Budo Karate West
The Kyokushin-Kan International News Blog, Featuring . . .
For anyone who has read Part Two, Kyokushin-Kan and the Worldwide Unification of Kata: The 2013 World Kata Tournament, this post is duplicate material. That article, about the 2013 World Kata Tournament (Part 2) forced me to break into content that conveniently also continues this discussion of Sundomei Karate vs. Full-Contact, and Kyokushin-Kan and why it is called Budo. The below is a repeat of that other article. If you’re continuing from Part 2 of The Sundomei and the Full-Contact . . . however, you indeed might continue here and consider this Part 3.
Lets look at a couple Youtube Videos of Mas Oyama. As you watch consider this point: Should we not endeavor to experience some of what our founder knew when he began his practice of karate? Kyokushin Karate was a synthesis of many different styles. Is not the best way to understand it fully to ALSO reach back to its roots, and experience what our founder experienced that led to the original Kyokushin synthesis?
In this first video, let’s watch a young Mas Oyama practicing Naifanchin Shodan, a kata that most of us never practiced during the final decades of Mas Oyama’s life, one that nevertheless Kyokushin-Kan’s Okazaki Shihan declares (on the behalf of Kancho Royama), along with Sanchin, to be the kata that is most integrally related to self-defense.
And how about this one, below? How awesome is this footage of the young Mas Oyama striking a mikiwara! Note the “spring” to this striking surface? Yet we know from Mas Oyama’s autobiographical accounts that his standard striking surface was the makiwara mounted to a tree trunk (and sometimes just the unprotected tree trunk itself!). The point here to consider is Mas Oyama’s use of hard striking surfaces. We’ve grown up in an era influenced by watching video of young Japanese and European tournament champions training by striking kick mits and punching bags, and wearing “bag gloves,” no less, while doing so. Sure some of us are aware of makiwara (and sandbag) training, but there can be no doubt that the popularity and frequency of this type of training that was CENTRAL to our founder’s training is, at the very most, SECONDARY to our own.
In this third video clip, below, we can see Mas Oyama practicing Tensho. We know that just 3 years before his death, it was this kata that the 70-year-old Mas Oyama demonstrated at his 5th World Open Tournament in 1991. Yet, how much do we really know about Tensho (and the so similar Sanchin)? Our training has all been centered around the Pinan Kata, yet Okazaki Shihan has said that “Pinan Kata are not really real Kata. They should rather be thought of as practice for beginning the study of Kata. Why? Because there is no deep meaning to the movements and their applications. They are not fighting kata”
The Pinan kata, and I can attest that Mas Oyama personally taught us all of the Pinan kata as well as Yantsu, Tensho, Saiha, and the Pinan Kata Ura in our special uchi deshi trainings at Honbu 20 years ago, are nevertheless kata for the masses. Sure one should learn them to approach shodan level, but have we not heard the expression that “real karate training doesn’t even begin until black belt level”? There’s a reason why we learn these before we begin our “real” kata training after reaching black belt. There’s a reason why we continue to battle for perfecting even the basics, and even those basic kata.
Kancho Royama is very strict with his stressing of the importance of Ikken (chi energy) training in all of Kyokushin-Kan’s international instructor’s seminars. “Take what you learn here back to your countries, and introduce it to your students,” he says time and again. After eight years of practicing Ikken (to the limited extent that I have) we have begun, in North Carolina, practicing Taikyokuken (Tai Chi) as a natural supplement to the Chi training offered by Ikken (only because we have better access to a high-level Taikyokuken teacher). I was struck, recently by this photograph, below left, because this is a Taikyokuken posture after all, not one that students of my generation were accustomed to seeing, ever, in our own training. I realized a mistake in understanding that I’d made for many years: When I saw photographs of Mas Oyama in postures like these, I assumed that they were being performed with the same kind of diaphragm-based destructive power that we are used to seeing (such as in the video of makiwara training above). Yet now, having practiced some Ikken and Taikyokuken, I question that assumption.
