One of the most outstanding, Japanese Karate Masters of the 20th century, Yasuhiro Konishi was already a top kendoka and Jujitsu practitioner when he began learning Karate. He recognised that Karate was a legitimate martial art and did much to get it recognised in Japan. It is arguable that without him Karate may not have gained acceptance in mainland Japan. He trained with many of the top Okinawan Karate Masters of the time and helped them introduce their styles to mainland Japan.
Yasuhiro Konishi was born in Takamatsu City, Kagawa, Japan, in 1893. He began his martial arts training in 1899, learning Muso Ryu Jujitsu under Sanzo Matui.
In 1906, while a junior in High School, Konishi began learning Judo under Kotaro Okano. He also began learning Kendo under Sokuro Uehara and Heitaro Ueda.
Konishi started learning Takenouchi Jujitsu, under Roku Takeuchi. This is a style of Jujitsu known for its kicks and punches.
In 1915 at the age of 22, Konishi enrolled at Keio University. By this time he had over 15 years of experience in martial arts. He joined the university’s, Kendo club, training under Tadaatsu Shindai. He eventually captained the Kendo club in his second year.
Because of his love for Jujitsu and Kendo practised at the University, Konishi stayed at the University for eight years, instead of the customary four years. He earned extra money by working sometimes as a bodyguard.
During Konishi’s time at university, Tsunesigige Arakaki, a fellow student, introduced him to the Okinawan martial art of Te. Te is a precursor to Karate and Konishi was intrigued by it. He began taking Te lessons from Arakaki.
In July 1922, Konishi was promoted to 5th Dan in Judo by Kazuyoshi Takahashi.
Konishi graduated from Keio University in 1923. He found a job working as a payroll clerk. He continued to coach at the Keio University Kendo club.
By 1923 Konishi was married. He had also become dissatisfied with his job. With his wife’s encouragement, he decided to leave his job and focus on teaching martial arts.
Konishi opened the Ryobukan Konishi Dojo (The House of Martial Arts Excellence) in January 1924. He taught Kendo, Jujitsu, and Judo to the general public. The dojo would eventually become a melting pot where various masters, like Chojun Miyagi and Choku Motobu, would come and teach their styles.
In 1924 Konishi was awarded the title of Seirencho in Kendo by the Dai Nippon Butokukai, the governing body of Japanese martial arts. The Dai Nippon Butokukai was established in 1895, and Seirencho was the highest title they could bestow on a martial artist.
September 1924 saw Gichin Funakoshi and Hironori Ohtsuka visit Keio University. They watched one of Konishi’s Kendo lessons. They approached him with a letter of introduction from Professor Shinyu Kasuya. Funakoshi asked if he could use the Kendo training hall when there was no Kendo class, to teach Ryukyu Toudi-Jutsu, which was the old formal name for Okinawan Karate.
Sharing a dojo with another martial arts school was not common practice in Japan at the time. Konishi’s acceptance of Funakoshi at his dojo was unique. However, Konichi was intrigued by the little-known art of Karate.
Konishi invited Funakoshi to teach at his Ryobukan dojo. He began training with Funakoshi and would become one of his first generation of students promoted to black belt.
Because Karate was a new martial art in Japan, other Japanese martial art schools would challenge Funakoshi. They did not believe Karate to be an effective martial art. Being Kunakoshi’s most senior students, Ohtsuka and Konishi would face the challenges. They never lost, thus proving the effectiveness of Karate as a martial art.
On 15 October 1924, Funakoshi established the first university Karate club in Japan at Keio University. One of the early students at the club was Isao Obata.
In 1927 Konishi took the controversial step of training with Choki Motobu. Motobu was a big rival of Funakoshi and both men disliked each other. Some of Funakoshi’s students thought it was disrespectful of Konishi to train with Motobu.
Konishi wanted to see all that Karate had to offer, and was willing to learn from any master.
Motobu had arrived in Tokyo to establish his Daidokan dojo. He did not speak standard Japanese very well. Konishi acted as a translator for him during his teaching engagements.
