Professor Frank Matsuyama created the first yawara stick and developed techniques for its use. Born in Miyakonojo, Japan in 1886, Matsuyama was of slight stature is a result of a crippling back injury he received when a horse reared and fell on him when he was eight years old, leaving him a helpless invalid. After years of training in the martial art, yawara-jitsu with his father, Matsuyama was able to recover fully. In 1903, he immigrated to the West Coast of the United States, where he worked odd jobs and continued to train in yawara-jitsu. Five years later, he went to work as personal servant to Jack London, the famed actor. During these years, Matsuyama wanted to teach yawara-jitsu, but he feared reprisals by the Japanese government against his relatives that were still living in Japan. In 1927, as the last surviving member of his family, Matsuyama began teaching yawara-jitsu to some friends. As his expertise became known, he began teaching his art to police officers. In 1931, Matsuyama became a full-time yawara-jitsu instructor for the Berkeley, California, Police Department. Since yawara-jitsu stressed locks and come-a-long holds, it was well suited for police work.
Matsuyama was a strong opponent of the blackjack and the traditional nightstick, so, in 1947, he developed a special weapon, called the yawara, for police officers to carry for protection. Since yawara is easily concealed, it was popular with plain clothes officers. Matsuyama developed the yawara from tanto-jitsu, the knife fighting techniques contained within yawara-jitsu. The tanto knife's wooden sheath was prone to swelling when moistened by rain, humidity, or perspiration, sometimes making it impossible to draw the knife. When this occurred, the user had to use the sheath as a weapon, so techniques were developed using the sheathed knife. Also, warriors needed a weapon to use in situations that did not warrant the use of more deadly weapons, such as the sword.