Yoshimi Inoue (1946-2015) was a martial art genius and one of the most respected karate instructors of modern time. He has taught and inspired generations of world champions.

In this post, we will look at the life of this legendary karate instructor who was also a humble, kind, positive and incredibly generous human being.

Table of Contents

Yoshimi Inoue’s karate journey

In the beginning

Yoshimi Inoue was born in Tottori, a small coastal town in southern Japan on September 27, 1946.

Karate was not popular in Japan at the time and, at the age of 15, Yoshimi Inoue bought a book written by Teruo Hayashi, one of the great karate masters of modern time, and began to teach himself karate.

At the age of 16, Inoue started training in Shito Ryu karate at the Tottori University Karate Club.

At the age of 18, after finishing his studies, Inoue decided to move to Osaka to pursue his passion for karate against the wishes of his parents who would like him to become a doctor.

Teruo Hayashi’s book must have made such an impression on Inoue that he wanted to train in the dojo the book mentioned. And, as fate would have it, Inoue happened to meet Teruo Hayashi at a police station and began training in one of his dojos.

Hayashi, likewise, must have seen something special in Inoue. After six months of training, Inoue became Hayashi’s “uchi deshi” (live-in disciple) and was the only uchi-deshi Hayashi ever had.

Yoshimi Inoue’s training with Master Teruo Hayashi

About Teruo Hayashi

Teruo Hayashi (1924-2004) was the founder of Hayashi-Ha Shito-Ryu school of Karate and one of the best technicians ever in Shito Ryu karate.

Hayashi began his karate training under Kosei Kuniba who was a student of Kenwa Mabuni, the founder of Shito-Ryu.

Later on, with his thirst for knowledge, Hayashi sought and studied under many karate masters including Sekō Higa (a student of Higaonna Kanryō and Chojun Miyagi), Chosin Chibana (the founder of Kobayashi Shorin-ryu), Nagamine Shoshin (an Okinawan karate master), and Nakaima Kenko (a master of Ryuei-ryu).

Hayashi learned kata of both Shuri-te and Tomari-te lineages from Nagamine Shoshin and learned a family style of Okinawan karate called Ryuei-ryu from Nakaima Kenko. Notably, Teruo Hayashi was the first one outside the Nakaima family to be taught the style.

Hayashi also practiced “dojo yaburi” (dojo challenge) which you are likely to have seen in martial art movies before.

He would walk into a dojo and issue a challenge and get to fight the lowest ranking man in the dojo. If he won, he’d be allowed to fight the man of the next rank in the dojo. If he succeeded all the way, he’d face the head of the dojo.

If Hayashi happened to be defeated, he would ask to stay to train in the dojo. As a result, he became very good at kumite. He was considered a ferocious and excellent fighter at the time.

Yoshimi Inoue’s training with Teruo Hayashi

Inoue trained with Teruo Hayashi for four years from 1964 to 1968 which were the early years of the Hayashi-Ha Shito-ryu style that Hayashi founded.

While Inoue was in his late teens and early twenties, Teruo Hyashi was in his early forties but already had around 30 years of martial art training with various karate masters.

As an “uchi deshi”, Inoue said that, besides helping Hayashi with the general keeping of the dojo and assisting with teaching, he spent the rest of the time training either on his own or with Hayashi.

Because he was the only assistant, Inoue spent a lot of time practicing basics over and over again with Hayashi and this, later on, influenced Inoue’s own approach when training his own students. His students (for example, Mie Nakayama, Antonio Diaz, and Sakura Kokumai) all emphasized the importance of kihon practice in their training.

They also practiced a lot of kumite together. Given Hayashi’s practice of “dojo yaburi”, going around challenging other dojos to hone his kumite skills, Inoue probably had the best sparring partner he could wish for.

There were two floors to the dojo and we’d practice on the dirt floor on the first floor. One time when doing kumite with Sensei, I was driven right back to the stairs and ended up having to step backwards up the steps to the second floor behind me, but he just kept coming at me, kicking like mad. I don’t know if you could so much as call it kumite as an outright fight… or even murder! … but that’s what it was like. We didn’t have any fist-guards back in those days either.

