MIKIO YAHARA 8th Dan
KARATENOMICHI WORLD FEDERATION CHIEF INSTRUCTOR
‘Yahara’ – a name that both conjures fear and demands respect in the same breath. His reputation as a fierce fighter with an absolute determination for seeking the ‘One killing blow’ has made him both a feared opponent and respected teacher, so much so that his name has practically become synonymous with ‘Bujitsu Karate’ itself.
Mikio Yahara, born in 1947, in Ehime prefecture, started his Martial Art training in Judo, very similar to many of his peers. He however then went on to start practicing karate, and became a part of the JKA. After University, he then enrolled in the infamous JKA Instructor Class, and his reputation both as competitor and a teacher propelled his fame internationally. Nakayama Sensei, when writing about Yahara Sensei in his ‘Best Karate Series’, wrote ‘Mikio Yahara is a karateKa whose daredevil style of fighting in the midst of a heated contest leaves spectators breathless’.
Perhaps the main essence of Yahara is his single mindedness as a karate-ka. He has a dogged determination and tenacity and will not give in, nor will he back off. His need to ‘win’ (the actual battle not the shiai) was likely the reason why he is termed by some ‘the Japan champion who never won!). He would get disqualified or disallowed techniques as he would often fight with too much ‘Shinken Shobu’ and did not conform to the ‘sport rules’. He performs a living kata, but more so a kumite with the feeling of ‘Jissen’, almost a real battle.
In 2000, he established (KWF) Karatenomichi World Federation, with Akihito Isaka(a man who is actually his senior) as his Assistant Chief Instructor, along with an exciting list of senior names. The Ultimate philosophy, the ‘One killing blow’, which is central to both Yahara Sensei and KWF, is the central and definitive objective.
KWF Karate has a ‘rawness’ a sense of the old JKA from the 50’s and 60’s, and does not conform readily to what some see as modern karate. Yahara is a fascinating, charismatic, sometimes misunderstood character. This interview gives a small insight into Yahara the man, as well as Yahara the karate-ka.– Shaun Banfield & Robert Sidoli
Interview Questions By Robert Sidoli, Shaun Banfield and Yuko Kallender-Umezu. Interview Conducted by Yuko Kallender-Umezu, and translated by Paul Kallender-Umezu. Many thanks to the above named and Alex Chichvarin for providing photography.
(Yuko Kallender-Umezu) Sensei, I know you have been interviewed many times, but if possible, I would like to focus on some different aspects and find your views on them. At 18, you left Ehime for Tokyo. What was it that made you want to leave home to study karate when there must have been dojos in your area? I believe your brother was a karate-ka for example?
(Mikio Yahara) I first started learning Karate from my older brother. When I was at high school, I joined the Judo club. But I didn’t feel it was enough. So I found and joined a local machi dojo. This happened to be a JKA dojo. However, when I was in Junior High School, I was diagnosed with a heart disorder and I could hardly walk a hundred meters.
(YKU) So you had a heart problem?
(MY) Yes, that’s right. But anyway, in High School I joined the Judo club because I didn’t want to be weak, and I wanted to overcome my heart condition. I didn’t want to be defeated by it, so I joined the club. But, as I said it wasn’t enough, so I joined the local Karate club in the city, and that happened to be a Shotokan Karate dojo. At that time there was TV drama called Karate no Fuunji (Karate Guy). In the drama, the actor was actually a real-life Karate-ka. They did this because an actor couldn’t have done the action scenes. It turned out that most of the actors in the drama turned out to be JKA instructors.
When I heard this story from my local dojo, I was very impressed that Karate instructors could do such a thing. I thought this was great, so I decided I wanted to go to the JKA Honbu and be like that. On top of that, the JKA not only was the most famous in Japan, but they had dojos worldwide. So my big initial motivation was to join the JKA HQ to become an instructor and I wanted to be able to become involved in a life that would take me all round the world. I had this big vision.
(YKU) You trained at Kokushikan University, what did your training consist of and what was the main focus of the training?
