Japanese Martial Arts: Kyokushin Karate

By Donald Ash | Fun Japan Videos

Kanji for Kyokushin

I have been fascinated with martial arts ever since I was a little kid. I remember my father showing me those old Bruce Lee films and just being awestruck. Although Bruce Lee was before my time, his movies are timeless. Onscreen he was so engaging, so electrifying, so dynamic, that you couldn’t help but be interested. This interest the martial arts films gradually developed into an intense desire to train. My martial arts journey started with Taekwondo (because that’s what my father studied) and led me to karate. The style of karate I took in the U.S. was termed “American Karate.” What is that exactly? American Karate is karate minus the Japanese expressions and terms. Stances, kicks, and punches were all called by their English names. But there are many similarities in the techniques from style to style. I really loved doing it.

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,


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Donald Ash is an ATLien expat who has been living in a Japanese time warp for the last six years. While in aforesaid time warp, he discovered that he absolutely loves writing, blogging, and sharing. Donald is the creator, writer, designer, editor, programmer, and occasional bad artist of thejapanguy.com blog (that's just way too many hats, dude). Wanna know more about this guy? Check out his "What's Your Story" page.
  • Sean Patton

    That sounds like a truly great experience. How welcoming is your school to complete martial arts novices? I’ve been toying with the idea of training in karate or aikido after I’ve been in Japan for a while. I presently have the phyisical fitness level of a slug (that may actually be an insult to slugs world-wide), so I definitely need to work on that first! Once I can exert myself for more than thirty seconds without needing an ambulance it seems like martial arts would be a great way to finish getting in shape.

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