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!