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Paul Herbert 5th Dan
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Sensei Mikio Yahara demonstrating his superb kicking ability



Mikio Yahara seeking the definitive killing blow‘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 Sensei Yahara teaching the finer points of the use of the hipssome 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.



(YKU)     In Nakayama Sensei’s   Best Karate Series you demonstrate ‘Last Chance Technique’ as an example kani basami - the “crab claws”.  Would you please describe your view of ‘last chance’ technique?


(MY)     If you throw your first attack, this should be as if its your last attack, this is the appropriate, proper attack, the legitimate way. But IF you fail, then this is a very Bushido concept, niku o kirashite, hone o tatsu, this is a sutemi waza, a sacrifice technique: it means you let the opponent slash your flesh, but you break your opponent’s bone. In other words, you are prepared to sacrifice your own body, put yourself in great peril so that you can kill your opponent.


In this case, it’s OK if you get hit or knocked down, but it is then essential that you take your opponent down. So with my kani basami, I go down with the opponent, which is a great risk; if I fail to take my opponent down, my opponent will attack back and probably, in this case kani basami cannot be considered real sutemi waza.


Sensei Yahara laughingI demonstrated this for my 8th dan- and this was the first time I tried it in 30 years. The way I do it is different from what might be considered the standard way. In my case I kick and at the same time I break the opponent’s center of gravity to bring him down, so there are two different things happening at once.


Nakayama sensei categorized kani basami as a sutemi waza, but I don’t regard my kani basami as a sutemi waza.


But anyway, the very important thing to remember about sutemi waza is not only the technique, but also the mental commitment - you have to know that you use this attack because you are prepared to die in attempting it.


Another thing I wan to stress is that Sutemi waza is not a kind of explanation word for a technique; it’s more like a mental state. No matter what kind of technique you use, if you do it, it means that you are prepared to risk damage to yourself in order to bring down your opponent, that mental attitude is sutemi waza. Sutemi waza is not the name of a category of techniques; it’s a mental attitude for a certain strategy of fighting.


(YKU)     It has been said that you are one of the last ‘real’ karate-ka. Karate is obviously not a sport to you, what do you consider to be ‘real’ in karate?


(MY)     I am just doing Karate. That’s all (laughs)


(YKU)     Why did ShotoKan become so popular, do you think, when it was transferred to Japan?Yahara Sensei eating and socialising


(MY)     When Funakoshi sensei first introduced Karate to Japan, as a guest of the Japanese government from Okinawa to present Karate and Okinawan culture, he made his presentation in front of elite representatives, including the elite from the Budo world, including Jigoro Kano. But Funakoshi sensei was admired and respected by those people, and elite university students were also impressed, including students from Todai and Waseda etc, who were later to become important figures in government, business and society. These are the people that welcomed Funakoshi sensei. So initially Shotokan karate was promulgated amongst the top-level universities. Once they graduated, Shotokan and its network spread through Japan. Intelligent people very well organized and formed great networks, so Shotokan had a very strong foundation to form a strong organization.


The JKA became well organized and this was very different from some other types of Karate, which sometimes consisted of individual sensei teaching in disparate dojos in different towns. In those days karate looked new and mysterious and fascinating and people got curious and interested in Karate. So this meant that a lot of people flooded in to learn. For example, punching and kicking and moving the body was fascinating compared to using a weapon. Traditional Japanese Budo tactics are to barge into your opponent and knock him down, then you give the final attack- atemi- but Karate didn’t do that, which was a very novel concept to other Budoka. At that time, in other martial arts, the atemi (knock -out blow) of Karate looked fascinating and new.



(YKU)     Many karate-ka see Shotokan as comprising of three distinct and possibly separate disciplines, Kihon, Kata and Kumite. You believe that “By forging basic technique or Kihon within Kata, we then train to develop our Kihon technique and movement to the ultimate extreme. Then finally, when this is mastered it becomes an effective Kumite technique.”  Without effective Kihon can a person still develop a real ability inSensei executing Shuto Uke Kumite?


(MY)     Kihon is the form that allows the human body to create maximum power, and to maximize the potential power that can be unleashed by the body. Without correct Kihon, there is no Karate. So correct Kihon means developing a stable form, a platform, a stable movement with balance that can produce the maximum power. If you can’t apply these principles into Kumite movement, that Kumite is not Karate, it becomes sports fighting.


The KWF Kihon brings this concept into an extreme form. Some people say that maximizing the Kihon movement slows down the actual speed, for example rotating hips to the limit actually slows down the speed of the technique. The thing is, are you going to win by speed or are you going to hit your with real destructive power? For competition, speed might matter, but in KWF we are focusing on developing power, so in the KWF we are studying how to create and make a massive level of destructive power from technique.


Speed is important, but if there is no power, no bang behind the punch or the kick, in a real fight the opponent can hit you back. However, when people see my Karate they see I am very fast. And that’s an important part. With sports Karate, the main purpose of training is to learn to move fast. But in the KWF, or with my training, the purpose is to generate power, to learn how to compress and contract and expand the body and the speed comes from that, from training to generate maximum power.  That’s the difference. Therefore the heaviness and destructive power is totally different even if the KWF technique is at the same speed or at a marginally slower speed.


If you train to create speed the movement becomes light, and the attack becomes very light. My technique and KWF training is not designed to create speed, it is designed to generate maximum power, and speed automatically comes from this anyway.


