11th World Open Karate Tournament
Many countries were represented at the tournament and all of the competitors fought hard. There were many exciting fights to watch; from the hard-hitting Russians to the quick and precise Japanese fighters. In the end, the final fight was between Bulgarian and French fighters… with Bulgarian Zahari Damyanov taking the top spot.
Sempai Mark represented Canada very well in his fight, taking his opponent to 2 extensions! In the end, the decision came down to the weight difference and with Sempai Mark weighing more than his opponent, he didn’t move on to the next round. Although it was not the end result we wanted, Sempai Mark showed that his hard work and training paid off and the crowd was very appreciative of the great battle between these 2 fighters. Plus, the VKK team cheered so loudly that everybody in the stadium knew Sempai Mark had a lot of support behind him!
A day after the Men’s Open tournament finished, the Women’s, Youth, Team Kata and Masters divisions competitions were underway. Sensei Curtis was unable to win his match against a known Japanese Sensei however he fought hard and performed well. In the end, with no major injuries and strong efforts in their fights, both Sensei Curtis and Sempai Mark finished the event with smiles on their faces.
Shortly after the Tournament wrapped up, a Kyokushin training camp was held on Mount Mitsumine. For a number of VKK participants, this was their first time to Japan and first time to Mount Mitsumine. On the first day, we had afternoon training in the hotel dojo lead by Kancho Shokei Matsui. The training was similar to what we do in B.C. however Kancho still taught us a few new things. In the evening, all of the Mt. Mitsumine participants had dinner together.
The next day we had 6:00am morning training outside. It was quite cold in the morning, wearing only our gis, however after some warm-up and kihon we were ready to go. The group split up into 6 smaller teams and we each worked through more drills and training, with each group training under a different Shihan or Sensei.
After a quick breakfast and packing our gear, we all made a stop at Sosai Mas Oyama’s memorial to pay our respects before heading down a steep mountain trail. This 3.5 km trail took us to the famous waterfall where Sosai trained and many karatekas took the opportunity to do some kihon under the waterfall as well. Although the air was cold and the water even colder, our Kyokushin spirit kept us warm as we punched and kiai’d through the falling water. A short walk after that took us to the buses and back into Tokyo.
All in all, it was an amazing experience. Not only watching elite Kyokushin fighters compete at the highest level but also supporting our teammates as they put forth their best effort to represent Canada. The Mount Mitsumine camp was great as well; training where Sosai once trained gave us goosebumps and was a very spiritual event. It was an inspirational trip!
Not only that, seeing so many other Kyokushin practitioners from around the world showed us that Kyokushin truly is a world-wide organization and that even though borders and languages may separate us, Kyokushin is the glue that brings us all together.
Vancouver Kyokushin Karate
The type of preparation I did for this tournament was different than any that I have ever done. Coming off an Ippon loss at the All American Kyokushin Tournament in New York held this past June, I knew that I had to invest much more time into my body conditioning rather then just the usual speed, strength, and technique training. The biggest difference between an international level fighter and fighters who have only experienced their countries local circuit is the amount of damage that the international fighters can withstand and simultaneously dish out. It takes great concentration to be able to maintain composure under the extreme offensive pressure of your opponent while also looking for his openings and sticking to your strategy no matter how the first 30 seconds of the fight might go. Being this calm and comfortable for a fight does not happen over night, or even in a year, but it is achievable in the right training environment with a team that is constantly pushing you to new levels.
For the last two years I have been training under the supervision of Shihan Andre Gilbert and more recently alongside fighters Mike McDougall and Marcel Balan. As a team we have all been helping push each other to train harder and to prepare for this world tournament. We put special focus on training our bodies to be able to withstand more damage, as well as being able to focus on the objective no matter what. Much of the training we did involved raising our pain tolerance by rolling heavy weights over our arms and legs. To complement the body conditioning we also trained our spirit by focusing on intense heavy pad sets to be able to persevere even when feeling exhausted and drained. For this world tournament we also knew who our opponents would be months in advance, and this allowed us to make our training more specific to better prepare us for our opponents.
