Konishi Yasuhiro: The Hidden History of Karate’s Hardcore Hero

Does success always equal fame?

If your answer is yes, how come you have never heard of Donald Bradman?

Probably because sir Donald Bradman (1908-2001) was an Australian cricket player. (You know, cricket; that ol’ English bat-and-ball game which at first view looks similar to baseball). Now, although cricket isn’t the world’s most well-known sport, it is safe to say that Donald Bradman – a virtual legend in the cricket world – was actually the best athlete who ever lived.

That’s right.

Sir Donald Bradman (1908-2001)

The best athlete who ever lived.

All sports combined.

(And most people have never heard his name!)

By any statistical measure, sir Donald Bradman (or “The Don”, as he was sometimes called) was comparatively the very best at what he did. He was far better at cricket than, for example, Michael Jordan was at basketball, Wayne Gretzky at ice hockey or Jack Nicklaus was at golf.

It’s very difficult to be as good as Donald Bradman.

In fact, it’s pretty much impossible.

Bradman’s batting average of 99.94 has been claimed to be statistically the greatest achievement in any major sport (because his batting average is 4.4 standard deviations above the average of other cricket players), with the great Pelé coming in second on that list (at 3.7 standard deviations above the mean for goals per game) in soccer.

In other words, Donald “The Don” Bradman is, statistically, the greatest athlete ever to play ANY sport.

As journalist John Kieran wrote in the New York Times (in 1932) – “According to evidence submitted by interested parties, Donald Bradman makes so many runs that the scorekeepers no longer go into the details choosing merely to ring a bell as he passes each century. He simply keeps hitting and running until some sensible person in the stands suggest a cup of tea.”

And the cool thing is, The Don dominated his peers not because of greater height, strength or size (like a lot of modern famous athletes do, especially in combat sports) but purely with his amazing skills.

Apparently, Walt Disney even named Donald Duck after him!

(Seriously… this guy was off the hook!)

But here I go, digressing again.

You see, what I really wanted to talk about today wasn’t cricket, sports or even records.

I’m here to talk Karate.

I just used cricket, and the remarkable example of Don Bradman, to highlight the fact that even though you might statistically be the best athlete to ever live, you don’t necessarily have to be as famous as comparably “less talented” athletes like Lance Armstrong, Mike Tyson, Tiger Woods, David Beckham and others.

Success doesn’t always equal fame.

And the same goes for Karate, of course.


Have you ever heard of Konishi Yasuhiro?

I bet you haven’t.

(If you have: Congratulations! You have now earned official Karate Nerd™ bragging rights for a full 1,5 minutes in your next Karate class!)

Konishi Yasuhiro sensei (1893-1983)

Konishi Yasuhiro (1893-1983), perhaps the most successful leading pioneer of Karate from the Japanese mainland, was by far one of the most important figures in contemporary Karate history.

No joke.

It is safe to say this: Not only was he one of the driving forces behind getting Karate accepted in Japan as a “new” martial art from rural Okinawa, but he was also one of the main sponsors for Karate legends like Mabuni Kenwa (founder of Shito-ryu), Miyagi Chojun (founder of Goju-ryu), Funakoshi Gichin (founder of Shotokan), Motobu Choki (notorious Karate street-fighting expert and founder of Motobu-ryu), Ohtsuka Hironori (founder of Wado-ryu) and Taira Shinken (the grandfather of Ryukyu Kobudo) – even hosting these masters in his house, arranging for meetings/training camps, paying for trips and food – among other things.

Konishi Yasuhiro – one of the least known yet most influential Karate masters of all time – was truly an original Karate Nerd™ during his days.

Yet he had to pay a heavy price.

As Konishi’s own son (Takehiro) once told me personally, Konishi was severely criticised by jealous students of the many masters he helped, sometimes even being called a “geisha” behind his back, for traveling between the various masters in order to learn as much as possible about this fascinating art of Okinawan Karate that was just being introduced to Japan.

Because, the thing is, Konishi wasn’t originally a Karate-ka.

