At Budo Karate West, we are just a matter of days away from having an option exist where users, such as any delegated student from Sensei Campora’s dojo (or any other dojo) can publish their own photographs, video clips, and news stories like this one, right here on Budo Karate West. Please stay tuned. Although these photos were borrowed from Sensei Campora’s facebook page, in the next week or so, you’ll see Budo Karate West’s general appearance change, and with it will be an option by which any user can contribute material about Kyokushin in the world, Kyokushin in America, or any Kyokushin-KAN material that presents Mas Oyama’s karate, or Kyokushin-Kan in a positive light. We look forward to sharing this ablity with others in the Kyokushin Community in the West, or anywhere in the English-speaking world.
As we continue our discussion of Kyokushin-Kan’s role in the development of Japan’s Budo (derived from the Japanese warrior code) karate, let’s look at training methods that we associate with what Karate was before Mas Oyama founded the Kyokushinkaikan, and what training methods we associate with the modern era of Kyokushin. In Part 1 of this article, I discussed the divide between full-contact karate (many styles that all derived from Mas Oyama’s split from all that went before) and Sundomei karate, the traditional styles (such as Shotokan) in which the destructive force we’re accustomed to seeing in competitions hadn’t yet been introduced (i.e. by Mas Oyama).
The easiest contrast to illustrate is the makiwara (or sandbag) vs. the punching bag. Mas Oyama’s generation, and Kancho Royama’s , trained by striking hard surfaces (makiwara and sandbag), but many of our later tournament-era generations trained by using soft surfaces (punching bags, kick-mits). Mas Oyama’s generation focused on striking the body’s vulnerable parts (head, face, groin, neck) where as our tournament-era generation focused so heavily on the body’s enforceable targets (thighs, abdomen, chest) that it almost forgot how to defend itself from head punches. Mas Oyama’s generation focused on Bunkai and kata and “the science” of the Art, from which “the self-defense” of the Art was simple by comparison. Our generation focused on the “self-defense” of the art as a derivative from the “sport” of tournament competition, often at the expense of kata and bunkai, which is the Art’s core “science.” Mas Oyama’s generation incorporated the spiritual, and the energy-training of Zen and Chi, where our generation focused on the physical of the punching bag and the body building gym. Mas Oyama endorsed training more hours per day than one sleeps. Our generation trained, in many cases, . . . well, a lot less than that. Mas Oyama’s generation was lethal . . . our generation is much less so. One was defined by the Budo-ka, the other by the sportsman.
Now, please don’t panic. All of our training with kick-mits, punching bags, barbells and sparring partners is all valuable too, and yes, of course, that’s where Mas Oyama wanted us to go, too. Mas Oyama’s Kyokushin is/was Budo karate. Don’t misunderstand that point. It’s not all a waste. The important point to consider, however, is that different times require different methods to keep the art at the front of the curve. Consider the following example:
One instructor outside of Kyokushin-kan in the US, who had been a student of one of the 1st world tournament era Japanese greats to introduce Kyokushin to America, told me how when his teacher broke from Mas Oyama in Japan, he started de-emphasizing training with long, deep stances, and based all of his karate on the shorter fighting stance. After all, none of us use the long stances in kumite, right?
Well, students of that great fighter from that earlier era began to wonder why they weren’t developing such great technique like their teacher had, and it occurred to some of them that even though long stances weren’t used in competition, the great skill that their teacher had while fighting (control of balance and footwork) came from his training, outside of competition, in deep low stances. Here is an example in which a great practitioner of an earlier generation whose foundation was in deep stances, became a champion without them, and then, therefore, propagated a style of karate in which he didn’t push what had been part of his foundation. Now let’s consider Kyokushin:
Kyokushin, arguably became the world’s strongest karate during its boom to popularity in which a new generation took shortcuts to win competitions that had rules (like no head punches), but lost some degree of what had made Mas Oyama lethal. Consider how the tables have turned:
In the 60’s and 70’s full-contact was revolutionary, so it could defeat the existing karate in Japan. But how about now? Isn’t the case now, that full-contact is the new status-quo? Of course it is! Kancho Royama and instructors of Kyokushin-Kan are NOT endorsing a return to sundomei karate. They are just recognizing that full-contact is the new internationally accepted norm, but also recognizing that it is one that has become blunted by shortcut training methods associated with sport competition. They are simply asking, where is the lethality that Mas Oyama intended?
