Styles at work in Kyokushin Karate

Written by and posted with permission by Azam, from the Sherdog Forum

At its core Kyokushin Karate is a martial art that focuses on power (also partly the reason why Sosai Oyama fought bulls was to market his style as an art that focuses on power).

In Kyokushin there are typically many different styles at work, generally speaking there are:

1. Technical
2. Power
3. Stamina
4. Pressure
5. Outside
6. Counter
7. Inside

Most Kyokushin fighters who fight in Knockdown tournaments are usually a combination of some of these. It is notoriously difficult to analyse every style at work in Kyokushin because there are numerous, for example there are many technical fighters but there is no one style to define a technical orientated Kyokushin fighter, since they all fight technically but in their own unique ways, so I will focus on the styles I have seen & have knowledge of & have had success in Kyokushin tournaments.

1. Efficiency style – this style incorporates principles introduced by one of the premier martial artists from the 20th century: Kenichi Sawai:

who founded the martial art Taikiken. Taikiken is the Japanese name for the Chinese martial art – Yiquan founded by Wang Xiangzhai. Kenichi Sawai for those who do not know, was a great martial artist from the early-mid 19th century – he was a 5th dan judoka, kendo & Iaido master. The art focuses on ‘developing natural movement and fighting ability through a system of training methods & concepts, to improve the perception of one’s body, it’s movement, balance and force.’ Below is a video about taikiken for those that are curious:

This style in Kyokushin focuses on efficient footwork & countering– economy of movement, there is no unnecessary movement (which helps preserve stamina), a crucial part of this style is staying relaxed, dynamic explosive coordinated movements is a key part of this fighting style (a lot of guys neglect the importance of coordinated movement and how it enables good positioning & balance which is crucial in defending yourself & attacking), it is centred around throwing opponents off-balance (usually by grinding with low kicks & inside low kicks until you react slower downstairs, then take you off your feet with sweeps), usually proponents of this style are predominantly low kickers, extreme focus on inside & outside low kicks and straight punches & hooks – no high risk techniques, tend to throw low kick combinations a lot and have grounded stances.

Kyokushin karateka who use this style include Shihan Hatsuo Royama:

And Hajime Kazumi (video shows him doing Yiquan/taikiken in the beginning):

Statistically speaking, Kazumi has been the most successful Kyokushin Karateka ever in knockdown using this style, it has been so effective in knockdown, that it’s become a staple for most Kyokushin fighters in IKO1 from the 8th world tournament onwards, however they all lack the technical prowess & skill that Kazumi dedicated during his time in knockdown unfortunately – whereas Kazumi’s focus was on technical prowess – today’s fighters focus is on power. His stance & the way his guard looks is very taikiken/yiquan influenced, his stance especially is very grounded.

2. Power style – this style is the most identifiable & recognisable style in Kyokushin & the reason why Kyokushin is often referred to as ‘walk through shots kind of style.’ There are two different ‘power styles’ at work in Kyokushin:

Power Style 1 – is based on a ‘push forward’ mentality, the focus is solely on power & to some degree placement, most fighters who use this style tend to generally be in-fighters and prefer to throw at full-power, the idea is to cause as much damage as possible whilst waiting for an opportunity to present itself & go for the KO – fighters using this style tend to be KO artists, every technique thrown is usually thrown with full power.

An example of Kyokushin karateka that use such tactics are Lechi Kurbanov & Hiroki Kurosawa:

—-(I’ve shown this clip quite abit – not much footage on youtube)

Power Style 2 – is based on complete utter aggression (i.e no control), the idea is to defeat the opponent with brute force alone, there is less focus on technique & more on grinding an opponent with brute strength alone, like the first ‘power style,’ it also has a push forward mentality, however the mentality is abit more aggressive – knocking the opponent of the tatami or KO. Makoto Nakamura the only winner of two Kyokushin world open tournaments and is a classic example of this style at work – Ewerton Teixeira is also another example however he is not as aggressive however he shares many other traits along with Nakamura including not being especially technical but having brute strength.

The video below demonstrates this style at work:

Ewerton Teixeira:

Makoto Nakamura:

Notice with the pair of them, they both rely solely on strength over technique. Nakamura uses his weight though a lot better than Teixeira (but this may be because he is slightly heavier), by really pushing into his opponent, however Teixeira is a lot quicker but like I’ve said the pair opt for power solely – this works well in knockdown for them because typically they are a lot heavier & stronger than their opponents. Ewerton though for the guys who don’t know is a product of Hajime Kazumi’s style – many fighters in the IKO1 since his retirement adopted his approach because of his success – you can see this in IKO1 fighters after 8th world tournament – the focus is on straights, hooks & low kicks – however no-one is as technically proficient as Kazumi was because the focus is less on technique & more on power – which Kazumi’s style is not catered for – Ewerton is an example of this, you can compare him with Kazumi’s video & see the huge difference in technical skill – it’s almost a different style altogether because of the shift from technical to power. You can also see the slight difference between ‘Power style 1 and 2’ – one is abit more laid-back, pick their shots more & utilise openings whereas two is aggression & power.

