One of the things Kyokushin is known for is the fact that it is considered “Full Contact Karate”. What exactly does that mean, and why does it matter? Read on to find out.
The original label of Full Contact likely comes from Kyokushin’s primary competition format, known as “Knockdown”. Knockdown has relatively simple rules: the goal is to knock down your opponent, or otherwise break your opponent’s will to fight. Succeed at this and you win. Fail and you are at the mercy of the judges or your opponent! What makes Knockdown most interesting is that the format employs little to no protective equipment, with most tournaments allowing competitors to compete with only a cup and mouthguard for protection.
Now before I get too far, it is extremely important to point something out. Knockdown isn’t for everyone. Most Kyokushin students will never partake in the sport. And that is perfectly ok. Kyokushin is about far more than just the sportive aspect. What Knockdown does do for the system, however, is provide a high-stakes and realistic proving ground, at least for the techniques typically associated with sparring.
What this proving ground gives us is an understanding of what works. Most sport karate schools have a giant hole in their knowledge base. They do not know what it is like to be hit. Their techniques are never tested in an environment where the adversary is not only trying to prevent your success, but are instead out to outright hurt you. A technique gains a new context when you know that failure means you are getting kicked in the legs or punched (hard) in the chest. Those who favor point sparring never learn an important lesson – the fight doesn’t automatically stop when you land a punch or kick unless that punch or kick is performed powerfully. Point fighting tends to push people towards favoring techniques that score, but otherwise leave you open in a real fight.
Studying full contact karate means that the techniques that are taught to everyone have been validated in a real, non-consensual and competitive environment. That is important for one reason. Self-defense doesn’t come with a referee to stop the match when things don’t go your way.
Full contact, in reference to karate, can also refer to the methods of training. Realism – especially understanding and experiencing what it is like to be hit – is extremely valuable. This of course needs to be done safely to avoid injuries, but when done right builds real confidence and an ability to protect oneself when it matters. It is strangely comforting when you’ve been hit hard and find out that you were able to withstand a whole lot more than you might expect.
Kyokushin means the ultimate truth, and I think its fair to say that the truth that is referred to here is the truth of what really works. No BS. We find out what we are really made of when we train hard. Full contact training tends to both humble and embolden us. It forges lasting friendships built on mutual respect. And it helps bring out the best of ourselves.