer and bought some Long Johns. Another lesson learnt.

One Christmas Day morning I went for my usual run to Hurlingham Park from my flat in Whittingstall Road and discovered that the park was locked up for the holidays. “Sod that”, I thought, and managed to squeeze my way in through the fencing and jogged to our outside dojo. And there was Trevor who had done likewise. We trained, sparred and then I invited him back to my flat for a Christmas drink. My wife wasn’t fazed when I turned up with a friend.

Suzuki and Trevor at our "outside dojo" in Fulham in 1991.

Five years or so went past in a blur of outdoor training, sparring and chatting about the world in general. In 1992 I left London to live in Paris and I trained for a while with one of Suzuki’s top instructors Hiroji Fukazawa, 8th Dan black belt. (I was sad to discover just now as I googled Fukazawa that he  passed away on 11th June 2010 after a long illness aged just 60; he was a lovely gentleman with a nice sense of humour and a great sense of Wado).

But in 1994 I became a dad for the first time and I trained less and less. I then secured a job at The International Herald Tribune (also working at night) and that put paid to going to classes. Excuses, of course, but my attention was elsewhere.

There was one last Wado story – almost. Trevor phoned me in November 1994 and said that Suzuki was giving a demonstration at a martial arts event in Paris and would like me to assist him. Crikey! What an honour although I was unworthy of such an invitation. As it was, the day of the demonstration was the same day as my son’s christening so I had to decline. Probably a good call!

For years afterwards, Suzuki and I exchanged Christmas cards but we lost contact some time ago as one does over long periods of time.

But I was always interested to follow his amazing career through the Internet. I might not be a Wado practitioner today but I’m still fascinated by it; it’s the same with tennis that I no longer play (damn my dodgy hip!): I still love watching the game. Excellence, whether Suzuki or Federer, is always a joy to behold.

So Suzuki Sensei: thank you for all your instruction, your company and for being an inspiration in life.

I’ll leave you with a comment made by his widow, Eleni Labiri-Suzuki, on a website announcing his death:

“Let us remember his life and not his passing.”

27 responses to “Sensei Tatsuo Suzuki, karate legend, RIP

  1. He sounds like a great man Dumdad. :)

  2. You have honoured his memory with this post. I’ve never heard of Suzuki Sensei, in fact I am not familiar with Wado-Ryu, but you have told me that he was a man to be respected.

  3. this is a lovely tribute to a fascinating individual – also a cool insight into your life as a martial artist dd!

  4. I spent a short time at the Budokwai in London in the Fifties -where I was taught the basics by J Legget. An admirable man. Your appreciation of another such, Sensei Tatsuo Suzuki, is very vivid.

  5. I just found this post today I studied with Suzuki Sensei 30 years ago at the National college in Judd St. 20 years later I had some back pain and asked my Japanese wife to find me a good shiatsu practicioner she came accross and ad in a Japanese magazine from someone saying he treated pain and called. She relayed to me the conversation basically some guy shouting at he massage! massage! I don’t do massage! She booked an appointment low and behold it turned out to be Suzuki Sensei and his Ki Therapy. The man was brilliant and amazing teacher great sense of humour and his Ki therapy became standard for anyone in my business who felt ill. I will never forget sitting outside his treament room with one of my sales guys we could hear Suzuki giving treatment inside; “where you have pain, where you have pain then a loud scream my sales guy looked at me and said I guess he found it then!
    Are you the West Indian guy who lived in the back room at Judd St?

  6. Gerard,

    Thanks for your comment. Great story about Suzuki and his teaching ways – that’s so him! No, I’m not the black guy (that’s my friend Trevor with whom I trained for some years); I’m the white guy in the other photo with Suzuki. Happy days!

  7. Yeah I remember Trevor. Suzuki san used to tell me the only muscle I had was in my head.

  8. I trained with tatsou in the 1980s in australia and recently found a picture of he and i at my brown belt grading! He was a hard task master and a briilant technician..His passing caused me to contact some of the old training partners of the day who were also saddened to hear of his passing!

  9. i had the pleasure of training under sensei suzuki, and brought sensei to ireland to run a two day seminar/course, i had all styles attend from all around ireland, and received many comments of how great this icon really was, and i have to agree, i have done wado-ryu (way of peace} since jan 1978, and have fought worldwide, i would never have been able to do this without sensei suzukis dedication to bringing this style worldwide, for this i offer my humblest prayers to his memory.

  10. My Wado instructor gave me tapes of Suzuki and Ohtsuka back in 1986. I have been an admirer of Suzuki since then. Sad to hear of his passing. Yet, I will celebrate the life he led, and the Wado he taught.

  11. i lived two doors from the master i was taken and trained from the age of seven i was practically the only non japenese in his school in 1971 he evoked a love of martial arts in me that totally changed my life i went on to represent england and great britain i am trully sadenned and feel a great loss bushido has lost one of its greatest warriors of all time god bless you master

  12. incredible master,wado-kai the best top master was he,brilliant technigues,gorgeus, I will always remeber you you are in my heart.

  13. I also trained with Mr Suzuki in the 1970′s and 1980′s in Fulham. Was one of his black belts. Although long since stopped Karate felt very sad to her he had died, part of me also died when I heard. Lovely well written article.

  14. Sad to hear of his demise – great technique, very fast and very strong for his size. I was very fortunate to have trained with him and two of his equally impressive Japanese dan grades about forty odd years ago but still remember well. Hironori Otsuka will always be proud of him and just maybe they are now sharing a glass of nihonshu together again. Thanks for writing the article DD and may the force be with you always.

