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Martial Arts Legends Gather in Bulgaria

Author: Takuji Yoshikura eFight【イーファイト】

World martial art legends gather regularly in Bulgaria to hold seminars.

Many legends visit this region, among whom Kyokushin karate world champion Zahari Damyanov from Bulgaria and K-1 fighters Sem Schilt and Peter Aerts.

The first ever Bulgarian martial art tournament “Senshi” raises its level with each subsequent event, already showing event fighters who compete in GLORY. In this article, I have covered this Bulgarian martial arts fever.

As soon as I heard that legendary fighters from K-1 and Kyokushin karate are gathering in Bulgaria, I boarded the plane and rushed to cover the event. I changed planes at the airport in Istanbul and arrived at the airport in Bulgaria. At the hotel, I found professional fighters like K-1 stars Sem Schilt, Ernesto Hoost, Peter Aerts, Andy Souwer, Albert Kraus and Kyokushin karate starts Francisco Filo, Glaube Feitosa, Ewerton Teixeira, Andrews Nakahara. And not only – there was also Bulgarian Kyokushin karate world champion Zahari Damyanov; from Japan – Akira Masuda, often called the best ever Japanese fighter who has defeated many “strongest foreign fighters” and the lightweight king Ryu Narushima.

Why had they come here? The purpose of their visit was to the professional martial arts tournament “SENSHI” launched for the first time in February 2019 by Mr. Ivo Kamenov – a patron and supporter of the Kyokushin World Union as well as a Kyokushin karate instructor – in order to prove the real strength of Kyokushin karate mastered up to now. This was to be already the 15th edition of the tournament with participants from all over the world and each time, several days before the tournament kickboxing, MMA and karate seminars are being held, in which world top legends participate as teachers and instructors. Apart from the seminars, the legendary fighters also take part as judges or presenters at the tournament.

On 16 February, a seminar was held at Varna City’s largest training and martial arts gym “SENSHI Gym”. Its size is about the same size as Yoyogi National Stadium’s 2nd Gymnasium. The building itself was built 30 years ago as a pool facility in connection with the Olympic bid plans, but after the collapse of the communist regime in Bulgaria in 1989 the project was abandoned due to the state of political instability. After that the facility was left absolutely unused and neglected until Mr. Kamenov purchased it together with the launch of “SENSHI” and in January 2022 the gym opened. On the 1st floor, there is a general training gym and a martial arts training hall with boxing rings. On the underground floor, there is a karate dojo and a judo hall. The gym has been used even by famous professional football players and now you can meet athletes from every field of sport. At the martial arts training facility Peter Aerts, Andy Souwer, Filho, and Feitosa showed K-1 techniques, each in his own training session; at the underground karate dojo Andrews Nakahara, who has fought with Kazushi Sakuraba and Shungo Oyama at the Japanese MMA event “DREAM”, was teaching jujutsu. At the judo hall, Sem Schilt, having conquered 2 times the Hokutoki All Japan Championship, was showing throwing attacking techniques.

A joint training session in full contact karate was held on the next day at the city gymnasium, where Filho, Glaube, and Ryu Narushima were the main instructors. Akira Masuda, who was invited as a special guest this time, also led a seminar that lasted a little less than an hour. Kyokushin karate is very popular in Bulgaria and the gymnasium was overflowing with students. Full-contact karate in Japan does not usually allow arm strikes in the face but here techniques for strikes in the face are also used. Since Kyokushin karate is a form of karate it is only natural that it aims to be more practical with a strong emphasis on spirit and mentality – this is the way it is seen here.

Despite the practical approach, however, what is really important is the heart. Value human relationships, holding sincerity as a principle. Mr. Kamenov says that the friends he has made through the training camps in Europe are the most valuable fortune for him. “Karate seminars and training camps are very important.”, he says. “Not only for the practice aiming at building physical strength but also for the chance to build valuable friendships.”.

