Watching Yoshiharu Osaka perform a kata is a thing of beauty. Described as the “Kata Man” and “Liquid in Motion”, his technique is impeccable. Watching him perform any kata, is watching a man who has mastered his art. An ultimate technician, JKA chief instructor, Masatoshi Nakayama, featured him heavily in his “Best Karate” series of books, with him performing many of the katas featured in the book.
Yoshiharu Osaka was born in Fukuoka Prefecture, Japan on 8 September 1947. He started his Karate training in 1963 while at high school. Three years later he enrolled at Takushoku University studying Karate under JKA legend, Katsunori Tsuyama. While at university he won the individual kumite title at the 1969 JKA All Japan University Karate Championships.
Upon graduating in 1970, Osaka was invited to take the JKA Instructors Course. Not since Takayuki Mikami and Hirokazu Kanazawa, had the JKA seen someone so talented. Nakayama took a personal interest in his development, with him becoming one of his favorite students. He once said of Osaka “Few have achieved such technical perfection as Osaka“. Osaka would accompany Nakayama around the world on many of his teaching trips.
In 1972 Osaka graduated from the JKA Instructors Course. At the 15th JKA All Japan Karate Championships he finished second behind Masayoshi Kagawa, the older brother of Masao Kagawa. The following year he became a full-time instructor at the JKA’s headquarters. That year at the16th JKA All Japan Karate Championships he placed 2nd in the individual kata event behind the defending champion, Yoshimasa Takahashi.
The World Invitational Karate Tournament was held in Manila, Philippines in 1974. At the three day event high ranking masters from the major styles of Karate gathered. The masters included Gogen Yamaguchi (Goju-ryu); Hironori Otsuka (Wado-ryu); Kenei Mabuni (Shito-ryu); Kwai Byeung Yun (Jee do kwan); Hwang Kee (Moo do kwan); Masatoshi Nakayama (Shotokan); and Katsyuya Miyahira (Shorin-ryu). The highlights of the event were the kata and kumite competitions. Osaka won both events. That year at the 17th JKA All Japan Karate Championships, he placed second behind another JKA great, Maasaki Ueki.
Osaka had started 1975 by finishing second behind Maasaki Ueki at the 18th JKA All Japan Karate Championships. He was selected to represent Japan at the 1st IAKF World Championships held in Los Angeles, USA. He made it to the final where he defeated Fugazza of Italy to become champion. Teammate, Masahiko Tanaka, won the kumite title.
In 1976 Osaka became the All Japan kumite champion defeating Norimasa Hayakawa in the final of 19th JKA All Japan Karate Championships. It was the only All Japan kumite title he won, having finished second once and third twice.
1977 saw Osaka become the most dominate kata competitor in the history of JKA. From 1977 to 1983 he was undefeated in kata competition. He won three additional IAKF World Championship titles, in Tokyo, Bremen and Cairo. Teammate, Mikio Yahara, was the losing finalist on each occasion. Osaka won the JKA All Japan kata title seven years in a row, defeating former grand champion Hideo Ochi and Yahara in several finals. He was also a two-time All Japan Grand Champion, winning in 1978 and 1979. The kata synonymous with many of his wins was Shochin. A tough kata to master, because of its rooted stance, was made it look effortless. His major successes include:
- IAKF World Championships, Individual Kata – 1st Place (1975, 1977, 1980, 1983)
- JKA All Japan Karate Championships, Grand Champion – (1978, 1979)
- JKA All Japan Karate Championships, Individual Kata – 1st Place (1977, 1978, 1979, 1980, 1981, 1982, 1983)
- JKA All Japan Karate Championships, Individual Kata – 2nd Place (1973, 1974, 1975)
- JKA All Japan Karate Championships, Individual Kumite-1st Place (1976)
- JKA All Japan Karate Championships, Individual Kumite- 2nd Place (1972)
- JKA All Japan Karate Championships, Individual Kumite- 3rd Place (1978, 1979)
Masatoshi Nakayama’s eleven book “Best Karate” series was published in 1979. Osaka was featured in the following books:
- Book 1 – Demonstrating basic Karate techniques (kihon)
- Book 2 – Demonstrating basic Karate techniques (kihon)
- Book 4 – Kumite against Masao Kawasoe and Masatoshi Nakayama
- Book 5 – Demonstrating Heian and Tekki katas
- Book 10 – Demonstrating Sochin Kata
- Book 11 – Demonstrating Gojushiho Dai kata
A very technical instructor, Osaka is one of the few JKA instructors to have focused his teaching in Japan. His travel overseas has been limited to competitions and seminars. A senior instructor at the JKA headquarters, he remains one of the most popular instructors, mainly due to his warmth and sense of humour when teaching.
In 1987 Osaka’s mentor, Masatoshi Nakayama, died aged 74. His death led to infighting within his beloved organisation. By 1990 the JKA had split into two factions. One faction consisting mainly of older instructors, were led by Nobuyuki Nakahara and Motokuni Sugiura. Maasaki Ueki, Yoshiharu Osaka and Masahiko Tanaka. The other faction, consisting mainly of younger instructors, was led by Tetsuhiko Asai. This faction included Mikio Yahara, Masao Kagawa and Keigo Abe. Each faction referred to themselves as the JKA. However, The Japanese courts eventually decided that the Nakahara led faction had the right to use the JKA name.
Ranked as an 8th Dan, Osaka is one of the highest ranking instructors in the JKA. At one time he was Vice Chief Instructor of the association, a position now held by Takeshi Oishi. He is a member of the JKA’s Shihankai Committee (the Instructors Committee). He also sits on the JKA’s Kanjikai and International Board of Directors.
Osaka is one of the most talented technicians to come out of the JKA. Believing that success came from constant practice, his mastery of kata and kihon is legendary. His techniques were not flashy, but rather fast simple and strong. As a 4-time World Champion, a 2-time JKA Grand Champion and a 7-time JKA All Japan Kata Champion he is one of the most recognizable Shotokan masters. Watching this master perform, or teach, a kata is inspirational. As stated by Masatoshi Nakayama, he is “Technically perfect”
The following videos show the great master in action: