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 Internatinoal 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.
I thought I would start with a discussion of the role of head-punch tournaments within Kyokushin-Kan.
We all know that by the 1990’s when Sosai was alive and Kyokushin achieved such enormous popularity, all Kyokushin tournaments, including the world tournaments held in Japan, denied the competitors the use of hand strikes (punches, etc.) to the head and face. This was done originally for an obvious reason. No one wanted to see so many competitors bloodied and sent to the hospital after competitions. We’re told that the Japanese public feared that competitors would die at the first full-contact tournaments held by Mas Oyama in the late 60’s if face punching were allowed.
Kancho Royama frequently points out at his seminars a key point, however, that differentiates the competitors of that era, and Kyokushin competitors of the present:
Those early students of Oyama Dojo (preceding the founding of the Kyokushinkaikan) and of early days at the Kyokushinkaikan, practiced full-contact kumite in the dojo in which punches to the head and groin (and grabbing and throwing) were all legal. This means that the Japanese fighters of the earliest Kyokushin tournaments fought with face/head punches in the dojo, and only limted their strikes to body blows at the tournaments. These fighters, therefore, knew how to defend their faces from punches. Those reflexes were well developed. According to Kancho, however, a tragic development in the evolution of Kyokushin then ensued. A new, younger generation came along which aspired only to win Kyokushin tournaments in which it wasn’t necessary to develop face/head punch defensive reflexes, and the majority of all Kyokushin practitioners ceased to practice defenses against that would-be-critical aspect of what would be any real self-defense situation.
Indeed when the first Kyokushin champions went to fight in the K-1 kickboxing rings, following Mas Oyama’s death, they were all tragically defeated, leading to a critical collapse in the popularity 0f Kyokushin in Japan. The Japanese public no longer believed Kyokushin was the world’s strongest karate.
Kancho Royama points out that it is critical that we, in Kyokushin-kan, reclaim what was lost. As karateka we must develop self-defensive reflexes against hand strikes to the head. The creation of the new face-contact tournament rules for certain specific tournaments in Japan (including our first face-contact world tournament that was held last year) is a result of that mandate. However, the “traditional” kyokushin karate practitioner should not panic. Most of us will continue to train for, and compete in, Kyokushin tournaments with traditional rules. The theory is that an elite class of competitors who want to compete with head punches will do so and that, since that group will become role models and also continue to fight in the tournaments with traditional rules, the entire “style” will be influenced towards a better trend in which our stances, footwork, and the way we use our guard to protect our heads will be improved. After all, the reason why an earlier generation of competitors lost the ability to defend their heads was exactly because they were looking at the champions, their heroes, who won tournaments without head punches. The theory, therefore ( and I think it’s a sound one) is that if a new class of heroes are developed that fights better (because they’re staying mindful of the possibility of incoming punches to the head), the next generation will be thus positively influenced.
In conclusion, according to Kancho, it IS important that we all develop reflexes to defend our heads from punches. It is NOT, however, necessary for all of us to rush into dangerous head-contact competitions. Those who want to try, should try. Those for whom that level of competition doesn’t make sense, should not be pressed. As instructors and sempais, it’s important that we are able to explain this new trend in these non-threatening terms.
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