I know Karate as a martial art, but now Karate seems like dancing. I would like to return to the original Karate, to its sources. Budo Karate, according to my opinion, is when I may finish my opponent definitively by one killing blow.Mikio Yahara
Moving like a leopard, Mikio Yahara is one of the most dynamic practitioners of Shotokan Karate to have come out of the JKA. Masatoshi Nakayama described him as the best fighter of his generation. A former JKA Grand Champion, he is first and foremost a martial artist. A proponent of returning Karate back to its Budo roots, he has a no-nonsense approach to his Karate. This has even helped him in his encounters with the Yakuza.
Yahara was born on 4 April 1947 in a fishing village called Namikata-Machi, Ehime Prefecture. He was the fourth son of a prominent family with samurai roots on his father’s side. His mothers family were descended from pirates.
Growing up he was a boisterous child who loved to fight, well into his teens. He became interested in Karate at an early age, as his older brother practised it. In an effort to calm him down, his brother taught him Karate, from the age of seven.
In 1954 Yahara joined junior school. Around this time he had a heart attack and was diagnosed with a heart condition. Doctors felt it would not be possible for him to live past the age of twenty.
In 1963, while a high school student, Yahara secretly joined the school’s Judo club. Displaying his characteristic strong will, even at that age, he didn’t want to be defeated by his condition. He just wanted to get stronger. He would eventually reach the rank of 2nd Dan in Judo.
Yahara joined a local Karate club that was affiliated to the JKA. His teacher was Yagi Sensei. Another instructor regularly came from the JKA Hombu in Tokyo, to teach. Yahara soon dreamt of becoming an instructor. This became his main goal. By 1964 he had been promoted to 1st Dan.
JKA instructors were normally selected from the best university graduates. Knowing this and wanting to be near the JKA Hombu, 1966 saw Yahara enrol at Kokushikan University, Tokyo.
Yahara soon joined the university’s Karate club. By this time he had overcome his childhood condition and grown into a strong young man. The instructor at the club was Kenji Yano, a very strict teacher. Training sessions were extremely hard and in some cases scary. Many students left the club. Yahara was one of the few students to remain.
Through his dedication, Yahara became one of the best karateka at the club. He also practised at the JKA Hombu, which helped develop his Karate. He sometimes practised at the Karate clubs at Komazawa, Nodai, and Nihon Taiku Daigaku universities. His seniors at the Kokushikan University Club soon avoided him due to his toughness.
By 1971 Yahara had graduated from Kokushikan University and joined the JKA Instructors Course. Masatoshi Nakayama, Hirokazu Kanazawa, and Hideo Ochi were his main instructors on the course. Kenji Yano was his Sempai (Senior).
A little something should be said about Yahara’s relationship with Yano. As previously stated, Yano had been Yahara’s instructor at university. Nicknamed the “Destroyer“, Yano took sadistic pleasure in intimidating and beating up students. He was always looking to hurt his opponent during sparring sessions, especially those grades below him.
As his kohai (junior), Yahara usually faced the worst of Yano’s aggressiveness. He frequently had to go to hospital because of injuries he sustained at Yano’s hands. However, his pride would not let him quit. He would attend the next training session even though he was injured. In time he earned Yano’s respect for never backing down. By his own admission, he hated Yano. However, he respected is aggressiveness and strength.
Another instructor who had a profound influence on Yahara was Keigo Abe. Abe was known for his exceptional technical ability.
Yahara tried to model himself on Abe’s technique and Yano’s spirit. Even from these early days of his training, Budo was at the forefront of his training, even in kata practice. For him, kata was not for competition or grading but was for making his kumite stronger.
In 1972 Yahara’s international competitive career began in Paris, France. Two years later he graduated from the Instructors Course and started actively competing and teaching.
Yahara taught at the JKA Hombu. He had achieved his goal of becoming a JKA Instructor. He also taught at several dojo on the outskirts of Tokyo. Teaching at these dojo sometimes meant he was involved in “dojo-yaburi“, i.e. dojo challenges between different Karate styles.
As a competitor at the JKA All Japan Karate Championships, Yahara was a phenomenal competitor, competing in both kata and kumite. He always featured in the top three positions in each event. They faced some of the top competitors of the time, including Masahiko Tanaka, Yoshiharu Osaka, and Toshihiro Mori, from 1975 to 1984.
