Clark Kents with Gi’s

As you know, we don’t place emphasis on jyu kumite in our group, although, we do share the many jyu kumite kihon combinations that your sensei’s learned as part of the KAH syllabus. From the time we were white belts, we were immersed into the practice of free-style and tournament sparring. To a great degree, our parent organization, the Japan Karate Association was responsible for introducing jyu kumite and tournaments t the world, beginning shortly after the Founder’s passing in 1957. The 5-step, 3-step and 1-step pre-arranged kumite you practice were developed to gradually introduce students to gauging distance, speed and power in coordination with another student, versus the usual “air” training. As brown and black belts, over half of our usual training was devoted to some aspect of jyu kumite in the dojo. When we were young, we received most of our many minor injuries from this type of training. Since this has always been the sports aspect of the art and in order to avoid injury to our students, we have not made this a part of your training. Ironically, this is what most people associate with the art of Karate-Do.

Since its introduction some 60 years ago, jyu-kumite has evolved into what we often see today:
High, kiba-dachi like stances, continuous hopping up and down or front and back, and colorful hand mitts and foot guards. Many tournament match wins depend upon just how many points can be scored on one’s opponent within the time-periods. Today’s techniques appear more flashy, probably has more diverse kicks, and are fast though possibly not as power oriented as in the “old days”. Back in those days, a win might achieve through sweeping your opponent of his feet and following up with a power punch for an ippon (full point), or maybe two decisive strikes (1/2 point each) some perhaps a judges’ decision. The old JKA competitors depended heavily upon punches and less so on kicks. I’m biased and would rather enjoy watching the old-style kumite versus the modern-day style, but that’s just me.

Many of the old-time (1980’s, 1990’s) JKA kumite champions really did look like the mean, tough fighters that they were, like: Masahiko Tanaka, Masao Kagawa, Mikio Yahaira, or Katsutoshi Shiina. I wouldn’t like to meet any of these kumite greats in a dark alley. However, I especially enjoy watching a couple of former champions whose looks belie what we think a kumite champion should look like: Toshihito Kokubun and Tomimo Imamura. Both gentlemen always seemed to be mild-mannered, innocuous looking guys…actually resembling some of my classmates from organic chemistry or calculus classes at the university😉. Yet, in the ring, they were among the best – focused, fearless, and seemingly unfazed by their opponents. They had explosive leg speed that could gap the distance to their opponent and blinding hand speed that delivered a devastating oizuki or gyakuzuki attack.

Some of the best moments of Toshohito Kokubun kumite! This is Karate Shotokan.

1983 IAKF World Championships, Cairo, Egypt. Imamura fighting in the individual kumite event.

I like to think that these “Clark Kents” were, through the art of Karate-Do, able to build their spirit, mind, and strength through countless hours of hard, focused training. They surely prove that old adage, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.”

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