3. Very Technical style – This style is utilised by quite a few Kyokushin fighters in knockdown karate – it is a very technical approach to Kyokushin & a key feature of those who use this style, is their lowered centre of gravity, they sink their weight into the stance – giving them a strong low centred kamae – this style also relies heavily on balance & timing, the low centre of gravity helps with sweeps & better balance and delivery of kicks – it also allows fighters to kick from notoriously close and KO however at the expense of fluid movement, it also makes them harder to knock over, karateka who use this style may vary in certain aspects of their approach – for example some may be more inclined to counter or some may be more inclined to fight on the inside – but this style is very similar to the ‘efficiency style’ but the main differences are the different focal points, fighters who use ‘efficiency style’ are more rigid in their selection of technique, preferring low risk & high reward whereas fighters using this style tend to have a more dynamic and diverse selection of techniques. I think for this style particularly their timing expertise seems to be miles better than the other styles at work, they also tend to be notoriously good KO artists.

Karateka who use this style in Kyokushin include Ryu Narushima:

And Shokei Matsui:

In this GIF, you can see the style at work, the sort of hunch he has, you can also see his footwork isn’t fluid because of this, but the advantages are better stability & balance during kicking, which is crucial to his style of taking fighters of balance – in this GIF he’s takes out Andy Hug’s supporting leg whilst Hug attempts to kick – requires amazingly good timing and balance.

4. Cautious style – this style is used by few Kyokushin fighters – it’s a cross between technical fighting & countering, the key is being deceptive & waiting till an opponent makes & opening and then counter. Almost all practitioners who adopt this style never fully commit unless an opening presents itself – sometimes fighters will feint or use combinations with the idea of creating an opening. The position of the hands in the guard is somewhat different, usually the lead hand sticks out, generally this is because the lead is used to gauge the distance somewhat & used to parry/block whatever technique an opponent throws, as well as a means of aiding timing.

Francisco Filho is a classic example of a fighter who uses this style – the lead hand & yoko geri play a huge part in his style of fighting:


This video shows a rough indication of Filho’s style, it also shows why Matsui is considered by many as the greatest technical fighter ever in Kyokushin and probably one of the greatest fighters it has produced, timing & technical skills is on another level.

5. Intelligent pressure style – this style is famous for applying constant pressure with strikes and with movement – the movement is similar to stalking an opponent (constantly applying pressure and sticking with them), it involves grinding opponents down with a high work rate and when they slow down, go in for the KO. Practitioners using this style tend to throw many different combinations and will regularly change levels or use feints within combos to catch opponents off guard, they will also always make use of angles & circular footwork (tai sabaki) to get in an advantageous position in which to throw another strike, they also tend to be naturally quick on their feet.

Hitoshi Kiyama (8th World Open Tournament Champion) is an example of a fighter who used this style with a lot of success. Katsunori Kikuno also uses a similar approach in his stand-up game, he tends to stalk opponents in his adapted sanchin-dachi stance – the reason for this style of preference is because Kikuno trained at the same dojo Hitoshi Kiyama did, that particular dojo seems to put an emphasis on this approach to Kyokushin karate. It was also Kiyama on a side note, that taught Kikuno his crescent kick as well as teaching Kikuno, this is why there is some similarity in the style they both use:

Not the greatest video example because Kiyama was pretty tired but if you watch the video carefully, you will note his use of combinations (changing levels and using feints), as well as his repeated use of circular movement & tai sabaki – also note that usually he has an extremely high work rate, in this instance both Kurbanov & Kiyama were exhausted from extension rounds (I presume can’t remember). [Editor’s note: The video was removed from Youtube, so I replaced it with this highlight real, until the fight is found again.]

6. Out-fighting style – this style was prevalent prior to the 8th world tournament (IKO) in Kyokushin and to some degree still is in shinkyokushin thankfully.

This style tends to be the complete opposite of what people associate with Kyokushin karate (i.e. inside fighters) – fighters who use this style prefer to fight on the outside, as such the guard is a lot lower than the norm in Kyokushin – the guard tends to be near the stomach (whilst on the outside to aid kicking), they tend to establish & maintain their range by using quick movement by staying on the balls of the feet – they like to grind opponents with kicks & follow with punches, they tend to be abit poor with the inside game – that’s why they always try to maintain their preferred range and as such avoid any prolonged skirmish on the inside – whenever techniques are thrown their preference is usually to dart out of range almost immediately. Fighters who use this style like to make use if angles and footwork to get opponents to fight at their tempo and make them tire quicker – they also tend to be NOTORIOUS kickers & KO artists.

