Budo Karate West
The Kyokushin-Kan International News Blog, Featuring . . .
On Sunday afternoon, this past June 23rd, Kyokushin-kan hosted it’s annual weight category Shinken-Shobu Tournament. This new set of Kyokushin tournament rules in which punches to the head, hand-reversals, and throws are legal, has drawn a lot of attention because it is the first time in most of our lives that we have ever seen Kyokushin fighters fighting with head punches. Kancho Royama, and other young students of Mas Oyama at Oyama Dojo (prior to the founding of Kyokushinkaikan) routinely fought in the dojo with head punches, but when Mas Oyama created his would-famous Kyokushin tournaments, any kind of holding/grabbing, and punches to the head, were ruled out as too dangerous. Recognizing a deterioration of technique that arose over several decades during which Kyokushin tournament fighters lost the ability to protect their heads, Kancho Royama and other instructors of Kyokushin-Kan are working to repair that damage, by offering select tournaments in which those who want to try can begin to gain experience with using (and defending against) head punches. Unlike boxing where fighters receive repeated blows to the head, the standard Kyokushin system of waza-ari (half point) and ippun (full point) protect the fighters from sustaining significant damage.
However, receiving slightly less attention, but of equal importance to Kyokushin-Kan’s efforts to refine and restore Kyokushin, was another, completely separate tournament that was held that same morning, Kyokushin-Kan’s 2013 World Kata Tournament held for the first time in Japan. To this event Japan welcomed competitors from America, Kazakhstan, Cameroon, Bulgaria, South Africa, Korea, Indonesia, Russia, Pakistan, Peru and Nepal, and male and female karateka battled against one another in the name of one unified purpose, a world-wide unification and systematization of kata within the ranks of Kyokushin-Kan, and, beyond that, to influence worldwide Kyokushin Kata on a wide scale.
Practitioners and Instructors with Kyokushin-Kan should understand that the fact that these two events were held on the same day was no accident. There is an exact parallel that should not be denied. In an earlier post, here on Budo Karate West, this author described how it is NOT Kyokushin-Kan’s intent to replace traditional Kyokushin tournament rules with Shinken-Shobu rules. It is rather that Kyokushin-Kan seeks to influence the style by allowing those who what to try to gain experience so that those “ambassadors” will affect that style on a wider scale. These same fighters will compete in traditional Kyokushin tournaments, and it is Kancho Royama’s assertion that they will begin to win them, and that their fighting style (one that take into consideration a defense from head punches) will influence the fighting style of all of Kyokushin as a result. The exact same mission, exists here, within Kyokushin-Kan’s efforts to unify Kata.
Remember that Kyokushin-Kan’s central philosophy is that Kyokushin must evolve to remain at the front of the curve among world martial arts. Following Mas Oyama’s death, Matsui Kancho, to the strong objection of then-Shihan Royama, sent Kyokushin champions to compete in K1 Kickboxing matches without first preparing them to protect their heads from boxing punches. As a result, they were soundly defeated, resulting in a tragic loss of popularity of Kyokushin in Japan. Basic defense against head punches had been lost, and Kyokushin-Kan under Kancho Royama seeks to repair this damage. But of arguably greater detrement to Kyokushin than the loss of an abilty to defend against head punches, was the more subtle, the underlying loss of the connection between kata and kumite, as Kyokushin drifted towards the sport end of the Budo karate spectrum.
For most of us, we learned Kyokushin karate in an era in which there was little connection between Kata and Kumite. Fighters learned to fight by hitting punching bags, and sparring in the dojo, sprinting for stamina, and lifting weights for power. If they practiced kata, they practiced it as something different, and there was very little meaning. For most, it was the dance that accompanied the full-contact karate of Kyokushin.
This discussion will be continued in Part 2, of a discussion of Kyokushin-Kan’s Worldwide Unification of Kata.
(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.)