Author’s note: Please enjoy The Ultimate Fight: How The 100 Man Kumite Tests The Karateka’s Body, Mind and Spirit. I’ve put a lot of love and hard work into this article and the journey has been fantastic. If you wish to support the site, I’ve made a podcast featuring my conversations with Abdullah Tarsha and Cem Senol on this topic. You can access that on my Patreon or on site in this link here! It’s only $5 USD and helps make the site better! Oss!
In all of martial arts, the tournament is the idolized manner of combat. From the early days of the UFC, Glory kickboxing one night tournaments, and Olympic events, fighting more than one person in a short period of time is often seen as the ultimate test in strength and abilities in skills. This also exists outside of martial arts. NCAA basketball has March Madness, a mad 68 team tournament that takes place in the month of march. In these worlds, there are those who take it to the extreme. Marathons are no longer seen as extreme; now the meta is ultra marathons where races balloon up to 200, 500 and even 1000 miles (321, 804, and 1609 kilometers). The 100 man kumite is just that: the ultra marathon of martial arts. It is the ultimate fight.
The 100 Man Kumite is just what it sounds like on the surface. A karate practitioner, or karateka, takes on 100 black belts in one day in a full contact fight, kumite. The feat is for the elite of the elite in the world of karate and only a few have completed the challenge that immortalized them in the annals of karate history. But what was it’s origin? How does it test the body’s durability, mind of a karateka, and their fighting spirit?
In this post, I’ve talked with four karateka who have completed the 100 man kumite. This is their story on what led them to take on such a challenge, what that challenge entailed, and how it changed them as a fighter and a person.
Before we dive into the stories of these incredible feats by the athletes mentioned above, let’s get some history. The 100 man kumite was a feat created by Masutatsu Oyama, a Korean born Japanese citizen. A lifelong practitioner of karate, Mas Oyama founded the hard hitting style of kyokushin karate, the style in which the 100 man kumite is held under.
Mas Oyama was obsessed with karate and martial arts. He loved to challenge himself and looked to other martial artists for inspiration in ways to do so. Two notable names that he drew from were Yamoaka Tesshu, a Meiji Restoration era samurai, and Masahiko Kimura, yes that Kimura of which the the shoulder lock is named after.
In the nineteenth century, Tesshu took part in a 100 man duel where he defeated each opponent using a shinai which is the bamboo sword used in modern kendo practice. Much later, Kimura, who was a friend of Oyama’s, reportedly took part in a pair of 100 man judo match on two consecutive days.
Seeing these challenges, Mas Oyama wanted to test himself in the same manner that these two did. He couldn’t let Kimura, who Oyama said himself trained harder than he, have the leg up so he decided to best him by doing a 100 man bout three days in a row. Oyama gathered his best students and each cycled through to face him until all three days were finished.
After completing the test, Oyama made the 100 man kumite a requirement for getting the 4th or 5th dan. But this proved difficult and instead, he made it a voluntary exercise. The rules originally allowed the event to take place over two days with fifty fights each day. But after 1967, that was changed and all 100 were required to take place on the day of the event. Other requirements were that the karateka needed to win at least 50% of the fights and they were allowed 5 seconds to get up after being knocked down.
So what do these fantastic athletes have to say about their experiences in the 100 man kumite? What is preparation like for something of that magnitude? How do you train? And most importantly how do you change as a karateka and a person?
Cesar Rufo Silvestre: Enduring Suffering
Cesar Rufo Silvestre is a karateka out of Spain. His kumite was on December 3, 2006 and he was kind enough to grant me the first interview on the topic of the the 100 man kumite. While I was excited about piecing together the article, it was after I spoke with Silvestre that I truly became elated to get these athletes stories down on “paper.” Cesar Rufo Silvestre’s story is incredible and really served as the foundation for my research into the 100 man kumite.
Silvestre was a karateka for some time, as is most who try the kumite. As a kyukoshin karateka, he had an extensive career but his hardest challenge was after he was done competing. After seeing Klaus Rex attempt and complete his 100 man kumite live, Cesar Rufo Silvestre was hooked and felt like he had to try one for himself, which he would, of course.
“I did the 100 man kumite test when my competitive stage ended. But the real motivation for being able to do it was when I saw one of them live. I watched in amazement, how the kyokushin practitioner could perform something so special. Something that I did not contemplate in my career. It was highlighting the fact of continuing in the face of great adversity that you encounter during combat. I knew it was something special and really hard. And I asked myself, ‘Can you do it?’ And I would like to say that kyokushin, through its daily training, makes you stronger and stronger both psychologically and physically.”
The type of training done for the 100 man kumite is as extreme as the event itself. Silvestre had been practicing karate all his life. The ability to compete in kumite was there. It’s the basis of kyokushin. What the 100 man kumite puts a fighter through is tougher than that. It tests the fighters mental and physical ability to do more than any fighter has ever done.
For Cesar Rufo Silvestre, he took that thought and made it his mission. He practiced karate every day but that was routine. What Silvestre did was make suffering his primary focus. For two years, Silvestre tortured himself with acts of endurance.
