Kyokushin Karate

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Kyokushin kaikan is a style of stand-up, full contact karate, founded in 1964 by Masutatsu Oyama who was born under the name Choi Yong-I. Kyokushinkai is Japanese for “the society of the ultimate truth.” Kyokushin is rooted in a philosophy of self-improvement, discipline and hard training. Its full contact style has had international appeal (practitioners have over the last 40+ years numbered more than 12 million).

Kyokushin has influenced many of the “full-contact” schools of karate, emphasizing realistic combat, physical toughness, and practicality in its training curriculum. Many other martial arts organizations have “spun-off” from Kyokushin over the years, with some adding additional techniques, such as grappling, but continuing with the same philosophy of realistic and practical training methods.

Techniques and Training

Kyokushin training consists of three main elements: (1) technique, (2) forms, and (3) sparring. These are sometimes referred to as the three “K’s” after the Japanese words for them: kihon (technique), kata (forms), and kumite (sparring).

Technique (kihon)

The Kyokushin system is based on traditional karate like Shotokan and Goju-ryu, but incorporates many elements of combat sports like boxing and kickboxing in kumite. Many techniques are not found in other styles of karate. Today, some Kyokushin fighters (like Francisco Filho and Glaube Feitosa) appear in kickboxing events like K-1, but apart from some exceptions, Kyokushin does not allow its students to appear in paid fights and remain with the style. In the past this has caused many high-ranking competitors to leave the organization, even if they continue to practice the art and skills of Kyokushin.

In this form of karate the instructor and his/her students all must take part in hard sparring to prepare them for full contact fighting. Unlike some forms of karate, Kyokushin places high emphasis on full contact fighting which is done without any gloves or protective equipment. This apparent brutality is tempered somewhat by the fact that you are not allowed to use a non-kick or non-knee strike to hit your opponent in the face, thus greatly reducing the possibility of serious injury. Knees or kicks to the head and face, on the other hand, are allowed.

In the earliest Kyokushin tournaments and training sessions bare knuckle strikes to the face were allowed but resulted in many injuries, and, thus, students who were forced to withdraw from training. Mas Oyama believed that wearing protective gloves would detract from the realism that the style emphasizes. Therefore, it was decided that hand and elbow strikes to the head and neck would no longer be allowed in training and competition. Furthermore, many governments don’t allow bare knuckle strikes to the head in sanctioned martial arts competitions. The vast majority of Kyokushin organizations and “offshoot” styles today still follow this philosophy.

Technically, Kyokushin is a circular style. This is in opposition to Shotokan karate, which is considered a linear style, and closer to Goju-ryu, which is considered a circular style. Shotokan and Goju-ryu were the two styles of karate that Oyama learned before creating his own style. However, Oyama studied Shotokan for only a couple of years before he switched to Goju-ryu where he got his advanced training. This is reflected in Kyokushin where the early training closely resembles Shotokan but gradually becomes closer to the circular techniques and strategies of Goju-ryu the higher you advance in the system.

Forms (kata)

Northern Kata

The northern kata have their origins in Shotokan karate, which Oyama learned while training under Gichin Funakoshi. The URA, or ‘reverse’ kata were developed by Oyama as an aid to developing balance and multi-direction combat skills.

  • Taikyoku sono ichi
  • Taikyoku sono ni
  • Taikyoku sono san
  • Pinan Sono Ichi
  • Pinan Sono Ni
  • Pinan Sono San
  • Pinan Sono Shi
  • Pinan Sono Go
  • Kanku Dai
  • Sushiho

Kyokushin unique Northern Kata

  • Sokugi Taikyoku sono ichi
  • Sokugi Taikyoku sono ni
  • Sokugi Taikyoku sono san
  • Taikyoku sono ichi ura
  • Taikyoku sono ni ura
  • Taikyoku sono san ura
  • Pinan sono ichi ura
  • Pinan sono ni ura
  • Pinan sono san ura
  • Pinan sono yon ura
  • Pinan sono go ura

Southern Kata

The southern kata have their origins in Goju Ryu karate, which Oyama learned while training under So Nei Chu and Gogen Yamaguchi.

  • Sanchin
  • Tsuki no kata
  • Gekisai Dai
  • Gekisai Sho
  • Tensho
  • Saifa
  • Seienchin
  • Seipai
  • Yantsu

Kyokushin unique Southern Kata

The kata Garyu is not taken from traditional Okinawan karate but was created by Mas Oyama and named after the village where he was born in Korea. The kata Yantsu is also often believed to be an original Kyokushin kata but there is enough evidence to suggest it finds its roots in Okinawa before Oyama created Kyokushin.

