Today I was cleaning up some of my videos, to empty my camera’s memory, and I stumbled upon some Kyokushin Karate footage I had captured on September 20th, 2010. The footage comes from a tournament that was held in Oyama City, Japan. Oyama City is located in the Tochigi prefecture east Japan:
I had gone to class on Saturday night, and used what broken Japanese I knew to find out there was a tournament happening this Monday. I wasn’t prepared to fight just yet (being full-contact and all) but I REALLY wanted to see it. I found out that the tournament was going to be in Tochigi, which was just too far and too expensive for me to get to by train and bus (especially if I was just watching). Kato Sensei, one of my karate instructors, let me know that he was driving to the tournament because he was one of the judges. He also let me know that he’d be willing to drive me there and back..SWEET!! I confirmed and reconfirmed the meeting details. 8:00am in front of the Tsukuba Kyokushin Dojo on Nishi Odori.
Monday morning finally came, and I darted out of bed around 6:00am. I got everything ready, had a hot shower, and bought some snacks for today’s event. I got to the karate dojo around 7:45am just to be safe. 8:00 came, and I didn’t see my ride. 8:20, still no sign of Kato Sensei. 8:40am? I wonder where he could be? Did I make a mistake about the times? I asked several times to confirm it. Around 9:00am, I started to think this wasn’t going to happen. At 9:15, in sheer disappointment, I tossed my red book bag over my shoulder and headed back to my bicycle. Just as I started walking away. A car pulled up…IT WAS KATO SENSEI!! I was happy to see him, because it meant I would now have a chance to see my very first Japanese karate tournament. We stopped to gas up, and get some items for the ride.
During the drive I had no choice but to use my Japanese, as Kato Sensei doesn’t speak much English. I think is was really good practice for me. It was actually the first time, ever, that I didn’t stumble very much over my words. For the most part, I could understand what my teacher was saying in Japanese (albeit, I’m sure he was slowing down to make the Japanese easier to comprehend). I really enjoyed talking to him about what my job was back home, how long I want to stay in Japan, and what my goals were while I was here. I’m certain Kato Sensei may be younger than me (by how much, I’m not sure…maybe five or six years), but I respect him.
An hour-and-a-half later, we were in Oyama City. After parking, walked towards a giant sports complex. I was introduced to many different students (maybe it’s because I was the only foreigner there), and people were bowing to me like I was special (in Kyokushin I’m just a beginner). Kato Sensei introduced me to one of his Senpais (a fellow student who started training before you). I believe his name was Kattori Sensei. I instantly bonded with him because he was so funny. He had studied English in Australia, and was just easy to talk to. He was cracking jokes the entire tournament. He was poking fun at my teacher (senpais usually do that), he kept calling my teacher “Bullshit Sensei” partly because of his age, and partly because of his low pain threshold. But he introduced me to some of his strongest students and really made me feel like I was supposed to be there.
Later that day, I watch children performing karate katas and the were just so focused on every kick, every block, every movement. Kids weren’t running around playing, they were totally focused. I wonder what they’re feeding these kids to get them to be this well-behaved. From the very young children to the adults. These students fought hard! I saw some super impressive kids matches. There was one young man (about 12 or 13) who just seemed like he had legs of steel. He would not budge when he was hit, but when he did counter-kicks and punches, he was knocking other kids all over the place. After his fights, he was expressionless, and would bow politely to show respect to all of his opponents.
My favorite thing was watching Kattori Sensei fight; I had a chance to see what true tenacity really was. Kattori Sensei had to fight that day, but had fractured his ankle in a tournament two weeks prior. He re-fractured the very same ankle during the early matches and fought through what must have been excruciating pain. To many it seems stupid, but I was so honored & impressed by his courage. After losing, he actually apologized to me…of all people…and told me that he would win for me next time. I was so moved. I was also speechless at how much his students loved him, after he was kicked in the legs until he couldn’t continue, his students gathered around him…some kneeling…some standing…to make sure their teacher was okay. Some of the other black belts told me that there are two types of fighters, “heart fighters” and “technical fighters.” I’m sure you can guess which kind Kattori Sensei was.
The Kyokushin Tournament will be a memory that I won’t soon forget.