Born in 1893 in Takamatsu, Kagawa, Konishi began training in Muso-ryu ju-jutsu at the age of six, which was followed by kendo (the Japanese art of fencing with bamboo swords) when he was 13 and later, Takenouchi-ryu ju-jutsu (a style known for its strong atemi-waza, i.e. kicks and punches).

In other words, Konishi sensei’s background was strict samurai style, mastering both armed and unarmed combat.

In 1915, Konishi began studying at Keio University, one of the most famous universities in Tokyo. While average tenure at university is four years, Konishi remained at Keio University for eight years (!) because of his love for kendo and ju-jutsu, as he was Keio University’s kendo team captain – and continued coaching the university’s kendo club even after his graduation.

So far nothing special.

Until Karate came knocking on the door.


Konishi together with Funakoshi (left), Mabuni (seated) and students.

In September 1924, Ohtsuka Hironori and Funakoshi Gichin came to the kendo training hall at Keio University. Stepping inside after the kendo session was over, they approached the teacher, Konishi sensei, with a letter of introduction from professor Sadahiro Kasuya of Keio University. Mr. Funakoshi, who wasn’t yet as famous as he later would become, asked Konishi if it would be possible to use the training hall to teach something called “Ryukyu Kempo Toudi-jutsu” (the old formal name of Okinawan Karate).

Konishi sensei, a hardcore martial arts lover, was naturally intrigued.

Now, at this point there is something you need to know: During this era, it was unheard of for one martial arts school to allow a martial arts teacher from another system to teach in their dojo. Really. Such a request would be considered a “challenge” to the dojo. Konishi sensei, however, who was something of a visionary in the sense that he saw value in cross-training, immediately remembered a kata demonstrated during his university days by a friend from Okinawa named Aragaki, and he quickly agreed to Funakoshi sensei’s request, perhaps sensing that this could be a golden opportunity for himself to learn more.

Well, one thing led to another, and before you knew it Konishi Yasuhiro had not only helped Funakoshi establish the first university karate club in Japan, but he had made friends with a plethora of other Karate masters from Okinawa who were visiting mainland Japan to spread their beloved art of Karate.

And Konishi was more than happy to help them, eagerly learning as much as he could from them in the process.

L-R: Konishi, Miyagi, Saito, Funakoshi

In his quest for helping to popularize Karate, Konishi sacrificed a lot of personal time and money (luckily, his wife wholeheartedly supported his quest, since his work as a businessman helped cover the extra expenses). For instance, Konishi had Mabuni sensei reside freely at his house for almost a year, organized the ‘Choki Motobu Support Society’ for master Motobu (who Konishi considered a brilliant expert) and most notably paved the way for Karate to become formally accepted in 1935 by the Japanese Governing Body of Martial Arts (the Dai Nippon Butoku-Kai) as an official martial art.

That’s right.

He wasn’t gonna let this awesome “Karate” thingy be put on the back burner.

And funnily enough, the first Karate teaching license ever issued in Japan was actually a “kyoshi” title to Konishi sensei himself (a fact which infuriated students of the various Okinawan/Japanese masters from whom Konishi had been learning for so long).

Nonetheless, most of these masters were naturally deeply thankful of Konishi’s support, like Miyagi Chojun (Goju-ryu) for instance, who presented Konishi with an original manuscript, (“An Outline of Karate-Do”, March 23, 1934) which to date remains one of the most sacred texts on Karate’s true history, aims and original values. (I promise to post the translation one day.)

As Karate was now spreading far and wide throughout Japan, largely through the unwavering efforts of Konishi sensei, he ultimately decided to pool together the knowledge of his great teachers and name his own style Shindo Jinen-ryu (lit. “godly, natural style, complete empty-handed way”).

Okay, hold up a sec.

I can sense what you’re thinking:

“Whoah… Jesse-san, did this Konishi dude get hubris or what?”


Well, not really.

First of all, it is sort of a tradition in many Japanese martial arts to name your style ‘godly’, ‘divine’ or ‘complete’. Many traditional Japanese budo schools have those attributes, so that’s nothing new.

Konishi and Motobu

Secondly, sensei Konishi believed that if you walk a morally correct path in this life, you are naturally always following the ‘divine’ way. In other words, if you train in Karate in a ‘natural way’ and master your body, you will expand your knowledge and experience, and eventually establish a solid foundation for naturally living a morally correct and awesome life.