Kancho Royama and Kyokushin-Kan instructors are NOT, therefore, endorsing regressing karate to an era that preceded what Mas Oyama brought to the world of karate. Rather it is the exact opposite. They are relying on the fact that there is no going back. They are just endorsing bringing back what Mas Oyama studied originally in order to break the mold of what was that earlier era’s status quo. In other words, that era’s status quo had to be broken to move the art forward. Does it not make sense that this era’s status quo might likewise have to be broken to bring the art forward again?
More on this in Part 3 of this essay in which I will further discuss differences in training methods between the bluntness of modern karate, and the razor-sharp of the traditional.
The Budo Karate West reading public should have no doubt that we, in the United States, lag far behind the international norm for kata, and lag WAY behind the Japanese standard within Kyokushin-Kan. Yet the only way to improve is to practice and participate in competitions, so I, personally, laud Ligo Dojo instructors Amy Kaufman and Donald Harris for the spirit and determination they show in their willingness to try. Even when standards differ, bringing those standards together is the only way to improve. In karate, isolation of the weak helps keep karate weak.
Amy and Don will be competing next month in Japan, both in the Kyokushin-kan World Kata Championships, and Donald Harris in the Kyokushin-kan Weight Category Shinken-Shobu Tournament (with legal head punches). It was perfect timing, therefore, that they both had the chance to participate this past weekend in Shihan Marty Petrovich’s Maine Kyokushin-Kan Open Karate Tournament. We are desperately seeking donations if anyone wants to help support their trip, so please Donate Here if you are able. Remember that we are a nonprofit and your donation is tax deductible.
This weekend, Amy took 3rd place in women’s advanced kata with Gekisai-sho, and Don took second place in the men’s division, and then later in the day, both demonstrated Gekisai-sho (the mandatory kata for the Japan tournament’s elimination round) together, this in a country where kata is not unified, so even the judges are often not sure what to judge as correct. All three video clips are here, and we want to make one important point loud and clear: We make these videos so we can study and see clearly what needs to be improved. Both competitors did better the second time, when performing together, than they did the first time, when competing separately. When they were competing, they made MANY MISTAKES . . . and we are glad to see it, because now they can see, clearly, how much work they still have to do.
Included also here are the clips of two fights that Don Harris had this weekend. There were only 4 fighters in his division, and he lost the first fight against the day’s winner, and then won his second fight in the fight-off for 3rd place. Note that whereas the fighters are trying to kick each other in the head, none of those kicks land. In Japan next month, in this rare tournament with Shinken-Shobu Rules, head punches will also be legal. Good thing Don has a good natural sense for how to protect his head! He already about lost his in this fight . . .
Kyokushin-kan members in the US should keep in mind that Kancho Royama and his instructors in Japan are working furiously to unify kata and bunkai throughout all of Kyokushin-Kan worldwide, and that that work starts in the International Instructors Seminars in Japan. Instructors should all attend. US Kyokshin-Kan members, please take note! Kancho wants us to be able to identify the fine points of kata that will allow all of us to unify our kata worldwide, so that even when we meet for our domestic tournaments, every competitor is working on refining the same points. Here is Don’s second fight, and also the two kata clips.
Ligo Dojo Instructors and Technical Committee Members Amy Kaufman (shodan) and Donald Harris (1st kyu) will be representing the United States on June 23rd, in Kyokushin-Kan’s World Kata Championships in Tokyo, and the following day Don Harris will be competing in Kyokushin-Kan’s weight category tournament with Shinken Shobu Rules (legal head punches). Can you help support their trip? We decided to send them at the very last minute because other competitors from the United States had not enrolled. If any Budo Karate West reader can help support their trip, whether with $5 or $500, please contact us, or click here to make a contribution. Our dojo is a 501.c.3 nonprofit, and even though, in this case, you’d be supporting our instructors rather than our kids, your contributions are tax deductible (US).
