Yoshiji Soeno

Known as the ‘Tiger of Josai‘, Yoshiji Soeno was one of Mas Oyama’s early Kyokushin students. The character, Ryu, from the Street Fighter game, is said to have been based on him.

Yoshiji Soeno was born in Tokorozawa, Japan, on 29 September 1947. He was descended from an ancient samurai family on both his father and mother’s side. One of his grandfathers was a samurai who had lost his title during the Meiji Restoration. His father served in the Ministry of Defense.

Like most boys of the time, Soeno practised Judo and Kendo at school. He also practised some Wado-Ryu Karate.

On 1 September 1964, Soeno began practising Kyokushin Karate under Mas Oyama. His sempai at the club included Shigeru Oyama, Yasuhiko Oyama, Tadashi Nakamura, and Hideyuki Ashihara.

After leaving high school, Soeno attended Josai University, where he studied Economics. He established a Kyokushin Karate club at the University. One of the students at the club was Miyuki Miura, who would go on to have great success in Kyokushin.

On 15 April 19 67, Mas Oyama promoted Soeno to 1st Dan.

After graduating from University, Soeno opened his own dojo, called the Soeno Dojo. He taught both Karate and Kickboxing.

Televised Kickboxing had become popular in Japan during the 1960s. Tournaments were regularly shown on television. The television network, TV Asahi asked if Mas Oyama could provide a fighter to appear in their tournament.

Always looking to prove the strength of Kyokushin Karate, Oyama selected Terutomo Yamazaki and Soeno in February 1969 to represent his style of Karate in the televised tournaments. They spent the next few weeks preparing.

April 1969 saw both men compete in their first televised competitions. In his first fight, Soeno lost to Kannanpai, an excellent Muay Thai fighter from Thailand. Yamazaki won his first fight. Soeno would go on to win his subsequent fights.

On 26 September 1969 The 1st All Japan Open Karate Tournament, took place at the Metropolitan Gymnasium in Tokyo. A full-contact competition, the tournament was open to martial artists from other styles. Both Terutomo Yamazaki and Soeno made it to the final, where Yamazaki won the title.

At the 2nd All Japan Karate tournament the following year, Soeno finished in third place behind Kazuyuki Hasagawa and Yamasaki. Two years later he finished in fifth place.

In 1974 Soeno received the blessing of Oyama to take a solo trip to Thailand. Since his encounters with various Thai Boxers he had met while competing in Kickboxing competitions, he had wanted to go to Thailand to test the validity of his Karate and test his skills against the best Thai Boxers.

Soeno travelled to Chiang Mai, where he fought in several matches against local Muay Thai fighters. His successes soon got him noticed. He soon got the chance to fight in Bangkok against the best fighters in the country. He continued his successes against some of the toughest fighters. By the time he left Thailand, he had a winning record and had earned the respect of the Thais.

In 1978 Soeno established Shidokan Karate. Shidokan is a style of Karate that combines the full-contact Karate of Kyokushin, with Thai boxing, and grappling. In many ways, it looks like a precursor to mixed martial arts (MMA). In 1981 he established the World Karate-do Association Shidokan.

The arcade game, Street Fighter was released in 1987. It is thought that the Karate fighter in the game, Ryu, was modelled on Soeno, especially after his exploits in Thailand.

By 1991 Shidokan had spread around the world. That year saw the US Shidokan Open Tournament take place in Chicago. The event attracted between 2000-3000 spectators. It was the first time that a Shidokan event was held in the United States.

On 26 April 1996, Mas Oyama, the founder of Kyokushin Karate, died from cancer. Even though Soeno was no longer a part of Karate, he still maintained a good relationship with Oyama. On hearing the news of Oyama’s death, he rushed to the IKO Hombu where he began crying.

Soeno visited Okinawa on 12 July 2020 with his wife Iuliana. They took the Karate History tour in Naha. During the tour, they visited Matsuyama Park. They visited Okinawa Karate Kaikan, a complex dedicated to Okinawan Karate. They also visited the Okinawa Prefecture Karate Museum. Soeno had the opportunity to visit several Karate dojos.

Yoshiji Soeno was a phenomenal fighter. His exploration of combining Kyokushin Karate with Thai Boxing and grappling led to the development of Shidokan Karate. His style of Karate is now practised in over 60 countries.

Author: Patrick Donkor

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