(MY) I joined Kokushikan University club but no one was stronger than me and when I went to the club to practice, most of my sempai disappeared. Basically they were scared of practicing with Yahara. Basically, even in college days, most of my practice was therefore at the JKA Hombu. Sometimes I had to miss the HQ practice because classes were late and I had to go to the university club. Mostly, if you don’t attend the university club regularly, you get punished.
In my case, I went there to punish most of the people. In terms of developing my techniques, at that time I felt that Kokushin University club wasn’t doing me much good or harm. Almost all of my development was at the JKA Hombu. But please don’t get me wrong, I am not complaining about Kokushikan and this is no disrespect to the OB. It’s just that my development was forged at the JKA Hombu. Kokushikan University Club was well established with over a 100 members.
(YKU) So you can’t say that Kokushikan University was weak?
(MY) Well the strongest university in those days was Takushoku, That’s not to say that Kokushikan was weak, but I was stronger than any of the students there. I also went to practice at Komazawa University and Nodai and Nihon Taiku Daigaku but I never lost a fight (laughs). Those universities at that time had good reputations and were considered strong clubs. So to summarize, my home ground was the Hombu, but if I couldn’t make it on time, I went to university club practice. It takes about an hour to get to the Sohombu.
(YKU) After university you followed the footsteps of many JKA greats by entering the JKA Hombu. Who were your main teachers and what was the training like in comparison to Kokushikan?
(MY) When I joined, Enoeda sensei and Shirai sensei were already overseas to England and Italy but Kanazawa sensei had just got back. Nakayama sensei was teaching us and practicing with us. Nakayama sensei was the main instructor and Kanazawa sensei was assisting. Also Ochi sensei was still there.
There was no comparison between the HQ and university practice. At the university, there was never any fear involved, but on the way to the JKA, I was always worried, can I get through this without injury, will I actually get really hurt. So just before entering the dojo each time I had to steel myself for the coming practice. I had to brace myself because there were so many strong and famous instructors there.
(YKU) What made you decide to become Kenshusei?
(MY) The reason why I became a trainee was because I wanted to learn real Karate and real techniques and the JKA could give me those techniques and opportunities. I wanted to have those great JKA techniques and by assimilating those, I wanted to explore the world teaching Karate. I wanted to surprise people by showing great, beautiful Karate techniques.
I have to emphasize again that the difference in level between the technique at university and the Honbu- that difference is between amateur level and professional level. Nowadays students tend to win competitions and that shows the difference between those days and today. It shows that the level of professional and
amateur are becoming indistinguishable, they are blurring into each other.
The reason why is that Karate is turning more into a sports, like a game.
Once you enter that path where Karate becomes a sport, you start to loose the idea of the need to be a professional, of what it is to be a professional. Since I know the difference between what is a professional and an amateur, I have to draw a clear line, make a clear distinction between real Karate at a professional level and sports-type Karate by amateurs. It is essential that people understand this difference. I want to preserve and maintain the professional level of techniques, and that is one of the purposes of the KWF.
(YKU) As a competitor you entered both Kata and Kumite. You seem to have applied the same determination to both. Which discipline did you prefer?
(MY) In my case, the purpose of practicing Kata is to reinforce and build up my strength in Kumite. In order to make your Kumite stronger, you must practice Kata, and Kata is the most traditional practice method. My Kata is not for competition purposes; my Kata is for actual fighting training. In my old Unsu video with the JKA, it is said that there is “soul” in Yahara’s Unsu. The reason why there is soul is because I put my soul into my Kata. I practice Kata to fight. In terms of my mental state, Kumite and Kata are the same.
(YKU) Bujitsu/Budo are very important concepts to you and your idea of karate. Please explain a little about them and how they relate to karate?
(MY) The concept of Bujutsu is to defend your life and body against attack with martial techniques, and each technique is a Bujutsu. The word Bu includes the meaning of protect yourself while simultaneously defeating your attacker. Do is supposed to be a very steep and tough path you have to climb to practice and perfect those techniques. This path is the practice, the long repetition, the forging of technique, of body, of mind.