I arrived in Tokyo a few days before the tournament to get accustomed to the time change, and to allow my body to get past the jet lag. Luckily I also had a pass on the first day of fighting and would not have my first bout until the second day. My opponent was 20 year old David Sarkhoshyan from Russia. Despite his young age, this fighter has had a lot of international tournament experience, including a 3rd place finish at this years All American tournament in New York. My body conditioning paid off as the fight went on for the full two minute duration with me being able to withstand his attacks. However, his height and weight did give him a significant reach advantage, and this prevented me from getting close and doing any infighting. Even though I lost by decision, I felt proud of my performance, and left the mat knowing that I could go toe-to-toe with an international level fighter. The experience also left me hungry to perform better at the next international level events. It is never to early to begin training for the next tournament, and I plan on coming back to Tokyo to compete again.
I would like to thank the IKO for organizing and hosting this amazing tournament, as well as the IKOKC for all the support I have received in the many years that I have been training and competing. I would like to thank Shihan Andre Gilbert and Sensei Tats Nakamura for all the coaching and advice that they have provided me with, and my training partners Mike McDougall and Marcel Balan for all the weekly training sessions.
Vancouver Kyokushin Karate
The end goal of any karateka planning on fighting in tournaments, can only be the Open World Tournament, a gruelling three day competition where the winner fights in 8 matches.
Almost since I began fighting internationally, I have always set my end goal as fighting to represent Canada in the 11th Open World Tournament. All the extra training, weekends that Sensei Tats sacrificed to train with me, all led up to this moment. I have often found myself anxious before other tournaments, worried if I will be able to show the work I have put in, or disappoint my trainers. Before this tournament though, I always felt quite calm, as I knew I had done everything possible to prepare.
This tournament was my third time competing in a World Tournament, but my level of preparation had increased drastically. Over the years of tournaments, the training had evolved, and my stamina, conditioning, techniques, defence and strength had all greatly improved since my first time competing there. I had also fought against many of the top fighters and felt that it was possible to beat them.
My fight was to be against the Japanese fighter Yuta Sawamura, well known for his strong left shita tsuki and fast mikatsuki geri. I had watched several of his fights before and trained a fast defence to the right side.
The fight started as expected, with Yuta throwing his fast shita tsuki, while I traded them for my low kicks. It was quite even until I dodged one of his kicks and took advantage of his loss of balance, managing to land quite a few techniques and gain control of the ring. Unfortunately Yuta managed to counter back before the end of the round and it came to a split decision, going into an extension. In the extension round, while my kicks were doing more damage, Yuta’s punches were giving good pressure and in the end it came down to another split decision. Deciding as a tie, it went to weight decision where I lost.
It was frustrating to lose my last fight before I retired, especially due to a weight decision, but I am still immensely proud of everything I put into it. Very few people ever go through the process of putting everything you have into something for years on end and it turns out to be its own reward. All of the training and competition has changed who I am for the better.
Along the way I have been helped enormously by everyone around me. The classmates who would hold pads or time sets for me, who came to the fighting seminar to help push me to my limits and some who even flew to Japan to support me in this event. All of my sempais who fought before me and passed down their knowledge, especially Sempai Kris and Sempai Michi who fought in the 10th World Tournament for me, and continued to help after they retired.
There was also Sensei Curtis who trained with me for the last bit and pushed himself to fight in the master’s division. Sensei Alex who showed up every Sunday for months to hold pads, spar and give me advice. Sensei Leo who was my first instructor, introducing me to Kyokushin and teaching me the spirit of Budo. My biggest thank you is extended to Sensei Tats, who painstakingly raised me as a fighter, holding the pads for hours each weekend, always pushing and forcing me to improve and always believing in me.
Lastly I would like to acknowledge my family and friends who understood when I was tired, and were incredibly patient about my limited schedule for events.
