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?
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 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
“I have not permitted myself to be ignorant of any martial art that exists. Why? Such ignorance is a disgrace to someone who follows the path of the martial arts.”- Mas. Oyama
This question was asked on Quora recently and I thought I would share my answer with all of you who follow my blog. What was interesting to me were the other answers a few of which claimed Kyokushin was an “incomplete” art because we “don’t punch the face” and so was a waste of time. My answer, which follows, was shaped by those other answers and comments.
“Not all Kyokushin schools are alike. Kyokushin was founded upon the concept of what would work in a “real fight”. If you look at Sosai Masutatsu Oyama’s three major works, ‘What is Karate’, ‘This is Karate’, and ‘Advanced Karate’, you would find a full 70% of what he taught was within standup grappling range.
Kyokushin is often criticized because it doesn’t teach students to “punch the face”. That is not totally true. It’s not that Kyokushin doesn’t teach punching and strikes to the face.Where do you think seiken ago uchi, uraken gammen uchi, and seiken jodan tsuki, to name a few examples, are aimed? The problem in a lot of dojo’s is that hand techniques to face and head don’t get practiced enough in sparring. Let’s not confuse the style of Kyokushin with the ruleset for knockdown 🙂 I remember my sensei telling me long ago that, “anytime you take a martial art and turn it into a sport… you weaken it”. (a few of you may have seen me write this before)
I started training in 1980 and in the dojo I came up in we absolutely punched to the face (wearing lightweight gloves) and were allowed to grab, takedown, and throw during sparring. If training for a competition, including knockdown, then we would train to that ruleset. I had a student years ago who had previously trained in judo. He asked to do randori with me once after class and was shocked when I took him down and put him in an armbar. As I said, not all Kyokushin schools are alike 😉
The problem that arose with the introduction of Knockdown competition, was that more and more Kyokushin dojos started to focus on the sport aspect, which does not allow punching to the face, grabbing, throws, etc… The end result has been a generation (actually a few generations now) of instructors who often are not teaching those things because they had little to no practice in it themselves. There are exceptions of course but it seems to be true more often than it should be.
Nowadays there are many dojos where sparring is conducted under knockdown rules (no face punches or grappling), and their other training focuses on conditioning, kihon, renraku, and kata. For students in those dojos who want to become a more well-rounded fighter, I would suggest first talking to your sensei. There is something to be said for building a good foundation before branching out and he will (should) be the one who will let you know that you are ready for that. He may even have suggestions for you as to styles and teachers in your local area that can help you accomplish your goals. When I was a brown belt my own teacher recommended someone to train with in taijitsu and kobudo.
Having said all of this, my own opinion is that boxing, for footwork, body movement, and hand skills, along with a grappling art like judo, BJJ, or wrestling would be good choices. These are all skills that will complement or help you improve upon what you’ve learned in Kyokushin. Good luck! Osu!”
To the above I will simply add that I’m trying to write a little more these days. I have several more articles in the pipeline. I look forward to reading your comments and thoughts on this and other subjects. OSU!
I’m quite active on social media as many of you reading this know. One platform I occasionally post too is Reddit. Someone asked a question there for peoples thoughts about how Mas. Oyama, in his prime, would do in modern MMA… It’s an “interesting” thought experiment! Kyokushin is known for it’s striking and hard conditioning. Unfortunately, it’s also become known as the style “that doesn’t strike the face”. Always a bit puzzling to me as the dojo I came up in we definitely DID strike to the face!
There are valuable things to be gained from fighting in tournaments. The problems start when the emphasis in everyday dojo training becomes more about winning a sporting contest and less about budo. When that happens we are left with less time to practice techniques that one might need to be adept at in the “real” world.
Shihan Cameron Quinn on his YouTube channel ( Cameron Quinn Kyokushin Karate ) has talked about the importance of being able to fight from different ranges. He pointed out in one of his live streams on YouTube that if we look at Mas. Oyama’s books, at least 70% of what he taught for self-defense was in the grappling range. Sosai Oyama was a 4th dan in Judo which addresses why I included “Judo” in the title of this piece, but what about BJJ?