Ura Kata

Several kata are also done in “ura“. This means that on every other step forward, the practitioner slides his back leg behind his front leg and around to the position it would have been in had he stepped forward. This in effect produces a spin on one foot.

Sparring (kumite)

Sparring is used to train the application of the various techniques within a fighting situation. Sparring is usually an important part of training in most Kyokushin organizations, especially at the upper levels with experienced students.

In most Kyokushin organizations, hand and elbow strikes to the head or neck are prohibited. However, kicks to the head, knee strikes, punches to the upper body, and kicks to the inner and outer leg are permitted. In some Kyokushin organizations, especially outside of a tournament environment, gloves and shin protectors are worn. Children always wear head gear to lessen the impact of any kicks to the head. Speed and control are instrumental in sparring and in a training environment it is not the intention of either practitioner to injure his opponent as much as it is to successfully execute the proper strike. Tournament fighting under knock-down rules is significantly different as the objective is to down your opponent. Full-contact sparring in Kyokushin is considered the ultimate test of strength, endurance, and spirit

History

Origin

The following is a brief overview of the early life of Masutatsu “Mas” Oyama.

The founder of Kyokushin, Masutatsu Oyama, was born Choi Yong-i on 27 July 1923 in Il-Loong, Korea, during the long period of Japanese occupation. As a young child, Oyama studied Korean Taekkyon. In 1938, he emigrated to Japan and studied Judo and Okinawan Karate under Gichin Funakoshi. He attained “dan” status in both disciplines. He would eventually attain 4th Dan in judo, and 2nd dan in karate under Funakoshi. He also trained under Yoshida Kotaro, a famous Daito-ryu jujutsu/Yanagi-ryu Aiki-jujutsu master. Oyama received his “Menkyo kaiden” – an older form of grade, a scroll signifying mastery, from Kotaro. This scroll is still on display at the Honbu dojo in Tokyo.

Also, upon the advice of his mentor and well-known Member of the National Diet, Matsuhei Mori, around this time the young master took his Japanese name, Masutatsu Oyama, the name he would use for the rest of his life. After World War II, Oyama trained in Goju Ryu karate under a Korean master in Japan, So Nei Chu, who ran a dojo in Tokyo along with the renowned Goju teacher, Gogen Yamaguchi. He would finally attain 8th Dan in Goju ryu karate. During this time, he retreated into the mountains for a total of almost three years for solitary training as was the ascetic tradition over the centuries of many of the great warriors of Japan. During this period of isolated training, Oyama engaged in intense shugyo, or spiritual discipline, forging a powerful and explosive body ruled by a mind and will power second to none.

In the early fifties, Oyama traveled to the USA, visiting 32 states and demonstrating the power of his karate against all comers.

Founder of Kyokushin Karate, Sosai Masutatsu Oyama.

Founder of Kyokushin Karate, Sosai Masutatsu Oyama.

In 1953, Oyama opened his own karate dojo, named “Oyama Dojo,” in Tokyo but continued to travel around Japan and the world giving martial arts demonstrations, including bare-handed challenges against. His first ‘dojo’ was a vacant lot in Mejiro, Tokyo. In 1956, Oyama moved the dojo into the ballet studio attached to the Rikkyo University. Oyama’s own curriculum soon developed a reputation as a tough, intense, hard-hitting, and practical style which he named “Kyokushin” in a ceremony in 1957. As the reputation of the dojo grew, students were attracted to come to train there from Japan and beyond and numbers grew.

In 1964, Oyama moved the dojo into a building he refurbished not far from the ballet studio at Rikkyo. Oyama also formally founded the “International Karate Organization Kyokushinkaikan” (commonly abbreviated to IKO or IKOK), to organize the many schools that were by then teaching the Kyokushin style. This dojo at 3-3-9 Nishi-Ikebukuro, in the Toshima area of Tokyo, remains the world headquarters to this day.

1964 to 1994

After formally establishing the Kyokushinkaikan, Oyama directed the organization through a period of expansion. Oyama hand-picked instructors who displayed ability in marketing the style and gaining new members. Oyama would choose an instructor to open a dojo in another town or city in Japan. The instructor would move to that town and usually demonstrate his karate skills in public places, such as at the civic gymnasium, the local police gym (where many judo students would practice), a local park, or conduct martial arts demonstrations at local festivals or school events. In this way, the instructor would soon gain students for his new dojo. After that, word of mouth would spread through the local area until the dojo had a dedicated core of students. Oyama also sent instructors to other countries such as Holland (Kenji Kurosaki), Australia (Shigeo Kato), the United States of America (Tadashi nakamura, Shigeru and Yasuhiko Oyama, Miyuki Miura) and Brazil (Seiji Isobe) to spread Kyokushin in the same way. In 1969, Oyama staged the First All Japan Full Contact Championships and in 1975, the First Open Full Contact World Karate Championships, which took Japan by storm. From that time, world championships have been held at four-yearly intervals, although under the current confusion of self-proclaimed representative organizations, there are up to five so-called “world championships” claiming to represent Kyokushin.