It is only when undertake a challenging endeavour when you know how much support you are surrounded by. I am truly blessed to be in the Kyokushin community, and I hope others will challenge themselves and see for themselves how fantastic this organization is.
Vancouver Kyokushin Karate
2015 WORLD KARATE CHAMPIONSHIPS TOKYO
After three days watching and cheering at the 2015 World Open Karate Championships in Tokyo I was ready. The skill level of the fighters from around the globe was mixed however most of them were impressively polished as they should be at this level, the pinnacle of the Kyokushin world.
The fighters from Canada fought hard and of course I was like the others from the Western region waiting to watch and cheer for Sempai Mark who had sacrificed so much to be there. Watching his match it was clear to me that he had won against his opponent and we confidently awaited the call for the decision. It was a draw and went into an extension after which it was a draw again and the final decision was awarded to his opponent based on a difference in weight. This was again a valuable reminder to myself and all competitors that the only guarantee you have of the decision going your way is to win by waza ari or ippon and not leave the decision to the judges as they will frequently have differing opinions which is a good thing. I was impressed and proud of Sempai Mark not only for his performance on the mat but also on how he handled the decision and afterwards where he showed true budo spirit and behaviour in a respectful and composed demeanour. Mark is much more than just a great fighter, he is a great example and has much to offer his kohais.
Day four was my day and after having a descent night sleep I felt quite good. I was a little anxious but also felt quite relaxed. All the competitors lined up on the mats in front of the audience and there I was able to take a look at all of my opponents. I felt very fortunate and at the same time proud of myself to be there with all of the others for this World Karate Championship. We left the mats and I went down to the fighters warm up area where I was joined by Sensei Tats, Sempai Mark and Sempai Michi where they assisted me in some warm up drills and secret strategy stuff!!
It was time to go upstairs to the mat and wait for my first match. I was not as relaxed as I was in the morning… a mix of anxiousness, confidence and expectations from my supporting family and all of my kohais, although it was only myself putting these pressures on myself and no one else. These are all very normal pressures and feelings which are felt by every competitor. As much as I know all this, it was however quite an experience to feel it again first hand just before stepping onto the mat to face an opponent for the first time in over fifteen years. Why not start tournament fighting again by entering the World Masters Division…all kidding aside, I think that most who get to know me, know that I will never take the escalator when there are perfectly good stairs to use…
Time to bow onto the mat and then to the referee and my first opponent, a Shihan from Japan. Hajime and it begins where I attempt a jodan mae geri which was blocked, my opponent pressed forward and continued the pressure as I tried to move and create some distance so I could use my kicking skills and land a head kick but he was very good at keeping the distance at a minimum. I managed to work his legs with some hard gedan kicks throughout the match. I was feeling good but unable to adapt quick enough to his style with a different plan before the match was over. The decision was called and I was anticipating an extension and a different strategy. The decision went to my opponent and it was over. We shook hands and left the mat. As I was gathering my things off the mat I began going over the match in my head to determine what I could have done differently.
Of course I was disappointed not just for me but for all of you who supported me as I wanted to bring home a win for VKK and Sensei Tats. I did remind myself of the earlier point that the only guarantee for a win is to remove the decision from the judges with a waza ari or an ippon. However I did learn something from my match and the whole experience which is ultimately a win to me as my skills and knowledge have been improved. The best way to improve your skills as a martial artist in Kyokushin Karate is through real fighting and the closest platform we have for that is full contact tournaments. I am and always will be a student learning as much as I can throughout my life in Kyokushin Karate. I am very grateful to have had this experience. Do not put anything off that you can do today. This is what I take away and which is very valuable and ultimately a positive…Osu!
My First Trip to Japan
Although I’ve never been to Japan, I’ve always dreamt about travelling there one day. The land of the rising sun, the country of the origins of ninja, samurai and karate; Japan has always been surrounded by mystery to me. This year my dream had finally come true – I got to travel to Tokyo with other members of VKK to support Canadian fighters in the 11th World Kyokushin Karate Championships.
