Monday, May 13, 2013

Kyokushin Karate Tournament

On the last Monday of Golden Week (May 6), I attended a Kyokushin-style karate tournament, which was held in an athletic center near Kamoike. At-the-door was 1500 yen, but I got my ticket in advance from FamilyMart (500 yen discount, but with a 100 yen service fee). Things got started at 9 AM, with the children's matches. The actual black belt matches kicked off at 1 PM. When I arrived right at 1, the last of the children's rounds was just wrapping up on the red mats at the right side of the above photo, The audience consisted mainly of friends and family of the participants, and a few of them were eating bento box lunches that they'd brought with.

(Trophies, and the table with some of the officials.)

According to the wiki entry, Kyokushin is an offshoot style, developed by Korean-born Masutatsu Oyama (he emigrated to Japan in 1938 and later changed to a Japanese name). He studied Okinawan karate as well as judo, and took a couple mountain-retreat self-training trips that lasted about 3 years total. In 1953, he started up his own style of school in an empty lot in Tokyo. At some point, the school reached about 12 million members. Mas died in 1994, and the school splintered as several masters bickered over who should succeed him.

(Official ceremonies, which started at 1 PM.)

I'm not sure which branch held this tournament. The wiki entry indicated that the different branches don't recognize each other, and therefore you're not going to see them competing in each other's events. This particular tournament was full contact. The children's rounds, and the first few matches of the lower-level black belts used helmets and hand padding. Attacks to the face and back were off limits. But, punches to the chest and stomach, kicks to the legs and head, and knee jabs to the thighs, stomach and sides of the chest were encouraged.

Several school leaders gave speeches encouraging the "display of fighting spirit".

(Two of the higher-level black belts, fighting without helmets.)

The style is characterized by a kind of hook punch to the chest and sides, and some occasional kicks. It looks like kick boxing, and I had a lot of trouble identifying any specific techniques. In the early rounds, a couple contestants accidentally hit their opponents in the edge of the helmet, earning them "chui's" (warnings). However, there were two spinning kicks, where the back of the heel seemed to bounce off the opponents' shoulders and into the side of their heads. In both cases, the opponents fell to the ground like bricks, and medics ran onto the mats to put neckbraces on the fallen and carry them off on stretchers. Rather than being DQ'd, the fighters were given full "ippon" - 1 point perfect wins. So, bumping someone in the face is bad, but sending them off the floor in traction is good.

After the first round eliminations, the younger groups performed kata, and the top black belt contenders went through 4 rounds of breaking boards (foot stomp, punch, elbow strike, kick). Each competitor could decide how many boards to use, and when they were done, the judges yelled out the number of boards actually broken. There was also a demonstration of weapon use by the highest-ranking school leaders, but that wasn't quite as solidly-performed as I would have expected.

No true martial arts tournament is complete without the hard-nosed, bald-headed floor judge.

The tournament seems to have been recorded for TV playback, and had its own announcers' table.

This was one of the last rounds. The heavier guy won mainly through sheer mass. Opponents pummel each other for 2-3 minutes, and if both are still standing, the 4 corner judges make their decisions. In the case of a tie, the round goes another minute. Victory goes to the one that dominates his opponent. A couple of rounds were obviously mismatched, in that the smaller guy threw the best punches, but the bigger one just pushed the smaller one around through sheer weight.

The photo doesn't do this guy true justice. His chest was one solid welt that was so bright that, without the camera, I could see the red from where I was sitting 100 feet away. It was a very brutal tournament.

There were interviews of the winners of the top rounds. This one was given near me by one of the winners going into the final round to decide the first and second place standings. I'm curious if the "no face attacks" rule is to ensure that the competitors look good on camera afterward.

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