Upon Oyama’s death, the International Karate Organization (IKO) splintered into several groups, primarily due to inconsiderate conflict over who would succeed Oyama as Chairman and the future structure and philosophy of the organization. Currently, the issue remains unresolved, although a series of court cases over the last 13 years appears to be coming to an end with a result finally due in the near future. Based on what was quickly proved to be a false and invalid will, Shokei (Akiyoshi) Matsui was named as his successor, even though Matsui was junior to many others in the IKO organization. Matsui claimed that he personally owned the intellectual rights to all Kyokushin trademarks, symbols, and even the name Kyokushin. However, the Japanese legal system consequently ruled against Matsui in this matter, returning the ownership of Oyama’s intellectual property to his family.

Kyokushin Today

Existing as a single organization under the leadership of the founder, Mas Oyama, the Kyokushin organization, after the Master’s passing, broke down into various self-serving groups, each claiming their own authority as representing the original Honbu. Various other organizations have stemmed from Kyokushin and teach similar techniques but go by different names. Also, numerous dojos throughout the world claim to teach a Kyokushin curriculum without formal connection to the organization. Although difficult to quantify, it is conjectured that the number of students and instructors involved in learning or teaching the style or one of its close variations around the world is significant and numbers in the millions.

In what seems to be a disregard for the generally accepted ethical and philosophical tenets of Budo, the ‘martial way’, the written and unwritten moral and ethical guidelines that give the martial arts their value, many of the better known students of Oyama chose to pursue their own agenda, claiming authority to control the IKO organization themselves. Mostly, these formerly loyal students would use the behavior of Matsui, described by the judge in a landmark trademark case against the family of the founder as “unforgivable”, as the reason why they chose to break away and start their own organization. Yet the actions of these men speak louder than their words and mostly their behavior reflects inconsiderate and self-gratifying actions that do not honor their teacher but instead seek gain. Groups such as the Shin-Kyokushin group, the Matsushima group, the Kyokushin-kan group of Royama, the Rengokai ‘Union” group, the IFK group of Steve Arneil and a number of other smaller groups all proclaim to represent Kyokushin but none have either the legal authority from the legal owner of the intellectual property of Mas Oyama, namely, his immediate family, or the ethical and moral justification for leaving the IKO Honbu and starting their own organization. What makes it even more confusing is that these groups are invariably led by well-known and often charismatic leaders who became great martial artists in their own right under the guidance of their teacher. These men are trusted and highly influential and so their influence has contributed to the confusion experienced today. All of the above-mentioned groups, however, exist without any legal or moral authority.

One could argue that if these groups are unauthorized why doesn’t the IKO Honbu simply taake them to court and shut them down. But in the martial arts world where ethics and wisdom are meant to play a significant role, this should not be necessary. Also, the groups count on the fact that the family cannot afford the expense to do so and thus live by a kind of unethical proxy.

Oyama’s widow passed away in June 2006 after a long illness. According to the Japanese legal system the Custodian of Oyama’s intellectual property and legacy is the youngest of his daughters, Kikuko (also known as Kuristina). The original IKO Honbu continues to operate, represent Oyama and run classes daily. The IKO has member dojos in most regions of the world.

Culture

Grading

Kyokushin Karate Belt Order
Black  
Brown  
Green  
Yellow  
Blue  
Orange  
White  

Colored belts have their origin in Judo. In Kyokushin the long-time order fo the belts was:

  • White
  • Red or Orange
  • Light blue (Sosai very specifically emphasized the color as LIGHT blue, representing water)
  • Yellow
  • Green
  • Brown
  • Black

With the adoption of a 10 kyu system in the late eighties, some parts of the world introduced a red belt after white. This was later universally changed to orange belt (see color representation, right), adopting, it is believed, the junior belt system of Canada. Red belts are traditionally associated with higher levels of mastery.

There are many ideas of how the belt colours came to be, some more romantic than others. One quaint tale says that students of a karate school would be given a white belt. The students’ belts would gradually become stained darker from use and eventually a person who was of a high standard and who had trained for a long time would then have a black/brown/dirt coloured belt. This is an inspiring way to encourage students to train harder but the Japanese as a genral rule DO wash their belts after training. However, students are discouraged to wash their belts during training(while they are still ‘students’).