“Training was to increase the capacity of suffering and perform more. It took me 2 years of training. I did trainings like meditation in winter at night on the beach in the water. My daily acts of life, daily, I carried out with difficulties. I put on a 12 kilogram vest from the moment I got up, until I went to bed. I trained in extreme cold, extreme heat. I ran across the field barefoot. While it was raining in winter I trained outside. I walked 60 kilometers to a big mountain, which was 10 kilos uphill, and did it running every day. I performed different hardening exercises. The sparring matches were unstoppable in number. All this always exceeding the physical-mental limit. I never stopped training when the mind wanted it.”
The allure of the 100 man kumite naturally drew Silvestre in. The challenge and hardship caught his attention as a kyokushin karateka.
“The 100 kumite test is the most difficult test in kyokushin. The hardest. For this reason, many who try it, do not usually pass it successfully because it is not like a competition or a training. You have to fight for 2 hours and 45 minutes without rest against 100 opponents and it’s about never giving up.”
Going through the kumite is a rollercoaster in itself. Through over half the fights, Silvestre went through with relative ease. But the creep of accumulating damage eventually took it’s toll and made every move he did tiresome and a bigger problem than it would have at the beginning of the event.
“You start to fight well, you find yourself psychologically and physically perfect. During the first 60 fights I did practically well, since I had everything under control. I didn’t really feel anything negative, my strategy was good, mobility, parrying and blocking everything, and finishing each fight before the time. But, it was at 61 and the uphill battle began. I had sudden tiredness, my arms and legs were heavy and too slow. You begin to notice the accumulation of blows, both in the torso and legs. The arms when blocking also hurt. From fight 70 your body hurts like crazy. The thoughts that cause you to stop begin. The way of fighting is not the same as at the beginning; you become slow, heavy, tired, sore, and it increases. You see from afar that you still have many more fights to finish. You have to change the strategy. Strategies are necessary to manage all these difficulties that will appear.”
And the pain would only intensify. Silvestre said that as the fight went in there was an internal struggle with himself: one who knew what his body was going through and wanted to quit and the other who know what lie on the other side.
“When it really gets tense, that’s when you feel the tiredness, the pain from the accumulation of hit after hit, and the only thoughts of stopping go through your mind: ‘Stop it now. “I can’t keep up. Will I be able to hold on?” The pain. You know you are reaching the limit. You can give in to slow down, and think that maybe you don’t have enough mental or physical strength to finish, that it’s not your time. As I thought about giving up, what supported me to continue fighting, was that I had worked long and hard not to stop. This helped me keep going. They hit me in the chest and the muscle that received the blow contracted, feeling double pain. I couldn’t block since my forearms had large spills of blood as well as my tibias. The fingers of the hand could not be closed, and the swollen knuckles, the more blurred, the pulsations accelerated very quickly. I knew that I couldn’t even perform good tactics anymore. But I still knew that I was prepared not to give up until I reach 100.”
Silvestre continues, “But the ability to resist against the growing desire to stop that is the capacity for suffering or the spirit of kyokushin. I know that endurance is the struggle to continue in the face of a growing desire to stop and I did well on this training path.”
Cesar Rufo Silvestre believes that it’s his endurance training that really put him in a position to complete the 100 man kumite.
“The ability to suffer is trainable. In kyokushinkai, you learn to overcome it and perform better in each training. When you arrive at the dojo in your beginnings, they prepare you physically, to go overcoming great goals, which you could never have done without doing kyokushin. Like thousands of sit-ups and push-ups without rest, ability to accept blows to your body. They push you to the limit physically and psychologically. What is crucial is the need to override what your instincts tell you to do (to slow down, back up, give up) and the feeling that time has elapsed. Landing a blow without giving in requires self-control, but you need to work on your stamina. And resistance involves something more sustained: keeping your finger in the fire long enough to feel the heat. All this is very improvable through proper training.”
The training is all mental, says Silvestre. I’m training for his 100 man kumite, he says that it’s a way of life. He’s been a kyokushin karateka for all of his life and thr 100 man kumite was simply an extension of that.
“In my classes we train that thoughts do not force you to stop, but they generate the desire and the needity to do it. You will fall but you will have to get up and fight against yourself. It is about seeing pain and difficulties as a temporary and necessary path that leads us to achieve a goal that will bring us more pleasure than the suffering to achieve it. Actually the competition training is similar in many aspects to the 100 man kumite training. In competition training I trained similarly. Training sessions were shorter in all respects. But tactical technician is added. And above all, enhance your qualities to get to get the knockout.”
Junior Robert McInnis: His Father’s Footsteps
Next I spoke with Junior Robert McInnis. McInnis, who is from Japan, completed his 100 man kumite on May 28, 2018. His journey was more of a fighter’s and karateka’s approach to the event.
Shortly before his kumite, McInnis suffered an injury and was fearful of it being canceled. “I injured my knee sparring 10 days before departure for Okinawa,” McInnis said. “I thought it was all over. But I knew that I had conditioned myself and mentally I was ready.”
Training for McInnis was more traditional than Silvestre. He took to hardening training in a way one would expect a martial artist getting ready to fight 100 men in: by taking blow after blow. I’m his corner the entire time was his father, being with him since he was three years old when he started training.