And so Konishi’s style, on the recommendation of the founder of the aikido (Morihei Ueshiba, with whom he actually co-created the kata called Seiryu) came to be Shindo Jinen Ryu Karate-jutsu.

(Which is the basis for the Karate style that I actually teach. But hey, you already knew that, since you’ve read my About page fifty times at least, right?!)

All right, all right, all right…

All right.

This article is about to end.

My goal today was to inform you that, just like Donald Bradman (the cricket player), Konishi Yasuhiro sensei was one of the most successful figures in his field. It is almost an understatement to say that Karate would surely not be what is is today if it wasn’t for Konishi sensei and his deep passion for Karate (along with some minor political maneuvers, obviously).

Yet he never became as famous as the masters he helped get to the top!


Well, if I remember correctly, when I met Konishi’s son (for the record: I’ve only met him once, and although cancer had made his speech impaired due to his swollen face, his mind seemed clear), he told me that the reason his father’s style of Karate didn’t become as popular as the other four major Japanese Karate styles (Shito, Wado, Goju and Shotokan) was because of two main reasons:

  • Konishi sensei didn’t like competing (which made it less appealing to young people, compared to other styles)
  • Konishi didn’t write a book (because he wanted to keep control of who was being taught what)

In contrast, many other styles/masters of Karate openly encouraged competing (Mabuni and Taira even developed the first protective gear for Karate) and wrote popular books and technical manuals on Karate.

But, as we know, success isn’t really measured by fame.

By the time Konishi sensei passed away, he was deeply impressed by the fact that Karate was so widely recognized by the general public – the fact that he could have obtained a lot of fame was of no concern. At his traditional Japanese ‘beiju’ celebration (commemorating his 88 years of age), Konishi held one of his last speeches:

“The things a man can do throughout one’s short life might be very little, but anyone can achieve at least one great thing if one tries one’s best, without expecting too much. […] Success might be the best, but even if one fails to attain what one expected, the fact that one tried one’s best should be recognized and that has meaning to one’s life.”

In 1983, Konishi Yasuhiro passed away, entrusting his son Takeshiro (who later changed his name to Yasuhiro in memory of his father) with future affairs.

Konishi sensei was a strong believer in the fact that there ultimately is no significant difference between the various martial arts; whether it’s judo, kendo, ju-jutsu or karate. They are all fundamentally one and the same in the end.

Most of us have two arms, two legs and one head.

There are only so many ways they bend.

At the end of the day, I believe Konishi Yasuhiro’s sophisticated-yet-down-to-earth philosophy of Karate was perhaps best expressed in the following traditional Japanese-style poem which he once wrote:

Karate is

Not to hit someone

Neither to be defeated

But to avoid trouble

That’s it for today guys.

Hope you learned something new.


