The traditional Japanese defensive weapons (bo, jo, sai, tonfa, boken) were originally created in Okinawan law enforcement circles to defend against sword attacks after the year 1900 in Japan when swords became illegal, and the only people who carried swords were criminals. While there ARE martial arts in the East that are far older, Japanese Karate is actually a fairly recent phenomenon, in that it grew out of the practice of these defensive weapons for the purposes of empty-handed self-defense. Before 1900 in Japan, if you wanted to defend yourself, you would draw your sword. During the century that followed, however, Kobudo, like Karate-do (the way of empty hand), Iaido (the way of the sword), Judo (the way of throwing), etc. was practiced as an art form in which artistic mastery also meant proficiency (and lethality) in terms of self-defense.
In Kyokushin karate, we practice Kobudo to deepen our knowledge by bearing witness to the origin of our art, and by developing an appreciation for Budo (the Martial Way of Japan) in which true life-and-death struggle is a core component. Basically, we realized in the modern era that everyone goes home SAFE from modern karate tournaments thanks to sports rules designed to protect the competitors. The appreciation for how one might lose their life in self-defense, therefore, must come from another source, and learning to defend against a sword is one place that we’ve chosen to look.
Iaido (the Japanese art of sword drawing and cutting) will be the next step in our development. Whereas Club members are currently developing a proficiency with bo, jo, sai, tonfa, and boken, Sensei Ligo practices Iaido and will introduce it to Club members when the time is right.
Sensei Ligo’s teacher, Mas Oyama (1923-1994), was responsible in Japan for the introduction of “full-contact” fighting karate (he was the founder of Kyokushin which was the full-contact style from which all others emerged). Since that introduction in the 1960’s, Japanese karate basically has two branches, the full-contact styles, and the sundomei styles. Full-contact karate is free-fighting based, sundomei karate is bunkai based. Bunkai is the study of the application of formal movements contained within traditional kata.
While it is possible to develop perfect self-defense ability through both channels, the full-contact route is faster. Those who dare try (the exchange of full-contact body blows) may develop a proficiency in “fighting” sooner than those who approach “fighting” through kata. One might imagine the practitioner of sundomei karate developing perfect self-defense after training several hours per day for 10 years, whereas the full-contact practitioner can basically beat up most attackers within three, Ten years, however, of training for several hours every day is more time that most of us have to dedicate to karate training. The choice, therefore, is to risk injury through full-contact karate training and try to learn quickly, or to be patient, and realize the development of self-defense is going to take some time.
In Kyokushin Karate (the original full-contact karate practiced at Ligo Dojo) we realize that certain elements of “perfect self-defense” are lost to us if we concentrate too much of our energy on the short-cut route to tournament fighting proficiency. All tournament punches are aimed at the body, for example, while nearly all blows in bunkai are aimed at the body’s most vulnerable targets. (Kyokushin Karate tournaments allow kicks to the head because we can learn far more easily to block head kicks, but punches to the head and face, and strikes to the groin, eyes, and back are prohibited, along with chokes and throws, and joint reversals.)
Therefore, and similarly in the pursuit of true Budo (in which life-and-death struggle is a core component), we have moved towards learning the best of both worlds. In this way our contact exercises will inform our bunkai, and our bunkai will inform our fighting. The difference between Club training and Dojo training (both at Ligo Dojo) is only in terms of emphasis. The karate students spend more time fighting and also learn bunkai. The Club members focus on the art of self defense through kata and bunkai, and also experience some contact drills. Developing basic reflexes to defend against head/face punches is more an activity of Club members, than it is in the Dojo, because like weapons training, the basic exercise we use to develop these reflexes do not involve heavy, repeated contact to the face and head, and they are not part of tournament competition.
Ikken was originally imported to Japan from China and called Taikiken. Both Mas Oyama (founder of Kyokushin Karate) and Hatsuo Royama (current Chairman of Kyokushin-kan International Karate Organization) learned Taikiken from Sensei Kenichi Sawai who was responsible for that introduction to Japan. More similar on the surface to Tai Chi than to Karate, through the practice of Ikken we learn to understand the internal workings of our body’s electrical system (“Ki” in Japanese, “Chi” in Chinese), and then study how that alternate source of power might be used in self-defense.
Coming from a full-contact background, Sensei Ligo asserts that, in terms of self-defense, there is little use for Ikken in its beginning levels of study without combining it with the study of contact karate. The reader will notice a parallel to the above discussion of bunkai and sundomei karate. If one might, for example, become a proficient fighter after 3 years of practicing full-contact karate, and a master of self-defense after 10 years of practicing bunkai, we then have to consider that one might only achieve the ability to defend oneself through the practice of Ikken after 30 years!! The difference, however, is that after 30 years (when advanced in age) the karate student’s power is declining, and that student might realize that all that had been learned was how to beat someone up anyway. The practitioner of Ikken after 30 years, on the other hand, has become lethal. The student of sundomei karate (the dedicated one!) lies somewhere in between.
At Ligo Dojo through both dojo and Club trainings, we incorporate all 3 elements in our empty-handed training: Full-contact karate, the kata and bunkai of sundomei karate, and ki energy training. Once again the difference is a matter of emphasis. 30 years of training is better approached through the pursuit of self-defense as an art form. It means patience and dedication, and more time, but the end product is the same. Others might not have 30 years to give it, but that doesn’t mean they don’t pursue it. This group, as they strive to master their art, also benefit from the pursuit of ART in terms of enjoyment and life fulfillment. The point here is that this alternate pursuit might appeal to a different kind of student. It is for this prospective student that we’ve opened up our Club trainings at Ligo Dojo, under the name Triangle Bushido Club, and with this alternate emphasis.