Mikio Yahara: His Way of Traditional Karate
Mikio Yahara is one of the most dynamic practitioners of Shotokan Karate to come out of the Japan Karate Association. Early on, Masatoshi Nakayama described him as the best fighter of his generation. To this day, traditional Karate is his passion, a former JKA Grand Champion. As a result, he is first and foremost a martial artist, a practitioner of traditional karate obsessed with returning Karate back to its budo roots. Yahara has a no-nonsense approach to his Karate.
Early Life of Mikio Yahara
Yahara was born on 4 April 1947 in the fishing village Namikata-Machi, Ehime Prefecture. He was the fourth son of a prominent family with samurai roots on his father’s side. His mother’s family were descended from pirates.
Growing up, he was a boisterous child who loved to fight. Therefore, at an early age, he became interested in Karate as his older brother practiced it. In an effort to calm him down, his brother taught him Karate, from the age of seven.
A few years later in 1954 Yahara went to junior school. However, he had a heart attack and was diagnosed with a heart condition. As a result, doctors thought he would not live past the age of twenty.
Almost ten years later, while a high school student, Yahara joined the school’s Judo club in 1963, refusing to be limited by his condition. Even in his youth he displayed what would come to be known as his characteristic strong will. He wanted to get stronger, which he did. Eventually, he reached the rank of second Dan in Judo.
How Mikio Yahara Discovered Karate
While excelling in Judo, Yahara joined a local Karate club affiliated with the Japan Karate Association. His teacher was Yagi Sensei, an instructor who came from the JKA Honbu in Tokyo. As with his earlier life in Judo, Yahara advanced quickly in karate. By 1964 he had been promoted to first dan. It was not long before he soon dreamed of becoming an instructor.
At that time, JKA instructors were normally selected from the best university graduates. Knowing this and wanting to be near the JKA Honbu, Yahara enrolled at Kokushikan University, Tokyo, in 1966. He soon joined the university’s Karate club.
By this time, his childhood condition was no longer an issue, and he had grown into a strong young man. Yahara’s instructor at the club was Kenji Yano. Training sessions were hard, and in some cases frightening. Many students left the club. Yahara was one of the few students to remain.
Through his dedication, Yahara became one of the best Karateka at the club. For example, he practised at the JKA Hombu, which helped develop his approach to traditional Karate. He sometimes practised at the Karate clubs at Komazawa, Nodai, and Nihon Taiku Daigaku universities. But, his seniors at the Kokushikan University Club soon avoided him due to his toughness.
From Student to Instructor
By 1971 Yahara had graduated from Kokushikan University and joined the JKA Instructors Course. Masatoshi Nakayama, Hirokazu Kanazawa, and Hideo Ochi were his main instructors on the course, while Kenji Yano was his Sempai (Senior).
As previously stated, Yano had been Yahara’s instructor at University. Nicknamed the “Destroyer,” Yano took sadistic pleasure in intimidating and beating up students. Moreover, he looked for ways to hurt his opponent during sparring sessions, especially grades below him.
As his kohai (junior), Yahara usually faced the worst of Yano’s aggressiveness. But he frequently had to go to hospital because of injuries he sustained. However, his pride would not let him quit. He would attend the next training session even though he was injured. In time he earned Yano’s respect for never backing down. By his own admission, he hated Yano. However, he respected is aggressiveness and strength.
During this time, another instructor who had a profound influence on Yahara was Keigo Abe. Abe was known for his exceptional technical ability.
Yahara tried to model himself on Abe’s technique and Yano’s spirit. Even from these early days of his training, Budo was at the forefront of his training, even in kata. For him, kata based in traditional karate was not for competition or grading but for making his kumite stronger.
Life of Competition
In 1972 Yahara’s international competitive career began in Paris, France. Two years later he graduated from the Instructors Course and started actively competing and teaching.
Subsequently, Yahara taught at the JKA Honbu. He had achieved his goal of becoming a JKA Instructor. But, he also taught at several dojo is on the outskirts of Tokyo. Teaching at these dojos sometimes meant he was involved in “dojo-yaburi,” dojo challenges between different Karate styles.
At the JKA All Japan Karate Championships, Yahara was a phenomenal competitor in both kata and kumite. He always featured in the top three positions in each event. During these years from 1975 to 1984, he faced some of the top competitors of the time, that included Masahiko Tanaka, Yoshiharu Osaka, and Toshihiro Mori.