  • Tashi
    Jesse, your article is very interesting as always! I already knew something about Konishi Yasuhiro and Shindo-Jinen Ryu, but I didn't know who Donald Bradman was. Thank you for your job and good luck for the World Championship in Paris! P.S. Why don't you upload new MOBILE KARATEbyJesse bunkai? I like them!
    • Tashi-san, thanks for making your presence felt! I'll make sure to shoot some new awesome bunkai ASAP; my own training has been prioritized lately (as you can imagine!) :)
      • Tashi
        Thanks for reply me and Ganbatte!! ;)
      • John Nzioka
        Jesse i'm infact sooted by your karate articles. I feel really rejuvenated with karate. My karate spirit is balancing my mind and body... Arigato gozaimashita nerd
  • Andy
    Konishi has fascinated me since a wonderful interview he gave to Terry O'Neils 'Fighting Arts' magazine, way back in the 1980's. He came over as a really interesting character and with a massive amount of information on Karate. What I find most interesting, he refereed to his art as Karate-Jutsu and not Karate-Do. The only master to maintain this in the second half of the 20th century, that i know of. (forget all the modern revisers). PS - Another reason for 'The Don's ' greatness. The peak 5 years of his career were lost, serving in the Second World War. Imagine what his statistics would have been without that gap !
    • Awesome, Andy-san! (And hey, *I* still use "-jutsu"...) ;)
  • Nice one, Jesse. I think I'm turning in to a Karate Geek.....!
  • Dave
    And in another interesting parallel; the Don led a quiet life, letting his achievements speak for themselves, especially in retirement. Thanks Jesse-san for a very interesting article. We sometimes miss the tell tale signs of greatness in the glare of fame. It's only sometimes that they occur together imho.
    • Most definitely, Dave-san.
  • Peter Sbirakos
    Really nice post Jesse, thank you for taking the time to write it :). Interesting tidbit on 'The Don', he never changed his socks during a complete test match and I remember watching an old documentary - hours of batting practice using a cricket stump and a golf ball against a brick wall. The basics, right?
  • Rui Paulo Sanguinheira Diogo
    Interesting article. I also had already heard something about Konishi but not as detailed. Thanks. I'd also love to read "An Outline of Karate-Do – that's for sure!
  • Leo
    Reading this was like a moment of seing; touches the heart. Is Sochin the kata referred to?
    • Thanks Leo-san! You mean Seiryu (as mentioned in the article)?
      • Leo
        No, I didn't mean Seiryu, in fact I even overread it. Do you mean Seiryu of Shitoryu or Uechiryu? "remembered a kata demonstrated during his university days by a friend from Okinawa named Aragaki" Is it known which kata it was?
        • Might have been Kusanku or Naihanchin.
  • Juan Beltrán
    Hi Jesse... I have a curiosity about Shindo Jinen Ryu. When I had saw videos of this style in Youtube, I had saw a lot videos in the same way of Shotokan. Why??? For example: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zd_HDWtiwNo
    • Juan-san: Sadly, the modern equivalent of Shindo Jinen-ryu is a far cry from Konishi's original brainchild of Karate.
      • True, My Sensei Tom Owens was one of the last students of Konishi Sensei. He quite his job as an aerospace engineer. A genius in his own right, Owens sensei was dedicated and brilliant in his field. He took his life savings and flew to Japan to study karate from another master (unknown to me). Owens sensei arrived in Japan *circa 1980, only to find that the master he seeked was no longer there. His spirit destroyed after all he had given up, he broke down and cried. A local approached him and stated, "Maybe Konishi will teach you." Elated and hysterical, armed with education of martial art Owens sensei knew exactly who this master Konishi was. Owens acquired his address and scurried down an alley to knock on the door of the great Konishi. The frail wife of this old man answered the door, as this was the custom in old Japan. Owens, tired and confused introduced himself to her and asked to speak to Konishi about training. She replied, "wait here" and closed the door.... I'm guessing here but like on the Spongebob Squarepants cartoon 'Three hours laterrr' she opened the door and states "Come back tomorrow." Returning, I'm thinking two or more times with th same results, Owens Sensei was discouraged, hungry, and tired. One more time, Owens was invited to Konishi's home. He was in. less verbage here... Owen's trained, got beat up, a broken rib and much humility. The old man loved Owens tenacity. Young Konishi did not. Back in the US Owens re-opened his school under a newly licensed style to teach Shindo-Jinin ryu. You see, I attended Owens school circa 1979, I thought him to slightly arrogant.I only attended two lessons. In the new dojo we trained in the traditional manner of Konishi, with Sickler Sensei...rest