Jon Bluming interview from Kyokushin Budo Kai
This is from http://www.kyokushinbudokai.dk/inter...jon_blumin.htm, the Kyokushin Budo Kai site.
Kaicho Jon Bluming - Founder of Kyokushin Budo Kai
An In Depth Interview
A Classic Warrior
by Jose Fraguas
Jon Bluming is a classic man. And a legend. Far from pulling any punch in or out of the mat, this man not only rolled shoulders with the best karate and judo masters the history of budo had, but he also knew them as individuals when they were in their prime. A pioneer in many ways, Bluming Sensei has become a rare breed of individual who looks to maintain the true spirit of budo through fighting and proper etiquette. “A true budo man knows how to behave, and he displays all the true qualities of a warrior,” he says. “But as a warrior, he knows how to fight and face death with no fear. Nice words should be spoken at the proper time, but the sword should be drawn when necessary.”
A pragmatic and realistic teacher, Jon Bluming had the opportunity of being a disciple and sharing lifetime experiences with the great scholar Donn F. Draeger, the man who truly brought budo into the Western world. Today, this warrior exemplifies the all-power and determination of the old samurai … qualities lost in the last decades watered-down versions of martial arts. He talks the way he trained, and he trains the way he lives. A right very few have won through blood and sweat.
Q: How long have you been practicing the martial arts?
A: I began training during a pause in the Korean War. The reason was I had to wait for more than six weeks before boarding the ship that was going to bring me home. The name of the instructor was Yong Dong Po. He had a little school with another man called Park. After all the action in the war, those training sessions were very relaxed. I never heard from that man or saw him again after I left. That was in August 1951, which it means I have been involved in martial arts for more than 50 years.
I had to stop training for a very short period of time, but I re-started in 1953, after my second tour of duty and my third time in the M.A.S.H. unit. I had a serious knee injury. When I was in Holland, I saw a poster of a judo club. It was called the “Tung Jen,” and it was in Amsterdam. When I saw it, I thought about my days with Yong Dong Po and Park and became a member immediately. When I went back to Japan in February 1959, I entered the Kodokan, where I met Peter Urban. He was from Yamaguchi Gogen’s dojo, and he had big knuckles. So I started karate first with shotokan, but I found it weak. Later, I was introduced to Mas Oyama’s dojo. Then Donn F. Draeger asked me if I wanted to know more about the background of budo. The two of us went to the famous police sensei in jodo and kusarigama, Shimizu Sensei. That was the place where I also met his shihandai, Ichitaro Kuroda Sensei, and started iai jitsu and kendo under his guidance.
Q: Sensei, you have trained under Mas Oyama and Kyuzo Mifune, both of whom are legendary. What can you tell us about them?
A: I was Oyama Sensei’s first foreign student and stayed with him — the first time — for almost three years in the old dojo behind Rikyu University. In 1966, I trained with him again for six months. By then, I was the third man in the kyokushinkai after my Sensei, Kenji Kurosaki, who really showed me in those years how to fight for real. Mas Oyama was like a father to me. He never let me pay for anything and always helped me out when I was low on money. He was a terrific teacher and really could raise my spirit when I felt really low. He also could put the fear of God into his students when they did not train the way he wanted them to train. It was the best years in my life. There were no politics or anything like that. I was simply training and felt like a God. From the start, he told me that he would put me a course to make me the European president and leader of the European kyokushinkai style. So, for all those years, I had very special training and the best support a student could expect. I really admired Mas Oyama. It was very sad that he changed so much in the later years. I was really shocked when he died. I felt like a very close family member or friend passed away. I did my best to pay him back by organizing his system in Europe. At that time, most budoka did not know what karate was and none were in a real dojo in Europe. That was in the 1960s. I loved to go around and show them the kyokushinkai style, and for those who didn’t believe in the style and challenged me, I had to beat the piss out of them! What was funny is that most of them usually became dedicated students of our style.
It was a strange story with Mifune Sensei. It was almost like a predestination of life. When I was wounded the first time during the Korean War — on February 13th — we were completely surrounded by the Chinese. I went to Tokyo with two shots in my right upper leg. During a tour of Tokyo, we visited the old Kodokan. The old man was very small and frail, but I watched him threw some bigger man around like old rag dolls. I thought, “Man, I wish we had something like that in Holland because that is what I want to learn.” In 1958, I went to Canada to make some money so I could fulfill my dream of going back to Japan. In February 1959, I arrived at the Kodokan and the feast started. In November 1959, the President of the Kodokan called me into his office while Draeger translated. He told me that I had been chosen to join the kenshusei, a class in which the 25 best judoka from Japan all got together in a special class. I was very honored, and who was the head teacher? Mifune Sensei! I had a great time.
Q: Tell us some interesting stories of your early days in judo and karate training.
A: It would take five big volumes to recollect all the great stories and anecdotes I have of those wonderful years. There are too many funny and serious stories to write. However, there is one that is always hanging in my mind. When Mifune Sensei turned 75 years of age, I was invited to his house with several others. When I entered his beautiful garden, I saw him standing by a tree in his kimono. He was holding a little tool that he was using to prune that tree. My life-long friend and brother, Bill Backhus, whispered in my ear, “Man, if I am getting that old and feeble, I hope you shoot me!” Mifune Sensei died a few years later. Many years after that, when I was myself a 10th dan from Japan, I found myself working in my Japanese garden and trimming my tree! I started to laugh loudly and my wife said, “What’s the matter with you?” I told her about the story in the garden so many years ago. Friends, we are all getting there, it just depends how and when. But like I said before, there are many stories from those great days.