Mas Oyama came up in the Kosen Judo tradition that included much more groundwork than what is seen in modern sport judo. Kosen rules are essentially the original rules under which competitions were held and could be argued are more “balanced” than modern judo (or BJJ for that matter). Ground fighting was not uncommon at tournaments until Jigoro Kano, the “Father of Judo” decided that competion on the ground was too “boring” for spectators. In 1925 the Kodokan changed the rules requiring competitors to use a throwing technique (nage-waza) in transitioning to the ground. The amount of time that could be spent on the ground was also restricted.
However, some university teams continued to compete under kosen rules. Kosen rules are closer to judo as it was originally taught. Why did I include BJJ in the title to this blog post? In addition to throws, the types of techniques we associate with BJJ, takedowns, sweeps, chokes, joint-locks, and more ground fighting were also emphasized in the curriculum. The “judo” that Mas. Oyama learned included much of what we see in BJJ. Why?
Mitsuyo Maeda was a protege of Tsunejiro Tomita, whose name appears in the very first line of the enrollment book of the Kodokan making Maeda only the second generation from Jigoro Kano himself. This meant that Maeda learned judo as it was originally taught with much more emphasis on groundwork than modern judo has. Maeda started teaching Carlos Gracie in 1917 and Carlos would go on to teach his younger brother Helio. Together they would form what came to be known as Gracie Jiu-jitsu or more commonly, Brazilian Jiu-jitsu.
Judo and BJJ would evolve along different lines, especially when it came to competition. Modern sport Judo restricts the time on the ground and evolved to more of a standup style (tachi-waza) with more of an emphasis on throws. BJJ took a different path with more ground fighting (ne-waza) and less standup. Kosen Judo it can be argued, is a more balanced style.
In the early days of Kyokushin as Mas. Oyama evolved his approach, the emphasis was on what would work in a “real fight”. He was interested in what would work in the real world. In a real fight, people not only get punched and kicked, but they also get thrown and can end up on the ground. It’s little wonder that Sosai Oyama would want to add these techniques to his base of knowledge!
So how would Mas. Oyama had fared in his prime in contests which used modern MMA rules… Quite well I believe! His superior striking skills coupled with his grappling and ground game would have made him a formidable opponent!
“One must try every day to expand ones limits.”-Mas. Oyama
“Karate is not a game. It is not a sport. It is not even a system of self-defense. Karate is half physical exercise and half spiritual. The karateist who has given the necessary years of exercise and meditation is a tranquil person. He is unafraid. He can even be calm in a burning building.” – Mas. Oyama
One of the things I’ve most enjoyed about social media, is the opportunity to interact with people from all over the world whom I’ve never met, but share some of the same passions that I have. I have thousands of Facebook friends from many different countries and who live on every continent (except Antarctica) who share my love of Kyokushin. One of those people, whom I’ve chatted with from time to time, is Shihan Mac Robertson, the UK representative of So-Kyokushin.
He recently posed this question on his Facebook page:
Karate thoughts, How do you understand the first line of the Dojo Kun? “We will train our hearts and bodies for a firm unshaking spirit”.
I wrote a short answer to his question but decided a longer answer was worth writing. These of course are just my own thoughts. Others may interpret it differently.
Reciting the dojo kun (school oath) is something that literally millions of Kyokushin karateka from all over the world have been doing for decades. Sosai Oyama was a great admirer of Miyamoto Musashi, Japan’s greatest samurai warrior. He met and became friends with Eiji Yoshikawa, the author of the novel “Musashi”. It was to Yoshikawa that he turned to for assistance when he wrote the school oath for his style of karate. The style he named “Kyokushin” (Ultimate truth). There is no doubt that Sosai found in martial arts, a “spiritual” path!
