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!”
(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.)
From personal experience, I can say that in the very beginning, I didn’t quite get it. I’ve been to 20 Kyokushin-Kan seminars over the past decade, and it wasn’t until I’d been to 4 or 5 years of them that it started to dawn on me how little I knew up until that point, and the extent to which I was failing to absorb what was being handed me so graciously by Kyokushin-kan. Take a step back and imagine a younger Nathan Ligo. I was 32 and I had been a personal student of Mas Oyama. I believed that what I had learned at Mas Oyama’s world headquarters in the early 90’s to be “the correct Kyokushin,” and anything that differed from it to be a perversion. Of course I didn’t preach that, I didn’t hold that belief consciously, it was just there under the surface enough to make me a poor learner. Proud of what I knew, I was a little bit thick-headed when it came to learning something new.
But then came a series of eye-opening realizations.
Year after year, I would come home from Japan, having had a new “wow!” moment, that showed me how wonderfully something I’d learned enhanced something that I thought I already knew. I believe training with the bo staff became the first. I always resisted training with Japan’s traditional weapons (bo, sai, tonfa, jo, boken) because, in my country, most of the “martial artists” that did were silly. In America, weapons training was a joke. It wasn’t until I started to realize what the bo staff training (kata and bunkai) introduced at Kyokushin-kan seminars was doing “for my karate” that I came to know what I had been denying myself up until that point. Just like face punches in tournaments, does Kyokushin-Kan endorse fighting with weapons for the sake of learning to fight with weapons? Of course not. Kyokushin-Kan endorces taking traning with weapons very, very seriously (as all training should be taken) in order to deepen our understanding of karate (weaponless martial arts), because its origin, and especially the origin of all of our stances, came from martial arts training that employed bo, tonfa, sai, jo and boken. In short, I had a moment in which I realized, “wow! that’s why Kancho wants us to train with the bo! It’s because it’s sharpening our karate!”
Of course none of that meant that what I had learned from Sosai at his world headquarters in the early 90’s was less valuable, it just helped me to sharpen the edge of it all, and therein lies Kancho’s message: As a Kyokushin-Kan member, you have to embrace what it is that it means to be a follower of Kyokushin-Kan in order to sharpen that edge. Not to try, is, in effect, to thwart the hard efforts made by our teacher Kancho Royama, and that’s something that only we, in the West, can manage to do so well. True strength in karate comes from “letting oneself go” to someone’s teaching, after all, and we, in America, tend to be the best in the world at not letting ourselves go, hence American karate is behind the international norm. (More on that later.)
Of course it’s hard for most of us to travel to seminars in Japan. From America, we used to get plane tickets for $900, but in recent years they’ve been $1250. Luckily the dollar is becoming stronger against the yen which does help. The 3-day instructors seminar held every year in March used to cost $500 (including all room and board) but now it’s coming down to closer to $400. Other than that, the costs are 2 or 3 nights in a hotel near Kancho’s dojo ($60/night) and meals and commuter train tickets. Usually when we go, we spend one full day after the seminar for sightseeing, and four full days in Japan winds up feeling like 2 weeks for all that we pack into those 4 days (and we don’t have to miss much work). Still, this is cost prohibitive for many of us. Many times it’s cost prohibitive for me too, but I have gone in the past sometimes anyway, knowing that I was going to have to come home and suffer some financial consequences. It’s just a matter of priorities. My advice, if you are an instructor, is to plan ahead, save a little every month if that’s what it takes, and go to Japan at least once per year. The first time I went with 3 students to a Kyokushin-Kan seminar, it was in Capetown, South Africa, and I secured extra work for the 4 of us, we worked weekends for a month with chainsaws and cleared a lot of fallen pine trees that a builder was willing to pay us $2000 to clear. It was hard work, but we found something extra, and made the trip possible with a little blood, sweat, and tears.
But what if you can’t do it? What if it’s too much? Well, first of all, I would recommend 2 solutions. IS there someone in your dojo, one of your younger black or brown belts who COULD make it to Japan if they had your encouragement? If so, make that person your dojo’s delegate that does go each year and tries to bring back some of what he/she learns. This past year Shihan Petrovich (Maine, USA) sent his student Kristen O’Connor. She took her 3rd dan test and came back home with some knowledge she can now share with Shihan Petrovich’s students. Of course, in her case, she ought to keep up with it, and go every year. It’s to the advantage of her teacher’s dojo for her to do so, so I would advise other students in her dojo to contribute a little, here and there, to help make HER trip possible. And the same goes for anyone, and every dojo. Secondly, in the case of the US, there’s me. I’ve been to a lot of these seminars, and I’m happy to visit anyone’s dojo in the US that will have me. I don’t have the knowledge to diminish the karate currently being taught in your dojo – I’ll probably learn many things from you while I’m there! – but after 20 Kyokushin-Kan seminars, I do have something small to offer in terms of what Kyokushin-Kan’s “edge sharpener” is all about. For the record, I would love to visit any Kyokushin-Kan dojo that will have me.
Bottom line, don’t quit practicing Kyokushin “as you’ve know it” until now. By all means, practice it harder! But if at all possible, do try to supplement it with what Kyokushin-Kan has to offer. If you can do so by attending seminars, that’s the best way. Please don’t hesitate to contact me if I can help further.
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