By Bruce Green*
Yutaka Yaguchi was born on November 14, 1932, in Kure, Hiroshima area, Japan, to a farming family. Yaguchi was the youngest of five children, he had a happy childhood, but the clouds of World War II were all around him. Assigned a job at a shipyard, on the morning of August 6, 1945, he witnessed the flash of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima while waiting to enter the factory building at the shipyard.
After the war, Sensei Yaguchi was able to resume his education, and was able to go to university, unlike many of his former school mates. He went to Nihon University in Tokyo, and this is where he first began studying Shotokan karate in 1952 and soon became a noteworthy collegiate competitor. He tested under Master Funakoshi (Shotokan founder) for his first and second-degree black belts. The training at this time was very intense, and conditioning was of prime importance. Sensei Yaguchi graduated with a degree in Marine Biology, but didn’t like sailing, so after graduation he found a job with a construction company.
One day in 1957, Master Nakayama asked Sensei Yaguchi to quit his construction job and join the new Japan Karate Association (JKA) Instructor Training (IT) Program full time. Mr. Yaguchi quit his job the next day and enrolled. When he graduated from the program in 1959, he was the fourth graduate behind Hirokazu Kanazawa, Takayuki Mikami, and Eiji Takaura. Sensei Yaguchi was a participant in the first JKA All-Japan Karate Championships in 1957. Over the next half dozen years, he faced many of the greatest karate competitors, many who have subsequently been recognized as true masters of the art such as Hirokazu Kanazawa, Takayuki Mikami, Tetsuhiko Asai, Hiroshi Shirai, and Keinosuke Enoeda. As one of the first graduates of the JKA IT Program in 1959, he played a substantial role in the growth of JKA karate and the internationalization of Shotokan karate.
In June 1965, Master Nakayama sent Mr. Yaguchi to the U.S. to begin teaching at Sensei Hidetaka Nishiyama’s dojo in Los Angeles where he also assisted in establishing the L.A. dojo and the new JKA IT Program for the U.S. Soon after, in the late 60s, he was invited to teach in Denver, Colorado, by Joe Costello. This invitation and association with Colorado would lead to Sensei Yaguchi relocating to Denver, Colorado, in 1972. Sensei Yaguchi was also the coach for the U.S. team at the 1972 Shotocup World Tournament in France that was controversial, where the U.S. team, led by Frank Smith, withdrew from the tournament, objecting to unqualified refereeing.
In 1977, tension among the Japanese instructors in the All-American Karate Federation/AAKF, the American organization recognized by the JKA, culminated in a heated meeting in Los Angeles. This resulted in an organizational split. Sensei Nishiyama retained control of the AAKF and other Japanese sensei joining him were Senseis M. Mori, K. Kisaka, S. Sugiyama, and R. Fusaro. The other faction was led by Teruyuki Okazaki, and joined by T. Mikami, Y. Yaguchi, S. Koyama, and S. Takashina, R. Dalke, G. Golden, F. Smith, J. Field, R. Reilly, and R. Hassle and others, and formed a new organization called the International Shotokan Karate Federation (ISKF). Their first organizational meeting was held in Denver, Colorado, in 1978.
In 1986, Sensei Yaguchi began providing instruction in Denver for one the of only JKA/ISKF IT Programs in North, Central, and South America. Most recently, Sensei Yaguchi served as Vice Chairman of the ISKF, and Chairman of the ISKF Technical Committee. Sensei Yaguchi, who retired in 2016, was the Chief Instructor Emeritus, ISKF Mountain States Region. He resided in Denver, Colorado, and had occasionally offered clinics throughout North America. As of 2020, sensei Yaguchi became a special technical advisor to the JKA. His training continued in his basement which he had remodeled into a small dojo up until his passing. Sensei Yaguchi was a very popular and engaging senior Japanese instructor in the North, Central, and South American JKA and ISKF circles, and will be greatly missed by his many students. Sensei Yaguchi passed away on October 26, 2023, in Denver, Colorado, USA. He is survived by his wife Mieko, his two children, Hiroshi and Janet, and one grandchild.
"... I want to live on in my students' minds. I hope my students never forget me. If they keep a picture of me in their minds of the way I taught, the way I moved, and the techniques I taught them, I will have succeeded ... Students go through many teachers in their lifetimes, but there is always that special teacher. I would like to be that special teacher."
Mind and Body – Like Bullet, p. 106, Second Edition
* Bruce Green is one of Master Yaguchi’s most senior students and is a senior member of the ISKF.