Spotlight: Takayuki Mikami – The Karate Ambassador

Takayuki Mikami has had a lot of firsts in his Karate journey. He was one of the first students enrolled on the JKA Instructor course. He was also the first professional JKA instructor to teach full-time in a foreign country.

Mikami was born on 10 December 1933 in a farming community located in Nigata Prefecture, Japan. Like most boys at the time he studied Judo and Kendo which was part of the school curriculum.

In 1952 Mikami traveled to Tokyo to attend Hosei University to study Japanese literature. It was at Hosei that he began his Karate training as a way to build his confidence, especially as he was a country boy now living in a big city. He trained in Shotokan Karate under Kimio Itoh, a student of Gichin Funankoshi. He has cited Itoh as the most important and influential person in his Karate life. He thought of him as a mentor, not just in Karate but also in life.

Mikami eventually became the captain of the Hosei University Karate Team. The Karate club had a long tradition, having been established before the Second World War. Hosei would compete would against other university Karate clubs from Takushoku, Keio and Waseda in matches.

After graduating from Hosei Mikami was invited to to enroll on the newly formed JKA Instructor course in 1956. The course was the brain child of Masatoshi Nakayama and Teruyuki Okazaki of the JKA. Its aim was to train high caliber instructors who could teach and expand Karate around the world. The course was very intensive, lasting for a year. It aimed to create well rounded individuals who apart from being technically competent were also knowledgeable in other areas such as physiology. The course enabled students to cross train in other Karate styles. This included Wado-ryu with Hironori Ohtsuka; Goju-ryu with Gogen Yamaguchi; and Shito-ryu with Kenwa Mabuni. This training allowed them to see the similarities and differences between each of the styles.

The first intake of the Instructor Course comprised of three students recommend by their university. Mikami was the choice of Hosei University. His sensei, Itoh, was well respected and had made a strong recommendation on his behalf. Hirokazu Kanazawa was recommended by Nakayama as the representative of Takushoku University. The third student, Eiji Takaura, was the recommendation of Chiba Technical University.

Apart from the normal requirements of the Instructors Course, the three students would have regular sparring sessions against senior grades in the JKA. Some of theses grades included renowned karate-ka like Hidetaka Nishiyama, Masaru Sakamoto, Taiji Kase and their instructor Teruyuki Okazaki.

In 1957 Mikami graduated from the Instructors Training Course becoming one of the first certified full-time JKA instructors. In the same year he became the first full-time instructor to be sent to teach abroad.

Mikami was sent to the Philippines to teach an introductory course in Karate at the the Karate Club at the University of Manila. Initially he was scheduled to be in the Philippines for three months, but ended up staying for a year.

From 1958 to 1963, on his return to Japan, Mikami worked as a full-time instructor for the JKA.

1958 saw Mikami compete in the 2nd JKA Championships, held at the Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium. The Kata competition was won by Kanazawa, with Mikami coming second. However, in what is regarded as one of the greatest kumite matches the title was shared by Kanazawa and Mikami. The match had four time extensions, eventually being declared a draw. This was the first and only time a JKA title was shared. By winning both the kata and kumite titles Kanazawa became the first JKA Grand Champion.

The following year it was Mikami’s turn to become JKA Grand Champion. He won the kata and kumite titles, defeating Kanazawa both times. In 1961 he became JKA kata champion. It should be noted that both Mikami and Kanazawa competed against some of the best ever Karate practitioners, including Hiroshi Shirai, Keinosuke Enoeda, Tetsuhiko Asai, Hiroshi Shoji and Masashiro Sato.

In 1963, as part of the JKA’s expansion of Karate around the world, Mikami was sent to the United States. He initially arrived in Kansas City. A local Kansas businessman had been his sponsor to the United States. However, there was a conflict in interests between both men. The businessman was looking to commercialise martial arts and was only interested in making money, only teaching what ever martial was currently in trend. Mikami severed his ties with the businessman. He was asked to teach in the State of Louisiana, relocating to New Orleans by way of Los Angeles.

Initially Mikami had planned to be in the United States no longer than a year. After attending a Karate tournament in Chicago he revised his plans. Participants were doing techniques that bore no resemblance to Karate. He felt it was his duty to teach proper Karate.

In 1965 Mikami established the All South Karate Federation (ASKF).The ASKF became a member of the International Shotokan Karate Federation (ISKF), the representative organisation of the JKA in the United States. The ISKF was divided into regions with Mikami and his Federation representing the southern region of the United States.

In 1984 Mikami was awarded his 8th Dan by the JKA.

From the moment Mikami arrived in the United States his aim had been to promote and teach proper Karate. He has worked on various committees and federations. From 1984 to 1990 he was  a member of the World United Karate Organisation (WUKO) Referee Control Committee. He was also chairman of US National Federation Technical Progress Committee from 1986 to 1995.

Mikami has been given a number of awards. In 1989 he was named Man of the Year by the US National Federation. The following year Black Belt Magazine voted him Instructor of the Year in American Karate.

2005 was a mixed year for Mikami. He was elected president of the Japanese Karate Masters Association. However, in the same year the devastating Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast of America. Katrina was one of the worst hurricanes in American history. It resulted in may deaths and major property damage. Mikami’s house was badly damaged and insurance only covered thirty percent of the repair costs.

Like most businesses in the New Orleans area Mikami’s business suffered. His dojo went from having around one hundred regular students to only having around twenty students. Following the hurricane many people had left the area. Mikami had considered moving to California, but decided against it as New Orleans was his home.

In 2007 the ISKF split from the JKA following political differences between the two organisations. Feeling conflicted, Mikami ended up staying with the JKA. He had grown up in the JKA and felt he could not be disloyal to them.

Takayuki Mikami continues to impart his considerable knowledge to his students.

Author: Patrick Donkor

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