In 1984 Yahara became JKA Grand Champion. He won the kata event defeating Masao Kagawa in the final. He came third in the kumite event won by Hideo Yamamoto.
Yahara also competed in three IAKF World Championships. At the 1977 Championships held in Tokyo, Japan, he finished second behind Yoshiharu Osaka in the kata event. At the 1980 Championships held in Bremen, Germany, he lost to Osaka in the final. He faced Osaka again in the final of the 4th IAKF Championships, losing to him.
Mikio Yahara: From Competitor to Teacher
In 1984 Yahara retired from competing. As a kumite competitor he was known for his dynamic and innovative techniques. He was a fan favourite and had many memorable matches. As a kata competitor his main kata was Unsu. He always performed the kata as if he was in a life or death situation. His major tournament successes include:
- IAKF World Championships, Individual Kata – 2nd place (1977, 1980, 1983)
- JKA All Japan Karate Championships, Grand Champion (1984)
- JKA All Japan Karate Championships, Individual Kata – 1st place (1984)
- JKA All Japan Karate Championships, Individual Kata – 2nd place (1978, 1980, 1981, 1982, 1983)
- JKA All Japan Karate Championships, Individual Kumite – 2nd place (1975, 1998)
- JKA All Japan Karate Championships, Individual Kumite – 3rd place (1976, 1979, 1982, 1984)
Yahara featured in Masatoshi Nakayama’s Best Karate series published in 1979. He appeared in the following books:
- Demonstrating basic techniques (Book 2)
- Kumite against Masaaki Ueki and also against Keigo Abe (Book 3)
- Performing Kanku-sho kata (Book 9)
- Performing Unsu kata (Book 10)
In 1987 the Chief Instructor of the JKA, Masatoshi Nakayama, died. His death led to rival factions vying for control over the JKA. The Nakahara Faction was led by businessman Nobuyuki Nakahara. This faction included Masaaki Ueki, Yoshiharu Osaka, and Masahiko Tanaka. The rival Matsuno faction was led by Tetsuhiko Asai, and included Keigo Abe, Akihito Isaka, Yahara, and Masao Kagawa. What followed was a 10-year legal battle between the two factions.
Mikio Yahara’s Personal Life
By the 1990’s Yahara had established a personal security company. As a part of his business he had many run-ins with the Yakuza. He had to regularly move house to avoid being killed. These encounters made in value the importance of the Budo approach to traditional Karate. The core principle of Ikken Hisatsu, “one killing blow” became a fundamental part of his training.
Over time the Yakuza came to have a healthy respect for Yahara. There is a famous story in Japan of Yahara fighting 34 Yakuza members, who had targeted him and his company. He survived the encounter.
From JKA to KWF
In 1999 the Nakahara Faction of the JKA won the legal battle between them and the Matsuno Faction. A Japanese High Court ruling awarded them the sole rights to the JKA name.
Following the court ruling, the Asai Faction left the JKA. The Faction split to form the following groups:
- Japan Karate Shotokai (JKS) led by Tatsuhiko Asai
- Japan Shotokan Karate Association (JSKA) led by Keigo Abe
- Karatenomichi World Federation (KWF) led by Yahara
Eventually, the KWF was established in April 2000. ” Karatenomichi” means “the way of Karate.” Yahara had not been happy with the direction Karate was taking. He wanted Karate to be more Budo-orientated. His teachings were based on the principle of “Ichigeki Hissatsu” – “one strike.” Much emphasis was placed on perfecting basic techniques through repetition. He was not against Sport Karate. However, his criticism is that everyone moves in the same way to win a point. Sport Karate lacks variety or uniqueness in fighters.
In 2006 Yahara was promoted to 8th Dan, aged 59. During his grading he broke three ribs of an opponent with a single punch.
The last several years has seen Yahara build the KWF into one of the biggest Shotokan associations in the world. Apart from running his business, he travels the world giving training courses and seminars in traditional karate. Away from Karate he practices Iaido. He is a fan of classical music, especially that of Russian composer, Tchaikovsky. Mikio Yahara is one of the most dynamic fighters to come out of the JKA. His unique fighting style made him a fan favourite. However, it is his exploration of Budo Karate that has made him one of the most important Karate Masters today.