Konishi also had the opportunity to train with another of Okinawa’s great Karate masters, Kenwa Mabuni. When Mabuni arrived in Japan, he stayed with Konishi for around ten months. For a while, he taught from Konishi’s house before eventually moving to Osaka.
Always looking to improve his martial arts Konishi trained in Daito-Ryu in the 1930s. He trained under the legendary Morihei Ueshiba.
On 25 May 1931, Konishi’s son, Takehiro, was born.
In 1933 Konishi established his own Karate style. His style was called Shindo Jinen–Ryu Karate-Jutsu, meaning “Godly, natural style, complete empty-handed way“. The style incorporated elements from all the masters he had been taught by. He wanted to develop a well-balanced style to pass on to his students.
Konishi also established the JKR (Japan Karate-Do Ryobu–Kai) which became the governing body of his Shindo Jinen–Ryu. The JKR would eventually become an international organisation with branches in more than 20 countries.
The Butokukai provisionally accepted Karate as a branch of Judo in 1933, pending further evaluation.
On 23 March 1934, Chojun Miyagi presented Konishi with an original manuscript for his book, “An Outline of Karate-Do“. This was in thanks for the support he had given to him.
In 1935 the Butokukai awarded its first set of ranks in Karate-do. This helped legitimise Karate in the eyes of the Japanese martial arts community. Since the introduction of Karate in mainland Japan, Konichi and Funakoshi had been at the forefront of getting Karate recognised as a legitimate martial art by the Japanese. Since the first Karate club opened at Keio University many of the top Japanese universities now had Karate clubs established.
The Butokukai awarded Konishi, Chojun Miyagi, and Uejima Sannosuke with the title of Kiyoshi. Konishi’s rank was controversial as he had ranked ahead of his teachers. This may have been because he was Japanese and they were Okinawan.
Although the Okinawan masters were extremely grateful for all the help Konishi had given to them, some of their students resented him. They saw him as a student of men who had been unfairly given lesser titles than him.
Konishi was appointed the Chairman of the Screening Committee of the Dai Nippon Butokukai in 1938. The Committee was responsible for reviewing all the licensing applications for Karate. This put him in the strange position of grading his own teachers.
In 1938 the Butokukai awarded the title of Renshi to Gichin Funakoshi, Kenwa Mabuni, Hironori Ohtsuka, Shimoda Takeshi, Gigo Funakoshi, and thirteen other Karate masters.
In May 1938 Karate was allowed to participate in the 38th Butokukai Festival. The festival was a showcase of the various martial arts overseen by the Butokukai.
Japan was embroiled in the midst of World War II by 1942. The Japanese government took over the running of the Butokukai. Many of the instructors were encouraged to work for the government. Konishi was asked to teach self-defence techniques to women. He asked Kenwa Mabuni to help him to develop suitable techniques.
At the end of the war, the Americans occupied Japan. A ban was placed on the practice of martial arts. Like all martial artists, Konishi suffered from the ban.
By the time martial arts practice resumed in the mid-1950s, Konishi was teaching around fifty students at his Ryobukan dojo.
The postwar years saw Konishi continue to teach students at his Ryobukan dojo where he continued teaching his Shindo Jinen-Ryu style. With his extensive martial arts knowledge he has had several books published. In 1952, he had a book on Kendo published. In 1960, his book, “Karate-do Nyumon” was published.
In 1973, one of Konishi’s students, Kiyoshi, Yamazaki, organised a visit for him to the United States. Yamazaki, who had been his student since 1956, moved to the United States in 1969.
Yasuhiro Konishi died in Tokyo, Japan, in 1983. His son Takehiro assumed the leadership of the JKR. As a mark of respect to his father, Takehiro changed his name to Yasuhiro.
As time has progressed Konishi’s importance in the history of Karate has begun to be recognised. It could be argued that if he had not taken an interest, Karate may not have gained widespread acceptance as a martial art in Japan.
Konishi helped sponsor many of the top Okinawan Karate masters like Gichin Funakoshi, Kenwa Mabuni, Chojun Miyagi, Choki Motobu, and Shinken Taira. A phenomenal master in his own right, he was a direct student of these great Okinawan masters.