Q: How did the Westerners respond to traditional Japanese training?
A: In the old days, they coped with it very well. But now, they cope with it a lot less because a lot of budoka, or so-called budoka, are only interested in making money. Considering that Japan has never won anything important in the last 40 years in karate does not help much either. In judo, they also had bad years, and that takes a lot away from the “Japanese way.” When I asked my old teacher Daigo Sensei why the Japanese did so bad he said, “They are not hungry anymore, and the traditional way is slowly fading. In addition to that, we are teaching the old ways too much, while the Western way is more modern, and they have strong minds and a will to win. They are not afraid of the Japanese anymore.” I could see that clearly, especially when Geesink and then Ruska — my students — won so many titles against the Japanese fighters.
Q: Were you a natural at karate? Did the movements come easily to you?
A: Yes, very much so, and I must say it was a wonderful feeling that I got on so well with judo and then karate. In less than a year, I was a first dan in judo and captain of the Tung Jen team. In 1956, I won the European Judo title in Amsterdam. When I started karate in March 1959, I was a third dan in judo. I marched around in Oyama Sensei’s dojo for years with a white belt. I was promoted to fourth dan in 1963 and sixth dan on January 15, 1965. There were some Budoka who complained about me being a sixth dan. Mas Oyama wrote in a United States martial arts magazine that he would pay $100,000 to anyone who could beat me in a ko-shiai. Besides that, he said he would take my ranking away if I lost the fight, he would go into politics and stop teaching karate. I thought he was joking, but he was not. Honestly, I was not really happy with this challenge because I was too busy with my schools and business in Europe at the time. There was only one who showed up in my dojo, and that was Kwan Mo Gun, a fifth dan and the all-over Korean champ. I still have high regards for that budoka who wanted to fight me. He was beaten terribly by my student, Jan Kallenbach, a third dan, and then by Kurosaki, who had been training for a year in my dojo, and then finally by me. Some are probably wondering why I didn’t take him on first. Well, my students begged me to let them go first, otherwise there wouldn’t be anything left for them to fight! Jan later became a European heavyweight champion. I really admired Kwan and his spirit because every time he was knocked out he woke up, got on his feet and said in loud voice, “And now Bluming!” You have to respect that.
Q: How has your personal perception of the arts changed over the years?
A: Very much. I never agreed with the so-called old system in which you are not allowed to touch or hit your opponent. That’s the reason I resigned as coach in 1971. It was like shooting a rifle, but you were not allowed to hit the bull’s eye. I just could not take it anymore. All those smug faces after they won because their opponent was disqualified for hitting him in the face or those decisions from the judges, most of whom had never been in a fight, could make you cry. The way they walked in their fancy blazers with the big Japanese kanji on. It was ridiculous! If my grandmother showed up with an umbrella in her hands, she would have beaten the piss out of them! I told Oyama about my idea, which I thought would come together in the future, and that was an all-round karate event with throws and ground fighting. All together. Fighters would look for the KO with punches, kicks and submissions like armlocks, leglocks or chokes. It would be 1/3 kickboxing and karate, 1/3 throws and 1/3 ne-waza (grappling techniques) after a throw. Well, I was right because that is what we have today with mixed martial arts. At the time, I thought about putting that new system in the honbu for six months. Later, one of my students, Ashihara, made it his style and called it Ashihara karate, which means, “The new way.” It was ridiculous! It was my style, and I called it Kyokushin Budokai. In my budokai, they do full-contact karate with low kicks, which is mostly professional free fighting or all-around karate.
Q: To impress the Westerners who were attracted to martial arts, do you think that some Japanese personalities have greatly exaggerated their capabilities and historical facts with unbelievable stories?
A: Definitely yes! And the worst place is Asia. But there are plenty who really are what they say. Please allow me to tell you a funny example of this. My wife works for the Dutch-Chinese travel office. One day while I was waiting for her, I picked up a Chinese magazine about sports. I saw some Chinese wushu, and there was an article in memoriam of a 100-year-old Chinese wushu teacher who had passed away. He was very famous in his district because he had defeated a tiger with his bare hands many years before. I would have loved to talked to the man and taken some lessons from him, but I am afraid I would not have been able to keep a straight face! In another magazine, some time later, I found the same story. This time it was a black bear. Well, it’s up to you guys to believe it or not. Some wushu people said they believed it, and that’s the kind the money grabbers love so much because they pay a lot of money for this crap. I remember that Draeger Sensei took me to the Ueshiba dojo for aikido classes. I looked on in amazement. The movements were very nice, but on the street nobody is going to run around you and jump all over himself when taken by the wrist! I asked the sensei if I could fight one of his students or his son, but he told me they did not fight. I asked them if that’s how they did their championships, but they said they didn’t. So I told them that I could take dancing lessons in Holland. To be honest, in the modern fashion of aikijitsu, there are some very good and real street-fighting techniques that are useful. I even studied some, so that has changed for the better. This is simply an example to show you how those stupid stories come into the world. When I was training under Oyama Sensei for several weeks, he invited Bill and I into the office upstairs. While there, he showed us a film of him fighting a bull at Tatyama prefecture in 1952. To start, it was not a bull but an ox. That is a big difference, my friend! The ox was visibly scared because oxes are kept as pets in farm country, and they let them fight each other under strict rules like sumo. As soon as they put their heads together to push each other over a certain spot in the ring and there is some blood, they stop the fight and care for their pets. To hit one that is very much used to being stroked emotionally is — in my opinion — very wrong. I love animals. Oyama Sensei never killed the ox; they did that at the slaughterhouse. But he seriously hurt the animal. The ox did not want to fight and never attempted to do anything. That’s sad. I told Sensei Draeger not to show this to Westerners because they would not like it. He looked at me and said that he [Oyama] was not completely crazy, and we had a good dinner after that. Oyama explained that this occurred at the start of kyokushin karate, and he needed the publicity stunt. He added that he would never do something like that again.
