Over thirty years ago little did anyone know that a small, skinny Japanese man named Osamu Ozawa, working as a poker dealer at the Las Vegas Hilton, was one of the highest-ranking karate masters residing in the Western world.
Master Osamu Ozawa moved from California to Las Vegas, Nevada in 1974. He opened the first pachinko parlor in Las Vegas at the Circus Circus Hotel and Casino. However, due to unforeseen circumstances he had to close his pachinko business down.
He was employed as a poker dealer in a few of the major Las Vegas hotels for several years before deciding to go back to karate as a full time instructor. On February 1, 1981, Master Ozawa officially opened his karate dojo in Las Vegas. One month prior to the opening of the new dojo, Master Ozawa staged the first Traditional Karate Tournament at the Maxim Hotel and Casino just off the famous Las Vegas Strip.
The tournament was to publicize and promote the new dojo. On this first tournament, only Shotokan karate people were invited. Some of the big names in Shotokan karate in the US attended: Takayuki Mikami, Yutaka Yaguchi, Shojiro Koyama, Mr. Takashina, Ray Dalke, Frank Smith, James Field and others. About a dozen instructors, 30 competitors and about 150 spectators came to attend the one-day event.
The second tournament was held at the Aladdin Hotel in November of 1982, which was at that time one of the most beautiful and elegant casinos in Las Vegas.
The third tournament was again staged back at the Maxim Hotel in November of 1983. This time it was fully opened to all traditional Japanese and Okinawan styles of karate. Amongst the famous instructors who attended were: Takayuki Mikami from the Shotokan style, Fumio Demura of Shito-ryu, Kiyoshi Yamazaki and Junki Yoshida of Ryobukai, Minobu Miki of Hayashi-ha Shito-ryu and many others. In this third event, about 40 instructors and 200 competitors attended. Also about 400 spectators watched the spectacular final competition, which consisted of very high quality matches.
As Master Ozawa’s reputation for fairness and open-mindedness grew, so did the scale of the tournament. The fourth annual traditional tournament held at the Sahara Hotel in October 1984 was a spectacular success. In this tournament, Master Ozawa was reunited with his great and long time friend, the legendary karate master, Hirokazu Kanazawa from Japan. The founder of Hayashi-ha Shito Ryu, Soke Teruo Hayashi, also attended it. In this tournament, about 12 countries attended along with more than 60 instructors and 500 hundred competitors.
The fifth annual tournament was held on January 1985 and it was officially dubbed "Traditional Karate Tournament International." This particular event clearly showed Master Ozawa’s determination to support all of traditional karate and not only Shotokan karate. The "5th Annual Traditional Karate Tournament International" drew 100 instructors, 1,000 competitors and 3,000 spectators. It was a phenomenal international event with contestants and instructors coming from the US, Canada, Mexico, Japan, South America, Central America and Europe. People from all over the world with such diverse background were very happy to make new friends, freely exchanged techniques, training methods and ideas together. For traditional karate, it was truly an unprecedented success not only in competition but also in style interaction.
The "Traditional Karate Tournament International" went on as a success year after year. The 1989 tournament was one of the largest and most successful tournaments that the traditional world of karate has ever witnessed. Strongly supported by Kirin beer, Master Ozawa negotiated a deal with Bally’s, one of Las Vegas’s largest hotels at that time, guaranteeing the hotel the rental of 400 rooms and also provided 50 rooms for distinguished guests and instructors at his own expense.
The "Annual Traditional Karate Tournament International" became one on the largest and most popular tournaments of its kind in the world. Competitors and instructors from the US and abroad target their sight on this event each year. Its success is due to the fair and open-mind atmosphere, high quality of officials and competitors, good strong bonds made between competitors and teammates, and the ideals that Master Ozawa promoted: the unity and harmony amongst all the people training in any style of traditional karate.
Today the tournament is called the Ozawa Cup International Karate Tournament. It is named in honor of Master Ozawa. It features four exciting days of competition, Seminars conducted by prominent instructors, and Master's demonstrations. Many vendors also attend the event.
We at the Las Vegas Shotokan Karate dojo would like to express our most sincere thanks and deepest gratitude to all the Masters, instructors, and competitors for their enduring support of the Tournament year after year to continue Master Ozawa's legacy and to keep the public aware and informed on what Traditional Karate is all about.