We landed after midnight. Japan met us with pouring rain. When my roommate Mike and I had finally made it to our hotel our clothing was soaking wet. To our great relief the hotel staff waited for us despite the late hour. (Thank you Sensei Tats for calling them on our behalf.)
We had one day before the tournament for sightseeing, so we tried to make the best of it. With a population of more than 30 million people Tokyo has a lot to offer: from futuristic skyscrapers to ancient temples, from a peaceful Sumida River boat cruise to a breathtaking ride on Shinkansen (bullet train). Not to mention Tokyo DisneySea. We chose one of the main attractions – Tokyo Skytree: a 634 meter tall tower with two observation decks, presenting stunning views of such famous areas like Shinjuku and Shibuya, Roppongi and Asakusa. On a clear day you can even see Mount Fuji. Exhausted yet excited, we finished our day with dinner in one of the restaurants of Ikebukuro, which was always busy and full of lights
On the next day we arrived in Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium ahead of time. The plaza in front of it was already full of people. The atmosphere was electrifying; everyone looked animated and in anticipation of a great spectacle. We went to the side entrance to wish our fighters luck for the last time and also to mingle with other countries’ participants. Standing next to Kyokushin legends like Lechi Kurbanov and Alejandro Navarro felt kind of cool.
The tournament was everything we expected. The best of the best once again gathered together to compare their fighting skills and to demonstrate the true spirit of OSU. There was no lack of flashy knockouts and dramatic Hike-Wake. Our own Mark Berg lost to a strong Japanese fighter from Honbu only by a weight difference after two gruelling extensions. In another case, the winner was determined by the number of broken boards, leading with only one board. At the end of the day all Canadian fighters demonstrated a great effort. Even though we lost, we didn’t lose without a fight, and this also counts. Unlike other tournaments, this one had one extra twist: we got to witness our own Shihan Stuart Corrigal and Shihan Andre Gilbert being promoted to the next level. Kancho Matsui himself handed them new belts. Congratulations to Shihan Stuart and Shihan Andre!
Although the tournament was over, the final chapter of our journey had yet to unfold – the Mitsumine Camp. The four-hour bus ride took us to the top of Mount Mitsumine. This place is famous for its oldest shrine in Japan – about 1,900 years old. For every Kyokushin practitioner it is also a place where Mas Oyama, the founder of Kyokushin Karate, used to train. Every little thing at this place had a spiritual meaning: the poles along the alleys with lanterns on the top covered with Japanese characters, big memorial stones with carved writing so old that some of my Japanese friends had difficulty translating; the sound of a drum, coming from the temple with monks praying inside. And of course, Mas Oyama’s memorial on the top of the hill. More than one hundred people gathered there, and Kancho Matsui opened the camp with the traditional ritual of two bows, two claps and one more bow. Then we had our first training, followed by dinner. When the night fell and the full moon lit the alleys on the hills, some members of VKK, including myself, put on traditional yukatas and went out for a walk. We went to Sosai’s memorial and took some photos, walked to Mitsumine Shrine and to the observation deck. That was a satisfying completion to an unforgettable day.
The next class began at 6 am outside, in front of the oldest shrine in Japan. We did Kihon together, then split up by rank into groups and spread around the park. Each group was led by a Shihan from a different country – an excellent way to share the experience.
After breakfast, we cleaned our rooms and gathered our belongings. Following the closing ceremony, two bows, two claps and one more bow, we began our descent down the mountain to the pinnacle of the camp – waterfall training. In just over an hour, the narrow, steep and winding mountain trail brought us to the opening. Even though we didn’t see the water yet, we could already hear a thunderous kiai, echoing in the mountains, from the karatekas who came there before us. When it was our turn, we climbed up onto a small rocky ledge under the running water where Sosai used to train. At first, the water felt extremely cold. But as we began punching with full power and the loudest kiai, the sensation of cold disappeared. What a great experience!