Recently, I read several times that Oyama killed many bulls in his time. The jackpot was during a meeting between England, France and Japan when some commentator told a packed stadium that Oyama had killed 28 bulls in his life. How ignorant and stupid can that be! But that’s how it all started. Read his so-called comic book from years back, which one of his students wrote, and you’ll find a story in which the student said that the “Beast of Amsterdam (me)” and Oyama Sensei would go into a bar where mostly yakuza were around, pick a fight and clean the place out. Well, I had many dinners with Oyama Sensei, but I went never to a bar with him and certainly did not take a drink in those days. Second, in those old days, if you simply slapped a Japanese citizen without any cause — or even with a cause — you were so fast on your way home that you wouldn’t believe it. On top of that, a yakuza bar! Too much! Taking on the fanatic Japanese yakuza it is a great story! Maybe one guy but the rest would shoot you or take a sword to you and chop you in two. I don’t know why they write these stupid stories. Even Matsui Sensei asked how it was fighting together with Oyama in bars! You would think he had more brains. As it turns out, the Japanese want to believe those stories. When I told him what really happened, he was upset and said that we all should keep the legends alive. Well, I am sorry. I worked too hard and broke too many body parts to let them make me the laughing stock because of stupid stories. Besides, I think that the truth is more amazing than any stupid lie.
Q: With all the technical changes during the last 30 years, do you think there are still pure karate styles, such as kyokushinkai, shotokan, shito-ryu, et cetera?
A: I don’t know what you mean by “pure.” In my opinion, every style in its basic movements are pure from their point of view. I know that not too many budoka or those you think they are budoka can take the truth. And the truth is that most of the so-called old and so-called famous styles are over because they fell apart. They ended up in many different groups, despite the fact that many of them think that they were “tough guys.” What they forget to mention, especially in Japan, is that they never won a good fight in the Western part of the world, and we all know now that the famous Kyokushinkai-kan World Championships were rigged all the way. You only have to ask Nakamura, who left the New York honbu, because of all the terrible things that happened behind closed doors. I knew about this lousy behavior and told Oyama Sensei not to go on with this because one day everybody was going to find out. Anyway, I think that the purest style from way back is in Okinawa and China because they got the green light to get back on the real wushu track again. In the near future, we will hear about China. Shito-ryu is the school of my old friend and multibillionaire Jotsky Matsuura, a 10th dan within his own organization. I was about to join him as vice-president, but Kenji Kurosaki, a 10th dan from Budokai, was against it, so I didn’t. Jotsky showed me a kata in his office, and the movements very good movements. For the rest, I really don’t know much about the purity of styles.
Q: Compared to the time you began training, what is martial arts training missing today?
A: Very simple. Real, dedicated budoka who — as a way of life or as exercise — do budo and have respect for their teachers and elders in the dojo. Nowadays, it seems like everything is a race to the higher ranking and a run on the money wagon. It is sad, but there are not that many real budoka who practice and teach the martial arts as a way of life. Once again, the average guy doesn’t know the difference so, these individuals can get away with it. Look at some of the websites; they are a bunch of old farts who haggle and fight on the side instead of spending their time in the dojo. If they knew what they were talking about, it would not stink that much, but most of them don’t. Even when I proved to them, which I did some time ago, and I recognize that was stupid of me because you can bring a monkey to the peanuts but so cannot make him eat them, they had all kinds of funny things to say. Of course, they never could back anything up. When you look into the men’s eyes, you’ll find out that they have not done one single day of training in the last 20 or more years! I wonder how they make money; it is certainly not with budo. Now, as long as that kind of people are on the Internet and keep popping off the most ridiculous lines, I’ll keep thinking that the old days were better. Certainly as far as respect is concerned.
Q: What is your opinion of kickboxing and other modern fighting events such as the UFC?
A: In 1989, Chris Dolman and I went to Tokyo to participate in the first free-fight held in Tokyo and Osaka. That was the UWF. Soon after that the sponsors started to create a lot of differences among them. I’m talking about the Japanese organizers, of course. Now, don’t forget that there was and still is a lot of money involved in Japan in these kinds of events. Akira Maeda founded Rings Japan. It finally died, and I thought it was a good organization. Free-fight or “all-around-karate” as I like to call it, is a good way to show your complete fighting ability in the ring and make some money on the side. It is completely different from basic karate, and to be honest, the traditional budoka, those who are into traditional karate or judo, don’t have any chance at all against one of these MMA or NHB guys. Don’t forget that there are not that many real good “complete” fighters in the world. It takes a real man who can take pain and is not afraid to do a hard workout everyday, punishing his body and going through a lot of physical pain and injuries. Full-contact karate is the first step to a complete fighter, but there are more aspects involved. One of my students started with traditional karate and then got into full-contact, following the program I have developed in Budokai. He won the Daidi Juku and the Pancrase championships three times. Later, he won Pride and K-1. In K-1, he beat three-time world champ Ernesto Hoost. Unfortunately, the judges declared it a draw because they knew Hoost was a big draw for the people in Japan and had to be in the finals. Let me tell you something. When you are knocked down in several rounds and have a cut in your head of almost five inches, that is not a draw. Also, Ernesto Hoost is a student of my student, Johan Vos, a sixth dan, and Jan Plas, an eighth dan of the Budokai.
