Karate on an international scale has changed dramatically since its initial global distribution led by Master Masatoshi Nakayama, and his team. In 1965, a team of senior JKA exponents - Taiji Kase, Hirokazu Kanazawa , Hiroshi Shirai, and Keinosuke Enoeda set on tour to help propagate JKA Shotokan Karate. It marked a significant turning point in Shotokan’s history, explosively helping to establish JKA karate internationally.
Karate competition was, it must be said, an important ingredient that helped integrate karate into the common consciousness of people beyond Japan. Spectator friendly, it gave young men an opportunity to test their considerable skill against fellow talents, displaying awe-inspiring examples of spirit, speed and explosive power.
The passing of time naturally brings change with it, and karate has certainly seen significant change. But one man to have undeniably stood against the violent waves of change, against the invasion of sport karate, is Mikio Yahara 8th Dan – Chief Instructor of the Karate No Michi World Federation.
In 2008, we at THE SHOTOKAN WAY presented an Exclusive interview with Sensei Yahara. Within he stated ‘Once the Katana is unsheathed, blood will follow’ for ‘without Ichigeki Hisatsu, I cannot exist’. With absolute commitment to practicing, propagating, and preserving the concept of ‘One hit, one kill’, he, with the support of his Assistant Chief Instructor Akihito Isaka 8th Dan, has developed an approach to kihon training to maximize the potential power of the human body.
Within this new, exclusive interview, when asked about his expectations of his KWF trainee instructors, he stated ‘I demand the instructors to be with rapt attention to their will, without being deluded by trends in these latter days’ perhaps a clear indication of his desire to continue his work in retaining the spirit of Karate-jitsu. With the support of Ibuki Tawara, a current KWF trainee Instructor, we present to you the legend that is Yahara. - S. Banfield 2010
Sincere thanks to Yahara Sensei for kindly giving his time and sharing his ideas and thoughts. Thanks also to Ibuki Tawara for kindly conducting the interview with Yahara Sensei on our behalf.
Questions by THE SHOTOKAN WAY.
(Ibuki Tawara) The number of people enjoying Karate is increasing year by year, and there is a drive to make Karate an official Olympic sport. Could you please compare karate today to the days when you were trainee (Kenshusei) or instructor (shido-in)?
(Mikio Yahara) In a word, Karate has become more of a competitive sport than a martial art. In that sense, Karate became widely-spread and became known among lots of people rather than just within a certain group of Karate practitioners.
40 years ago, when I was 23 years old and had just begun training to become an instructor at the JKA, we started to have competitions against different Karate associations. At the time, because each school had its own style and philosophy towards Karate, it was fascinating to see Kumite with competitors having various different styles of posture, battling with their traditional techniques. For example, one would stand in nekoashidachi and counter with a keri against an attack, or another would just stand as solid as fudo-dachi. Everyone had their own styles and represented their way of Karate differently.
In recent years however, in organized competition, the purpose of it now is to get as many points as one can earn, and the techniques or the styles shown in those kumite matches are alike. Much of the kumite is evaluated as a game, and uniqueness and originality has vanished since. It is disappointing to see Karate lose the original art form throughout the years.
But on the other hand, I feel that because Karate became so popular so rapidly, it grew into a fascinating sport among men and women of all ages.
(IT) What is Karate to you? Also could you please tell us about some good experiences and bad experiences that you may have had through your training.
(MY) Karate represents my life. In the 62 years of my life, I have been engaged to Karate for 55 years. Thus, the spirit, philosophy towards life, behavior, the way I work; all the aspects of my life are acquired through Karate practice and I never regretted any of it. Martial Arts originated from the teachings of Confucianism. Respecting forefathers and elders, and family values are absolute, “A student must never forget to honor their teacher."
(IT) According to past interviews of yours, your karate seems to have been greatly influenced by Yano sensei. Apart from Yano sensei, have there been other Sensei who inspired you?
