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.