Kyokushin karate has a belt grading system similar to other martial arts. The belt assigned to each student upon commencing training is a white belt. With each successful grading attempt the student is awarded a kyu ranking, and either a stripe on his current belt or a new belt colour altogether. Grading, or promotion tests, include the cumulation of calisthenic and aerobic workout, kihon (basics), ido geiko (moving basics), goshinjitsu (self defence), sanbon and ippon kumite (three and one step sparring), kata (predescribed series of movements/forms), tameshiwari (board, tile or brick breaking) and kumite (contact free fighting). Achieving a 1st dan black belt, or shodan, can take anywhere from three to ten years of training. The test for a shodan can take from two to six hours, much of which is extreme callisthenic training. The practitioner is required to perform 100 push-ups, sit-ups, and tuck jumps per dan, along with 10 one minute full contact fights per dan, with no protective gear other than a groin guard and mouth guard. A belt may be awarded only by a teacher at least two ranks higher than the desired belt. At the highest ranks (6th dan and above) tests are performed by international committee.

Each belt has a different number of fights required for the rank. The number varies significantly around the world. In some countries, applicants fight 10 hard rounds for their black belt, whilst in others, they are required to fight 40 rounds. It is not so much the number of fights but the intensity of the effort that defines the grading.

The amount of fights normally lessen after Sho Dan as many people were reaching this level at an older age and unable to fight long durations. The 40 man kumite for Sho Dan is no easy feat and involves non-stop fighting of one and a half hours or more. It is a test of fortitude as well as skill.

Competition and Tournaments

Tournament competition is an important part of Kyokushin, and most Kyokushin organizations sponsor local, national, and international competitions. Kyokushin tournaments are held throughout the year on every continent in the world, but the largest are held in Japan where they are televised on Japanese television and draw crowds of thousands. Tournaments are organized as either weight category or open tournaments. The Kyokushin World Tournaments are known as the Karate Olympics.

Kyokushin culture believes that accepting a “challenge” represents a Kyokushin practitioner’s commitment to the principles of the art. One way to participate in a challenge, in which a Kyokushin student tests his/her courage and desire to defeat one’s adversary, is through tournament competition.

Most Kyokushin tournaments follow “knock-down” rules in which points are awarded for knocking one’s opponent to the floor with kicks, punches, or sweeps. Grabbing and throwing are generally not allowed in Kyokushin tournaments. When they are, they are legal only if performed in less than a second. Hooks are usually legal if performed for a ‘split second.’ Arm or hand strikes to the head, face, neck or spine are usually not permitted, but kicks to the head are allowed. If, however, the opponent turns his back while the opponent is throwing a technique, there is no penalty. Outside of Japan straight kicks to the front of the knee are usually disallowed. Knock-outs do sometimes occur and minor to moderate injuries are common, but serious injuries are rare. The most common injuries are concussions, broken clavicles, and fractured limbs and sternums. Many Kyokushin tournaments follow an “open” format that allows competitors from any martial-arts style, not just Kyokushin, to enter and compete.

Multi-man Sparring

One aspect of Kyokushin’s grading system is requiring upper-belt candidates to fight with multiple opponents in succession with little rest in between each opponent. Also, the upper-belt candidate is expected to continue fighting even if injured in earlier matches or bouts. This method is designed to test the “fighting spirit,” as well as the application of the technical knowledge that they’ve learned through (usually) years of studying the art. A favorable win to loss ratio is not necessarily required of the candidate (in most cases), just the ability to continue fighting until the test is over.

In addition to requiring multi-opponent sparring for upper-belt tests, a special tradition of Kyokushin has been the 50- and 100- man fight. The 100-man fight was designed as a special test for advanced practitioners of the art. In these extreme examples of multi-man fight, the subject of the test fights 50 to 100 opponents (depending on the test) in rapid succession, usually two-minute bouts separated by one-minute rest periods. The subject has to “win” (i.e., not get knocked-out) in at least 50-percent of the bouts in order to be deemed as passing the test. One example of someone who successfully completed the 100-man fight is Miyuki Miura. Reportedly, only 16 people have successfully completed the 100-man fight. There is a trend these days of dojos and organizations around the world to run their own 100 Man Kumite with their own students as opponents. This is not authorized or recognized by IKO Honbu. Masutatsu Oyama is reported to have completed a 300-man fight over 3 days. See Sosai or Masutatsu Oyama.

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