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Musings: Hyakunin Kumite – The Ultimate Challenge of Kyokushin Karate

By Patrick Donkor,

Perhaps the most unique challenge in all of Karate is Kyokushin Karate’s Hyakunin Kumite or 100-man Kumite Challenge. Devised by Kyokushin Karate founder, Mas Oyama, the challenge is the ultimate mental and physical challenge, designed to test one’s spirit. Kenji Yamaki described the challenge as a transformative experience. Howard Collins said it was the hardest three hours of his life.

The challenge involves having to fight 100 opponents, one after another. Fights are full-contact and typically last around two minutes. The only protection fighters are allowed are a mouthguard in the groin protector. If knocked down, a fighter must get up within five seconds, or fail the challenge. Fighters must win at least 50% of the fights to pass the challenge. Typically, opponents are the same grade or higher, although sometimes lower grades may be used. Fighters may have to fight the same opponent more than once, depending on the number of opponents available.

Mas Oyama was the first person to complete the challenge. He would not ask students to undergo something he could not do. He did the challenge three times, on three consecutive days. He wanted to do it on the fourth day. However, there were no opponents left. Originally Oyama wanted the challenge to be a requirement for 4th or 5th Dan grading. However, this idea was abandoned as not every fighter could handle the grueling challenge.

The first man to complete the challenge after Oyama was South African, Steve Arneil. Others had attempted the challenge but failed. On 21 May 1965, Arneil took the challenge. He completed it in 2 hours 45 minutes. He knocked out his first opponent in around 15 seconds. He would go on to knock out around 30 of his opponents. He did lose some flights, but importantly he survived. He became the first non-Japanese to complete the challenge. Tadashi Nakamura became the second man to complete the challenge in 1965. He completed his challenge on 15 October.

Shigeru Oyama, no relation to the Kyokushin founder, took the challenge on 17 September 1966. A renowned fighter, he was undefeated in Japan. During his challenge, he had 122 fights. He is quoted as saying:

100 Kumite is the hardest thing I ever did in my life. It is probably the hardest thing anyone can do in the Karate world. You don’t beat the 65th man with your body. That’s all gone by then. You beat him with your spirit.

Shigeru Oyama

1967 saw two men complete the challenge. Dutchman Loek Hollander took the challenge on 5 August. According to John Jarvis who witnessed the challenge, the temperature in the dojo was 110°F (approximately 45°C). Hollander spent the next two weeks recovering from numerous minor injuries. New Zealander, Jarvis took the challenge on 10 November. He had been in Japan training with Mas Oyama when he was asked to take the challenge. He had previously spent two years in the UK training Steve Arneil.

On 1 December 1972 Welshman Howard Collins became the first person to compulsory complete the challenge in a single day. He had arrived in Japan in 1971. He eventually became an uchi-deshi (live-in student), at the main Kyokushin dojo in Tokyo. He had seen other students attempt the challenge, so knew what to expect. He completed the challenge in 3 hours 30 minutes. He said:

I thought they were going to kill me, but everything went. These are the three hardest hours of my life that I will remember forever.

Howard Collins

Miyuki Mimura was the next man to complete the challenge, on 13 April 1973. However, there would be a 13-year wait until the next successful challenge completion.

On 18 April 1986, Akiyoshi (Shokei) Matsui became the ninth man to successfully complete the challenge. He later said it was one of the hardest things he had ever done.

A year later, Ademir da Costa of Brazil completed the challenge.

The 1990s saw an increase in the number of fighters attempting the challenge. A two-time World Open Tournament finalist, Keiji Sanpei attempted the challenge on 24 February 1990. He had previously failed an earlier attempt after his 49th fight. On his second attempt, he was successful.

On 19 May 1991, Akira Masuda was the next man to attempt the challenge. He was the last man to attempt to challenge before Mas Oyama’s death. Taking place at the Tokyo Hombu, this challenge was acknowledged as being one of the most difficult in history. He faced many of the toughest fighters is in Japan at the time. He showed tremendous spirit, even though he was extremely exhausted. His last 40 fights were tough, with him fighting by pure instinct. Later that year he lost to Kenji Midori in the final of the 5th World Karate Tournament.

March 1995 saw two fighters attempt the challenge. On 18 March Kenji Yamaki, who would become World Champion later that year, completed the challenge in 3 hours 27 minutes. He won 83 fights (22 by Ippon, 61 by decision); drew 12 flights; and lost five fights. He started to feel cramps in his legs after his 50th fight. After his 60th fight, his whole body hurt. After his 70th fight, he became groggy and could hardly stand. By this time his spirit and fighting instinct got him through the challenge.

On 22 March 1995 Brazilian, Francisco Filho, a future World Champion, attempted the challenge. He completed the challenge in 3 hours 8 minutes. He won 76 flights (26 by Ippon, 50 by decision); drew 24 fights; and lost 0 fights. To date, Filho is the only man (apart from Oyama) to complete the challenge twice successfully.

The thirteenth man to complete the challenge was South African Marius Schoeman. He completed the challenge on 23 March 1996.

Considered by many to be one of the greatest Kyokushin fighters, Hajime Kazumi was the next fighter to attempt the challenge on 13 March 1999. He completed the challenge in 3 hours 20 minutes. He won 74 fights (16 by Ippon, 58 by decision); drew 42 fights; and lost 0 fights.

On 4 July 2004 history was made when Australian, Naomi Ali (Woods) became the first woman to pass the challenge. She completed the challenge in a respectable 3 hours 8 minutes. By the end of the challenge, she was almost unconscious and had sustained broken fingers and toes. Ali was the first was also the first woman to attempt to 50-man Challenge.

Armenian Artur Hovhannisyan was the next person to attempt and complete the challenge, on 29 March 2009. The test was completed in front of IKO-1 Head, Shokei Matsui.

In 2011 two men completed the challenge. Argentinian, Emmanuel Beaufils completed the challenge in September. On 22 October Australian Judd Reid completed the challenge. In 1991, while in Japan as an uchi-deshi, he had fought Akira Masuda twice during his challenge. The judge was a member of the World Karate Organisation (WKO) led by Kenji Midori. A documentary film, Journey to the 100 Man Fight – The Judd Reid Story, detailed Reid’s attempt at the challenge.

26 April 2014 marked the 20th anniversary of Mas Oyama’s death. Russian, Tariel Nikoleishvili attempted the challenge in front of IKO–1 head, Shokei Matsui, and also Francisco Filho and Artur Hovhannisyan. He completed the challenge in 3 hours 21 minutes. He won 64 fights; drew 27 flights; and lost 9 fights.

Saudi Arabian fighter, Abdullah Tarsha completed the challenge on 2 June 2016. This was followed by three-time World Champion, Takuma Kouketsu of Japan, completed the challenge in Nagoya, Japan on 26 November 2017.

At the time of writing, Spaniard Daniel Sanchez is the latest person to have completed the challenge. On 10 March 2018, he became the first person from the World Kyokushin Budokai (WKB) to take and pass the test. The was taken in Lorca, Spain.

A tough endeavor, the 100–man challenge has seen many failures. As previously mentioned, Keiji Sanpei, a former head of the IKO–2, failed on his first attempt at the challenge. Makoto Nakamura, a former two-time World Champion also failed in his attempt.

Over the years there have been a number of variations to the 100–man Kumite format. This includes 20–man, 40–man, and 50–man, challenges.

There is no doubt that the 100-man challenge will be attempted again. The Hyakunin Kumite Challenge still remains one of the ultimate tests of a karateka’s mental and physical strength. It is an expression of Budo in its purest form.

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