Sauce maker wants young people to learn focus, discipline

Ask Junki Yoshida what karate means to him, and he will tell you it is the reason he is a success.

What’s more, karate it most assuredly not about breaking boards and pulverizing bricks; if you want to do that, he says, go down to your basement and do that yourself.

Yoshida, the chairman and chief executive officer of the Yoshida Group, and perhaps best known for his zany approach to selling his line of marinade and cooking sauces, has just opened a new non-profit martial arts training center in Hillsboro.

The Japan Karate-Do Federation Ryobu-Kai North West headquarters, located in a small shopping center on Northwest Imbrie Drive, just off Northwest Evergreen Parkway, will offer karate classes for children and adults, and Yoshida will be the chief instructor.

He will be assisted by two other instructors: Hideharu Igaki, the official head coach for the U.S. National Karate Team, 2002 to 2009; and Dennis Wanless, a chief instructor who has been practicing karate for more than 30 years.

Yoshida hopes the Hillsboro training center will become a “karate mecca,” drawing in students of all levels. The center will offer separate classes for students ages 5 to 7, 8 to 10 and 11 up to adult, he says.

The youth programs specifically will provide fitness training, along with character- and confidence-building skills and goal setting.

Discipline, goals, focus

Yoshida moved from Japan to the Seattle area in 1968, with only $500 in his pocket. After enduring a number of hardships, he opened his own karate studio in Kent, Wash., in 1971. He and his wife, Linda, began making a teriyaki-based cooking sauce to give to his students as Christmas gifts in 1983, and the rest is not exactly history, but close to it.

By the end of 1988 Yoshida’s Gourmet Sauce was being sold around the world, and over the last 20 years the Yoshida Group has become a conglomerate of 17 diverse companies with more than 300 employees. The organization generates more than $180 million in annual revenue.

The business is doing well and expanding every year into new markets, using new technology, so Yoshida has decided to change his personal focus and go back to what he loves — focusing on teaching karate to young people.

Why karate?

“It taught me a lot of discipline; it taught me to make decisions under pressure and when facing a crisis, to find a way to resolve that issue,” Yoshida says.

“I am especially interested in young people, because what we teach in karate, public schools don’t teach any more (as a matter of policy): discipline, goal setting and focus.”

Practicing karate teaches students to have the discipline to push themselves to the limit, and goal setting trains them to keep moving forward through the ranks, to continuously reach for the next step.

And finally, he says if children learn to concentrate, they observe everything going on around them. He has even worked successfully with students who have been diagnosed with attention deficit disorder.

“Many students have changed school academic levels, because they learned to focus themselves in karate,” Yoshida says.

“Kids can be controlled, if we teach them discipline, and as long as the parents don’t give up; the parents have to stay strong,” he adds, noting that often parents end up taking the karate classes right along with their children.

Above all, karate is not about showing off, it is instead, “a purely psychological, physical fitness program,” Yoshida says.

“Everyone has a different way to enjoy karate: at a mature age, students can take karate in a peaceful direction to refresh the mind; while for younger people it teaches discipline and presents a challenge. Karate is very competitive, but with integrity, respect and humbleness,” he adds.

Giving back

Although it would be easy to characterize Yoshida as being an “overnight success,” in reality he has endured financial struggles, nearly going bankrupt four times, he says. Now he is a successful business man, heading up the Yoshida Group, and the founder of the Japan Karate Federation Ryobu-Kai N.W., with karate studios in Oregon, Washington and Montana. He has also designed and taught a karate-based police-training program in both Oregon and Washington

The key to success, he says is giving back.

“Success is not how much money you have; you get tremendous energy from the giving back spirit,” Yoshida says.

He came to this realization years ago when his first child, Kristina, was ill and spent five days in the hospital. He and his wife had no insurance, and were shocked when the hospital bill was only $250. When he asked why it was so low, he was told that the board members of the hospital raised money to help children from families with no insurance.

“At that moment, I became a businessman; I said, ‘I am going to pay back,’ ” Yoshida says.

Because of that decision, a percentage of the profits from his sauces is donated to charitable groups. He and his wife also support a large number of local charities, including the Kids on the Block program’s annual Yoshida’s Sand in the City fundraising event, and he was a board member of Doernbecher Children’s Hospital Foundation for 18 years.

But he is most proud, he says, of his ability to tell his story to others.

“I am a motivational speaker here and in Japan, and speak to people about my life and experiences. I tell them to never give up; never give up on your dream,” he says.

He wants to help people transfer what happened to him in his life to their own lives; he wants to show them how he set goals for himself, using skills he learned through karate.

Yoshida adds, “Now I want to concentrate on young people; they are our future. I want to teach kids who desire to be successful.”

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