in peace, dear man. We had seminars with the likes of Yamazaki sensei and Nikuura sensei. My first black belt has Yamazaki's signature along with Konishi Jr's. signature. The great master Konishi had passed at this time. My health dwindling, I had to stop training. Owen's sensei was not happy with me but several surgeries and years later my guilt had disappeared... and I did not hear of Sickler sensei's death until a year after when I called him to do some electrical work. I was devastated. I heard from other students he was attending class in a wheelchair. His dedication had rewarded hm dearly but alas, not with life. Owens is in the wind, probably some guilt and well deserved disrespect for Konishi Jr. and Yamasaki. Jr. did not like Owens sensei as I stated earlier and took away Owens sensei's right to teach Shindo-Jinin ryu briefly after I left training. Politics and a rightful heir didn't have room for the dedicated Tom Owens. To my friend Tom (Yasuhiro) Owens, may this find you well and without guilt. Jr. has no idea. Yes Jesse, a far cry indeed.
        • I promise to use spell check in the future. There was much emotion involved here. Thank you.
    • Pingpong
      The reason for this is that when Shindo Jinen Ryu was established in the great Americas, Shotokan was the dominant style and thus training was slightly modified to also suit Shotokan-converts. As far as I know this is also true of UK and many other countries. Yamazaki-sensei who brought the style to international awareness had studied Shindo Jinen Ryu but also trained with a bransch of Shotokan in his young years which also helped to Shotokanize the international bransch. Nowadays there has been a bit of renaissance in the style to go back to the roots. Thus many techniques have been leaning towards Shito-Ryu instead. But I have been out of touch with the style for around 3 years for various reasons.. So maybe my info is not correct anymore.
  • Ben
    Hmmm ... doesn't sound as awesomely impressive when someone from a cricketing country reads it (the Don) but to when put into perspective to get the gist of the article, it's awesomely impressive none-the-less ;)
  • Hi Jesse, as far as I know Konishi published a few books on Kendo and Karate. I know that here - Karate Jotatsu Ho - How to Improve in Karate (1956). There he uses some photos of Funakoshi and Mabuni too. You can find it listed on the book list of the Hawaii Karate Museum too. Regards Holger
    • Holger-san, yes, that's true! However, he wasn't among the first to do so. Thanks for the input.
  • Szilard
    Which seiryu kata are you talking about? This one: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JphRZ6R4fAg this one: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pDdq7NtvEgw or something else?
    • Szilard-san: The second one. On a side note, sensei High (in the video) is a brilliant Tenshin Shoden Katori Shinto-ryu Kenjutsu-ka (who I once had the pleasure of receiving a half night (!) of private instruction from).
      • Graham
        Hi Are you ware that Konishi Wrote three books. I have all three in Japanese. Kind Regards Graham
    • Yasin
      If you are looking for the kata Seiryu,the only authentic shindo jinen ryu demonstration is done by sensei Nina Yamazaki. She has been certified by the JKF to teach the Shindo Jinen Ryu katas on their original styles. She is in You Tube
  • Tony
    Thanks Jesse-San, from all of the Shindo Jinen-ryu Karate-jutsu geek's in Sweden...the article warmed my heart. Tony
    • Tony-san, nice to hear from you! I hope everything is well down in Kalmar - see you around! ;)
  • Ken
    Thank you Jesse, always fun to learn about someone "new" in karate history, at least new to me.
  • Kym Reid
    Wally Szlagowski opened the first karate school in Australia and was graded by Konishi to shodan. The training was by corrospondence ( much at www.szlagowskikarate.com ). I was handed the orginal training film and put it on youtube. It can be found at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t8DSDvsDqsg. I also believe he is an understated pioneer. great article cheers
  • Chjalmar
    Hi Jesse, Thanks for the great article! I'm a Shindo Jinen Ryu karateka too, and I feel great admiration and respect for the founder of our style. Question: is it possible to know where did you get those two Konishi's quotes from? Thanks again!
  • Osu! [bow] I wanted to refresh my memory about Konishi Sensei, and lo and behold, your article came up in Google search! Well written, and thank you! I'm proud to be a Shindo Jinen Ryu karateka :-) [bow]
  • Yasin
    I am 2nd kyu in Shindo Jinen Ryu Karate Do and I just left an elite training seminar with Yamazaki Sensei, he talked a lot about the original techniques that Konishi Sensei practiced. What info do you have on what would have essentially been muso Ryu jujitsu. Do you have any info on that and the Takeuchi Ryu jujitsu?
  • jesus calderon
