Are we Kinder and Gentler now…

Osu! Recently a video was posted in Kyokushinkai Karate one of my groups on Facebook. According to the OP the video was a fight from an IFK Junior Championships. I found some of the comments quite interesting as they 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 we 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. Obviously, there are also people who are not interested in knockdown and who train primarily for health and fitness. My comments are not directed at those situations.

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. We don’t know what happened earlier in the fight and it could possibly add some context… or not. Although he doesn’t appear to in the portion of the fight we see, the white belt may even have experience and have fought much better earlier in the fight. We don’t know. Can anyone really judge a fight based on just a small clip?

When I was coming up in the 80’s we competed in whatever tournaments we could. I remember that my teacher was fond of saying that, “To be Kyokushin meant our goal was to be able to fight anywhere, under any rules, and win”! Point, kickboxing, Tough Man contests, and yes Knockdown were all on the table back in the 80’s and 90’s. I’ve no doubt that were he still alive he would say the same about UFC/MMA as well.

We did not fight purely knockdown rules in our dojo unless preparing for a knockdown fight. Grabbing, sweeping, throwing were all allowed. Face punches were restricted if we were fighting bare knuckle and allowed when we were wearing gloves. We worked our control with the goal of being able to go hard or just touch. Hard being relative. 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?

I remember attending a point tournament in the mid-80’s when I was still a shodan with Jimmy Swanson, another shodan from my dojo and my teachers 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)! We bowed to the referee, shrugged and prepared to go again. We returned to our fighting stance, the referee said “begin” and three seconds later said “stop”! We were both warned again and threatened with disqualification! 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… fun over!

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” by other people! I recognize that we are talking about a period of time that is over 30 years ago but still, it makes me wonder what other peoples experience in Kyokushin has been? Perhaps it’s much different than mine?

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 (usually easier said than done) 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?

Getting back to the video, the biggest complaint about the fight in the video seemed to be that the blue belt was going to hard with the white belt. First, to my eyes it didn’t seem that hard. Just a spirited sparring session. Yes, the blue belt dominated during the portion of the fight that we could see (about 10 seconds not including parts that were replayed in slow motion) and was striking the white belt almost at will during those 10 seconds. The white belt got stung without a doubt, but hurt? 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 sakes! Blue belt is hardly a senior rank!

In addition 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! How many of us have been advised to “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. Sometimes the same is true in combat sports, but as I mentioned in the previous paragraph, that can sometimes 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 what the belt they have tied around their waist is another recipe for the same result!

I recognize that this is Juniors Division but the rules are still knockdown with a few caveats. In Juniors one is not required to knock out, knock down, or take away their opponents will to fight. A clean shot to the head for example is counted as a wazari… In this instance the blue belt after landing several punches and kicks that were not scored connected with a kick to the face which did. 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 are critical of the blue belt but it seems clear that although he was fighting to win, he was holding back. It was pretty obvious that the blue belt demonstrated that he “could” have knocked out the white belt, but did not.

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! That would be impossible since Junior Boys is restricted to 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”. If we accept the OP’s assertion that the fight was a battle in Juniors Division then they could not have been more than 2 years difference in age (despite facial hair or lack therof).

Bottom line as I see it… The white belt wasn’t knocked out or seriously hurt. The blue belt was not called for any fouls and won in accordance with 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

Published by

Bill Stewart

I attended my first Kyokushin class in 1980.

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