(MY) Yes, in my trainee years, Yano-Sensei gave me great influence in every perspective. During the days with Yano-Sensei, I developed a spirit that will overcome fear beyond death. Skill-wise, I learned dynamics of rigidity from Yano-sensei, flexibility of techniques from Abe-sensei, razor blade-like kicks and agility from Ueki-sensei, techniques applying torque of your body from Asai-sensei, and in the later years, from our KWF assistant chief instructor Isaka-sensei, I learned the dynamics of shifting the gravity point of my body. Though I still have a lot to learn.
(IT) In what situations were your variety of techniques such as “Change-up moves” or “Surprise Attack” created? Was there someone who made you create these techniques?
(MY) Without the basic skills, you cannot create any artistic, spontaneous movement. When you can have a breakthrough with the basic techniques, then you start to create or change your techniques. The spontaneous movements are no different. I had no one teaching me these kinds of techniques. In any situation, even in an absolute adverse position, my spirit of never-to-quit-fighting automatically positioned my body to turn around spontaneously and battle back against my opponents. So, you may call it as a surprise attack.
(IT) What is “Kime” that you emphasize?
(MY) What I most value in Kime is to be able to strike the target with a blow. We, KWF, have our original training method established to acquire this particular technique.
(IT) You became known for your beautiful “Unsu”. Why did you choose “Unsu” instead of the variety of other Kata? And which part(s) did you particularly pay your attention to when demonstrating it?
(MY) The reason I chose "Unsu" was because my physical ability was suitable for that particular kata. Plus, the other katas were too boring to perform. In the demonstration, the most important thing is to maintain intensity or the "ki" until the last second of the performance. If you cannot maintain the ki, the Kata becomes a "Dead Kata". There are various movements, leaping into the air, laying on the ground, rotating your hips and the body dances wildly. Therefore, you have to control each technique with intensified-ki , as it is easily disrupted. It is impossible to act without extremely-high concentration and exceptional physical ability. Thus, the I way portray Unsu, is like a cumulonimbus cloud, which one must act in a frenzy motion. One can present a kind that is in the autumn sky, but I daringly chose to present the cumulonimbus kind.
(IT) You have amazed audiences with your exciting and powerful fights. How did you set your mentality when you approached each fight and was there any difference between the Kumite and Kata?
(MY) Of course, winning is important under any circumstance. But, to me, there is a more important aspect than winning or losing, and that is how much I can move according to my ideal approach to Karate. In my perfect world of Karate, the central idea of the technique is ‘how you can change a small blow to a massive one’. But this could be the same for everyone. The main difference is how you can magnify your body and represent 3-dimentional space movement in both offense and defense circumstance. Needless to say, in order to do this, you need to have great physical ability and audaciousness. In retrospect, looking back my past kumite bouts, most of the time, I was not fully up to my expectation.
I would say "Ki" as my mindset, regardless of kumite or kata. In kata, it is ki of continuity. One must maintain the ki in order to execute kata. You cannot lose any ki at any moment during the kata. In kumite, sometimes I would release my intensity and take a time to relax during the fight. I would even be humming when I tried to calm myself from haste and nervousness. Not to be silly, but it was a way to create a spiritual state of nothingness. But by creating this power, it enabled me to maximize my power at the very critical moment of attack.
(IT) Did you had trepidation when you were at daily training, big kumite bouts, or during street fights? Please tell us how you get over this fear?
(MY) In any circumstance, I always have a sense of fear to a greater or lesser extent. To conquer that fear, daily training will make you confident. You will start to not to feel the fear, and if you do, the time of it will be short. In the contrary, without building the confidence, the fear becomes larger and eventually you will not be able to confront anything anymore.
(IT) Are there any common aspects to be found in shiai, street fighting, and business do you think?
(MY) What is common about all of this is that you need to have a spirit committed to death. If you are not afraid to die, you can achieve anything. Every human being experiences death. A martial artist must set their ultimate goal to be able to control its own death at any point and moment of their lives. One must be able to leave every bit of the past, present and future. There is nothing you feel fear of. Whether one can do it or not, having this state of mind is absolute.
(IT) You have been traveling around the world teaching Karate for a long time. What points do you emphasize the most when you teach, and does it change depending on the countries / regions and era?
