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Martial arts master’s greatest joy is teaching others

By: Takeshi Shimabukuro

Date Posted: 2002-02-07

Kiyoshi Yogi is a master of karate and Ryukyu kobudou (traditional Okinawan martial arts) and director of Yogi Karate and Ryukyu Kobudou Gymnasium School. Yet it is not his many professional accomplishments and titles he likes to talk about, but rather the joy of teaching the thousands of apprentices he has trained over the years. “My apprentices are hard workers; the more they learn from me, the better results they achieve in tournaments. That’s the best part of teaching karate and kobudou,” he says. “Good results now are the key to how much harder they will work in the future. Each student is different, and the title-winners and would-be title-winners know how to train themselves through the power of the mind. Or, at least, they strive to learn how to do that.”

Kobudou (“ko” means old and “budou” is martial arts in Japanese) is a traditional Okinawan martial art harking back to the days of the Ryukyu Kingdom. Yogi explains the origins of kobudou: “In the old days, farmers did not have sophisticated weapons to fight with, so they learned to protect themselves and their families from outside enemies with agricultural implements and everyday tools. That developed into Ryukyu kobudou, and as a result of these humble beginnings this martial arts form does not go against the traditional Okinawan sprit of ‘shurei’ [showing good manners towards others]. Stated simply, kobudou is a form of karate using items of daily use from the Ryukyu Kingdom. Kobudou has a long history, and some of its elements are said to have traveled all the way from India and China.“

Ryukyu kobudou comprises four types: bou, nunchaku, sai and tonfer. A bou (wooden stick) is six shaku (about six feet) long. The nunchaku is very similar to the two short arms connected by a chain as seen in Bruce Lee movies. The sai (or jutte, used by Japanese samurai) has a shape similar to Buddhist altar pieces from India. A tonfer is believed to originally have been the grip of a hand mill.

Yogi teaches technique, the proper state of mind and the behavior and manners of Uechi Ryu karate and kobudou to thousands of apprentices, with tough trainees both on and off Okinawa. At his local dojo alone, he has 15 adults and 30 children as apprentices. In the Kanto area’s Chiba Prefecture, 80 students study at a branch of his school. Canada has 30 apprentices, Argentina 500 and India 1,000.

An official competition judge as well, Yogi often takes part in tournaments himself. These experiences help him retain a keen sense of the struggle inherent in matches. It’s also a chance for him to think about how a judge makes decisions. He enjoys taking part in matches at karate and kobudou tournaments in which his own students are participating. “Naturally, we come across each other in the course of the tournament. We always enjoy competing, but I never lose,” he says.

Yogi has produced many title winners at karate and martial arts tournaments. At the first worldwide karate and kobudou championship tournament, which was held on Okinawa in 1999, he and his apprentices clinched seven titles among them. Yumi Sakima, a female participant, and Tomoichirou Nagamine became the first champions in the bou and sai divisions during that competition. Other high-ranked apprentices have also taken the championships in numerous divisions at various tournaments.

As for his personal history, Yogi has been doing karate since his high school days and kobudou for more than 15 years. He recently won the worldwide championship tournament two years running.

Yogi talked about his personal execution of a special skill called sunkei, or breaking a stack of bricks. This technique is normally performed by using an upraised fist, but Yogi can smash the piled bricks without even lifting his hand up into the air. With his open fist resting on top of the stack, he concentrates and focuses his mind on the task. He is then able to split the bricks without removing his hand from the top brick.

Yogi delightedly talks about the excitement and fun of meeting many famous stars through martial arts. He proudly displays a picture of Stan the Man, who used to be the Australian K1 champion. He also met well-known Japanese singers Tsuyoshi Nagabuchi and Etsuko Shihomi last December, when they came to Okinawa on holiday, as well as ultimate martial arts enthusiast Sanae Kikuta. Members of the famous Okinawan dance group, MAX, have taken lessons from him, and due to his fame as a karate and kobudou master, he is often invited to the United States and other countries to give demonstrations.

Yogi concludes by relating an interesting fact: Martial arts compliment traditional Okinawan music, and he and his apprentices often give demonstrations to the sounds of sanshin and taiko drums. He has also performed his art to the songs of Diamantes vocalist Alberto Shiroma and famous Okinawan singer Taichi Hirata. “The karate, kobudou and Okinawan music combination is beyond description. The rhythm and melody are perfectly matched to our art,” he says.

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