Today there are millions of us (it’s been estimated over 12 million people worldwide have practiced Kyokushin) who have recited the dojo kun, and continue to do so at the end of training. I’m sure I’ve recited it thousands of times myself over the years. Shihan Robertson though makes a very good point…how many have really taken the time to “think” about the words they’re saying? It is often claimed that we are practising karate for more than just the physical aspects, but how often do we “really” recognize that?
When I ran across Shihan Robertson’s Facebook post earlier this evening, the first thing that I thought of was the Mas. Oyama quote that I started with above. “We will train our hearts and bodies…”, figuratively, our hearts are the source of our spiritual strength. When our hearts are strong, there is nothing that we cannot face. There is nothing that we cannot overcome! The heart and the body work together, giving us the spirit to overcome any obstacle. To literally, if the situation calls for it, remain calm in any situation and do what needs to be done.
We train our hearts and bodies to be strong. So that no matter what life throws at us, we will be able to face it and deal with it. When we train our hearts and bodies, the end result is the spirit is strengthened. It was this strengthening of spirit, that I believe was Sosai’s ultimate goal for all of us. It was, and is, through hard training that we discover our own spirit inside of us. The spirit of OSU! The spirit of never giving up! That spirit is there inside all of us. We just have to do the work in order to find it.
Would love to hear from those of you are reading this and what YOUR thoughts are!
“It may seem difficult at first, but all things are difficult at first.” – Miyamoto Musashi, ‘The Book of Five Rings’
“I have not permitted myself to be ignorant of any martial art that exists. Why? Such ignorance is a disgrace to someone who follows the path of the martial arts.”- Mas. Oyama
I’ve been a bit busy lately between school, social media, and training. Probably not the best time to start a new blog! For my first post I had started writing a bit about my own martial arts history but then got busy. I’ll get around to finishing it eventually. In the meantime, I ran across a post in our Facebook group today. It was a link to a YouTube video that asked the question, “The best karate style”? It got me thinking and sometimes it’s best to just “begin”. So for the first official post in this blog, I thought I would share a few of my thoughts on the subject.
In our Facebook group, although our focus definitely is on Kyokushin (the name Kyokushinkai Karate says it all ), we decided to draw a line (rather than just be a “general” martial arts group). We decided that including styles that Sosai Oyama had trained in and that are in turn related to Kyokushin were a “no-brainer”. We included the Okinawan styles because of their relationship to what we in Kyokushin are doing. It’s easy to see their influence on our art. There are schools in Okinawa that also train hard and focus on conditioning for contact. Although they may be different lineages, we are all still relatively closely related. We included Judo because Sosai also trained in Kosen Judo which includes an emphasis on not just throws, but also joint locks, grappling, and ground fighting. It should be pointed out that these techniques are found in karate also and not just judo.
In the early days of Kyokushin, when it was simply the “Oyama Dojo”, the emphasis was on what would work in a “real fight”. In a real fight things happen! You get knocked down and have to get back up. You get kicked, punched, kneed, and elbowed! You might be thrown or someone may grapple with you and then move into the manipulation of joints, or chokeholds. These techniques are found in most styles of karate (and other martial arts systems). Given our relationships, there are value and insights to be found for all of us in seeing how other “styles” of karate practice and what their approaches are.
Different styles of karate share many elements with each other. There is a tremendous amount of overlap. Emphasis can (and does) vary from one style to another but we are much more alike than people sometimes realize I think. The focus of training can (and again does) vary from one instructor to another or one karateka to another. It’s often the practitioner more than the style and their approach to training. Cross-training along with knowledge and understanding of various arts does have value. Sosai’s approach in synthesizing Kyokushin resonated with me personally and I suspect with many of you who are reading this as well!
When we approach our training with the openness of “shoshin”, the “beginners mind”, our training can take on new depths of understanding. Focus on the training is a good maxim to remember! Try not to get too caught up in politics or discussions of “best”. The answer to the question is actually quite simple. What is the best karate style? Why the one you are practicing of course!