A man must do what he really wants to do. If you are not up to it, regardless of what it is, don’t do it because you will never be happy and it will never bring you the proper rewards. But if you want to be a real fighter and prove yourself in kickboxing or MMA, you are in for hard work and a very hard game. But never forget … some budoka —real ones — love that way so I think it is a good thing that they have that chance to prove themselves, even if some people who have never trained for real in the martial arts make the real money.
Another funny thing that is happening these days is that you hear or read that there is a seminar in the Pancrase style of fighting or in Pride’s system of combat, et cetera. Don’t let yourself be fooled by these people — even if they are good fighters — because there is no Pancrase style or Pride style. This is all “BS.” Men, who are simply in it for the money, run these seminars. In many European countries, you can be extremely disappointed because many of these so-called “extreme fighters” don’t know what the hell they are doing, especially in the groundwork area. They are terrible. But at least they are out there fighting instead of being on their website pretending to be tough guys.
Q: Do you think events like the UFC and other NHB events represent the true essence of fighting?
A: In a way they do because you see the real champions after many years of hard training. It’s not like they are showing a kata, knowing that on the street any street fighter or boxer would kick their ass. It just depends on what you want to get from budo. If doing your kata three times a week in your dojo is satisfying, it serves your idea of budo. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. Certainly not if you are happy. But if an individual starts bragging about how good and dangerous he is and he really doesn’t fight, then he is not only an idiot but also a very immature individual. All talk and nothing behind it to back it up. That’s what you see in many people these days. I honestly think that real pro fighting proves a point that Muhammad Ali and many other great boxing champs proved in the past … they could fight. Period.
Q: Do you think that karate in the West has caught up with Japanese karate?
A: Definitely. In the old days, we looked forward to meeting Japanese judoka and karate masters because we wanted to learn from them. Today, however, the Western world has much better fighters and teachers than those living in the East. This is not just talk. For many years, the Japanese have been coming to Europe and the United States to learn how to fight in MMA and NHB events. You do not really find too many Japanese masters teaching in Europe because we don’t need them anymore. In a way that’s good, but for budoka like me who knew the old days, it makes me a sad and homesick for my second country (Japan) and my old sensei. They are almost all dead now, but I keep them in fond memory and have pictures of them all over my place. I know time changes a lot of things and sometimes not for the best. When my Japanese friends lost the world judo title in 1970 in Paris, I was very sad, even if it was my countryman Anton Geesink who won. That day was the beginning of an era. The Japanese hegemony was finally broken and nowadays anybody can win in world karate tournaments or Olympic judo. In the old days, if 10 Japanese entered a championship, they all won. In karate, it is a different thing from the very beginning. Shotokan stylists never won a title in real contact karate. Neither did wado-ryu. From the very beginning in 1970, the kyokushinkai has been the main style, and some of the Japanese fighters were real good until Willy Williams appeared and destroyed them. They could not stop progress, and the gaijin won, opening new doors for everybody to enter.
Q: Do you feel that there are any fundamental differences in the technical approach and physical capabilities of Japanese karate-ka in comparison to Western karate-ka?
A: Yes. Physically, a Japanese person is much more flexible than the average European or American. In a way, that should be an advantage. In reality, it is not and the overall mental ability of the Europeans and Americans is much stronger than the average Japanese. That’s a hardcore problem, but I believe that the average Japanese does practice much harder that the Westerner does.
Q: Karate and judo are nowadays often referred to as sports. Would you agree with this definition?
A: Of course, they are sports, and it is a pity that competitors cannot make more money or make a good living competing. This is especially the case for those who are really dedicated and put all the time of their lives into it. If I look at soccer players, I see millionaires all over the place. Many of them can hardly write their names. If they were not lucky enough to be able to do what they do on the field, they would not even get a job cleaning lavatories in Morocco. So, if a good karateka trains hard and gets somewhere winning a lot of titles, I think he deserves much more than being considered an amateur. The same goes for judokas and all MMA fighters. Again, the answer is yes. They are sports at the highest level, but the money is not there.
Q: Do you feel that you still have further to go in your studies of the arts?
A: Yes I do. The first thing a man needs to do is try to understand what goes on in his mind. This concept especially applies to those who never made anything good for the martial arts, mainly because they never trained hard and put themselves to test. It is sad how many people who have never been properly trained are running a dojo and misleading students. Sometimes people write me letters and invite me to visit them and teach a seminar. I am a so-called professional, but I go there anyway, even if they have the money to pay for my trip. Why? Because I love seeing people with passion and dedication. If you give them a chance and they train hard, they will be excellent budoka. My body today does not want to do the things I used to do. Once warmed up, however, I can still kick serious butt. Believe me. But it is mostly the mind, which is working in high gear all the time. With the time I have left, I will use it to show other budoka what real budo is all about. And I hope this will help them long after I am gone.