[Professional Martial Arts Tournament SENSHI]

On the following day, the 18th, Varna City’s Culture Sports Palace held the 15th edition of the martial arts tournament “SENSHI 15”. There were a total of 16 matches, mainly by the rules of kickboxing with 2 matches by the rules of MMA. It may no doubt be called an international tournament, with extremely strong athletes from 19 countries, including Canada and Brazil along with Europe and Asia. Japan had a single participant in the fights – Jo Miyahara who was to take part at the Kudo World Championship in May. Miyahara fought in KWU FULL CONTACT (kickboxing rules) 80 kg class division against Akhmedov (21, Uzbekistan) world champion for 2020 at the WMF Muay Thai World Championship accredited by the National Olympic Committee of Thailand. From the first round, the fight was a seesaw battle of attacks and defense but Akhmedov took the lead by using clinch kicks. However, in the 2nd round, Miyahara was taken down by head butting by Akhmedov. The fight was stopped and Miyahara won by foul. When on the following day his left cheek which had taken the blow was examined, it became clear that he had suffered an avulsion fracture. However, they said this would not affect his participation in the Kudo World Championship in May.

When I asked Aerts and Hoost about the strongest participant according to them, they pointed out the Rumanian “Rambo” Florin Lambagiu who had been winning consecutively by KOs. When I watched the match, he swung his powerful arms, took his opponent down twice, and won by an impressive KO! He demonstrated unbelievable power. Both MMA fights ended with a finish showing the existence of still unknown power potential.

Among the fighters who have participated in SENSHI are Sergej Braun, Uku Jürjendal, and Ștefan Lătescu who are now competing in Europe’s top kickboxing fight event “GLORY” and it might be expected that “SENSHI” will give birth to still new powerful fighters. The next SENSHI tournament – “SENSHI 16” is going to be held on 13 May at the same location.

Shihan Francisco Filho – Winner at the 6th Kyokushin Kaikan World Cup Tournament

Last December transferred together with Glaube Feitosa from Kyokushin Kaikan to KWU (Kyokushin World Union). He has been known for passionately teaching karate and K-1 techniques, but what he really wants to teach, says he himself, is spirit. “After I became a world champion I wanted to go to K-1 next. I was a little worried if I can cope with the face attacks allowed – a champion and a victory belt. Then, next, I wanted to try at MMA. I was literally obsessed with fighting. But I soon looked within myself. If you only look outwards, you miss seeing a lot of things. Splendid in appearance but vain and empty inside – something one should not allow to become. I want to bring up students with a high mental level. Not glorious only on the outside. The champion could be only one but one should be brave enough to stand up to the end. The important thing is to give your best. (I have transferred from Kyokushin Kaikan to KWU because) I want to commit my life to spreading Kyokushin karate. People who have separated from Kyokushin are gathering in KWU. This is something wonderful. Their techniques might differ in one way or another but the important thing is to become one. I want to unite Kyokushin in one.”

Shihan Akira Masuda – Chief instructor at IBMA Kyokushin Kaikan Masuda Dojo

This time he was invited as a special guest but he also took part in the seminar where he led a training session which continued for about an hour. Mr. Masuda explained in a very easy-to-understand manner the basic techniques of uke (blocking techniques) and kaeshi (countering) and held a discussion with the participants afterward.

“I was very impressed by the excellently equipped facility and the passion of the people from Eastern Europe. I did not have an opportunity for close contact with Shihan Filho and the other instructors back in the days of Kyokushin Kaikan and the chance to communicate with them this time was extremely meaningful and useful for me. I am very grateful to Mr. Zahari Damyanov from Bulgaria who assisted me during the seminar and also helped me with the explanations to the students. For the last 15 minutes, I listened to the opinion of the participants. When I asked the children and youths about the meaning of practicing Kyokushin karate, many of them said it was to increase their self-esteem and to use it in their future life. I felt deeply touched by those words. As long as we teach karate, we need to have the practicality to be able to defend ourselves and at Masuda Dojo, we practice punches in the face with protective gear while at the same time we develop consciousness on the spirituality of martial arts. This time, however, I realized all anew that I should try through my teaching to make karate, little as it may be, easier for young to use and apply in their real life.”, said Mr. Masuda.

The strongest “SENSHI” participants fight in GLORY. Many unknown fighters expected to fight in Japan

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