A small part of my apprehension about moving to Japan, was leaving my karate family. I had trained with some these people for many years. Leaving was difficult because everyone was so supportive of me, so supportive of one another, and they just really liked to train hard. After moving to Japan, that urge to be around karate and a hard-working group drove me to start looking.
When I moved to Tsukuba, I did some research on the karate schools around me (not very many…at all). The closest school one to me was a full-contact karate style called Kyokushin. I had heard a little bit about it before, but I didn’t know so much. I checked out you tube and saw some of the Kyokushin fights. POW! CRACK! THUD! It was pretty insane. Some of the guys on these videos were getting MESSED UP!! Needless to say, I was more than a little worried about doing full-contact karate, because the fighting I practiced previously was point-fighting.**
**Point fighting is karate where practitioners don’t fight continuously. After your technique hits your opponent, you go back to the center of the ring, and the judges decide if your technique made clear contact…if so, you get a point.**
I tried not to let the YouTube videos intimidate me, and I did more research. As I learned more about Kyokushin karate, and asked some of my students, I learned a very key name: Masutatsu Oyama or Mas Oyama. I was quite surprised to find out how many people in Japan knew of him. Oyama is without a doubt one of Japan’s foremost karate legends. Although he was born in Korea, he built quite a reputation in Japan during his 70 years. He competed in the grueling 100-man fight (hyakunin kumite) a record 3 times. This is the ultimate test of endurance, strength, and mental resolve for a Kyokushin fighter…and few have done the 100-man kumite even once!
Some say Oyama would fight and kill bulls with his bare hands, would challenge other karate masters and defeat them, could break the top off of a beer bottle without knocking it over (using a deadly, knife-hand strike), and his legend continues to grow. Having a legendary teacher or practitioner come from your style usually gives a student bragging rights: “My sensei can kill bulls with his bare hands.” Or “My sensei can walk on water.” Or “My sensei can catch bullets with his teeth.” But karate represents more to me than mere bragging rights.
I admit that Oyama’s reputation is quite interesting, but I am more interested in training with a group of goodhearted people that just like to train. After visiting the school about four times, and waiting for about a year-and-a-half, I finally decided to join Kyokushin back in March of this year. So far, I am very impressed with how hard the kids and adults train, their dedication to what they do, and how supportive they are of each other.
Kyokushin Karate is a respected part of Japanese culture. With every kick, punch, and block I hope not to just become a better karate practitioner, but to learn more about the Japanese way of life.
Until next time,