In 1984 Yahara became JKA Grand Champion. He won the kata event defeating Masao Kagawa in the final. He came third in the kumite event which was won by Hideo Yamamoto.
Yahara also competed in three IAKF World Championships. At the 1977 Championships held in Tokyo, Japan, he finished second behind Yoshiharu Osaka in the kata event. At the 1980 Championships held in Bremen, Germany, he lost to Osaka in the final. He faced Osaka again in the final of the 4th IAKF Championships, losing to him.
In 1984 Yahara retired from competing. As a kumite competitor, he was known for his dynamic and innovative techniques. He was a fan favourite and had many memorable kumite matches. As a kata competitor, his main kata was Unsu. He always performed the kata as if he was in a life or death situation. Mikio Yahara’s major tournament successes include:
- IAKF World Championships, Individual Kata – 2nd place (1977, 1980, 1983)
- JKA All Japan Karate Championships, Grand Champion (1984)
- JKA All Japan Karate Championships, Individual Kata – 1st place (1984)
- JKA All Japan Karate Championships, Individual Kata – 2nd place (1978, 1980, 1981, 1982, 1983)
- JKA All Japan Karate Championships, Individual Kumite – 2nd place (1975, 1998)
- JKA All Japan Karate Championships, Individual Kumite – 3rd place (1976, 1979, 1982, 1984)
Yahara featured in Masatoshi Nakayama’s “Best Karate” series published in 1979. He appeared in the following books:
- Book 2 – Demonstrating basic techniques
- Book 3 – Kumite against Masaaki Ueki and also against Keigo Abe
- Book 9 – Performing Kanku-Sho kata
- Book 10 – Performing Unsu kata
In 1987 the Chief Instructor of the JKA, Masatoshi Nakayama, died. His death led to rival factions vying for control over the JKA. The Nakahara Faction was led by businessman Nobuyuki Nakahara. This faction included Masaaki Ueki, Yoshiharu Osaka and Masahiko Tanaka. The rival Matsuno Faction was led by Tetsuhiko Asai. This faction included Keigo Abe, Akihito Isaka, Yahara, and Masao Kagawa. What followed was a 10 year legal battle between the two factions.
By the 1990s Yahara had established a personal security company. As a part of his business, he had many run-ins with the Yakuza. He had to regularly move house to avoid being killed. These encounters made value the importance of the Budo approach to Karate. The core principle of “Ikken Hisatsu“, “one killing blow” became a fundamental part of his training.
Over time the Yakuza came to have a healthy respect for Yahara. There is a famous story in Japan of Yahara fighting 34 Yakuza members, who had targeted him and his company. He survived the encounter, defeating all his opponents.
In 1999 the Nakahara Faction of the JKA won the legal battle between them and the Matsuno Faction. A Japanese High Court ruling awarded them the sole rights to the JKA name.
Following the court ruling, the Asai Faction left the JKA. The Faction split to form the following groups:
- Japan Karate Shotokai (JKS) led by Tetsuhiko Asai
- Japan Shotokan Karate Association (JSKA) led by Keigo Abe
- Karatenomichi World Federation (KWF) led by Yahara
The KWF was established in April 2000. ” Karatenomichi ” means “the way of Karate“. Yahara was not happy with the direction Karate was taking. He wanted Karate to be more Budo-orientated. His teachings were based on the principle of “Ichigeki Hissatsu” – “one strike“. Much emphasis was placed on perfecting basic techniques through repetition. He was not against Sport Karate. However, his big criticism is that everyone moves in the same way to win a point. There is no variety or uniqueness in fighters.
In 2006 Yahara was promoted to 8th Dan, aged 59. During his grading, he broke three ribs of an opponent with a single punch.
The last several years have seen Yahara build the KWF into one of the biggest Shotokan associations in the world. Apart from running his security business, he travels the world giving training courses and seminars. Away from Karate, he practices Iaido. He is a fan of classical music, especially that of Russian composer, Tchaikovsky.
Aged 72 years, Mikio Yahara became the first master to take a physical grading for his 10th Dan. The grading took place on 8 November 2019, in front of the KWF International Shihan-Kai (Supreme Master Panel) that included Malcolm Dorfman. This was despite having undergone spine and neck surgery during the preceding two years. He performed the kata Tekki Nidan as part of his grading.
Mikio Yahara is one of the most dynamic fighters to come out of the JKA. His unique fighting style made him a fan favourite. However, it is his exploration of Budo Karate that has made him one of the most important Karate Masters today.