Shihan Cameron Quinn, author of “The Budo Karate of Mas Oyama,” Uchi Deshi, translator, and friend of Sosai Mas Oyama, is well known in the Kyokushin world. Highly knowledgeable about all things Kyokushin, intelligent and well-spoken, I was delighted to have the opportunity to interview him, and I hope that you will be equally delighted by his answers. OSU! -Ev
Ev: OSU, Quinn Shihan! Thank you for agreeing to this interview! It’s an honor. For those who don’t know your history, can you please give me a brief summary of your Kyokushin career? How you came to start training, where you trained, your time with Sosai and beyond?
Shihan Quinn: I began as a 12 year old, mainly because I felt a little bullied and wanted to get stronger. I was also quite small for my age so wanted to do anything that would help me grow. I looked up at my instructor, Sensei Frank Everett, and thought, “Wow, if I train really hard one day I’ll be as big and strong as him.” He was 5’ 4”.
Ev: I have been lucky enough to read your book, “The Budo Karate of Mas Oyama.” It is a very unique book, and I think it’s a good read for everyone, but it’s very very hard to come by a copy of it- it tends to sell for anywhere from $400 to $850 USD. I know you’ve been planning to publish a new expanded edition for quite some time now. What needs to happen to get it published again, and do you have an idea yet when that might be?
Shihan Quinn: Anniversary edition will be the same, so not an expanded edition. I am doing a limited, numbered print run. We are in the process of sorting out a printer now. So the main challenges are technical, relating to reproducing and republishing. Shouldn’t be too long.
Ev: What do you now consider to be the highlight of your Kyokushin career?
Shihan Quinn: Hard to say any single event or experience is THE highlight because my career is a sum of all the beautiful parts I have been blessed with. And I think the value of each experience was because of the experiences that came before it. Having being able to go and live for a year in Japan to train as a 17 year old was a real blessing. I met Sosai. I trained at Honbu. I studied Japanese fairly diligently. I toughened up. Then developing a close relationship with Sosai that lasted 17 years affected my life profoundly. The people I have met through Kyokushin is wonderful. Training and competing against strong opponents then channeling that experience into teaching and seeing what effect Kyokushin had on students was a blessing. In fact that transforming power of Kyokushin shall always remain a highlight for me. Kyokushin is a vehicle that opens doors to perhaps previously unconsidered possibilities. It transforms anyone who makes it their own through hard training and focused attention. That is the gift Sosai left us. So with the highlights come the responsibilities of ensuring that opportunity is passed on.
Ev: If Sosai were here today, when MMA is so popular, do you think he would be changing Kyokushin, and if so, how?
Shihan Quinn: MMA is not new but it has become popularised, yes. Don’t forget that when Sosai was accepting challenge matches in the 50‘s it was against top level grapplers and with very limited rules, very MMA.
Shihan Quinn: That’s what MMA is all about, yes. Cross training is healthy if for no other reason than it forces you to face your own weaknesses. How important is it? That is up to each person. Some people don’t even fight outside of the comfort of their own dojo. They don’t embrace a strong tournament career but have a few hard spars and think that is Kyokushin. So even in Kyokushin you have people who can’t face their own truth. For them really hard and confronting kumite against someone who is trying to knock them out is cross training. For others that is a standard part of daily training. How much cross training you do, what you do it in and where you do it depends on your own goals. Everyone is different.
Ev: There seems to be a lot of bad blood and animosity between the different heads of a number of different knockdown organizations, especially within Kyokushin itself… differences that seem irreconcilable. Do you think these divides will continue as these people eventually step aside, and a new generation of karateka take the reins? Is there hope for a more united Kyokushin community, despite there being so many factions?
Shihan Quinn: Who knows. I have no crystal ball but human nature is fairly predictable. Some nations and families war for generations, to the point where they don’t even know what they are warring about. The only way it will change in Kyokushin is if we behave in a way that encourages forgiveness, reconciliation and unity. If people place their own personal agenda ahead of that it will be difficult to find resolution. Whilst there is always hope there are many challenges and the irreconcilable difference between the heads is only one of them. Greed has a lot to do with it. Jealousy too. That and living a Kyokushin life that is not in sync with Sosai’s teachings. I have, and continue to, train with students from many of the groups. This year alone, 2012, I have trained at IKO Matsui dojos, IKO Matsushima Dojos, Kyokushin-kan dojos, IKO Sosai dojos, independent Kyokushin dojos, Rengokai Union dojos, dojos of Kyokushin breakaways, the academies of two dozen different BJJ organizations and non BJJ grappling schools, boxing gyms, kickboxing gyms and wrestling gyms. And when you train hard and do your best, the energy is the same. Every Kyokushin organization loves Sosai and does the best they can with what they have to express that. So those who train get it. Those who train with humility and focus get it even more. Those that train with gratitude and love and mutual respect get it best. So in some ways the united Kyokushin community already exists. The only thing that stops it is in us.
Ev: Where do you see Kyokushin in 20 years?
Shihan Quinn: Hard to say. I know I’ll still be training and teaching. Sosai said there is no Kyokushin Karate. There is Cameron karate, Ev karate, our own karate. That’s what matters because that is where Kyokushin will be in 20 years: where we take it on a personal level.
Ev: What, in your opinion, was Sosai’s vision for the future of Kyokushin?
Shihan Quinn: Before he died he was talking about the new Genesis of Kyokushin. I think he had achieved a lot with the full contact tournaments and showing the world the spirit of osu through his karate. He was multi-faceted so I am sure he would have continued to grow Kyokushin in the depth and breadth of what it offered. That is not an invitation to free interpretation though, as some have done. So what Sosai’s vision was is not as important right now as what our own vision is. We have to be the example of where we would like to see it go and make sure it goes in a constructive, righteous direction that serves.