If you fight against a person who has a sword, if you don’t knock him down, or knock him out with one blow, you’ll get chopped to pieces. So please think about what sort of technique you want to develop if you find yourself in a real fight.


The Class cleaning the floor after training(YKU)     You are known for your rendition of Unsu as a competitor. Do you have a favourite kata?


(MY)     My favorite Kata are still Unsu and Empi. I really don’t know how to explain why I like them. In Empi, the biggest characteristic for me is koshi no kire, the extremely sharp and quick and dramatic hip movements, the bang-bang-bang, which really fits my need of self-expression. I don’t like the slow-type Kata such as Sochin, which Osaka sensei was excellent at - so we had a very sort of opposite character I suppose, but I really respected him. I guess I am not patient enough to move slowly.


(YKU)     You perform some movements in kata differently to other organisations, for example in Bassai Dai there is no knee raise prior to executing Yama zuki. Is there a reason for this difference?


(MY)     Well there is tendency for Kata these days to have become a little bit over decorative, but actually, the original Kata were all quite simple. And actually a lot of unnecessary and extraneous movements have been accreted to Kata over the years. What I am doing in cutting things like the knee raise is taking the Kata back to their older simplicity. However this process is not totally bringing them back to their original forms. I am actually slightly modernizing some elements to fit present needs.


(YKU)     Certain kata have very exotic movements such as in Sochin the arm moving from under the armpit and then executing tate shuto? Are these movements throw backs to an earlier era as opposed to purely fighting application?


Sensei Teaching Unsu in Russia(MY)     The reason for this question is a misunderstanding of the past. The reason for this movement is simply to move the sleeves back out of the way- remember people wore Kimono. To understand Kata movement fully, it’s actually important to know about the local lifestyle in Okinawa.


Understanding Karate fully requires initially knowing how people lived. In the old days there was no Jiyu Ippon Kumite practice. There was just ippon, just the opponent came in, and you attacked back. It was very simple. So please remember that the old karate was very plain and simple.  The concept of free fighting was established by Nakayama sensei


(YKU)     The KWF perform Jiyu Ippon Kumite where the attacker is expected to knock his or her opponent down with a single blow and that blow only to be stopped by a very strong block.   Essentially the whole body must be fully utilised to produce dynamic and extremely strong techniques that are explosively powerful. Do you see Jiyu Ippon Kumite as the proving ground of such training?


(MY)     Jiyu Ippon Kumite is the essence of JKA Kumite and the KWF carries this on this tradition. Jiyu ippon Kumite can be seen in Shiai, and in Jiyu Kumite. It can be seen in everything. But that Jiyu Ippon Kumite has to have perfect Kihon.


Mikio Yahara(YKU)     In contrast to Jiyu Ippon Kumite at dojo level Jiyu Kumite sees opponents being expected to exercise control at every point, as injuring yourself or your opponent is considered symptomatic of poor technique. Could you explain your views please?


(MY)     If you get injured, it means that your technique is not good enough. If you accidentally injure your opponent, again, that is lack of technique. However, if you attack your opponent to, and you deliberately mean to, injure your opponent that requires great control.


(YKU)     During championships, the KWF prefer the victor of a match to win by oi-zuki or oi-geri rather than by any other technique; and then only a clean strong blow will result in a point being scored. Why does KWF prefer the oi-zuki or oi-geri?


(MY)     In sports Karate, often a punch is just from the arm, and a kick is just from the leg, which means you are only using a superficial of the body. The inner dynamism of the fights is lost. However, to launch an effective attack, you have to throw it with all your body behind it and you should be able to do this over some sort of distance. I think oi-zuki and oi-geri are the strongest techniques because you are shifting your weight into the opponent. I would like to stick with those strongest techniques.


I would like to bring Karate back to Budo Karate as much as I can and this also means keeping a big distance between opponent so that you can secure your own territory and attack across a distance. If you are throwing a small or superficialKWF Championships, please note Master Kanazawa and Sensei Murakami in the background technique, then you can do this safely across a short distance. But if you are going to generate a very powerful oi-zuki or oi-geri, you are going to need a certain distance to do this in order to generate the power.


In this context, you need to have a long maai and in this long maai you can generate very powerful oi-zuki or oi-geri, and the other side of this is that you can generate the ichi-geki you need to down your opponent while protecting yourself.


So if you perform a correct oi-geri or oi-zuki, you need the correct maai, a certain amount of distance, and you should use these techniques in shiai- this is the KWF style of shiai. In regular training, training is mainly focused on oi-zuki and oi-geri and rotation of the hips. And recently we have established a system and a curiculum so that people at sandan level are able to achieve that good oi-Gojushiho Shozuki or oi-geri in competition. This is quite an unique style and system compared to other organizations, I think. 


An effective oi-zuki or oi-geri embody all the necessary body and hip movement.


(YKU)     How has karate been effective in your life?


(MY)     I am not sure whether this is good or bad, positive or negative, but Karate has definitely made me a very stubborn person. My way of thinking is dominated by Karate. Everything I do is based on Karate, its timing, its rhythm its maai…when dealing with people I sense how close I can get to them. In terms of human relationships, I always check my maai and his or her maai and my kokyu.


(TSW)     Many thanks Sensei for your kind willingness to being interviewed for our project and may we wish you every success for the future!






For more information on KWF Karate, please visit www.kwf.jp