Worldwide Unification of Kata
On Sunday afternoon, June 23rd, 2013, Kyokushin-kan hosted it’s annual weight category Shinken-Shobu Rules Tournament. This new set of Kyokushin tournament rules 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 creation of Kyokushinkaikan) routinely fought in the dojo with head punches, but when Mas Oyama created his soon-to-be world-famous full-contact 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 ground (including the ability to protect their heads from hand strikes!), however, Kancho Royama and other instructors of Kyokushin-kan are working to repair that damage, by offering select tournaments in which those who want to can try to gain experience with using (and defending against) head punches. We mention this on this page, however, to bring up the parallel to another important tournament that was held on the same day: Kyokushin-kan’s World Open Kata Tournament held for the first time in Japan.
Receiving slightly less attention, but of equal importance to Kyokushin-kan’s efforts to refine and restore Kyokushin, was Kyokushin-kan’s World Kata Tournamnet, welcoming competitors from America, Kazakhstan, Cameroon, Bulgaria, South Africa, Korea, Indonesia, Russia, Pakistan, Peru and Nepal. In separate divisions, male and female karateka battled against one another in the name of one unified purpose, not only a worldwide unification and systematization of kata within the ranks of Kyokushin-kan, but also a move towards a reintroduction into Kyokushin at-large an appreciation for the importance of kata when it comes to fighting.
Here we ask that practitioners and instructors within Kyokushin-kan understand the fact that these two events were held on the same day was no accident. On our page about Shinken Shobu Rules Tournaments we stressed that 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 want 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 takes 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. Of course we will not replace full-contact karate within our ranks with non-contact karate! It’s just that we want to develop one group of experts to influence the whole towards a higher standard of Budo karate, which of course includes an understanding of 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 (and other Kyokushin organizations). Following Mas Oyama’s death, Kancho Matsui, to the strong objection of then-Shihan Royama, sent Kyokushin champions to compete in K1 Kickboxing matches without first preparing them to protect themselves from boxing punches. Everyone recalls that 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 equal detriment to Kyokushin 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. Most of us learned Kyokushin karate in an era in which there was little understood 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.
Note, above, the Japanese competitor that took 2nd place in the men’s division, and below a competitor from Bulgaria, who did NOT win in kata, but who DID win the day’s Shinken Shobu karate tournament in the heavyweight division. The Japanese karateka won the kata, and this Bulgarian won the kumite, but showing them, side by side, is a better depiction of Kyokushin-kan’s intent than merely showing the fighter. Imagine if we could bring them together into one well-rounded Budoka! Imagine a future in which the kata champion influences that fighting champion, and the fighting champion influences the kata champion, to create a new breed of fighter that replaces the brute strength and power that can also be gained through training as a sportsman, to create a truer Budo karateka reminiscent of days gone by, one who is also unbeatable in the life-and-death struggle of the self-defense situation!
Kata, after all, and its companion bunkai, are the science upon which the art of the tournament fight is based. One can train for competition and win tournaments with rules, but take the fighter who’s mastered the science and the art, like Mas Oyama had done, who can handle a true self-defense situation (multiple armed opponents trying to kill him), put him/her into a tournament, and just think what kind of fighter would result? Mas Oyama, when he fought in early Japanese tournaments, made it his goal to break the bones of his opponents, and he was disqualified “for striking too hard.” Kancho Royama, when he fought in the 1st World Tournament, was accustomed to training in the dojo with punches to the head, grabs, throws, arm-reversals, and kicks to the groin, knees, eyes, and neck. Today’s fighters neither break the bones of their opponents, and are more often than not overrun by such techniques. What does that say about the Kyokushin karateka’s ability to protect him/herself when it really matters?
Bunkai (the study of the application of karate techniques found within kata) marks the area where kata is inseparably connected to kumite. When practiced separately, without bunkai, kata ceases to inform kumite, and vice versa, and something great is lost.
Remember that kata is integrally related to karate if we study it, learn its application, and how to apply what we learn during kumite. Remember that kumite is merely an exercise we employ to learn self-defense; it’s not self-defense by itself. Consider what defines correct kata:
You are practicing by making your kata match the kata shown in Kyokushin-kan’s DVD’s? Great, that’s a good place to start, but if you’re learning the kata from the kata, some would say that you’re learning to improve your dance. According to the spirit of Kyokushin-kan, you have to learn the kata through its bunkai, and then you will have something that means something to your fighting ability. What defines the correct kata? One might say, “the DVD,” or “my teacher,” or “the way my teacher does it.” Okay, so what defines the correct kata for those who made the DVD, or those who taught your teacher? The answer is simple, but often missed:
The perfect motions of the kata are also the perfect motions that you might use to defend/counter against the intended attacks. The beginner trying bunkai complains, “but when I do it like the kata, it doesn’t work; it works better if I do it my way!” But that’s the beginner. Consider this: There’s a reason why the motions look like they do. There is a reason why the masters who created them, created them that way. That reason is that those motions are the best motions to expertly defend and counter against the intended attack in a lethal situation. Therefore, we have to continue to refine the motions, and study the effective application of the movements, until the two merge. We have to practice the kata’s movements more until we realize that they are, in fact, the superior movements. Is this not a perfect parallel to the comparison made above between the Japanese competitor who won in kata, and the Bulgarian who won the Shihen-Shobu Rules tournament? Would either one of them be perfect in a self-defense situation?
Kancho Royama regularly makes the point that in order to teach one point effectively, we have to know the 10 points that support it. It’s the same for the fighter. Yes, you can become strong for tournaments with punching bags, sparring partners, barbells, sprints and kick-mits. But what if behind every punch, the fighter, thus trained, knew even half of those 10 points that lie behind on the road to mastery? One thing is sure: Kyokushin-kan is moving ahead with the conviction that all that Mas Oyama created was fantastic, but that if we don’t work on refining these points, generations will pass, and it will cease to be quite so fantastic. If you are a Kyokushin-kan member and you don’t get on board, if you don’t work on refining the kata and understanding the bunkai, there’s a chance you’ll be left by the wayside. Should you do it at the expense of all your current tournament-era training? Of course not. But it is a mistake to ignore it.
2013 World Kata Champions, Men’s Division
1st Yuta Inoue JAPAN
2nd Yuta Tamuka JAPAN
3rd Takeshi Yamada JAPAN
2013 World Kata Women Champions
1st Yukiko Koike JAPAN
2nd Sana Okazaki JAPAN
3rd Manami Sakumoto JAPAN