Below are some clips of Donald fighting recently in Rochester, NY.
During the two years that I was Mas Oyama’s student in Tokyo, he often repeated, “Kyokushin karate is not dance karate! It’s not kenka (brawling) karate! It’s BUDO karate!” What on earth could he have meant by this?
In order to understand fully, it’s important to understand the division that Mas Oyama’s Kyokushin created between “sundomei” karate in Japan, and what become known as “full contact” karate.
(This author thought it would be beneficial to the Kyokushin-kan community to summarize, to the best of my ability, some content of Kancho Royama’s International Instructors’ Seminars, held every year in Japan. Although I do have the dual advantage of having attended more of Kancho’s seminars than any other American, and of having acted as Japanese-English interpreter for those seminars in many cases, the reader should understand that, still, I can only do the best I can to explain concepts presented by Kancho and other high-level instructors in Japan. I do have the advantage of having been there, but my level of understanding in karate is only just what it is, and I can only explain what Kancho and others explain, through the lens of my own limited understanding. Yet to assist the development of Kyokushin-kan in the West, I will do the best I can.)
As hard as it might be for us to comprehend, when Mas Oyama first fought in existing karate tournaments in Japan, he was disqualified for being too rough. He would break the bones of his opponents, and the karate establishment, largely Shotokan Karate at that time, would disqualify him for hitting too hard. Mas Oyama’s synthesis of Kyokushin was responsible for the most dramatic shift in the development of Japanese Karate that has ever occurred. Genchin Funokoshi’s Shotokan Karate was a highly stylized form, based in kata and bunkai. In competitions, practitioners fought to show better technique, but had not yet learned the kind of destructive force introduced by Mas Oyama. Mas Oyama, the “God Hand” they would come to call him in Japan, trained his hands and feet to break stones, and tear the horns off of raging bulls, and when he applied this power to his human opponents of the Japanese karate establishment, he broke them, and he was shunned as a brute. It was therefore, that Mas Oyama created Kyokushin, and began, at Oyama Dojo in a small dance studio behind Rikkyo University in Tokyo, teaching a new generation of Japanese karate students what he believed to be the only form of karate reminiscent of true Japanese Budo.
After all, a key tenant of Japanese Budo (the “Martial Way”) was the Bushido (“Way of the Samurai”) mentality in which the practitioner reduced all the struggles of life, and hence the struggles for better behavior in life, to a sense of do-or-die by the sword. Since, for the Samurai, life could end at any moment, the Samurai endeavored to live a pure life of proper behavior, and without this “closeness to death” Mas Oyama believed, true Budo Karate does not exist. Of course (and parents of kids practicing Kyokushin in the current era should take note!), there were hundreds of years of Japan’s Samurai history that were peace-time years. There were hundreds of years, therefore, in which Japan’s warriors were living by the code of the samurai, a code so strict that they held correct behavior to be as valuable as their own lives, in which there were NOT, however, actually large scale loss (or personal sacrifice) of life. It was during those years of unification and peace in Japan that Bushido joined hands with Zen Buddhism, Art, and Confucianism, and Samurai came to follow the warrior’s code to purify their lives and their behavior, even in times of peace. Mas Oyama’s recognized, however, that if karate wasn’t at some point lethal, i.e. if practitioners didn’t risk life and limb at some point during their training, or at least train with that mentality because their role models were (the most serious of adult competitors), the establishment karate of Japan necessarily fell short of true Budo.
For Mas Oyama, the Japanese karate of the establishment was “dance karate”, there was no power, it was not dangerous, it was not, therefore, grounded in Japan’s warrior code.