To take this path, to enter into this path or way of life, this meant a professional or personal or spiritual meaning-for example to serve as a retainer to the King, or to protect your family, or for promotion of your social status, to establish yourself- because being strong is the key to your own success. Now, in order for you to become strong you have to fight. But for fighting, you have to risk your life. And in order to fight well you need to be in a state of Mu, or nothingness. You can’t be in a state of feeling fear, of wanting to do this or that. This is a state of Shugyo, or mental training, to fulfil your purpose. This is in additional to physical training to improve your technique.
There are two elements to being strong- being physically trained and to be mentally trained, and when you fight, you have to be strong in both. Basically to be really strong you have to have both. If you don’t have a strong mentality, you won’t be able to establish a good technique. For example, I could say, if you get exhausted so you can’t perform a technique, it could show your mental weakness, or on the other hand, if your technique becomes stronger, your confidence improves. So we can say that there are two elements that exist in a symbiotic relationship so that to become stronger you have to train both of them. Under that, there is a correspondence between mental strength and technique- strong technique comes from strong mental training.
Therefore training to establish a better technique should include giving you confidence and that confidence is part of a strong mentality, which should nurture you towards setting yourself new targets technically. So the focus on establishing good technique is essential to making people mentally tougher.
In Budo, there are certain purposes that you can achieve, everyone has their own purposes, and in order to achieve those purposes, training and improving and perfecting techniques while having a strong mental attitude is important. Without training and polishing both of these, you will not be able to achieve your targets. What you have to do is to eliminate your ego, you have to have the strength to eliminate your own ego, to achieve a state of Mu, if you are to do this, a state of no emotion- no fear, no anger, no emotion attached, and no attachment to life itself.
(YKU) One of your philosophies is that “Every single punch, every single kick, should brim with the energy, poised on the edge, to unleash a killing blow.” Is Ikken Hisatsu” essential to the true understanding of karate as bujitsu?
(MY) Without Ichigeki Hisatsu, I cannot exist. In Ichigeki Hitatsu, this is a life-or-death battle. This is what I do. To perform Shinken Shobu means or can literally be translated to be - if you make a mistake you die, the instant consequence of loosing is death. So what kind of training is required to perform Shiken Shobu? What kind of learning is important in this process? In the old days, Samurai had a sword and once that sword was unsheathed, it was the end - either for his enemy or him.
Once the katana is unsheathed, blood will follow, either that of your opponent or yours. Once the sword is unsheathed, it’s the end. Therefore, in a Karate context, my feeling is that if I move, I kill the opponent, or be killed. So, I want to achieve the same level of mental stamina and strength as with Shinken Shobu. Also, for my personal pride, I have to win if I move. And in order to win, I have to kill my enemy.
(YKU) Although this is a term many would relate to Chado’ Ichi-go ichi-e "one time, one meeting" is linked to both Zen Buddhism and sometimes Budo. In a life-or-death battle there is no second chance to "try again." Would this philosophy accord with your idea of karate?
(MY) Well, for example in competition these days, if you loose a fight in a competition you can get a consolation match - and I think this is total nonsense. Our way thinking, or in Budo Karate, we can’t imagine having such a rule. Once you are defeated you are finished. Of course behind this, there is a real difference between real fighting and sports matches. What I am actually trying to convey is that you must treat each opportunity as if it is your only one chance - that is why there is a value of meeting people and spending time for the moment together.
So in terms of Karate fighting, you must throw your technique as if it’s your one and only chance, and you must do it with full responsibility and without regret, put all your energy into that one technique. For Budoka, having pride is very important, and having that pride is one of the most important things. In a real fight, you actually have to throw away your pride. This is a little bit of a different issue- but from my own experience, if I win, I have the maai and my attack is totally in control…I know that even before I attack, my opponent is already defeated. That’s how I win.
PART 2 OF THIS EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH MIKIO YAHARA WILL CONTINUE IN THE NEXT EDITION…
For more information on KWF Karate, please visit www.kwf.jp