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Why You Should Try Kyokushinkai Karate

courtesy of International Kyokushin Alliance — International Karate Alliance KyokushinRyu | Kyokushin way (

Karate is more than just punching and kicking. When done properly it becomes a fantastic vehicle for self improvement across the full spectrum of the human experience. Anyone walking into a Shotokan school will notice the elegance and power of the techniques. Similarly the crisp, precise speed of Shito-Ryu. In Kyokushinkai Karate, however, we see what is generally considered the hardest form of full contact Karate.

I was a painfully shy boy, skinny and awkward. I wasn’t able to fight, but my pride wouldn’t let me back down from one. So after another black eye and playground beating, my mother relented and took me to my first Karate class in the winter of 1984. There I learned the mechanics of fighting, but not much more. Later I would discover the rich philosophical world that surrounds and influences all of the martial arts. The volume of writing available to students of violence is staggering and should be studied deeply.

But at it’s core…martial arts is fighting and fighting has to work. For all of the philosophical and moral talk, when the rubber meets the road, karateka who cannot fight are going to realize that they could just as well have studied interpretive dance and slam poetry. There are few things worse in our martial journey than realizing the black belt you took so much pride in has not prepared you for the violence of a real fight.

Enter Kyokushinkai.

“The heart of karate is real fighting. There can be no proof without real fighting. Without proof, there is no trust. Without trust there is no respect. The karate way begins and ends with respect.” ~Masutatsu Oyama

What is Kyokushinkai Karate? Founded by Masutatsu Oyama in 1964, Kyokushinkai means “The way of ultimate truth”. If you’ve not read about Oyama’s life, I encourage you to do so because the mentality of the founder reflects the reality of the art. Kyokushinkai has an almost cult-like feel and I mean that in the best way. It’s students are fanatical about self improvement and universally positive about bringing out the best in their training partners.

In some training halls, you’ll see students in neatly ironed uniforms, very clean and polished. In Kyokushinkai you’re more likely to see puddles of sweat on the floor and bloodstains on the uniforms. Uniforms are baggy for freedom of movement. They’re made of strong canvas and mostly devoid of patches or decorations. Training is hard, deliberately. I was discussing a training activity we used in the Army and the person said “this sounds really difficult; we should try it immediately”. Kyokushinkai attracts the same kind of people who join the United States Marine Corps, and for the same reasons.

Without stringent training, we remain weak in character and body. And that weakness lends itself to cowardice. By consistently training and pushing our limits we learn about ourselves and discover our hidden weaknesses and character flaws. Gradually, we eliminate them.

One interesting characteristic of this form of martial arts is that they don’t punch the face in competition. The decision was made because punching the face without gloves would damage too many people, but wearing gloves mad the karate weak. As a result, Kyokushinkai is renowned for it’s body shots, leg kicks, and beautiful kicks to the face. When they say full contact, they mean it.

Though I will say that I’ve never been hit by people who were more genuinely interested in helping me get better. The training is hard. The fighting is real, but without malice. The goal is to build a strong body, and the sensei will, like a benevolent drill sergeant, help you get there. It won’t be easy, but you won’t be alone.

When I walked into a Kyokushinkai dojo (training hall) for the first time, I had two black belts and had been a combatives instructor in the Army and I was still nervous. Extremely so. Because in Kyokushinkai there is no insulating oneself from hard training. There is no hiding behind rank. Or gender. You will learn a lot about yourself and be the better for it. You don’t know yourself if you’ve never been in a fight. If you’ve never been hurt. Sufficient training will let you know the difference between ‘hurt’ and ‘injured’. Good training makes us face our fears and through effort, we overcome those fears and become strong.

In many Karate schools, you will see training that makes the students feel good. Kyokushinkai, however, takes physical fitness very seriously. Students are taught to feel good by being constantly better than they were before. By deliberately doing things that are extremely difficult to cultivate fighting spirit and focus. In my exposure to Kyokushinkai, I have been consistently surprised and impressed by the humility of the students and instructors. Devoid of ego, they cultivate an environment of teamwork and family.

“Karate is not a game. It is not a sport. It is not even a system of self-defense. Karate is half physical exercise and half spiritual. The karateist who has given the necessary years of exercise and meditation is a tranquil person. He is unafraid. He can even be calm in a burning building.” ~ Mas Oyama

At it’s core, though, is a highly effective form of fighting. A person considering beginning martial arts training would be well served by visiting their local Kyokushinkai training hall. It’s a nerve-wracking, frightening experience just to walk into the door of a Karate school for some. And that’s ok. It’s by taking small, incremental steps toward improvement that we slowly chip away at the weakness of our character and our body and improve both simultaneously.

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