Kancho Royama has been stressing now for years the extent to which Chi energy training (Ikken) had been a part of Mas Oyama’s training and we know that Mas Oyama was a colleague and student of the Ikken Master, Sawai Sensei, who also taught Kancho Royama and our Vice-Chairman, Hiroshige Shihan. I recall a story told me by IFK’s head instructor, Hanshi Steve Arneil. We were in Budapest at a restaurant and he told me how he’d seen an aging Mas Oyama tear the side out of a free standing beer bottle without toppling the bottle.
We’ve all seen Mas Oyama break the neck off of standing beer bottles, but in this case Hanshi Arneil told me how Mas Oyama had struck the bottle palm first, and then withdrawn his hand so fast that he actually grabbed a broken piece of glass out of the hole in the bottle he’d smashed. The beer, rushed out the side of the still standing bottle, and Mas Oyama opened his hand to show the crowd the broken shard of glass. Note the picture at left: I don’t know if he’s smashed it with ura-ken (back first), or weather he’s torn the side out of it with a shu-te (palm heel strike), withdrawn into a fist. Yet, I’m immediately drawn to a recollection of a verbal exchange I had with our Vice-Chairman Shihan Hiroshige.
I had practiced to break beer bottles myself, Hiroshige Shihan watched a video of my efforts, and he told me that it was completely different from what Mas Oyama had done. “You’re using your bone-muscular system,” he said. “Mas Oyama used Chi. It’s much faster, much more minutely destructive.” Hiroshige Shihan, too, was a great practitioner of Ikken.
So . . . 1. Kata and its Bunkai (application), 2. defense and application of head punches, 3. the striking of hard surfaces rather than soft, and 4. training to develop an awareness and control of Chi energy. Add to this training 5. the traditional weapons of Japan (bo, sai, tonfa, jo), which are stressed in Kyokushin-kan seminars to re-introduce into Kyokushin a better understanding and application of stance, and we have a complete list of the major elements of training that are being stressed within Kyokushin-Kan, NOT to replace the training methods we all learned to fight in tournaments, but to deepen our understanding of it, and regain some of what was lost as Kyokukushin (through the World Tournament rules and popularity) drifted, ever so slightly, towards the sport end of the spectrum.
Let’s watch one more video clip of Mas Oyama, and I will comment below:
When I first saw this video clip as a teenager, I actually wondered, because of that first “KO” in which Mas Oyama drops his opponent with a single knuckle to the solar plexus, whether or not that opponent was “accommodating” Mas Oyama for the sake of the video. Did he drop intentionally without a true KO? The sound-effects the film editor added were no help. I watch the collection of clips today, however, and realize how ignorant I was then. The next two KO’s, a straight punch to the jaw, and then a haito (opposite edge of open hand from shuto) to the jaw, are clearly authentic knock outs. Watch them in slow motion and you’ll see this opponent’s heads react to the impact. Yet, do those strikes land with the same diaphram-based destructive impact of the images of Mas Oyama striking the makiwara above? Do they fall like we’re accustomed to slamming our fists into our opponents in tournaments? Do they fall like our blows do against punching bags?
Of course they don’t. We, in our generation, are accustomed to learning that kind of destructive power, because we’ve been limited in our competitions to hard, defensible targets, such as the thighs and body. We don’t strike the dangerous, vulnerable, soft targets such as the face, groin, neck, kidneys, and joints. Through my training with Kyokushin-Kan it has become crystal clear to me that, even training as a personal student of Mas Oyama, I was leaning during an era of intense popularization of Kyokushin during which everyone trained for the competitions, and rarely studied the lethality of what Kyokushin had originally been, a karate which was based on the life-and-death of self-defense, rather than relative care-free of tournament competition. Everyone walks away from tournaments, after all. Of course (!!!) tournaments are a critical tool to learning Kyokushin karate, and of course (!!!) the Budo Karate attitude is present in the “win at all costs” attitude, but it is a recent (and Western notion) that tournaments are the goal.
Kyokushin-Kan’s philosophy: Kyokushin is still great, but some things have been lost that originally defined it, and it’s time to get them back. It’s time for the students to re-discover them, to return a sharp edge to something that has become somewhat blunted.