The bus brought us back to Tokyo. Mike and I had a few hours before our flight. Zohra, Mike, Tomomi and I decided to have one last dinner together, when we accidentally ran into Shihan Biskos Vangelis with whom Tomomi used to train when she was in Belgium. As our group went to Mitsumine camp, Shihan Biskos and his group went to train on Mount Fuji. And now we met at the busiest part of Shinjuku. What were the odds? Shihan Biskos gladly joined our company. There we were, five people from five different countries of origin – Russia, Poland, Afghanistan, Belgium and Japan – having dinner in a Tokyo restaurant. How likely would this be if not for Kyokushin? All in all, Mas Oyama did not simply create a different style of martial arts; he created a brotherhood of dedicated men and women, driven by the same ideals. And for that we are eternally thankful.
Yours in Kyokushin,
This time I traveled to Tokyo to support my Kohais on Team Canada. Even though I was not there to compete, as soon as I entered the Tokyo gymnasium I sensed those mixed feelings of excitement, anxiety and fear. A new emotion added into the mix this time was the “hope” for my Kohai, Mark Berg who trained with me when I was still competing. After I retired, Mark kept on training and competed exceptionally well in the international circuit. I saw with my own eyes the rapid progress and steady improvement he made as he gained more experience from each tournament he entered. Seeing the time and effort that Sensei Tats and Mark had put toward the World Tournament during the last four years, that I truly respect their determination and dedication. It is not so hard to train for a few months for one tournament. But they did trained hard for four years aiming toward the World Tournament. From my own experience, I know Mark had to sacrifice many things for the training, and had to receive full support from his family and friends for his decision, so he could concentrate on catching up to the world class fighters. As the event day approached closely, expectations mounted on him. We knew how much sacrifice he had to make. The only thing he could concentrate on was to keep on going until nothing would be left to train for. And he did that very well. I said to myself that he had done every thing he could.
On the first day of the tournament, I witnessed the strong Russian team still overwhelming the world, and I was impressed to see the skill level of the top fighters from around the globe. For the Canadian Team, two hopeful young fighters, Mohamed Chich and Simon Deguire stood on the mat. The two young Canadians fought very well against fighters from Japan and France. Although they lost, their performance showed us the huge potential for Canadians to do well in the next World Tournament.
On the second day, the rest of Canadian fighters were up including Mark Berg. I helped Pasha and Mike in their warm up while Sensei Tats helped Mark warm up. He was very calm and his technique looked really sharp. He was 100% ready for the upcoming match. We were confident that he would do very well on the mat.
I was really excited to be the part of the coaching team on the ring side. Mark fought exceptionally well against Yuta Sawamura from Honbu. It looked very obvious that Mark’s low kick was doing significant damage to his opponent’s leg. The two minutes went by very quickly. When it came to the decision, Mark got two flags and his opponent got one. The fight went into an extension round where Sawamura began to catch up by analyzing Mark’s attacking patterns. Mark kept landing strong kicks. The fight now looked even. The officiating team gave two flags for Mark and the other two for Sawamura. Shushin (Center Ref) called “Hikiwake (Draw)”. Now, a decision was to be made by weight. It was clear that the Japanese fighter was more than 10 kg lighter than Mark. It cannot be any closer to a victory than this. I know how he felt after the fight because I was in the same spot four years ago. But we have to accept the fact that he lost for some reason and to try to understand why this happened. Otherwise we can’t go forward from here. Even though he lost, the training he had done in last four years will never go away. It became the part of his body and soul. It will help him forever in his life.
On the third day, I saw a lot of great fights between the World’s top fighters. The fighting styles, technique and strategy have evolved and improved constantly in the world of Kyokushin. We, as a Canadian team, must work together to catch up to the top fighters by the time we come to the next World Tournament in 2019.
On the last day, Sensei Curtis was up and ready in the world Master’s division. I looked at the draw and found out that he was the oldest fighter in the whole tournament! (Even though he looked and fought like a 30 year old!) He fought very well against Shihan from Japan. He went to toe to toe and showed that his skill was at same level as the Japanese Shihan. But the pressure that his opponent put forth was so strong that Sensei Curtis was forced to back up during the match and eventually lost by decision. Overcoming the obstacles of his busy life schedule and his body condition, Sensei Curtis represented Canadian black belts very well.