Q: Do you think it helps the empty-hand techniques of karate to train with weapons?
A: Not really, especially if your intention is the empty-hand fighting side of this discipline. Besides, you just cannot walk the streets with weapons. However, training with weapons can give you an edge if you have to defend yourself against someone using a weapon. For this, it is helpful. For a sparring session or full-contact karate match, no way. I did it just to get a better understanding of the Japanese bushido, the discipline and the feeling of those old days when the sword could get you killed or make you a hero. Meeting those terrific old teachers and feeling their spirit was a tremendous way of living budo and understanding how it all came about. I wouldn’t have missed it for the world, but it won’t help you in judo or karate or whatever fighting sport when you have to face an empty-handed opponent.
Q: What’s your opinion of makiwara training?
A: The first time I saw Peter Urban, Kurosaki Sensei and Mas Oyama’s knuckles I thought it was the trademark of a true karateka. In a way it still is, but on the other hand, I know many so-called “budoka” who — despite having tremendous knuckles — would lose to my grandmother. She could kick their butts with an umbrella. So, it [large knuckles] does not really mean that the man is a good fighter. It’s simply appearance. I did a lot of makiwara, and I can tell you that it makes a man out of you if you do it the correct way. The first time I used the makiwara I had a swollen hand with a huge blister on top of it. When I showed it to Mas Oyama the next day, he said, “Good. Now go hit the makiwara 200 more times.” The first time makes you sick because you can feel the blisters explode. The impact creates a horrible watery sound, almost as if somebody was putting a knife in my rear end. Two weeks later I was breaking bricks with the same hand and that was the end of it. I had karate hands. For “normal” karate practice, it is certainly not necessary. If you are a so-called karate teacher who must show what you preach, it is a must. I can hit the wall with all my power and don’t feel anything. When I am in real danger, I know that I have a weapon I can rely on. When I hit and connect, Of this I am sure.
Q: Let’s say that a practitioner is also an instructor. How different should his personal training be from his teaching schedule?
A: It depends very much on his age. When young, he should do as I did and have a special class for champions and fighters. Train with them, and you’ll stay while teaching. Be a real karate sensei. When you are older, it is better not to do as I do, which is fighting on the ground with some real rough guys. Don’t forget that the injuries you get when you are young stay with you, and the ones you get when you are 70 years old will not go away as easily as they did when you were a young kid. Trust me. The old injuries will play a big part in your daily life after you are 55 or 60 years old. Arthritis will set in on these joints and old fractures. I can honestly say that I have hardly had a single day without any pain for the last 30 years. And it is getting worse as we speak. My doctor says I’d better stop fighting right now. But I told him it is my hobby and that is the price I must pay. If I stop, I will die.
Let me return to your question. It is better is to have several classes; one for those who want to practice but not do any fighting; one for those interested in budo and one for the real fighters who want to enter professional competition. Don’t put them together because you’ll get what I got in the old days: some terrific fighters and a lot of students who ran away as fast as they signed up when they saw how hard the fighters were treating the rest of the guys in the class. I did not care in those days, for I made my money as a business partner in casinos. That’s the reason why we won all the championships in judo, karate and free fighting. The students who stayed in those classes were real fighters. It is good for the fighting side of the school but not for the business aspect of it.
Q: When teaching the art of karate, is self-defense, sport or tradition the most important element?
A: The answer is a combination of all three aspects, but there is something very important that you have to remember here. When a new member applies for membership, he is not joining to learn kata. He wants to beat up as many people on the streets as he meets. When they say that they don’t come for that and when they say that they are signing up for the spiritual side of the martial arts, you have a terrible liar in front of you. I had some real punks come into the dojo in the 1960s and 1970s, and I always beat them up on the first day just to show them who was the boss and who was the sensei in the school. A lot of them could not take it and left, but some of them became real good budoka. They went on to become good and dedicated teachers and fighters and very seldom had to fight on the streets. That’s the type of budoka that I love, and that’s why it is all worth it. Those who leave end up talking on the Internet and telling lies on their websites.
Q: You seem to be very upset with people talking on the Internet. Why?
A: Because it is a very easy way for those cowards who don’t have the courage – and I would love to use another word – to criticize and bad-mouth others who dedicate their whole lives to budo and have the scars to prove it. It is very easy to write and talk trash, but it’s impossible to find one of these cowards who will show up and tell you things to your face so you can get back at them with your fist. Talk is cheap, and the Internet helps to make even cheaper!
Q: What’s the proper ratio between kata and kumite?
A: I brought the so-called new kata to Europe for the first time in 1961 and then again in 1966. We even won championships in that category. Again, I believe it is important to make separate classes for those particular aspects of karate. At the same time, a fighter must not forget that when he is undergoing an examination for a dan — especially a higher dan — he must show the correct kata with a correct skill level. If he is a champion, he can get by with a good understanding, but he must also show the correct techniques in the proper way because karate is more than fighting.
Everybody must do it according to the way he sees the art, how it best applies to his dojo and what is best for his students. The International Budokaikan will never impose how things must be done inside any dojo. But when the students come to the test, you can see how the instructor is and what he is teaching in his school. Students are the reflections of the teachers in many ways. You need to provide freedom, but at the same time, you must maintain a good structure for the art to grow. If the karate people had done that from the beginning, karate would now be the bigger than soccer.
Q: Sensei, do you have any general advice you would care to pass on to the young karate-ka?