Yoshimi Inoue

In 1968, Inoue was forced to return to Tottori to look after his family when his father became ill.

Inoue got a day job to support his family and with permission from Hayashi, he opened a Hayashi-Ha Shito Ryu Kai branch in Tottori.

While remaining loyal to Hayashi, Inoue’s approach to teaching was slightly different from his teacher’s.

He aimed to help his students understand the body mechanics behind karate techniques. He also focused more on teaching principles rather than techniques per se and, as a result, attracted students from various styles.

There was no record of Inoue ever having another teacher other than Hayashi.

Yoshimi Inoue’s coaching

Over the years, Inoue established his name as one of the best karate technicians and competition coaches of modern time.

It all began with the spectacular success of Mie Nakayama.

Mie Nakayama was brought to Inoue’s attention by one of his assistants.

After two months of training with Inoue, Mie Nakayama participated in the kyu category of the Hayashi-Ha All Japan Karate-do Championships. She was the last one to perform among 48 competitors and was the winner of her division with her performance of Pinan Nidan kata.

Nakayama later went on to win three consecutive gold medals at the World Championships and dominated women’s kata throughout the 1980s.

Inoue’s reputation spread widely both in Japan and overseas and he became a much sought-after kata competition coach.

Inoue had trained over 20 world champions from a variety of karate styles at his Tottori dojo, including Mie Nakayama, Nao Morooka, Ryoki Abe, Atsuko Wakai, the Hasegawa Brothers, Hisami Yokoyama, Kasuga Wakabayashi, Antonio Diaz, and Rika Usami.

At the 2012 World Karate Federation Championships, Inoue made history when his two students (Rika Usami and Antonio Diaz) became world kata champions at the same time.

Inoue served for many years as a coach and advisor to the Japanese National Team. He was also on the technical committee for the JKF and was a member of the JKF Board of Examiners which confers Dan in the JKF.

Inoue traveled and taught extensively in Japan, Europe and the U.S. He was well-known for his generosity in sharing his karate knowledge freely with others.

Inoue was the youngest in the history of the Japanese Karate Federation to be awarded 8th dan.

Inoue-Ha Shito-Ryu Keishin-kai

In 2005, one year after the death of his teacher, Teruo Hayashi, Inoue founded Inoue-ha Shito-Ryu Keishin-kai, incorporating his own knowledge and experience.

In February 2015, Yoshimi Inoue found out that he had cancer and decided to fight the battle privately.

The exact type of cancer Inoue had was not made public but he was known to be a chain smoker. He once joked at a party that “if you want to learn how to breathe in Suparinpei kata you have to learn how to smoke” and then lit a cigarette and inhaled it almost to the end in one breath.

Inoue continued to spend time in the dojo, teaching and passing on his knowledge until the very last days.

His students deeply mourned his untimely passing in May 2015 but they vow to preserve his legacy.

After Inoue passed away, three of his students, Mie Nakayama, Antonio Diaz and Rika Usami, traveled the world to promote Inoue-ha Shito-ryu in honor of their instructor.

Today, Inoue-ha Shito-Ryu Keishin-kai has around 40 affiliated dojos around the world which continue to produce quality training and champions.

Yoshimi Inoue quotes

Kihon training, although it may be boring, is extremely important. If the foundations of a house are weak, as the house get older, problems will arise.

Kihon and kata are the foundation for karate. Kumite is a “personalized” way of using karate technique, but you should get that technique first.

All the techniques and strategies used in kumite and also in self-defense are contained in the fundamental kata.

Kata is kumite at its most complex form.

In traditional karate, kata equals kumite but kumite doesn’t equal kata.

Power comes from the ground up. It doesn’t come or originate from the hip. Your connection with the ground is the base for the power.

Kumite is based on two principles: distance and timing. Without these two, nothing else matters.

Kata is not about the external technique only but about the “philosophy” and “meaning” of the actual technique.

If you don’t know your body completely, it doesn’t matter how many times you say you’re acting in complete harmony, you still won’t have come together completely.

