Ochiai, Shotokan and Beyond
I studied with Hidy Ochiai for about 14 years, from the time I was 6 until I was 21 (perhaps there are some posters here who might surmise who I am). I left the organization for many of the reasons that were posted above by others. At any rate, all of that is a much longer story, and I'd rather stick to what originally motivated this thread, namely trying to figure out Ochiai's lineage.
The Shotokan link is very evident, and I think a couple of things are worth mentioning beyond the Shotokan kihon present in Washin-ryu that haven't yet been addressed. Firstly, Ochiai always considered Takayuki Mikami his sempai. Now Mikami began his training in 1953, when he was approximately 19, and at which point Ochiai would have been around 13. Ochiai claims that his training in the martial arts began essentially as soon as he was born. What I take this to mean is that probably he started his training in something other than karate originally. Most likely his training was first in iaido and/or kendo, as he claims that his father was a kendo instructor of some sort. I've more recently begun to suspect that the mysterious Kanabe Saito whom Ochiai has credited as his teacher may have taught him jujitsu and perhaps iai. The Shotokan JKA connection, however, is clear. When I was around 7 or so, Hirokazu Kanazawa visited the honbu dojo in Vestal (I remember Kanazawa as strict but also warm and extremely enthusiastic; I remember him actually correcting my zenkutsu dachi). Kanazawa was Mikami's roommate in college, and I find it hard to believe that Kanazawa would make the trip to middle of nowhere Vestal to a non-Shotokan dojo if he and Ochiai didn't have some sort of close personal connection. Mikami came to the US around 1962-1963. Given that Ochiai graduated Albright College in PA in 1966, perhaps he and Mikami came to the United States together. So I doubt the claim by a recent poster that the only proficiency Ochiai had upon arrival in Binghamton was in judo (and given the proximity of Albright College to Binghamton, I doubt that he was flying into the Triple Cities Airport [for those not familiar with this Binghamton area airport, it’s essentially a bus station from which planes happen to take off and land]). Additionally, Osamu Ozawa once visited the dojo (I remember him drilling us hard), and Ochiai definitely showed deference to him on that occasion and others. The only non-Shotokan teachers to visit the dojo while I was there were Masaharu Sakimukai (Shorin-ryu and jo-do; he and Ochiai were very close friends) and Julius Thirry (Shito-ryu).
The Shotokan-JKA connection notwithstanding, there are some things that this connection can't quite seem to account for:
(a) One thing that Ochiai was an extremely avid proponent of was Sanchin. This is one thing that is conspicuously absent from the JKA curriculum.
(b) Also absent from the JKA curriculum is much kobudo training. Ochiai had considerable expertise in kobudo, and was actually director of the kobudo committee of the USANKF when it was the officially sanctioned Olympic body for karate (for whatever that’s worth). Nonetheless, the version of Sakugawa no kon (a bo kata) that he taught is different than any other version I’ve seen.
(c) The Matsukaze katas that were mentioned towards the beginning of this thread seem to have more of a Shorin, rather than Shotokan, flavor to them, particularly in the use of sanchin-dachi and neko ashi dachi. I would almost say that Matsukaze Shodan has a Shito-ryu flavor, except for that it concludes with kiba-dachi, which, at least to my knowledge, is not used in Shito-ryu. Washin-ryu ten no kata seems more or less Shotokan with some techniques you don't see too often in Shotokan (head butts).
(d) Ochiai had a rather incredible gymnastic ability (handsprings, flips, etc), none of which he would have acquired from traditional Japanese martial arts (again, at least to my knowledge). My hunch is that he was always a relatively athletic individual coming into karate in the first place (apparently Ochiai was the catcher on his junior high or high school baseball team).
(e) Another interesting thing is that Ochiai used pre-Funakoshi names for otherwise Shotokan kata. For instance, Ochiai taught us Wanshu, which is typically called Empi in Shotokan.
(f) I do have to wonder where he picked up the Naha-te kata. Yes, he taught the Shitei kata, but he taught far beyond that as well. Shito-ryu Rohai and Goju-ryu Suparimpei are not Shitei kata, for instance, and Ochiai taught them.