After the tournament, the entire group from the Vancouver dojo went to a local Izakaya to celebrate our fighters’ fine performance. We had a great time there! Every time I come back and meet VKK friends, I feel like I am home. I really appreciate the origin of my Karate-do. Thank you, Sensei Tats, for being the bond for us!
The whole tournament process made me think about these. When you retire as a fighter, you might feel lost for a while. But there is no time to rest. The time you will spend in karate after retirement is much longer and equally important as your competition days. How you spend the time determines the worth of the training you have done before. The international tournament days are finally over for Mark. He learned so much from our Sensei. Now he has to go forward and pass it on to our Kohais. That’s the only way that we can grow together as a Karate-ka and also as a individuals.
I would like to thank IKOK and IKOK-C for giving us such a great opportunity. I also would like to thank Sensei Tats and VKK members for being a strong team and supporting the fighters. I hope to get together in Tokyo again for next World Tournament in 2019!!
Vancouver Kyokushin Karate
A Student Update Regarding the IKO 11th World Karate Championships
On November 16th I left for the first, but not the last, time to visit Japan and watch the IKO’s 11th World Open. This was an amazing experience filled with comradery, learning, and elite athletics. I owe a special thanks to Sensei Brad who played part-time host for me. I strongly recommend the experience to anyone; plus staying a few extra days to travel around Japan as the rail system is convenient, comprehensive, and relatively cheap. However, I will focus my thoughts on the three days of the World Karate Championship.
My first surprise was all the Canadian supporters – clearly displaying their Canada Kyokushin Karate jackets. Canada had a significant presence at the tournament. This included Sensei Brad who participated as a judge, and Sempai Mark, from Vancouver, who highlighted a strong contingent of Canadian fighters.
As the first day of the tournament progressed the number of Russian fighters was painfully obvious. Of the roughly 185 competitors I was told 38 were Russian. I was blown away by the calibre of Russian fighters, with only one lost match all day. To the amateur observer – myself included – after the first day it was difficult to believe anyone other than a Russian (or possibly Japanese) fighter would win the tournament.
The second day offered a steep leg up in match difficulty as elite fighters started being matched against one another. The reality of how strong and talented these competitors were was sobering. Core strength was on display as the incredible impact force of some strikes was incredible and hard to fathom – yet most victims didn’t even flinch! Sempai Mark fought a quality match against a tough Japanese opponent, but after an extension lost to the tie breaker. Unfortunately, no Canadian competitors would advance to Sunday.
The final day saw the top 32 contestants square off. It was readily apparent that all possessed the necessary strength to stand up to one another; so cardio and technique became the difference. As the last day of competition commenced, it seemed as if Russia would again claim top spot. However, going into the semifinals fatigue became a factor as the two fighters to advance were better able to stay in a proper stance. Though Sensei Brad always reminds students to remain in a good fighting stance the importance of this lesson became ingrained after watching these final matches. Not only were the fighters with a good stance able to throw more variation in techniques but they were also less susceptible to strikes – especially knees – to the head. Finally, after some smart fighting, Zahari Damyanov of Bulgaria won the top honour. This was a just outcome, as the winner showed tremendous grace and respect to all his opponents.
To me, the outcome of the tournament highlighted several aspects of good kumite. The most important is body conditioning – or the ability to withstand damage. In fact, most punches to the body and kicks to the outer thigh were not blocked but instead countered. Openings to attack are missed by focusing too much on defense. Secondly, good cardio cannot be understated – all of the great fighters appeared to have unlimited wind. And finally, proper technique separated the elite from the great.
In conclusion, I found the karate on display in Tokyo to be much more science than brawl. That proper training can overcome natural size and/or talent. This is great news! This means that anyone interested in advancing their kumite skills can become a good fighter given proper dedication and mindset. For anyone interested there are tremendous resources available within the Calgary Kyokushin Team as well as numerous tournaments in Western Canada. Hopefully, in the future I will be able to cheer for a Calgary dojo member competing at the World Tournament.