No paints nor brushes, marbles nor chisels, are needed to make the art of karate, for we are the stuff that kata is made of. It is born in our body, exists in our body and dies in our body. Kata, then, is the most personal of all the arts… it springs from the very breath of life.

The goal of karate should not only be self-defense. The art should provide a guide for living and this encompasses the striving for self-control through the discipline of dedicated practice.

Karate is 99% mental.

The way of Budo is to practice every day, until you die.

Yoshimi Inoue’s notable students

Mie Nakayama

Mie Nakayama was one of Inoue’s most accomplished students. She completely dominated women’s kata during the 1980s. Her achievements include:

  • World Championships, individual kata, 2nd place in 1980
  • World Games, individual kata, 2nd place in 1981
  • World Championships, individual kata, 1st place in 1982, 1984, and 1986
  • World Games, individual kata, 1st place in 1985
  • World Cup, individual kata, 1st place in 1987
  • Hayashi-Ha Shito-ryu World Champions, individual kata, 1st place from 1982 to 1987.

Ryoki Abe

Ryoki Abe was one of Inoue’s successful students at the beginning of his stellar coaching career.

His achievements include:

  • 1992 World Championships, 2nd place
  • 1993 World Games, 1st place
  • 1994 World Championships, 2nd place
  • 1996 World Championships, 2nd place
  • 1997 World Games, 1st place
  • 1998 World Championships, 1st place
  • 2000 World Championships, 2nd place
  • 2001 World Games, 1st place.

Atsuko Wakai

Born in 1971 in Gifu, Japan, Atsuko Wakai began karate training at the age of 6.

Before university, she competed at local tournaments in both kumite and kata but, because she could not break into the top two positions at the All Japan Karate-Do Championships, she had considered retiring from competition.

However, that changed when she won the All Japan Karate-Do Championships title in 1997 and was selected for the Japanese National Team.

She went on to win eight consecutive All Japan Karate-Do Championships titles, four consecutive Asian Karate Championships titles and four consecutive World Championships titles.

Her four consecutive world kata titles earned her an entry in the Guinness Book of Records.

Her major achievements include:

  • World Championships, Individual kata, 1st place (1998, 2000, 2002, 2004)
  • World Games, individual kata, 1st place (1997, 2001, 2005)
  • World Cup, individual kata, 1st place (1997)
  • Paris Open Championships, individual kata, 1st place (2003)
  • Asian Karate Championships, individual kata, 1st place (1997, 1999, 2001, 2004)
  • Asian Games, individual kata, 1st place (1998, 2002)
  • All Japan Karate-Do Championships, individual kata, 1st place (1997-2004)
  • The National Sports Festival (1997, 1998, 1999, 2001, 2002)
  • Japan Industrial and Commercial Karate Federation Championships (1993, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001).

The Hasegawa Brothers

Yukimitsu Hasegawa with his brothers, Katsuhide and Shinichi, dominated Japan, Asia and World Karate Championships in the men’s team kata event for over 14 years.

The Hasegawa Brothers won 7 World Championships titles, 1 silver medal, and 1 bronze medal in the team kata event.

Sinichi Hasegawa won a bronze medal, a gold medal, and a bronze medal in the kumite event at the World Games in 1984, 1985, and 1989 respectively.

Yukimitsu Hasegawa also trained and coached 2 world champions, Takashi Katada, who won the gold medal at the 2002 World Championships in Madrid, and Itaru Oki, who won the gold medal at the 2005 World Junior Championships in Cyprus.

Hisami Yokoyama

Hisami Yokoyama is well known for bringing the ancient kata, Chatan Yara Kusanku, into the spotlight thanks to her spectacular performance of the kata in 1994 on the world stage under the guidance of Inoue.

At the 1994 Asian Games held in Hiroshima, Yokoyama won the gold medal for her Chatan Yara Kushanku performance.

Two months later, at the 12th World Karate Championships held in Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia, Yokoyama again won the gold medal for her Chatan Yara Kusanku.

Since then, Chatan Yara Kusanku has become the most popular kata chosen for high-level competitions around the world.