My tentative hypothesis, then (an admittedly rather speculative one), is that Ochiai had the aforementioned mysterious Kanabe Saito as his first teacher, but in something other than karate, probably iai and kendo. Keep in mind that the Kuramadera temple in Kyoto, for instance, was somewhat of a center of Japanese swordsmanship and had a tradition of sohei, or warrior monks. So perhaps Ochiai at some point did actually study at a temple near Hiroshima, just not in karate. Additionally interesting along these lines is Ochiai once having stated that the bo is the favorite weapon of Washin-ryu: the sohei liked to use the kanabo, which was a large staff or club, but made out of iron rather than wood. He then probably spent a significant amount of his teenage years in a JKA dojo. I say his teenage years because if Mikami is his sempai, and Mikami started Shotokan when Ochiai was around 13, then presumably Ochiai's karate training may have begun around that time. I suspect that did much like Takayuki Kubota, who more or less invented his style of Gosoku-ryu after going from dojo to dojo in Japan and combining what he learned. Ochiai definitely studied at different dojos: he would obliquely mention as much in class and there are a couple of interviews where he does the same. Also, Ochiai would from time to time angrily say things in class like “I don’t make anything up! Everything I do and teach I learned from my teacher!”. Now, if everyone here would permit me to be an amateur psychologist for a moment, given that no one in the class was about to accuse Ochiai of having made anything up, my suspicion is that he was venting to his students about flak that he was getting from Japanese colleagues about some of the things he was doing in the 60s, 70s and 80s. In other words, can you picture Mikami wearing a golden gi, like the golden hakama that Ochiai would wear in the 70s? And when Ochiai won the kata event in the United States Grand National Karate Championships five consecutive times, do you think it was because he was demonstrating Jion?
At any rate, this is what I can think of for now. If anyone else cares to comment or add anything to what I have above, I’d most certainly be interested. It seems to me that the organization may very well be dying out. In 1986, when Ochiai had his 20th anniversary tournament, he filled the entire Broome County Arena (Mikami and Sakimukai did demos, as did Ochiai, at this event). Now I think the tournament has a hard enough time filling half a stand of bleachers at the West Gym at Binghamton University. Many of the yudansha and instructors that I considered to be quite good seem to have left. It’s all really quite sad, actually, as it was once a strong, thriving, and, dare I say on this website, good martial arts organization. The reasons for its demise are manifold, but I will reserve judgment (at least for now) on this. Draw your own conclusions.
Sources? Third party verification?
The problem with much of the information about Hidy Ochiai, and what I take to be the general impetus for this thread to begin with, is the lack of any third party verification. In other words, virtually the only source of information on Ochiai has been from...Ochiai himself!
For example, the only other place I have seen C.Y. Yen and So-An Li mentioned (not just in connection with Ochiai and Washin-ryu, but at all) is in The Original Martial Arts Encyclopedia. But then look at who the author of the entry on Washin-ryu is: Hidy Ochiai. Assuming the veracity of these claims regarding a connection between Washin-ryu and Li and Yen, I nonetheless find the paucity of information on them troubling. What styles did Li and Yen teach? Did they have other students? It is widely believed, for instance, that Kanryo Higaonna (teacher of Chojun Miyagi, founder of Goju-ryu) studied under the Chinese Ryu Ryu Ko. But Ryu Ryu Ko also had other students, Norisato Nakaima (founder of Ryuei-ryu) as just one example. Also unclear is whether this Yen and Li were in Japan (or Okinawa) or whether someone went to China to study with them. Sure, it's conceivable that a 16th century Chinese merchant came to Japan. And granted, there are some mysteries with the Chinese connections to other styles (there are disputes about whether Ryu Ryu Ko taught White Crane, Monk Fist or Whooping Crane, or for that matter, whether his name was actually Xie Zhongxiang), but there are definitive and well-researched sources where one can look.
Also, Ochiai has stated in interviews that it was he himself that named the style he teaches Washin-ryu. This raises the question: is Ochiai to Saito as Miyagi is to Higaonna? That is, Chojun Miyagi taught what Kanryo Higaonna taught him, but it was Miyagi that named the style Goju-ryu. So is it the same with Ochiai and Saito? In other words, is it really correct to say that Saito was a master of Washin-ryu, let alone karate? If so, then who was this Saito, and where are his other students? Who was Saito's teacher? As was mentioned at the beginning of this thread, karate was not widely introduced to the mainland until the early 1920s, so where did Saito (who according to Ochiai was a resident of a temple) learn karate? Or, is it, as I speculate above, that Ochiai in fact studied with many people, but that it was not Saito from whom he learned karate?
So to the previous poster: do you have any sources besides Ochiai for your information? The information about his competitive accomplishments in the United States are well documented but, quite frankly, irrelevant to the main question of this thread. I fear that I already know the answer to this question. Furthermore, I suspect that unless someone or something comes out of the woodwork, all of this will remain a mystery. It would be nice to know the truth. Until then, I suspect more and more that creative writing is a talent running in the Ochiai family genes (Nobuhiko Ochiai, Hidy Ochiai's younger brother, is a famous writer in Japan).