Ev: So what defines Kyokushin? What is the heart and soul of it?
Shihan Quinn: For me, it’s honesty. The courage it develops in full contact fighting. The honesty in consistent training. The spirit of osu. The dojo kun. Sosai’s saying, “Without the experience of real fighting, there is no proof. Without proof there is no trust. Without trust there is no respect.” When I travel to different dojos in different countries Kyokushin has a certain blend of realistic hardness and traditional values of respect and humility. Every one has different balances of that yin and yang, which for them is their truth. No one who lies to themselves in training can ever understand that. They may have the gi and the belt with all the gold bars and the certificates on the wall but none of that means anything really if there is no humility, honesty in training, self awareness. But when that honesty is there, you can walk into any school of any style anywhere and they will recognize that for what it is. That is the real thread that connects us.
Ev: When does it stop being Kyokushin?
Shihan Quinn: When it crosses over the line of violence, unkindness and inconsideration. Being considerate of other starts at home, the filial piety that Sosai loved so much, and Sosai said no one who has not developed that is welcome as a student of his.
Ev: How do you define budo?
Shihan Quinn: The way of cultivating the warrior within. One must become a warrior. That’s why I don’t mind bullies in the world. They’ve always been there and always will be and trying to get rid of them does little more than cultivate an imbalance of weakness. We need bullies to remind us to toughen hard. You have to be a warrior. You have to be tough. The world does not suffer fools, victims and losers kindly. Everyone has it within and budo is one very good way of bringing it out. Until one embraces the mindset of a warrior, it’s really just running around in circles. Budo means the courage to look within at ourself when no one else is around. It means the courage to keep the promises you made to yourself and if you fail, get up, dust off and try again, without an ounce of feeling sorry for yourself in the process.
Ev: Which do you think is more important in Kyokushin- the traditional karate aspect, the budo karate aspect, or the knockdown aspect?
Shihan Quinn: Without all three one’s karate is incomplete. The relative importance of those aspects changes with experience, age and current and long-term goals. It can even change from day to day. Also there are other aspects as well. Everyone is different. What’s important is that whatever facet holds the greatest value to us at present, we should embrace that fully and honestly.
Ev: What is the one thing that you hope your students come away with from their time training under you?
Shihan Quinn: To take what they learn of the spirit of Kyokushin into every aspect of their life and use it to face whatever challenge comes with confidence. And to share that with balance, love and gratitude.
Ev: I know that you are a very spiritual person. How can Kyokushin help people advance spiritually?
Shihan Quinn: Anything that helps one to overcome weakness and become a warrior helps one to advance spiritually. Some paths advance faster than others, that’s all. But the danger is that if one is not prepared for the strength it brings, it can be a drawback too and cause a regression spiritually. Everything balances. Where there is potential for beneficial growth there is also the danger of detrimental regression. Many great souls have been blessed with great power and fallen as a result. Some people use the power they have gained through training in Kyokushin in a destructive and malevolent way. In that case, there is no advancing spiritually.
Ev: What is the biggest trap a person training in Kyokushin might fall into that would prevent them from advancing spiritually?
Shihan Quinn: Using the strength developed through training for selfish gain and malevolent intent. Kyokushin Karate is empowering. How someone uses that power is in them. That’s what matters. It’s like a gun. Guns can be a benefit or a drawback, depending on the intent of the shooter.
Ev: How do you define enlightenment?
Shihan Quinn: It’s not really a word I use much so I have never given a definition much thought. Illuminated wisdom? It seems to be overly interchanged with ‘self-realization’ which is a very different kettle of fish.
Ev: Please tell me about something that has moved you lately.
Shihan Quinn: You mean on an emotional level? Not my car or the plane I flew back from Japan in yesterday? I get moved daily when I see even small acts of courage. Unruffled patience is very moving. And consideration. I don’t think it’s really the big things that count so much. It is very moving to see people going about their business with humility, patience, single-mindedness and kindness. That is moving because it shows great discipline.
Ev: What is, above all else, the message you want to send to the world?
Shihan Quinn: I don’t really have any big message. Just be kind to one another. Be grateful for what comes or doesn’t come because it’s all part of the learning. Be aware, you know. Be conscious of what you’re thinking, saying and doing because it impacts on everyone else, in surprising ways. And be patient. That one quality is perhaps tied to mastery more than any other I think. As far as Kyokushin goes, be grateful to Sosai, your teacher and those you train with. And train consistently, above all else. It is the daily training that defines us as a karate-ka more than the big events. Even if you only have time for a single kata. By maintaining the habit when you are under pressure or don’t have time, you will build a tremendous consistency and willingness to train when you do have the opportunity. Your daily habits rule your world and define you more than anything else.
Shihan Quinn: Stay above the line as best you can. That means being responsible. It means taking ownership of your outcomes, being accountable, being single-minded in your determination. It also means stop blaming your past experiences for your present inconsistencies, stop making excuses or denying that what comes or doesn’t come to you is not your fault. If it’s not you, who on earth is it? That kind of victim mentality is very destructive. We have that choice every day, every moment, to speak, think, act above the line as a leader, a victor, or below the line as a loser and a victim. People are incredibly good at rationalizing and justifying their behaviour. But if you are consistent you never have to do that. Just do your best to stay above the line and whatever you do, do it with joy.
Ev: Thank you very much for your time. OSU!