Hisami Yokoyama also won the silver medal for the individual kata event at the 1988 and 1990 World Karate Championships.

Kasuga Wakabayashi

Kasuga Wakabayashi won the gold medal in women’s individual kata at the 2005 Asian Championships in Macao, China and then the bronze medal in the same division at the 2008 World Championships in Tokyo, Japan.

Kasuga Wakabayashi also won the gold medal at the 1998 WKF World Championships in Brazil with the Japanese kata team.

Sakura Kokumai

Born in 1992, Sakura Kokumai is an American karateka. She was introduced to Yoshimi Inoue by her instructor while training in Japan.

Her achievements so far include:

  • Bronze medal in the individual kata event at the 2012 World Karate Championships held in Paris, France
  • Bronze medal in the individual kata event at the 2013 World Combat Games held in St Petersburg, Russia
  • Gold medal in the individual kata event at the 2014 Pan American Sports Festival held in Tlaxcala, Mexico.

At the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, Japan, in the individual kata event, she lost her bronze medal match against Viviana Bottaro of Italy.

At the 2021 World Karate Championships held in Dubai, UAE, she also lost her bronze medal match against Viviana Bottaro.

Antonio Diaz

Born in 1980 in Venezuela, Antonio Diaz began training in karate at the age of 6.

He had achieved a lot of success on the regional and international stages before he began training with Yoshimi Inoue in 2008 at the recommendation of Kiyoshi Yamazaki, a renowned karate master.

With Inoue, Diaz found that all things that he’d previously learned about karate fell into right place and began to make sense.

Under the guidance of Inoue, Diaz achieved further success. He got to the final of the World Karate Championships in 2008 for the first time, placing second.

His career highs were the two consecutive titles at the World Karate Championships in 2010 and 2012.

Diaz’s major achievements include:

  • World Championships, 1st place (2010, 2012)
  • World Championships, 2nd place (2008)
  • World Championships, 3rd place (2002, 2004, 2006, 2014, 2016)
  • World Games, 1st place (2005, 2013)
  • World Games, 3rd Place (2001, 2009, 2017)
  • Pan American Karate Championships, 1st place (1999, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018)
  • Pan American Games, 1st place (2003, 2009), 2nd place (1999)
  • World Combat Games, 1st place (2013).

Diaz holds the Guinness World Records for the most individual medals won at the World Karate Championships.

After coming 4th at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games, Diaz retired from competitions to focus on coaching.

Rika Usami

Born in 1986, Rika Usami began training in karate at the age of 10 and started competing in kata at the age of 15.

Her achievements include:

  • 30th Japan National High School Karatedo Championships in 2003, 1st place
  • 4th World Junior & Cadet Karatedo Championships in 2005, 1st place
  • 8th Asian Junior & Cadet Karatedo Championships in 2006, 1st place
  • 35th Japan Cup Karatedo Championships in 2007, 1st place
  • 51st All Japan Universities’ Karatedo Championships in 2007, 1st place
  • 36th Japan Cup Karatedo Championships in 2007, 2nd place
  • 37th Japan Cup Karatedo Championships in 2008, 1st place
  • Asian Karate Championships in 2009, 1st place
  • 38th Japan Cup Karatedo Championships in 2010, 1st place
  • 20th World Championships in 2010, 3rd place.
  • 39th Japan Cup Karatedo Championships in 2011, 1st place
  • 21st World Championships in 2012, 1st place
  • 40th Japan Cup Karatedo Championships in 2012, 1st place.

After winning the gold medal in 2012 at the World Championships, Rika Usami retired from elite competition to focus on her study and become an instructor.

Her flawless and breath-taking performance of the kata Chatan Yara Kushanku is the most watched kata performance on YouTube. It currently has 19 million views.

In 2015, Usami was named a Goodwill Ambassador by the Japan Karate Federation to help promote the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.

In 2021, at the age of 35, Usami was appointed the new coaching director of the JKF, replacing a veteran, Masao Kagawa sensei who resigned after an accusation of injury and harassment was brought against him by one of his students.

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