During the following years, I shifted my focus from own training as a fighter to dojo operations. Being a full-time instructor is not easy, to say the least. Financial struggles were persistent until I began to adapt my teaching style to fit the Canadian mentality. But I tried my best to stick with the foundation that my uncle, Shihan Nakamura, provided me in Japan: “Run a dojo that produces strong fighters.”
It would have been a lot easier for me to just concentrate on increasing the number of students in order to better my financial situation. However, his words stayed in mind and kept pushing me to grow fighters who would not bring any extra income; if anything resulting in a financial loss due to leasing a full-facility dojo and travelling to tournaments. In 2003, I could not even go to the 8th World Tournament due to a budget shortfall, although my student, Johnny Leblanc, was selected to compete in the event. “Why do I do this?” The question occurred to me from time to time but I had no answer, until recently.
Between 2004 and 2007, the number of the classes dramatically increased. The teaching method that I strived to establish was beginning to materialize and to draw more public attention. It was great news to my balance sheet but not so much to my fighters. By 2006, I was tied up with running 28 classes a week, which left me very little time and energy to train Michi Nagase and Johnny Leblanc.
Luckily, those fighters were self-motivated and pushed their way through to the 9th World Tournament in 2007. This time, I was able to participate in the event and coach them. This tournament emotionally hit me when I actually saw my own fighters on the mat. It was a very special moment.
Over the years, our dojo has produced a number of black belts and world-tournament contenders. As a karate teacher, I abide by this principle: Train and educate students to stay in Kyokushin even after their retirement from competition or achievement of the black belt. Finding a way to put this into practice is a challenge but a must, because, in my book, this principle separates Budo from sports.
Fortunately, many have listened well and embraced karate as Budo. This has resulted in a steady growth in our black belt numbers, which has enabled me to travel more as they could teach during my absence. In 2011, I made a total of five trips to various tournaments, providing me with invaluable opportunities to watch other international fighters and coach my own.
In 2011, four students from our dojo were selected to compete in the 10th World Tournament. The fighters gathered together on a regular basis and pushed each other as hard as they could to be prepared for the event. The group was well-balanced with more experienced Michi Nagase and Kris Erickson leading the young Mark Berg and Pasha Mykhaylov.
Although I had more time to directly train them this time, it was still not enough to analyze their skill in detail. The number of students in our children’s class was climbing. Looking after all the children virtually single-handedly required me to sustain the power of my concentration for a prolonged length of time. I considered the idea of asking my black belts to share the work load, but did not apply it because instructing children takes a completely different skill set from teaching adults. This prevented me from training my fighters more frequently.
Then, a solution dawned on me when I was talking with Shihan Stuart about running an organization in general. He said to the best of my memory “We should treat people equally so they are all included.” It does not have to be a black belt. There might be colour-belt students who would be enthusiastic about teaching kids. This led quickly to the development of the instructor’s program that we have now. To my surprise, three people quickly came forward and began taking the course.
The success of the program reduced both my teaching time and, more importantly, the amount of stress accumulated from many kid’s classes that I had to handle by myself. Shortly after, the weekend fighter’s class took off in 2012. Tomomi Inoue, Jack Shiah and Mark Berg participated.
It was still taxing to train them forty-six weekends a year, but rewarding at the same time. It allowed me to thoroughly analyze and improve their body, techniques and way of thinking. It also challenged me to think of innovative training plans based on their specific weaknesses and strengths. Yes, it was tough to teach seven days a week but I found my mind reactivated and my spirit refreshed.
It also made me realize the importance of observing other world-class fighters. A victory does not come if you are ignorant of your opponent. This was when I began proactively signing up to be an official rather than just a coach for international events. Being a judge on the mat places me close to the fighters, and holds me responsible for making a decision. I believed there was no better spot than this to analyze the fighters who would face my own students one day. Of course, to take the full responsibility, I strived to sharpen my officiating skill. I am most thankful to the IKO officials, especially Shihan Gorai, for trusting and assigning me to referee some of the important matches in the All American Open tournaments.