A: First, pay attention and think about what I have already said. Believe me, I have learned all this the hard way. Then, with an inquisitive mind, look at what the most successful schools have done. Look at the teachers and try to duplicate those elements that brought credibility and good students. Just don’t go in a dojo and start training without looking and comparing. If you want to be a fighter, train under a famous sensei who was a good fighter in his younger days. If you don’t care about fighting and are more interested in budo, look for a dojo with good people and a real dedicated sensei, even if he is not the greatest fighter. The decision is highly personal. I always looked for the best teacher in the particular aspects I wanted to develop. No teacher can give you everything you need. So, don’t be afraid to look for the one who can provide you with the things you want and need in order to be happy in your budo quest.
Q: Some people think going to Japan to train is highly necessary. Do you share this point of view?
A: As far as getting stronger and better, that time is over. Don’t forget that the best fighters nowadays don’t come from Japan. Look at Pride and K-1. The European and U.S. fighters — not the Japanese — are winning these events. In old-fashioned karate, stylists from shotokan, goju-ryu, wado-ryu, et cetera are not winning the big championships. At least not in the last decade. I don’t think you have to go to Japan to learn how to fight like a professional, but it is real fun to go there to experience things. You can learn a lot of other things if you go and stay there for some time. It is very true that the martial arts take on a totally new meaning, as far as spirit is concerned, if you train in Japan. I would recommend to anybody to get a few months — at least — in Japan … just to get an idea of the traditional side of budo. Depending on your fighting appetite, choose the kind that fits your ability.
Q: What are the major changes in the art since you began training?
A: Too many split-ups in all styles of the old Japanese schools. Everyone wants to be a little king in his own style, but he forgets that he got the ideas from other people and old sensei. Funny enough … they go around telling everybody about their new approach to the style, and that is real BS.
I take pride in keeping Mas Oyama’s Kyokushin style in the budokai. I can say proudly that I was the first one to show Oyama Sensei in 1966 the combination of complete karate, which is now called mixed martial arts. This is one-third karate and kickboxing, one-third throwing techniques, and one-third grappling and groundwork. The mentality has also changed a lot. I tell my students to look into other dojo and practice with them when they are out of town or during holidays. You can always learn from anybody … even when the teacher is not well known. Other major changes are, of course, the K-1 and the hard NHB and MMA events like the UFC. These have revolutionized the world of martial arts forever. As for the rest, the traditional karate styles like shotokan have not made any changes. The old JKA lost out, as for being in the top of the karate business. They don’t have an “only one” honbu dojo and shotokan is now only a well-known name but not much more. Kyokushinkai went the same way after Kancho passed away. It looks like some top instructors are at least working hard, but they will never get the grip on it like Mas Oyama did. The old Kyokushinkai has split up in many different groups and several thousand dojo. In a way, they are all the true example of a modern ronin. It is sad, very sad.
Q: With whom would you like to have trained that you have not?
A: Nobody. I say this because I was fortunate to have met and trained under the most famous and legendary sensei in Japan between 1959 and 1980. I don’t think I missed a thing. One of the best was Donn F. Draeger. He really made me who I was in judo and give me the body for which I always longed. In 1959, he took me from being a skinny 79 kilos to a solid 102 kilos dynamo. I came out on top because I had the speed and flexibility of a middleweight but the body and strength of a heavyweight. Then, of course, there was Oyama Sensei and especially Kenji Kurosaki Sensei. In Kodokan judo, I had all the famous champions and sensei in the Kenshusei. There was Mifune, Daigo. Osawa, Kaminaga, Inokuma, Koga, et cetera. In bo-jitsu, it was Shimizu Sensei and Ichitaro Kuroda Sensei. Yamaguchi “The Cat” was a very good friend of mine. Like Frank Sinatra said in one of his songs, “I had it all.”
I was very lucky because I did not suffer any injuries until years later. So, I could really fight hard for many years. I have never lost in Japan. Funny thing is that the Japanese wrote a book about my life in Japan.
Q: What would you say to someone who is interested in learning karate-do?
A: If he is really going for it 100 percent, then he has a very hard but rewarding life ahead of him. I sure had and still have. When you are seriously looking for a real dedicated sensei — who doesn’t have to be Japanese, provided he’s been through the fire on a real battle ground — find one who can teach you how to become one with yourself. Okinawa has been hiding from the publicity in the martial arts world, but lately they have exposed more and more. I have heard there are some very good sensei in Okinawa, but I don’t know them.
Q: What keeps you motivated after all these years?
A: My students and the joy of seeing them coming along and becoming champions. One thing I truly like is to show them what it was like in the old days. They understand the importance of combining the three elements we talked about before, which are contact karate, throwing techniques and grappling. I would really die if I could not do anything. It would kill me. Even the people who do all the talking about stupid things keep me alive because I want to prove to the real budoka what can be done … even when you are 70 years old. The old injuries are getting to me. After a big test at the Dutch Veteran’s Hospital two years ago, they told me that I had advanced arthritis in the joints that were badly hurt during those rough years. They told me to take it easy, but I thought, “Come on, I am Jon Bluming … no way!” But they were right. It is getting worse. They even gave me a military pension of $220 a month. But don’t worry. I can still teach and move around. I still love a good tumble on the ground with the young guys. So I just wait and see where it all ends. Certainly, not too soon if I can help it.
Q: Do you think it is necessary to engage in free fighting so you can learn how to protect yourself in the street?
