I went to my first kyokushin session this evening and enjoyed it very much. It was a good work out in a very small (and so very hot) Dojo, which had me sweating, although I wasn't particularly challenged in terms of cardiovascular fitness.
So, what are the principle differences between Kyokushin and Tang Soo Do?
In Kyokushin, all the sparring is full contact, and I definitely took a couple of big hits which I'll feel in the morning. I thought this was good, as it forces the students to really be able to defend themselves, in the knowledge that any lapse in concentration will lead to bruises. I do think it led to something that Alex Campbell, my esteemed instructor, is wary of, whereby students stick to a few relied upon techniques, rarely going beyond this limited repertoire. I think some slowed down sparring would be good, and there was little to none of the "partner not an opponent" attitude cultivated in Tang Soo Do, none of the back and forth, giving each other the opportunity to experiment or try to add to their arsenal of effective techniques.
That being said, it's clearly led to some very capable martial artists.
Another principle difference is in the format of tournament sparring, in which combatants spar for 2 or 3 continues minutes, no points are recorded, and at the end 5 judges each decide who they consider to have had the best of it, and that person wins. Had I known this was the case, rather than points, I would have taken the initiative and gone on the offensive earlier than I did. This is also because I found that, as someone who is quick, and also (I would like to think) able to identify and exploit moments where an opponent's guard is open or a target area exposed, I could, with some work, find myself with the upper hand.
Moreover, there are only two rules in sparring: No punches to the head and no kicking in the balls. However, low kicks are allowed, and in my 3rd pairing I took a couple of whacks to the legs from a clearly experienced martial artist, whose orange belt (one up from white, as in Tang Soo Do), was rather a deception. So, having spent two matches relying on evasion and pretty well ignoring low blows, I was caught heavily in the thigh by this young man, called Jake. He kicks were precise and efficient, delivering considerably power. This is something I am going to have to learn to do, as the touch-control we practice in Tang Soo Do did not stand up to the power Jake routinely executed his kicks with. He also had an excellent hook which has left a nice red mark on my chest. I also wanted to pick Jake out, as he was training with a disability: his right arm was not fully formed, ending (approximately) at the elbow. He clearly did not allow this to affect the way he trained, and his determination and overall attitude really picked him out as a truly exceptional martial artist for me.
The no punches to the head rule was difficult for me, as it ruled out the high backfist on which I rely for stopping opponents short. I find that the ability to step in on an incoming kick and deliver a back fist to the head is an invaluable part of one's arsenal, but it was completely written off by the rule. I quickly noticed that because of this rule, many of the students held their guards with their heads fairly exposed, something I would have loved to have been able to take advantage of, were it not for this limitation.
Overall, the class was very good, and all the students were welcoming and seemed like a really nice bunch of guys. The atmosphere was good, and the instructor struck a nice balance between discipline and informality, although he was maybe a little over keen to get across how he had a "background in street fighting". That being said, he seemed like a good instructor (though perhaps not quite Geoff Keerie) and he was very appreciative of my very different style and the new techniques I introduced. I feel I managed to throw Jake a few curve balls with my patented step behind side kick off the front leg, and a nice jump back kick I popped up into (with some alacrity, if I say so myself) to cut one of his attacks short. Alex Campbell's favorite, the Backfist reverse punch combo of doom, also served me well.
Things to think about for next time?
I need to be able to land techniques with power rather than snapping in and out with touch control, so that I can respond to Japanese stylists' power in kind.
I was also aware of the (idiosyncratically Japanese) efficiency, whereby fights can come down to one, powerful, disabling technique, and think that as long as I can stay on the front foot and use my speed to full effect I'll be able to take control, although this may not be so much the case against Blake (I think was his name), a very large and hairy white belt who although I outclassed in refinement of technique and speed, I could never stand up to in terms of power.
If I'm going to continue to train, I'm going to have to get some more appropriate clothing, as the sweats and sports top I wore were a little bit constricting and definitely not ideal in the very small, very hot Dojo.
I was a little held back by not having any pads with me which meant I was conscious of needing to not go all out, but it was very satisfying to give and take a few good hits, and tomorrow will certainly be a rather achy one for me, particularly in my legs where Jake landed some nice kicks.
All in all, a good training session and a good club that I look forward to going back to. The only thing that might reasonably hold me back from continuing to train is the price, but I may be able to negotiate something.
A pleasantly tired and satisfyingly bruised Jon out.