Of course, there is no question that Kyoushin’s early years were not very pretty. Comparing the technical ability of modern day competitors to the technical ability of many of the Kyokushin competitors of the first world tournament (1975) is like comparing apples to oranges. Early Kyokushin tournaments where not as pretty in a technical sense, and to the Japanese public, they were considered dangerously violent. As Kyokushin karate roared to international popularity, however, the karate establishment in Japan, the “sundomei” karate practitioners fearing that they were being outclassed (because they knew they couldn’t win those tournaments), began to label Mas Oyama’s Kyokushin “kenka,” or “brawling,” karate. It is a derogatory term, meaning uncouth.
“But it’s not,” Mas Oyama was still regularly preaching when he was my teacher (at the age of 69 and 70) in Tokyo in the early 90’s. “Kyokushin karate is not dance karate [i.e. not like Shotokan karate], it’s not kenka karate [i.e. not the karate the Shotokan folks would have you believe it was]; it’s Budo Karate [i.e. THE only acceptable karate, because it’s the only one that embodies Japan’s historical warrior code.].”
If that’s the case, therefore, it might be important for us to ask why it is that Kancho Royama, and his Kyokushin-Kan, are working now to re-introduce and/or refine elements of karate (such as kata and bunkai) that we largely associate with the sundomei karateka of an earlier era? For many of us, Kyokushin has come to mean punching bags and sparring partners, and a sense of kata that they’re merely something different, some kind of exercise that we have to learn for promotion, but that otherwise have little meaning.
Stay tuned. In part two of this essay later in the week, I will address that exact question.
I thought I would focus this part 3 essay on Ikken on how to do a specific exercise that Kancho Royama regularly encourages. It’s one that can be practiced in just a few minutes of each karate training (although Kancho would encourage us to practice if for longer periods of time). It’s also very simple (i.e. to practice) and I have given you all that you need to begin your practice, right here in this essay. The exercise is called “Hai,” pronounced like the Japanese word for “yes.”
To review, the purpose of Ikken training is to harness ones Ki energy, and learn how to apply it in kumite. As stated in Part 1 and 2 of this essay, it’s not so important if the beginner doesn’t quite get it in terms of what it’s all about. Like zazen, or sanchin kata for that matter, if you practice it, its greater meaning will reveal itself to you over time. Meanwhile, the mere physical aspect will strengthen your body and improve balance. Therefore, it can be an exercise for the white belt, as well as for the black belt. For one it might be more about balance and strength; for the other it might be more about Ki.
The components of all Ikken training are 2, each of equal importance. The first is posture (or movement). The second is visualization. In the top photo at right Kancho Royama started with a position. He then started moving forward very slowly (similar to Tai Chi) but with a very specific image in mind. I.e he’s visualizing a specific image and concentrating on maintaining that mental picture as he moves forward. Without the meditation-like focus on that image, his exercise would be much less meaningful. Luckily, it’s an image that we can all understand very easily.
In the subsequent several photographs, Kancho Royama is teaching Ikken to foreign visitors to Japan. Kancho Royama endorses daily practice of Ikken to supplement ones karate training. Here’s a exercise that we can all add to our karate training, even today. Why not practice for three 3-minute sets, for example, during every karate training, starting today? One has to start somewhere. Continue reading
In Part 1 and 2 of this essay, I described Kyokushin-Kan as a movement within Kyokushin (or rather among the various splintered parts of what was a unified whole under Kyokushin’s founder Mas Oyama), one spearheaded by Kancho Royama, Vice-Kancho Hiroshige, Shihan Okazaki and others, that seeks to “sharpen the edge of Kyokushin” that its leadership believes became somewhat blunted in the last several decades. It is not about changing kyokushin, it is about sharpening an edge that has become dull. The bottom line of this essay, therefore, is that it’s our duty to understand the lessons being pressed during Kancho’s International Instructors Seminars, and to do our best to incorporate them into our training in our home counties. Kancho’s message: “Attend these seminars, invite our instructors to your countries, take what you learn to your students!” Continue reading