Terutomo Yamazaki

I don’t do professional Karate. I think that makes martial arts dirty.

Terutomo Yamazaki

Nicknamed the ‘Dragon of Kyokushin‘, Terutomo Yamazaki was an exceptional fighter. He was known for his expertise in tameshiwara (board breaking). A highly respected teacher, he has taught the likes of Katsuaki Sato, Miyuki Miura, Seiji Isobe, Howard Collins, and Shokei Matsui.

Terutomo Yamazaki was born in the village of Yamato, Yamanashi Prefecture, Japan, on 21 July 1947.

Yamazaki started practising Kyokushin Karate under the Mas Oyama, while still at high school in 1964. This was around the time that Oyama officially established Kyukoshin.

Yamazaki would travel three hours from his home to train at the dojo. At the time training was extremely tough. There are 4 classes a week, with each training session lasting 3 to 4 hours. Sparring sessions lasted over an hour and were filled with a lot of intensity and violence. Injuries were no excuse for not training. Many students come came and left the dojo, finding the training too tough. His seniors at the dojo included Shigeru Oyama, Yasuhiko Oyama, Tadashi Nakamura, and Hideyuki Ashihara.

It was soon recognised that Yamazaki was a talented karateka. On 15 April 1967 Oyama promoted him to 1st Dan. He received a further promotion on 10 October to 2nd Dan. It was around this time that he started teaching. He taught at the Kyokushin Hombu in Tokyo. He also taught military personnel at US Camp Zama.

During the 1960s televised kickboxing had become popular among Japanese audiences. The television network, TV Asahi, asked Oyama if he had any fighters he could appear in a televised tournament. Always looking to prove the strength of Kyokushin, Oyama selected Yamazaki and Yoshiji Soeno to represent Kyokushin Karate in the upcoming tournaments. The selected fighters spent the next few months preparing for the tournament.

Yamazaki and Soeno had their first televised fights in April 1969. Soeno lost in his first fight to Kannanpai, an excellent Muay Thai fighter. Fighting as a lightweight/welterweight, Yamazaki faced the same Thai fighter. He knocked him out in the first round of their bout.

In his next fight, Yamazaki faced another highly respected Muay Thai fighter, named Samanso. Again, Yamazaki won by first-round knockout.

Yamazaki liked many of the techniques he saw in Muay Thai. He would learn from the fighters and coaches he met at the televised tournaments. He started incorporating what he learnt into his Karate practice.

With his successes in the televised tournaments, Yamazaki’s popularity grew. He was offered lucrative contracts to fight professionally. However, he turned these down as he preferred being a Kyokushin fighter and martial artist.

On 20 September 1969, Yamazaki competed in the 1st All Japan Open Karate Tournament, held at the Metropolitan Gymnasium, Tokyo. A full-contact tournament, with no protective equipment used, it was open to martial arts from other styles.

Yamazaki felt the pressure to succeed at the tournament. He felt Kyokushin’s reputation was at stake. In the tournament, he fought six times. He won five fights by knockout and one by decision. In the tameshiwara section, he set the tournament’s first record, by breaking 16 boards. He became the first-ever champion of the tournament.

In 1970 Yamazaki reached the final of the 2nd All Japan Open Karate Tournament. He lost to Kazuki Hasegawa.

Yamazaki was named in the October 1971 issue a Black Belt Magazine’s ‘20 Top Fighters in Japan‘. By this time he had graduated from university and was working as a television producer. He did not compete at the 3rd All Japan Open Karate Tournament. Karate had taken a back seat to his work. He felt his competition days were over.

On 22 October 1972, Yamazaki competed at the 4th All Japan Open Karate Tournament. Mas Oyama had requested he compete. Oyama knew what a popular competitor Yamazaki was. Yamazaki finished in fourth place. However, he set a new tournament record in the tameshiwara section, breaking 21 boards.

Yamazaki took part in his last active competition on 4 November 1973 at the 5th All Japan Open Karate Tournament. He did not have enough time to prepare for the tournament. However, he won five matches and made it to the final. In what was considered one of the greatest finals, he lost to Hatsuo Royama by decision. He set another record in the tameshiwara section, by breaking 24 boards. This record would last until 1979 when Willie Williams broke 26 boards.

Yamazaki retired from active competition to focus on his career as a television adverts producer. He would still practice Karate in his spare time.

In 1977 Yamazaki received permission from Oyama to open a dojo. As a popular fighter and competitor, there were many people who wanted to train with him. As Yamazaki did not want to earn money from Karate, the dojo with staffed by volunteers. A skilled teacher, he taught many students while also focusing on his career.

Yamazaki has believed that one should not earn money from teaching Karate. In 1995 he established a non-profit organisation called International Budo Karate organisation Gyakusin-Kai.

Keen to teach, Yamazaki has had the following books and videos-/Released:

  • Mushino kokoro: Karate ni kaketa seishun (published 1980)
  • Yamazaki Terutomo no jissen karate (published 1984)
  • Yamazaki Terutomo no jissen karate (released 2001)
  • Yamazaki Terutomo no jissen karate taosutame no kamae to koubou (released 2007)

It has been said that what Terutomo Yamazaki such a great fighter, was his skill in using advanced techniques and his mastery of strong basic techniques. Perhaps where he stands out most of all, is his ability to transmit his knowledge to his students. His students who have included the likes of Howard Collins, Seiji Isobe, Miyuki Miura, and Shokiei Matsui, have all held him in high esteem as a teacher.

Author: Patrick Donkor

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