One of Yoshukai karate’s claims to fame is that it is the “Actual Fighting Karate”. Well at the Traditional Tournament in Roswell this past weekend, it certainly showed itself to be that and more.
The Atlanta Tournament is the only closed Yoshukai tournament. This means that there were only Yoshukai dojo present, doing Yoshukai forms, and everyone there was in some way related to our style. The Atlanta tournament has competitions in kata, weapons, self-defense, point sparring and semi-knockdown; there’s something for everyone. Athens Yoshukai Karate represented itself well. Dr. Elrod, Dr. Sharma, Ms. Gao, Mr. Cheesobrough, Ms. Sleeman and myself all competed, and everyone won a first-place medal, or earned a second-place medal because the first was taken by someone in our own dojo!
Before any of the competition started, there was bow in and the presentation of new blackbelts. All those who had tested at Winter Camp were given their new belts and certificates. There was also the promotion of Shihan Lilley to 7th dan, a rare occurrence and particularly exciting. He is the fourth person in the US to earn this rank, after Master Toyama, Master Culbreth, and Master Blanck.
The first part of the tournament was black belt competition. There was Iai (sword), bo tai sai, and bo tai bo. The iai kata is intricate and precise, but there are lots of pauses and space in between the strikes, so it has a different feel to it than most of our kata. There are strikes from seiza (kneeling position) as well as standing, and there is always kiai. It was powerful to watch. Bo tai said and bo tai bo both involve partnered competitors. It’s basically Ippon Kumite with weapons. I particualary like when the bo person sweeps at the other person’s feet and they have to jump the bo or risk getting hit. Timing has to be almost perfect. With the team who won it was like watching a real fight, which is what it’s supposed to be simulating.
After the blackbelts competed, it was the colored belts’ turn. The divisions were divided into under 18 and adult, and from there divided by rank. In the open hand forms there was a wide variety, with everything from Shiho Hai to Rho Hai Sho amongst the brown belts, and Nijushichi No Kata up to Kihon Kata Yondan among the lower ranks. It wasn’t the difficulty of the form that determined the winner, but rather the excellence of the form performed. After the forms came the fighting, something many had been waiting the whole tournament for.
The most fun part of watching the tournament was watching the blackbelt point sparring. These are karate-ka who have known each other for 20 or 30 years and they were having a grand time joking around and laughing all while trying to backspin hook kick their buddy in the head. It was quite fun to see. It was also very impressive. They weren’t just punching and kicking and flailing while trying to hit the other. They were carefully calculating how to get the point. They were distracting each other with jokes and waving hands and feints. They were trying to outsmart each other and just have a good time. It really was a game of tag to them and they were enjoying themselves, even if they lost.
Semi-knockdown is a different beast when there are really good fighters present. A good semi-knockdown match is more than two people beating on each other. The winner isn’t determined by who has better technique; it’s who has more stamina, better conditioning and, most importantly, more heart. Semi-knockdown tests the fighters’ spirit, which as we all know is one of Yoshukai’s defining characteristics. Semi-knockdown is preparation for full knockdown fighting, which is what gives Yoshukai its actual fighting karate fame. Wayward blows can lead to injuries, so control is important, and most of the competitors were able to demonstrate that control. When a blow did go wrong, and someone needed a break to check for injury, the offending fighter knelt down facing away from the other, showing respect and that they wouldn’t fight an injured opponent. This is something that shows that respect is important to us, even between those who are fighting.
After the tournament’s end, some of the folks from our dojo and Clarke County Yoshukai went out for food and social time. It was a lot of fun, with plenty of laughter and good conversation. It emphasized the spirit behind the traditional tournament and all World Yoshukai events: to have fun with your karate friends. Whether you’re practicing in class, competing against top-tier opponents, or just having dinner after all that is done, Yoshukai is a family, and that’s why it’s a great thing to be a part of.