Yutaka Yaguchi

I would be very sad if all I thought about was winning or losing. Winning or losing is not important, but learning the mental aspects are the real challenge and benefits of training. I place more emphasis on the mental aspects of training because this will take my students beyond just sport Karate.

Yutaka Yaguchi

Like many of the instructors to come out of the JKA, Yutaka Yaguchi was an exceptional fighter. He was known for his speed and strength. Apart from his technical ability, what stood out about Yaguchi was his warmth as an instructor. Those who have trained with him, have found him to be approachable, despite any language barriers.

Yutaka Yaguchi was born on 14 November 1932 in Hiroshima, Japan. He was the youngest of five children and came from a family of farmers.

Even though Yaguchi was a very shy child, he had an enjoyable childhood. At school, he was a very good swimmer. He competed in local swimming competitions.

On 6 August 1945, the United States dropped an atomic bomb on the city of Hiroshima. The first atomic bomb in history killed an estimated 140,000 people. Yaguchi witnessed the dropping of the bomb. Fortunately for him, he was working at a shipyard, not in the vicinity of the bomb, when he saw the flash from it.

In 1952 Yaguchi enrolled at Nihon University in Tokyo, to study Marine Biology. He tried out for the University’s swimming club. However, he was considered too small. At a loss, he began looking for another club to join.

Yaguchi was impressed by the University’s Karate club. He didn’t know much about Karate but he was impressed by the confidence the members displayed. Also, Karate seemed to suit his body type.

At the Nihon University Karate Club, Yaguchi’s main instructor was Masatoshi Nakayama. When Nakayama was away, he would be trained by Teruyuki Okazaki and Motokuni Sugiura.

Initially, Yaguchi found the Karate classes quite tough. On many occasions, he wanted to give up Karate. However, he persevered with the training and began to make steady steady progress. His gradings were conducted by Gichin Funakoshi and Nakayama.

By 1957 Yaguchi graduated from Nihon University. Nakayama invited him to enrol on the JKA Instructors Training Course. Yaguchi quit his job at a construction company to enrol on the course full-time. He was a 2nd Dan at the time.

The JKA instructors’ Training course was a full-time course. The training involved three sessions a day, Monday through to Saturday. On Sunday there are only two sessions. The main instructor was Nakayama. He was also assisted by Hidetaka Nishiyama, Teruyuki Okazaki, and Taiji Kase. Students were also expected to assist in teaching. Yaguchi was an assistant instructor to Okzaki at Boei University, sometimes referred to as Japan’s West Point.

On 28 October 1957, the 1st JKA All Japan Karate Championships took place. Hiroshi Shoji won the Individual Kata title. Hirokazu Kanazawa won the Individual Karate title. Yaguchi had the unwanted distinction of becoming the first person to ever foul out of the competition.

In 1959 Yaguchi graduated from the Instructors Training Course. He remained in Tokyo, becoming an instructor at the JKA Hombu. He did this for several years.

In the 1960s many JKA instructors were sent abroad to spread Shotokan Karate. The likes of Nishiyama and Okazaki had been sent to the United States in the early 1960s. In 1965, Nakayama requested that Yaguchi travel to America, to assist Nishiyama. Initially, Yaguchi did not want to go, as he was worried about the language barrier.

On 5 June 1965, Yaguchi, now a 5th Dan, arrived in Los Angeles, to assist Nishiyama at his LA dojo. James Field, who would go on to become one of the top Shotokan practitioners in the United States, remembered Yaguchi’s arrival. Field had been close to quitting Karate at the time. However, when he saw Yaguchi training, he was so impressed by the way he moved, that he wanted to train with him. Yaguchi would have a profound effect on Field’s training.

Before returning to Japan, Yaguchi was invited to teach at the dojo of Joe Castillo, in Denver for a short period.

In 1966 Yaguchi returned to the United States. He returned to assisting Nishiyama as his LA dojo.

Yaguchi relocated to Denver, Colorado in 1972. That same year he went to the 2nd World Karate Championships as a coach for the United States Team. The championships were held in Paris, France. The championships were infamous for the Japanese and United States teams walking out of the tournament. Both teams felt that there had been some unfair refereeing.

By 1976 eight JKA instructors were teaching in the United States. They were Hidetaka Nishiyama, Teruyuki Okazaki, Takayuki Mikami, Masataka Mori, Yutaka Yaguchi, Katsuya Kisaka, Shojiro Koyama, and Shigeru Takashina. Nishiyama and his All American Karate Federation (AAKF) oversaw the JKA’s interest in the United States, with all the other Japanese instructors answering to him.

However, Okazaki, Mikami, Yaguchi, Koyama, and Takashina were growing unhappy with Nishiyama’s running of the AAKF. They felt he did not listen to any of their concerns. They had contacted the JKA Hombu in Japan, but their complaints fell on deaf ears.

By 1977 the tensions between Nishiyama and five Japanese instructors had grown. On 30 July the six instructors met in Los Angeles to discuss their differences. Nishiyama rejected all the demands put would by the group. In September, Okazaki, Mikami, Yaguchi, Koyama, and Takashina resigned from the AAKF and established the International Shotokan Karate Federation (ISKF). The instructors were still recognised by the JKA. Eventually, the ISKF would become a recognised organisation, to the JKA, operating in the United States.

As a member of the ISKF Yaguchi oversaw the Mountain State Region of the ISKF. This comprised of clubs in Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, and Wyoming. The regional headquarters were located in Colorado. Teruyuki Okazaki was the Chairman and Chief Instructor of the ISKF. Yaguchi was the Vice Chairman and Vice Chief instructor.

Together with the other instructors, Yaguchi worked tirelessly to build the ISKF into a national and international organisation. Apart from teaching at his dojo in Denver, he conducted numerous courses and seminars. He sat on the ISKF Technical Committee. He was also an instructor at the ISKF Instructor Training Course, which was modelled on the JKA’s Instructors Training Course.

In June 2007 Okazaki decided to terminate the ISKF’s 31-year relationship with the JKA. Karate has become an international art. Many of the ISKF’s affiliates felt that the JKA did not always listen to their voices. Yaguchi was the only one of the original Japanese instructors to leave the JKA with Okazaki. Mikami, Koyama, and Takeshina decided to remain with the JKA.

After many years of dedicated service to the growth of Shotokan Karate in the United States, Yaguchi retired on 17 December 2016, at the age of 84. His last training, teaching, and grading seminar took place at the Lonetree Recreation Centre, in Denver. They were 150 students in attendance, from as far afield as Africa and the Middle East.

On 26 October 2023, Yutaka Yaguchi died in Denver, Colorado.  He was survived by his wife Mieko, his two children, Hiroshi and Janet, and one grandchild.

Yaguchi was one of the most respected Japanese instructors to have taught in the United States. His warmth and willingness to help made him a popular instructor. American Shotokan legends like James Field and Frank Smith have referred to him as being a big influence on their Karate.

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