A: Yes, I certainly do, and that was always my goal in my budo career. I wanted to make a system that was good for sport combat, and — with some adjustments — an efficient system for fighting in the street. I am sure that I succeed in that. I hate the so-called budo experts who teach only the higher goals of budo, like those spiritual things, including meditation. Don’t get me wrong. The tradition and etiquette, the formal spirit, the respect for each other in the dojo and for your opponent. These are all great things, but I cannot show any respect for the “famous sensei” who have done absolutely nothing for the arts and got their grades by making members join their associations in Japan. When these people had to fight in the past, they disappeared like cowards. I always tell everybody who is who, and I can prove it.
Q: Modern karate is moving away from the bunkai in kata practice. How important is bunkai for the understanding of karate-do?
A: It is part of karate and a part that will always be connected to the true essence of karate. This is true with the old and traditional karate styles. It is a way of showing that you can do the waza in a combination of movements, regardless from whom you are learning. Then again, I have never seen a kata champion who could beat my grandmother when she had an umbrella in her hands. You must know how to fight and how to take care of yourself in the dojo and in the street. Otherwise, from a very fighting and realistic point of view, kata is a total waste, but I have to agree that it is good exercise.
Q: What is the philosophical basis for your karate training?
A: To be a real fighter. That has always been one of my goals. I always admired and still do, the old Buddhist monks in old Japan. They were real human beings who did not believe in killing any kind of life. But if someone was coming for them, they turned into fierce fighters. The Daimyo (prince of the district) always had deep respect for them and always wanted them on his side, for he could depend on their honesty, loyalty and fighting ability. On the other hand, they were great human beings who were always helping weak individuals. My other goal was to become a good human being like these people, and in my own little circle, I think that I succeeded.
When I started my dojo in Amsterdam in 1961 and I was the main coach for the judo national team, I told my students, “Friends, I am going to teach you a new system of fighting called karate. If you use this on the streets or wherever just to show off, I will kick you out of my dojo. On the other hand, if you are attacked or molested in any way and you don’t put your aggressor in the hospital, I will also expel you from our kyokushinkai-kan dojo and the Budokai.” It has always worked for me to balance fighting with a deep and profound philosophy. I don’t want to give you a lot of philosophical BS that sounds really good on paper but nobody can transfer to daily life. For me, it has always been a way of life, and I was lucky that I made good money in the casinos in Amsterdam as a minor partner because I could never make much money teaching karate or judo. I simply got by. Because of the casinos — from 1970 until 1980 — I could do most of it as a hobby or semi-pro. I only do that for dedicated budoka, as long as my body will let me.
Q: How can a practitioner increase his understanding of the spiritual aspect of karate?
A: That is up to each individual budoka and his interest. If the person is in my dojo, I watch him and interview him … first to find out what he really wants out of karate and then I’ll go from there. New budoka should be careful with the so-called spiritual aspects of budo because there is a lot of BS in that word. I don’t like to talk too much about it because, at the very end, it is a personal experience and words can’t describe something that you have to discover and feel for yourself. First look into the background of the sensei and see if he is really what he claims to be. If so, at least you are on the right road.
Q: Is there anything lacking in the way martial artists are taught today?
A: I really don’t think so. However, in my early days, there were not that many teachers around. Usually, the champions — like in the early judo days — went all over the world to teach, and they did a great job. As a matter of fact, they did such a great job that we don’t need them anymore. In Europe, we have better teachers today than in Japan. Of course, there are few exceptions to that rule. The same goes for karate. In kendo, the Japanese are still the real masters.
Q: What do you consider to be the most important qualities of a successful budoka?
A: Honesty. In my dojo, there is no religious talk, no discrimination of any kind and there is no BS. All we do is train. Make the dojo a brotherhood, a sort of budo family. What you learn today you should show the others later and help the lower grades achieve a higher level by teaching them what you have learnt. Don’t pick on the beginners just to show how good you are because they don’t come to the dojo to be beaten up by a bully. It is especially important for the sensei to look for those kinds of bullies because they can screw up the whole dojo. Don’t believe all the famous stories that turn out to be all lies. For instance, I could not believe everything that people wrote and talked about me during the last 30 years. Things like I killed a yakuza in a bar fight, that Mas Oyama Sensei took me in but only after he beat me badly, et cetera. Unbelievable! Oyama Sensei and I never ever fought … not even on friendly terms or controlled sparring. He was my teacher and taught me a lot of the things that I teach today and that I said in this interview.
Q: What advice would you give to students about supplementary training such as weight training, stretching, running, et cetera?
A: When I went to the honbu dojo in 1966 for six months, I trained very hard at the weightlifting gym in Korakuen. While there, I met the Olympic track and field coach of the Russian national team. He had some members of his famous group with him. He was training with really heavy weights for his legs. I asked the coach what that was all about.
Donn Draeger was there too, and he gave us a lot of information. Among other things, he said that even a table tennis player must train with weights and be able to lift his own weight above his head. Weight training is a very important aspect of the overall physical conditioning program, but the guidance of a real good teacher who knows his stuff is priceless. Otherwise, it will work against you, and you will be injured badly as a result of incorrect training.
I had the great fortune to have the best trainer in the world in those days, and he made me what I am today. His name was Donn F. Draeger. He introduced me and other judoka to the specifics of weight training for judo. One of these champions was Isao Inokuma, who, after six months, started to train with weights. Eventually, he won the All-Japan Championship when he was only 86 kilos. But he was as strong as an elephant! His training routine entailed 20 percent weights — three times a week in the morning — and the remaining 80 percent was all judo practice, uchikomi and fighting.