An example of fighters who use such a style are Michael Thompson and Gary O’neill, below is a video of the Gary at work – showing why karateka who adopt this style are notoriously good kickers:

Kenji Midori & Andy Hug have a similar style to this however they were a lot more well rounded, being equally as good on the outside as well as on the inside and as such didn’t operate at any one range.

EDIT: On a side note, if I had to categorize my style of Kyokushin karate, I’d probably fit into the efficiency style/very technical style, since balance is crucial to the way I fight.


Comments 12

    1. Post
  1. Rafael Pimentel

    The most comprehensive post I have the pleasure to read about kyokushin as a style and fighters. Clearly not all fighters are mentioned here. The beginnings of kyokushin were quite aggressive if not brutal by today standards where every fighter went all out no matter what. This post gives well deserved credit to all who have helped make kyokushin a strong karate style. All other politics and differences aside.


  2. SashaS

    Scott, very, very good post – Osu!
    I’m not in a position to really evaluate it properly – whether it’s all correct and covers everything – but truly enjoyed reading it. Am going to watch some of these videos now.
    Also, I think a logical “next article” could be some ideas on “how to fight opponents” of each of this style, such as: how to fight efficient fighters? how to fight power fighters? and so on. Getting some ideas from your sensei on this might make that an excellent, useful post.
    Thank you!

    P.S. Are you by any chance attending/participating in the Kanreikai tournament tomorrow?

    1. Post

      Thank you so much for the feedback! I am definitely going to look at doing a follow-up.

      No, I didn’t attend the tournament.

  3. SashaS

    Also, I have been fascinated by Taikiken approach of Royama & Kazumi (you too, looks like?), but alas – don’t see any teachers of that here in the US.

    1. Post
  4. Ronny

    Osu Scott,

    I don’t really grab the meaning of “technical prowess”.

    Maybe I will understand it if you explain the differences and the likeness between fighters with technical prowess (#1) and those who mainly use their power (#2)? Such as Hajime Kazumi compared to Hiroki Kurosawa …

    1. Post

      Osu Ronny, I didn’t write this article, however… what is meant is that fighters like Kazumi (and in modern time, boxers like Vasyl Lomachenko) relied on their technique to overcome and chop their opponents down. This is in stark contrast to many fighters today, especially the Russians, who though they have great technique (they wouldn’t be where they are without it) rely more on the cardio conditioning, body conditioning and great physical power. Osu!

  5. Ronny

    The fighters with “very technical style” (Shokei Matsui, Ryu Narushima, maybe also the later Tsukamoto Norichika) are for me true magicians! They are very creative in the use of their tools, and I think that their most valuable quality is their ability to read the fights. Good eyes, keen judgements, and fine feeling along with the dare to not withdrawn when seeing an attack ….. I wonder if we can train this ability or is this the quality which we call “talent” you born with.

    If you are able to read the movements of your opponent, you will be able to excute your attacks at the very best moment , i.e. timing….

    I also wonder which fighters are using Ryusui (flowing water)….. Oyama mentioned this strategy on page 100 of “Advanced Karate”. My brother was good in slipping attacks, in such way that he didn’t retracts so he was able to instantly deliver counter attacks. Boxers are trained to see punches coming in without the fear to be hit, and without taking a step back, they can “bob and weave” to evade than deliver a counter punch…. like Mike Tyson. Ryusui means moving your body (not foot) just as little as possible to let the attacks slipped.

  6. Ronny

    Let me start the “next article” i.e. “how to fight against..” article.

    I’ve watched the match between Hajime Kazumi against Glaube Feitosa and I’ve seen the flaw of the #1 style (Effectiveness/Taikiken) with fighters like Kazumi and Royama. What I’ve seen is that you must not give these guys any time and chance to deliver their briljant and efficient attacks. In round 1 of that match, Kazumi couldn’t do a lot because Glaube Feitosa was fighting in Kamikaze-style: moving forward and firing tons of tsuki’s and Geri’s without thinking too much. If you keep moving forward than the opponent has no chance to deliver the o so dangerous mawashi gedan geri. In fact you have to keep disturbing their balance. They can kick so hard because they can get the power from their feet i.e. from the floor – to the hips and to the legs.

    But than I was wondering how Kazumi could manage and dictates the fight against for example the Power style-2-type fighter like Nakamura. Of course Nakamura would have a weight advantage in this hypothetical fight.

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