A direct student of Mas Oyama, Hideyuki Ashihara was known as a phenomenal fighter. However, it was at an instructor that he had the biggest impact. Students would travel from miles just to train with him.
Hideyuki Ashihara was born on 5 December 1944 near the city of Hiroshima, Japan. He was raised by his grandparents in the village of Nomicho.
Growing up, Ashihara was a boisterous child, who frequently got into fights. In 1954, aged 10 he began learning Kendo.
In 1960, when Ashihara was aged 15 he moved to Tokyo. He got a job working in a petrol station, where he worked for six years.
Ashihara began training with Mas Oyama in September 1961. Oyama had a small dojo located behind Rikkyo University. At the time he taught elements of Goju-ryu, Shorei-ryu, and Kobayashi-ryu Karate. These were all styles he had trained in.
Ashihara’s motivation for training was to become stronger. Oyama’s training sessions were tough. Students left training sessions exhausted, having been pushed to their limit.
There were four classes a week, with each training session lasting 3-4 hours. Sparring sessions were brutal and lasted for over an hour. Many students joined and left the dojo, finding the training too tough. Ashihara’s seniors included Hatsuo Royama and Tadashi Nakamura.
In 1964 Oyama officially founded Kyokushin Karate. He also established the International Karate Organisation (IKO).
On 26 March 1964, Ashihara graded and was promoted to 1st Dan by Oyama. He was 19 years old. By this time he had become one of the best fighters in the dojo.
In 1966 Ashihara became an instructor at the Kyukoshin Hombu.
Ashihara was selected by Oyama to travel to Brazil in 1966. It was intended that he spread Kyokushin Karate to South America. However, Ashihara got into a fight away from the dojo. This led to Oyama suspending him from the Hombu for two months.
After his suspension, Ashihara was sent to the town of Nomura to teach. Three 3 months later he was allowed to return to the Hombu to teach and train.
Ashihara was given the opportunity to travel to Brazil again. However, he declined the offer. He had started something in Nomura, and he wanted to continue this work. Oyama granted him permission to do so. Seiji Isobe was eventually sent by Oyama to Brazil.
In Nomura, Ashihara’s reputation as a teacher was growing. He soon moved to the neighbouring city of Yawatahama, when he opened a dojo. By the end of the 1960s, it had become one of the biggest Kyokushin Karate dojos in Japan. A young Joko Ninomiya began training at the dojo in the early 1970s.
By this time Ashihara had started experimenting with his technique of combining defence and offence and had named the technique Sabaki.
There was much interest in Ashihara’s teaching. He opened dojos in the cities of Uwa and Uwajima. This was soon followed by dojos in Matsuyama, Hiroshima, Osaka, Kyoto, Kobe, Nara, and Shiya.
They were some Kyokushin instructors who were unhappy with the number of dojos Ashihara had. They felt he was expanding into their territories. To keep peace within the IKO, he offered to relinquish his leadership of the dojos in the conflicted areas.
However, for some this was not enough. They wanted stronger punishment for Ashihara. In 1978 he was expelled from the IKO. There is some contention about this, as in some interviews he said he resigned from the organisation.
March 1978 saw the start of construction on Ashihara’s new dojo in Matsuyama. The construction was completed the following year.
In September 1980, Ashihara established Ashihara Karate. His style was a more Street-orientated style of Karate. He also created the New International Karate Organisation (NIKO). The Hombu of the new organisation was located in his Matsuyama dojo.
The next couple of years saw Ashihara’s new organisation grow. He sent one of his top students, Joko Ninomiya, to spread Ashihara Karate in the United States.
Ashihara’s book ‘Fighting Karate‘ Was published in 1985. Several years later, his second book ‘More Fighting Karate‘ was published in 1989.
In 1987 Ashihara began showing the first signs of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS). The disease, also known as Motor Neuron Disease or Lou Gehrig’s Disease, attacks neurons controlling voluntary muscle movement.
Initially, NIKO did not hold a World Championship. However, there have been a number of international tournaments that followed Ashihara Karate rules. In 1993 Ashihara gave permission to the Denmark Branch of NIKO to organise a World Tournament. In 1994 the 1st Sabaki Challenge Spirit was held in Denmark. It was only open to NIKO competitors.
In 1995 Ashihara established Shintaikudo Karate. However, on 24 April 1995, he died in Matsuyama, Japan, aged only 50 years. Over 1000 people attended his funeral. His son, Hidenori, became the leader of NIKO.
Going from being a phenomenal fighter to be in a much sought-after instructor, Hideyuki Ashihara was a brilliant martial artist. His approach to combining defence with counter-attacking has made his style of Karate one of the most effective and dynamic in the world. His legacy continues through his students Joko Ninomiya and Kazuyoshi Ishii who have founded their own styles of Enshin Karate and Seidokaikan Karate respectively, which both contain huge elements of Ashihara Karate. His premature death was a real loss to the martial arts community.