In any sport, you need weight training to supplement your skills, but it has to be done in a scientific way under the guidance of a real teacher who knows what he is doing in your particular discipline. It is called sports specific training. And it doesn’t matter if it’s tennis, judo, karate or soccer. Draeger helped me go from 70 kilos into a solid 102 kilos in eight months, but he always whopped my ears with his whisperings, such as, “Jon, don’t let the weights do the judo for you. No matter how tired you are after the weights, go up to the main dojo and fight everybody and anybody because from that you get the stamina and the experience for real judo. Never let the weights rule your technique, but use that extra strength to sharpen your waza and tokui-waza and keep your speed and mobility as a middleweight.” It brought me to the absolute top, and I am deeply in debt to him. He died of cancer when he was 61. Not a singles day pass that I don’t think about him.
Q: What are the most important attributes of a student?
A: To be determined to reach the goal he set. He must also be keen and observant, take in what the sensei teaches him, help others, follow the tradition and the etiquette of budo, stay humble and never become a nuisance once he becomes a champion. For not following these important rules, I kicked out of my dojo in 1964 the most famous judoka whoever came from the Western world. His name was Willem Ruska, and he was a two-time Olympic medal winner and a three-time world champion. I don’t care about fame and or a champion when he cannot behave like a human being with others.
Q: Why is it, in your opinion, that a lot of students start falling away after two or three years of training?
A: A number of reasons. It could be that they did not reach their goals, they got bored or it could simply be because of the way modern life is today. The ones who stick with it are the ones who are really determined to get to the top either as a teacher or a fighter. In only three years, you cannot see much of the spiritual rewards of budo. You get that after you reach your goal and when budo becomes part of your life. When I asked my former teacher in the Kodokan and the Kenshusei, Daigo Sensei, why the Japanese judoka were doing so poorly in championships, he said; “We got rich, and the students are not hungry anymore.” Enough said.
Q: There has been very little written about you in magazines. You obviously do not thrive on the publicity like some martial artists. Why?
A: I don’t have to. I am 70 years old now, so what good does it do me if they write things and make me a so-called legend? And then you read on a website the most horrific lies about myself and other important budo people. I just want to stay away from that kind of people. I love to teach and show dedicated students my ideas. If they listen and see the light, I am happy. But don’t kid yourself. In Europe, there was a time when I was in newspapers almost daily and magazines. Now it is maybe every month or so. My greatest success was that I became a bodyguard for our beloved former CMDT, the Prince of the Netherlands, Prince Bernhard. I had my share of publicity, believe me.
Q: Have there been times when you felt fear in your karate training?
A: Yes, but mostly when I broke part of my body during hard training. I never had any fear facing an opponent on the mat. Nowadays, I am scared of my arthritis and the old injuries that bother the hell out of me. I’m afraid they will prevent me — in the near future — from doing my hobby and my way of life, which is teaching, grappling on the ground with the young guys and budo. That’s what really scares me.
Q: What else would you tell us about the great Donn F. Draeger?
A: I can write a book about Donn F. Draeger and my experiences with him. He was my real sensei since the first day when he picked me up and asked me to help him to prove a point in a class. Karate and judo becomes better when training scientifically with weights. Also, his judo training and guidance for all those foreign students in the Kodokan was priceless. His personal guidance for Inokuma, for it was Donn who made Inokuma a real world champion and nobody else. Donn was always there for us. He was always joking like the Marine officer with a field commission. When he was 19 and in Guadalcanal, he got shot really close to the heart by a sniper. He got the silver star and became a officer. Later, in the Korean war, he was a captain and a Lt Col. I could tell some nice stories. In short, he could play with many of the Kodokan teachers in those days, including all the eighth-, ninth- and even 10th-dans. He never got his sixth in Kodokan, because he could not take the BS anymore. He focused more on bo-jitsu, kendo and iai-jitsu under the Japanese Kendo Federation. We started out together in 1959. In 1966, I received my fourth dan and Donn, years later, received his eighth. He was the best friend and the best trainer and sensei I have ever seen and believe me, I have seen them all. Rest in peace my old friend. I love you dearly.
Q: Finally Sensei, if you had to leave a final message for the future generations, what would it be?
A: Stop the bickering and put the jealousy aside. When you have something to say, try to tell the truth. Since websites became popular, there are a bunch of cowards telling unbelievable tales. I wonder how they can find the time to do any real practice. If only 50 percent of the world karate groups would really try to work together, they would have a federation much bigger than the international soccer federation. With that money, they could do a lot of good and everybody could learn from everybody and make the federation into a very strong fighting organization. But today they are all concerned about grades and there are more 10th dans in the U.S. than the Japanese had since they started budo! I wonder how they got it. Certainly not from Japan. I hope they are worth that grade in more ways than just making money from students. The budo world is still strong. There are real budoka fighting in great events, such as MMA, which I like to call all-around-karate. That is what I teach mostly today because it is real fighting, and it is effective. But I know deep inside that martial artists won’t get together. That would be utopia. Again, look for a good sensei, a good organization and work for them and with them. Don’t forget; if you don’t respect your sensei, how can you expect respect when you become one? As my teachers said, “Without kokoro, budo is simply an empty shell.”