In 2013, Tomomi returned to Japan while Jack moved to the States in 2014. The two had to make the difficult decisions to pursue professional careers for their living. I am very proud of them that they still train in Kyokushin even after the moving. Mark kept going in Vancouver. This guy had experienced many ups and downs during the three years since the last World Tournament.
The year 2015 came along. In January, the gruelling training finally bore fruit when he was crowned the champion at the US Weight Category tournament. But the victory came with a new challenge to overcome. Mark pulled his hamstring during the event. It looked fully recovered, but happened again just six weeks before the All American Open in June. The timing was awful.
It was only several days before the event that he recovered to a point where he was able to walk normally. After putting a lot of thought into it, we decided to go to New York. He managed to achieve one of the best performances of his fighting career. The injury was certainly a huge setback to us. But it was this setback that set us up for more powerful will.
After New York, there were five remaining months before November. We. Trained. Hard. There is no better way to put it. The planned-for two-hour training on Saturday became three hours, then lengthened to four hours before we knew it (well, he probably knew all along). The toughest session I won’t forget was the five hours we trained on November 7 right after the Vancouver Cup gym setup.
The equipment we used included a bunch of tubes, a skipping rope, hand weights, various pads, a heavy bag, a medicine ball, protective gear and even a shinai. I came to realize “Yes, I need a full-time facility to raise a world-tournament fighter even if I have to take care of those extra bills, in order to fully utilize the equipment and the dojo without limitation”.
Mark made drastic improvements. Everything he possessed was completely refined since January. His skill, speed, power, stamina and mental strength looked, in my eyes, second to none. One Saturday during our session, a bold thought occurred to me: “This guy can be the world champion.” A Canadian becoming the world champion? It had always seemed impossible to me. I hadn’t dared to think about it. In Canada, none of us are full-time fighters like the Japanese or Russians. But from that moment on, I put away such self-defeating thoughts.
As I’m retrospectively writing this article, I recognize that the bold thought is actually my dream; The World Championship title. Yes, that’s it. It’s this dream that has pushed me since 1999. That explains why I followed the words Shihan Nakamura gave me, why I spent extra time and money on the full-time dojo and those tournament trips. I did not have an answer to them because the dream stayed deep down in my mind subconsciously. I let it stay there because those negative thoughts had trapped me, until that particular Saturday.
I think our dojo is like a house of two stories. The first floor is an operation room where we take care of daily classes and special events. The second floor is where we literarily pursue our dream. The two floors positively influence one another. The operation room financially sustains the second floor. The dream room is a centre source for the forward-thinking ideas like the instructor’s program, to help the operation room function more efficiently. I think the quality of my work directly represents the quality of my life, and my work becomes a mere job without the dream.
Most of the readers know how Mark fought (if not, please check the previous write-ups before this). The match he performed on November 21 is the beginning of a new chapter for our dojo. We will keep going, try hard to defy the odds and push ourselves to rise up with a confidence. Now that we know what pushes us (at least I know), we are stronger than ever, especially after having survived the days of training we pushed through.
Lastly, I would like to thank my Shihans for infusing those maxims into my heart at the critical turning points. I also thank Mark Berg for keeping up with the extreme workout routines that I demanded on him. Without his dedication, I would have been unaware of all the mentioned above. Special thanks goes to my family for their understanding on what I’m trying to accomplish here in Vancouver. Thanks to all VKK members for their commitment to our dojo and my leadership that gets unskilful from time to time.
Official records in an IKO tournament book will just print something like “Mark Berg 2nd round loss.” But behind the few words, there is this long story you just read, which I wanted to share with you today. In the future, Mark’s journey may be one chapter in the larger story of the crowning of a Canadian fighter as World Champion. Osu.
Vancouver Kyokushin Karate