Kenji Yamaki

The positioning of your knee is the key. From a standing position, you have to be able to chamber your knee as high as possible, and that’s what gives you the luxury of options in terms of where and how are you place the kick. If you bring your knee up high, you can kick at any height. But if you chamber your leg weakly and only bring your knee up slightly, your mae geri will be limited to the waist and lower.

Kenji Yamaki

Going from a child that was bullied, to a world champion in one of the hardest forms of Karate, Kenji Yamaki is the epitome of how Karate can change a person’s life. Described as moving like a Bengal Tiger, Yamaki is a big man who is extremely agile for his size.

Kanji Yamaki was born on 18 August 1964 in Kawasaki, Japan. Growing up, he suffered from a lot of bullying. Because he was tall, thin and suffered from anaemia, he was an easy target. The bullying got so bad that he contemplated suicide on three occasions. On one occasion he had climbed a tall building and had thought of jumping.

Yamaki had found out that Kyokushin Karate had a reputation for being one of the strongest forms of Karate. Wanting to stop the bullying, he signed up for classes immediately.

On 1 June 1980, Yamaki joined the Jounan Branch of Kyokushin Karate. The dojo was run by Tsuyoshi Hiroshige, who had a reputation for creating world champions.

For the next couple of years, Yamaki dedicated himself to his training and progressed through the ranks of Kyokushin. In time his body bulked up, through his intensive training. He had become a powerhouse. His reputation for being a strong fighter began to grow. Within a year the bullying at school stopped.

In 1986 Yamaki competed in the 18th All Japan Open Karate Championships. Aged 21 he finished in third place behind winner, Akiyoshi (Shokei) Matsui and runner-up Akira Masuda. This was the start of Yamaki being known as an elite fighter. For the next couple of years, Yamaki always finished in the top ten positions of all tournaments he entered.

At the 4th World Open Kyokushin Tournament, held between 6 to 8 November 1987, Yamaki finished in the top 32. He lost a Brazilian, Ademir da Costa. The tournament was won by Akiyoshi Matsui.

In 1988 at the 20th All Japan Open Karate Championships, Yamaki finished in third place behind Yasuhiro Kuwajima and Yutaka Ishi. The following year he won the tournament, defeating Yoshihiro Tamura in the final. However, in 1990 he finished in eighth place.

At Yamaki’s second World Open Tournament he again made it into the top 32. At the 5th World Open Tournament, held between 2-4 November 1991, he finished in fifth place, losing to Hiroyuki Kurosawa. The tournament was won by Kenji Midori.

For the next couple of years, Yamaki honed his skills in various tournaments, always finishing in the top 10 positions.

1993 was Yamaki’s breakout year. At the 10th All Japan Weight Category Karate Tournament he defeated Kunihiro Suzuki to win the title. The following year he defeated another legend in Hajime Kazumi, in the 26th All Japan Open Karate Championships to win the title.

On 26 April 1994, the Kyokushin Karate world was rocked by the death of Mas Oyama.

1995 was a big year for Yamaki. He was invited to take the 100-Man Kumite Karate Challenge. On 22nd March he took the challenge. He breezed through the first few matches. After his 50th fight, his legs began to have cramps. After his 60th fight, his whole body hurt. After his 70th fight, he became groggy and could hardly stand. For the remaining thirty fights he fought on pure instinct. He completed the challenge in 3 hours 27 minutes. He won 83 fights; drew 12 flights; and lost 5 fights. He was a 4th Dan at the time.

Between 3-5 November 1995, the first World Tournament following the death of Oyama took place. In the final of the 6th World Open Karate Tournament, he defeated Hajime Kazumi in the final. He was 30 years old at the time.

Following his victory at the World Tournament, Yamaki eventually emigrated to the United States. He established the Yamaki Karate dojo in Torrence, California, where he continues to teach.

Looking to improve his Karate, Yamaki has been cross-training in Aikido. He has trained with Haruo Matsuoka, the Chief Instructor at Ikazuchi Dojo. located in Irvine, California. Both men have learnt a lot from their interactions.

Kenji Yamaki is a living example of the transformative nature of Karate. He has gone from a child that was consistently or constantly bullied, to become in a World Champion and the legend of Kyokushin Karate.

Yamaki is one of only a few people to achieve the “grand slam” of Kyokushin fighting titles; the All-Japan Open Karate Tournament; the All-Japan Weight Class Karate Tournament; the World Open Karate Tournament; and the 100-Man Kumite Challenge.

Author: Patrick Donkor

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