Full-contact tournament fighting has been a hallmark of Mas Oyama’s Kyokushin Karate since the All-Japn tournaments of the late 60’s, and especially since the commencement of Mas Oyama’s world tournaments held every 4 years since 1975. Kyokushin-kan continues this tradition of excellence by hosting its All-Japan Tournament every November in Japan, and through its support of numerous international and regional tournaments around the world, as well as its successful hosting of World Tournaments every 4 years since 2005. After founding Kyokushin-kan in 2003, we hosted our first World Tournament in Moscow in 2005, our next one in Hungary in 2009, and Kyokushin-kan was the driving force behind the organization of the KWU World Tournament in Sofia, Bulgaria in 2013.
(Kyokushin-kan strives to define itself as an organization with the tools to ADVANCE Kyokushin through a specific technical vision which includes a concentrated understanding of kata, bunkai, and tournament kumite, along with the (re) introduction to Kyokushin of Chi energy training (through Ikken), Bukijutsu (weapons training), head/face-punch kumite, a heightened standard for manner, a stricter standard for promotion, and a refined set of tournament rules. These technical articles were written with the intent to inform Kyokushin-kan’s members of all that is meant to be gained.)
At almost every turn, however, we are furthering our mission of protecting, restoring, and advancing Mas Oyama’s Kyokushin, and the room for improvement we find in tournament fighting is no exception. In addition to the Shinken Shobu Rules tournaments that we hold every Spring, in which hand to head contact is legal, we have also innovated a set of advancements to the standard full-contact rules, succeeding to enhance the quality of the competitions even beyond those that we organize. Central to this end, is a belief that the style of kumite that was so revolutionary in 60’s and 70’s has become so commonplace that it has lost some elements of what Mas Oyama intended his Budo karate to be.
There is no doubt that Kyokushin karateka put themselves at risk when entering Kyokushin tournaments, but after several generations of even youths growing up within the system to where bouts are so clean (mastery of rules designed to protect the competitors from serious injury) that they have lost that exact element that Mas Oyama intended for his Kyokusin, i.e. fighters were meant to push the limits towards risking life and limb in order to experience what was the closest approximation they could to true self-defense. By the end of the 1990’s the “Budo” of the bouts had shifted on a spectrum from the end in which they had to defend themselves against someone who would seriously hurt them, and in the direction of the end of the spectrum that had more to do with mastering self-sacrifice, determination, and willpower. In short, the fights were more a battle of wills, than they were reminiscent of self defense. If there is any doubt, look at the outcome of how many bouts in the 1990’s were won by decision, rather than by K.O. Fighters were so well matched and their bodies were so tough, and since only the reinforcable parts of the body were legal targets, they were walking off the mat, far more often than not, unscathed.
Of course we don’t want our members to be injured, but the point is – Mas Oyama’s conviction was – that the competitors must push the envelope in the direction of REAL in order to attain the spiritual benefits that are the true goal of karate. Kyokushin-kan’s answer to the dilemma is multi-faceted, but several Kyokuhshin-kan priorities and advancements stand out:
1. Not-for-everyone tournament fighting with legal head punches (Shinken Shobu Rules). Although we’ve covered the knuckles for the first time in this limited number of special-rules competitions, we have made the head and face a legal target for hand strikes. Accordingly, we’re taking a new generation of competitors to a level of risk that pushes them towards the limits that Mas Oyama had intended. Our intention here is not that we replace standard tournament rules (no fist-to-face contact), but rather that a new generation of competitor will develop more realistic kumite ability and influence all of Kyokushin when they also participate in tournaments with standard rules.
2. Enhanced Tournament (non-fist-to-face-contact) rules. One of Kyokushin-kan’s innovations that is now beginning to effect tournament fighting even beyond our own tournaments is to make illegal, during bouts, a type of forward-leaning stances or hand-to-opponent contact that simply wouldn’t work in the situation where head punches were legal. In battles of will, competitors of the 1990′s would nearly lean on one another, exhausted but not giving up, trying to be the one who would defeat their opponent’s will to continue. And yet IF punches to the head were legal, this type of fighting makes no sense, and by adjusting the rules to keep the fighters balanced on their own centers of gravity, Kyokushin-kan has made tournament fighting much more similar to what the self-defense fight would be, hence also moving karate towards pushing the envelope Mas Oyama insisted did need to be pushed.
The iconic bout of the 1980′s between Matsui and Sampei. A true battle of wills, as each fighter nearly leans on the other, refusing to be beaten, BUT in an environment where they are prohibited from doing what they would do in real self-defense: strike to the head. For more on this concept, see Kyokushin-kan International Instructors’ Seminars.
3. Even Kyokushin-kan’s introduction of training with traditional Japanese weapons (bo, jo, boken, tonfa, sai) can be understood in this context as well. Although it’s a secondary benefit of training with Japan’s traditional weapons, here is yet another way that Kyokushin-kan students are being asked to consider, anew, lethality in their karate training. No, we’re not having full-contact competitions with bladed weapons, but by training with them properly, the knowledge of what they could be invites the karateka into realms of “risk awareness” that was starting to be numbed in standard system of tournament rules.
At the core of Kyokushin-kan’s philosophy regarding tournament fighting, therefore, is that tournament fighting can be a great approximation of life-threatening self-defense, but it is NOT, in fact, life-threatening. In a true self defense situation, the defender is, by definition, disadvantaged: Perhaps the attacker has a weapon, perhaps there are multiple attackers, perhaps the defender is female and the attacker is male, or perhaps the defender is of small stature and the attacker is much bigger. Whatever the reason, in a true life-and-death situation, the karateka is disadvantaged, and that’s exactly the flaw that occurred in Kyokushin tournament fighting during its boom of popularity: Full-contact fighting became so commonplace that competitors were more-often-than-not so well matched, that there was no longer a sense of Budo. Instead, many competitions came to resemble sporting events. Kancho Royama, like Mas Oyama before him, stresses, first and foremost, that while tournament fighting is an important tool for learning Budo karate, it is not the end goal, and to consider tournament fighting the goal, student and teacher alike dumb Budo karate down to something less than what Mas Oyama intended it to be.