    Hi jesse, i had to read the articule, it is very interesting, i am student of karate en Venezuela, i am starting with white belt. i am 52 year old. I have translated the article on the sensei konishi into the Spanish language to share it in this language. I hope you see the translation in https://jesusc.wordpress.com/2017/04/30/sobre-yasuhiro-konishi-la-historia-oculta-del-heroe-duro-del-karate-contada-por-jesse-enkamp-2/#more-145 Thank you very much .
  • Simon Oliver
    Thank you for mentioning our system, Konishi Soke was most certainly a very unusual and proficient martial artist. There are some inaccuracies in your article. Konishi Soke wrote several books in his time, most are long out of print and none were translated from Japanese. There are a number of titles that have been written since his death. The Shindo Jinen Ryu of Konishi Soke is still being taught, especially in Japan, USA and the UK. Keep up the good work!
  • Yasin
    I am a Shodan with JKR (Shindo Jinen Ryu) and I am currently preparing for my Nidan. If you are not apart of the ruling organization how can you say that today's JKR is a far cry from the way Yasuhiro Sensi created it? Also, what style of karate do you teach? Since Shindo Jinen Ryu has no sub branches and is essentially a karate hybrid.
  • Ramon Fernández-Cid
    In order to help in such a magnificent article about Konishi Sensei, a true Karate Patron, and the man who most helped Okinawan Karate to be implanted in Japan and recognized by the Butokukai, allow me to contribute what I know about Konishi Sensei through Masters Tzujikawa and Mabuni KenEi, who lived in their house and was treated by Konishi and his wife like another son. Tzujikawa Sensei told Ishimi and Me in a conversation of several hours that we had in Madrid, that Konishi was essential for Master Mabuni and the success of Shito-ryu. In fact, Tzujikawa lived as an uchi deshi in Mabuni Kenwa's house and Mabuni Kenwa was so detached from economic things that, many times, he lacked money and food at home. When everyone was starving and went to ask the Master what they could do, he reassured them and said not to worry, it would be solved. Konishi always came with a sack of rice and they could eat. After thinking about what I know about Konishi Sensei, I am sure that without him, without his good offices, Karate would not have progressed in Japan. During the 1980 World Championships held in Madrid, Master Konishi came to Spain and there was a dinner at the Japanese restaurant Naomi, where I used to go with my Master Yasunari Ishimi, at that dinner where Master Mabuni, Konishi Sensei, Ishimi, and several other people, including my friend Juan Bish, who was the National Kata Coach of Spain, Konishi Sensei referred to Mabuni Sensei as Kenchan, kenito, in Spanish, or little Ken, as if referring to one of his sons. There are many anecdotes that relate to what extent Mabuni Kenwa and Yasuhiro Konishi had a great friendship, they trained together, and through him Ohtsuka, Mabuni and himself, trained together with Ueshiba every day, from that collaboration and training came Aoyagi / Seiryu and possibly Myojo. And also from the trip they both made to Wakayama to visit Kanbun Uechi, Shinpa was born. My Master has always told me that the personal appreciation for Konishi Sensei felt by his Master Yoshiyaki Tzujikawa was immense, as was that of his other Master, Mabuni KenEi, and that for that reason Shindo Jinnen Ryu and Shito-ryu were two Styles brothers. On the other hand, in addition to my 50 years of training in Shito-ryu, for a couple of years I have been training Uechi-Ryu Kenyukai, and like me, Master Seigo Fujita 9 Dan Gensei-Ryu does, who is my training partner, under the direction of Angel Arenas Sensei. Fujita has a friend named Wada Sensei, one of Konishi Sensei's most relevant students, who introduced him and took him to train with Master Konishi. So I often talk to Master Fujita about his experience in Shindo Jinnen Ryu. Master Fujita, an amazing person and friend, is my walking dictionary of Japanese, and a source of knowledge. I believe that justice has never been done in Western Karate to Master Konishi, and everything that contributes to reveal the gigantic figure of him for world Karate, like this article of yours, seems very relevant and fair. Thank you very much for writing it.
  • Chad Jesse Deal
    Mahalo nui Sir for your wisdom and research material. I now feel a closer tie to Master Konishi. My main style is Shuri-ryu and was able to train personally with Grand Master Trias before his passing. I have continued training under many of his chief instructors and am now turning towards the study of Hsing-i and Pa Qua as I am searching deeper into the Shuri roots. Am also a student of Hung Gar Tiger-Crane and Ki Aikido. I too feel all the arts are deeply similar at their core. Wishing you the very best in life and please if you ever travel to Kaua`i it would be an honor to host you. Chad

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