(MY) I always go back to the very basics. Many of the Karate devotees admire the flashy techniques and do kumite without learning the basics. They think they are pretty good Karate fighters, but they look as if they are fighting against no one, like shadow fighting. Kumite is done by exploring the basics of Karate and it can only be kumite by using the basic skills. When I am invited to train with others in foreign countries, I always make sure that I teach the basics, of course the KWF basics.
(IT) From where do your training methods ideas come?
(MY) My original roots of Karate come from Shotokan. Based on their roots, I try to concentrate on how I can defeat with one blow, day and night. Techniques acquired from this training theory eventually leads to gaining techniques to defeat the opponent with a single blow. This is the only focus or idea, so there are no ideas of training methods.
(IT) What is the unique point of KWF Karate?
(MY) As the cruel history of Karate speaks itself, Karate is to knock down the opponent by one blow without bearing any weapon. The question is how to do that against your opponent who is holding weapons just with human’s flesh body. In the KWF way, we bring out effectively all the potential physical ability up to the maximum at every skill of Karate by compressing every necessary part of muscle to the limit so that you can generate the impact power toward the opponent instantly. The reason we compress to the limit is the same mechanism as the bullet of a pistol; the more you stuff the gunpowder into a cartridge case, the more explosive power you will get. This is the unique point of KWF and its applied theory that makes the physical mechanics link to the skills.
(IT) In KWF Karate, the “Oi-zuki” is one of the most important Kihon techniques, and “Heian Shodan” is the most important Kata, why is this?
(MY) KWF emphasize that “Oi-zuki” and ”Oi-geri” are the most important techniques since they are the techniques that are physically able to bring out the maximum power as above said. The reason why we think that “Heian Shodan” is the most important kata is since everything that KWF pursues is simply contained within. You will understand this meaning through the training together with us.
(IT) What points do you emphasize the most when you teach the headquarter instructors? Are you doing anything special? Also, what do you demand from the instructors?
(MY) At our training, we think that it is most important to apply the motor dynamics of 5 parts of body (left and right arms and legs, and hips) to every technique properly. What I demand of the instructors is to be with rapt attention to their will, without being deluded by trends in these latter days.
(IT) We (Shaun Banfield and Emma Robins) joined a seminar of Isaka sensei last year, and found it very interesting. How does Isaka sensei’s training methods inspire you and KWF Karate?
(MY) The method of the movement of center of gravity that Isaka sensei devised made my view of Karate. This feeling cannot be gained without training under the instruction of Isaka sensei. This unique motion of the center of gravity developed my method of the motor dynamics of 5 parts of body, and KWF’s unique skills of “One blow one kill” is composed by these two methods.
(IT) KWF has a global network amongst the affiliates all over the world, what is the future for KWF?
(MY) Pushing forward with rapt attention, without being deluded. It will become a huge group if there are sympathizers, if not, it will only be a self-satisfaction thing, then it will perish. Conducting events etc is our enjoyment in the process of the future.
(IT) What is your dream?
(MY) I have no dream, just accomplish few things in a half way I would like to keep secret in my mind.
(IT) Why did you start Karate training and if hadn’t started, what kind of person would you have become do you think?
(MY) I wanted to become stronger when I was a child. As my older brother was training in karate, I naturally entered the gateway of Karate. I was probably good at 5 senses since I used to be good at drawing pictures, playing guitar, and was interested in music. Therefore, I could possibly have become an artist if I was not a Karateka.
(IT) What kind of training are you doing daily? Are there any changes compared to the karate you were doing when you were a trainee or during your competitive career?
(MY) My karate has changed in the last 10 years. I used to be called “a man who naturally possesses a strong spring in the body”, and the strength of skills, “Kime” and quickness that were surpassing other people when I was young. However the quickness that I used to possess at youth declines year by year after leaving my competitive career. Isaka sensei’s training of the motion of the center of gravity is impossible to practice without compressing all the joints and muscles of 5 parts of the body to the limit. It is like the piston motion in the cylinder making the massive energy explode by hydraulic compression. After the application of this motion method to the human body, I could start creating stronger force than the force I used possess in my youth. In brief, I depended on my inborn spring when I was young, and over the years, I created new spring through my inquiring and training. This is the process of my training and practice.