Are we Kinder and Gentler now?


A video posted in Kyokushinkai Karate, one of my groups on Facebook recently generated a bit of controversy. According to the OP, the video was a fight from an IFK Junior Championships. Some of the comments were very critical of the fighter who won. Although possibly they responded without taking the time to realize a few details, at face value the comments made me wonder if Kyokushin these days has somehow become “kinder and gentler”?

Let me start by saying that my thoughts on this relate to tournament fighting. Were the video portraying a sparring session in the dojo, that would be a different story. We of course adjust based on who we’re sparring with and take into account disparities in rank, age, and strength. But, this was a tournament!

My opinion is based on the conclusions I’ve drawn from the facts presented in the video and by the OP. We are only seeing a snippet of the total fight. The video doesn’t show us what happened earlier in the fight and it could possibly add some context… or not. We can’t tell from the video, but the white belt could be experienced. He could have fought much better earlier in the fight. We don’t know. Can anyone really judge a fight based on just a small clip?

Some Thoughts on Training

My Kyokushin training was in a dojo that did not fight purely knockdown rules unless preparing for a knockdown fight. Grabbing, sweeping, and throwing were all allowed. We often sparred with gloves and punched the face. We also worked bare knuckle because on the street we won’t be wearing gloves. Sparring without gloves meant no face contact. We worked our control. Our goal was to acquire the skill to go hard or just touch. Hard being relative based on the circumstances. In training, people will not go “all-out” all the time, but we did go hard enough for conditioning while minimizing injury. Injury could interfere with training and who wants that?

An Example

Shihan Swanson believed that we should be capable of fighting under multiple rulesets or none at all. I remember attending a point tournament in the mid-80s when I was still a shodan with Jimmy Swanson, another shodan from my dojo, and my teacher’s son. We ended up having to fight each other during the semi-finals. Without exchanging a word we gave each other a little smile mistakenly thinking we could “relax” a bit and have fun.

The referee said “begin” and two seconds later said “stop”! We were both immediately warned for “excessive contact” (remember this was a point tournament)! After bowing to the referee, we both shrugged and prepared to go again. We returned to our fighting stance, the referee said “begin” and three seconds later said “stop”! At that point, we were both warned one more time and we would be disqualified!

Contact is Subjective

I’ll never forget how Jimmy and I both looked at each other, looked down at the kanji on our chest, and then looked at the referee! Why do I share this story? To point out that contact can be a subjective thing. What Jimmy and I considered “normal” sparring, was considered “excessive contact”! I recognize that we are talking about a time over 30 years ago but still, it makes me wonder what other people’s experience in Kyokushin has been? Perhaps it’s much different than mine?

Thoughts on the Video

I look and see nothing excessive in the video, just two fighters trying their best and one definitely getting the short end! When did dominating your opponent stop being the goal in a tournament? Have Kyokushin tournaments changed? Did we become “kinder and gentler” and I somehow missed it? Has the definition of “sportsmanship” somehow changed and we don’t fight hard until the “game” is won?

The biggest complaint about the fight in the video seemed to be that the blue belt was going too hard with the white belt. First, to my eyes, it didn’t seem that hard. Just a spirited sparring session. The blue belt did dominate during the portion of the fight that we could see. The portion of the fight in the video was about 10 seconds. For those 10 seconds, he was striking the white belt almost at will.

The white belt was stung without a doubt. But, damaged? No that was not the case… Not even close! The comments also seemed to miss that this was a tournament and that Blue Belt is still relatively a beginner. We’re talking 8th kyu for goodness’ sake! Blue belt is hardly a senior rank!

How should we fight in a tournament?

This is a tournament and when you fight in a tournament it’s fair to say that fighters who win do their best to dominate! I’m confident that those of us who have fought full contact have all been given the same advice. “Never leave a fight up to the judges”! Who is going to hold back and run the risk of losing? In fighting everything can change in a moment. Someone can be behind for the entire fight and then win in the end. We’ve all seen this.

In some sports when you’re ahead you may back off and use “running out the clock” as a strategy. The same is true in combat sports, but that can be a risky strategy. The reality is that holding back or “taking it easy” in a tournament can cause you to lose! Not respecting the opponent in front of you because of the belt they have tied around their waist is another recipe for the same result!

Winning and Learning

We fight hard to win in a competition. Competition isn’t just about that. It’s also about learning. Learning only comes through experience. The rules in the Juniors Division are still knockdown but with a few differences. Junior competitors are not required to knock out, knock down, or take away their opponent’s will to fight. A clean shot to the head can be counted as a wazari. Because of that, it’s a good place for competitors to gain experience before joining the adult ranks.

In this match, we saw the blue belt land several punches and kicks and then connect with a kick to the face. You could tell it definitely stung, but was there blood? No. Was the white belt knocked out or knocked down? No. The judges correctly awarded a wazari. Many comments were critical of the blue belt. Why? He was fighting to win! We should all give kudos to the white belt for competing and gaining valuable experience!

To be fair

Some commenters misjudged the age of the fighters and this may have influenced their disgust. At least one commenter thought the blue belt was at least “twice” as old as his opponent! Impossible since the Junior Boys division is made up of 16 and 17-year-olds.

Although the blue belt fighter who dominated and won the fight had a full beard, this is not unheard of for a teenager (rare though it may be). As there are teenage boys who can grow a beard, there are some who are “baby-faced”. In the Juniors Division, there could not have been more than a 2-year age difference (despite facial hair or lack thereof).

Bottom Line

Bottom line as I see it… The white belt wasn’t knocked out or seriously hurt. His opponent belt was not called for any fouls and scored by the rules. I’m a bit surprised this young man has received so much criticism. Did those who commented negatively miss the above points? Or has Kyokushin become kinder and gentler?

“The heart of our karate is real fighting. There can be no proof without real fighting. Without proof, there is no trust. Without trust, there is no respect. This is a definition in the world of martial arts.” – Sosai Mas. Oyama

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Bill Stewart

I attended my first Kyokushin class in 1980.

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