  15. Thanks for your affectionate tribute to a great man. I also trained under Suzuki (and Sagasawa) in the Fulham dojo in the mid-eighties -and married a French woman! I moved to Ireland in the late eighties and lost touch with karate. I’ve now hit 50 and have taken it up again after twenty-five years, albeit with very stiff limbs and slower reflexes. For some reason, my abiding memory of Sensei Suzuki is of him sitting ramrod-straight in front of the TV in the warm up area, watching Benny Hill and roaring laughing! I wish I could remember the Katas as well as that!

  16. I used to train under Suzuki (before he opened the Dojo in Fulham) in the old Harrow Leisure Center for many years before I then went too Fulham. I also remember sensei’s Kobayashi, Shiomitsu, Sakagami, Maeda and W.B. Vincent. I was fortunate to study under all of them. Kumite with Suzuki was my biggest fear with his shin kick always looming.

    • REST IN PEACE THE GREATST GRANDMASTER

      VLATKO

      2012/12/28 The Other Side of Paris

      > ** > Lawrence S commented: “I used to train under Suzuki (before he opened > the Dojo in Fulham) in the old Harrow Leisure Center for many years before > I then went too Fulham. I also remember sensei’s Kobayashi, Shiomitsu, > Sakagami, Maeda and W.B. Vincent. I was fortunate to study und” >

  17. I was honoured when I had my photograph taken with Mr suzuki in 1984 at the karate world championships in Holland. Rip sir

  18. This is incredible. I met Suzuki in my country (Portugal) when I was very young, maybe 8 or 9 years old. We kids (at that time) felt that was amazing for a man that was in his 60s to be able to hit so easily in our Sensei. I haven’t practise Wado-Ryu since I was 10. Now I’m 24. I found my Sensei from that time on a Youtube video and remembered Sensei Suzuki’s name. Actualy I am thinking on returning to Karate. I just remembered why I liked it so much.

  19. geoff britton

    i to trained at the tonbridge club in the 70′s first under maeda, tatsuo and later after the split with meiji all were amazing i did a demo at pickets lock sports centre with jnr vincent and tatsuo who ruined my forarms for weeks with his cast iron blocking and me a drummer,i’ve only just learnt of his passing and with great sadness feel we will not see that kind of master again

  20. He was a Man to be respected I was not in his Fulham Dojo I was In his Hammersmith Judo Kan Dojo where Wado ryui Karate Washinka Karate a brake off from Wado ryu and Judo were tort during the eighties the Sensei who ran the Judo Kan was himself half Japanese the late Percy Sekine 7th Dan Judo and founder of Judo here in England(he was a great guy very likable and one of the originals of Martial arts in this country) he tort the British military had the distiction of being the only Judoka in this country and to be awarded the 7th Dan by the Kodokan THE kODOKANhe K

  21. For some reason it hasn’t put my name properly or my profile so I shall do it again I am Gary eves and the commet above this one is mine Percy Sekine was a great guy and his smiling face will always be remembered as will the founder of Wado Ryu Karate Sensei Ohtsuka Meijin Tatsuo Suzuki Mr Arakawa and Mr Takashima for bringing Karate to Europe and America from Japan before which it had not been heard of I have been lucky enough to have known two great original Martial Artist Tatsuo Suzuki and Hironori Ohtsuka Meijin Sensei/ Hanshi Suzuki 9th Dan left Japan with two other masters of Karate to bring it to the World and inform us all of it’s wonder the two other men who came with him were themr AArakawa MR tAKASHIMA two

  22. Sorry but it did it again and so I an Gary eves I am on Google + Youtube facebook and soundcloud I was an 80′s original karate ka of Wado Ryu Karate Juitsu and Akido I am holder of all master of none rather in the style of my Sensei Tatsuo Suzuki and his Master Outsuka Meijin I have taken bit’s from many different types of martial art’s and I have created my own to suit me I am still learning and my martial art is still forming I have since tried my hand at Krav Maga mixed martial arts/ self defence system and Sekena martial art’s feel free to come and check me out anytime

  23. God bless may you rest in peace. I remember seeing you when I was a kid when my father trained under you at judd st. I later trained there fow a short time due to a back injury, just wish I would have consulted you and not the nhs. sad to see a great talent gone but may your teachings continue…..

  24. I have just read of Suzuki’s passing. What a great loss. I used to practice karate a long time ago the Sankukai style of Yoshinao Nanbu. . Suzuki was a great master.
    Chris Fernandez Derby, England

  25. I had the honour of training with Suzuki Sensei, Fukazawa Sensei and John Wicks Sensei during the nineties in Belfast, N.Ireland. I was so sad to learn of his passing. I was a Karate-Ka for 7 years, and loved every minute of it. Every grade i completed was with Suzuki Sensei. I remember, during a training session on knife blocks, i asked Suzuki Sensei what he thought was the most effective knife block. He replied `Run!’. He was a Master of the art of Karate, and a joy to watch. His kumite skills were second to none. I witnessed him sparring with our most accomplished black belts, frequent open Karate champions, and he embarrassed them. It was a pleasure, and an honour to have known him, and to have trained with him. R.I.P. Suzuki Sensei. Karate ni sente nashi!

  26. I had the honour and pleasure training with Suzuki Sensei on a seminar in the late 90s. His grace, speed, humility and patience will be with me forever. A true gentleman and statesman of the essence and spirit of Karate-do. R.I.P

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