“I never do sauna or ice. After training everyday the trainers would massage me hard. I used to take over 200 leg kicks a day and hundreds of body shots in preparation. I ran 10 kilometers every day and hill sprints. My dad pushed me every day.”
It was his father who he leaned into. After training some of the best fighters in the world, Junior Robert McInnes put his faith in the preparation his dad provided for him.
“I knew that there would be some of Japan’s top champions in the kumite so I trained old school. My father, Kancho Robert McInnes, has trained some of the toughest fighters in the world like Peter Aerts and Pedro Rizzo. He also trained Judd Reid for his kumite and and many other karate and Muay Thai champions. So he pushed me far beyond what I ever thought was possible.”
Through the fight, Junior Robert McInnes was broken as any man realistically would be. But it was his father that helped him find the strength to continue. Then the Australian Uchi Deshi (literally “inside student,” that is a student under Mas Oyama’s Young Lions program) performed a Haka, which is a Māori war dance, and McInnes was energized and felt he could go ten more rounds, which he did. Junior Robert McInnes actually fought a 110 man kumite on the day of his fight.
“The pain was almost unbearable and my ribs were cracked in the 80th to 90th fight I think. I was running on auto and after the 90th fight. I don’t remember much except hearing my dads voice. He was screaming, ‘You got this, son!’ When I hit the 100th fight the old Uchi Deshi that came from New Zealand stated screaming out a Haka. I felt an overwhelming sense of strength and fought on 10 more rounds.”
Recovery was understandably a tough time. But McInnes couldn’t stay away despite injured ribs and a knee. He was back to teaching after only a month.
“After the kumite the injury’s took two months to recover. My ribs were broken. That took a long time to heal. My knee took longer but I was back in the dojo just teaching after a month.”
McInnes goes back to his father, the rock in his corner with all the karate experience he’s handed down to his son. Junior Robert McInnes saw the respect for his father all his life. It was the culmination of all that work, all the time put in by his father, that got him to the end of the fight.
“I have only ever learnt from my father, he is an inspiration to me. I see so many great teachers visiting our Dojo, really big names, and they will show respect to my father was a great teacher. In Japan, masters show him a lot of respect and are his good friends. When I see this and makes me feel that karate is my life . In the later rounds of the kumite I was a little delirious and the pain was way off the scale, it was my fathers words that made me dig deep and keep on going.”
Cem Senol: A More Scientific Approach
The most recent to complete the 100 man kumite was Cem Senol of the Netherlands. He completed his just before the pandemic hit in February of 2022. Senol spoke with us about his process of going through the 100 man kumite as well. He, as an experienced fighter who has competed in kickboxing, Muay Thai, MMA, and karate, took a different approach, one that could be construed as even more challenging than a traditional approach.
Senol has a fighters approach to his karate. It wasn’t a family thing. Like many boxers and MMA fighters, he wanted to fight. There was no budo for him. But eventually his sensei, Gerard Gordeau (yes, that Gerard Gordeau from UFC 1) installed that respect in him as the time went on. But at the heart of it all, the challenge is what got Senol out of bed in the morning and train for all these years.
“In all honesty, I didn’t get into karate and kickboxing or MMA because I enjoyed the discipline at first, or the wonderful budo spirit. I didn’t need to do those styles. I just wanted to fight. But the full contact karate, the kyukoshin, shidokan, ashihara, those styles, they fit me the best. I like those ways of competing. It’s all about endurance and toughness. It’s about trying to give your best while somebody else is trying to knock you out. They’re tough sports. Along the way I learned from Gerard [Gordeau] and his brother that you need discipline, you need respect, you need all those things. Those are like the main things you need to do well in those sports or those martial arts. That complete way turned me a little bit around. I was still into fighting but I enjoy all those necessities you go through in order to compete well.”
When asked where the idea to try the challenge of the 100 man kumite came from, Cem Senol said the challenge has always piqued his interest. He goes on to describe what Gordeau told him when he first purposed the idea.
“After 20 years of fighting everywhere and fighting a lot of different styles I was looking for a different challenge. In all honesty a lot of fighters they want to be champion fifteen times in one tournament. But for me, if I win one time it’s enough for me and I’m going to look for the next challenge. I’ve done that my whole life. I’ve done that with my work, I’ve done that with a lot of things. So I do that in martial arts. To be completely honest I was always interested by the 100 man kumite. Two years before, I decided I wanted to try so I asked my teacher and said, ‘What do you think of it?’ and he asked me if I was getting insane or something. I asked him if he ever thought he would want to try it and Gerard said, ‘No, it’s not for me.’ He said, ‘If you really put the ring around my neck and are under my skin, I’m going to do things to you that are unimaginable.’ In order to understand, in fight number 50 or so, you really get exhausted and all the things you are good at are going to be taken away from you step by step by step. He told me, ‘That’s nothing for me but you really need discipline if you want to do this. There is no option for escape, there is only success or not succeeding. Those are the two options.’ After that talk I was even more interested in it. And then we started planning.”
At the time of this writing, Cem Senol is the most recent man to complete the 100 man kumite. When he and his team set out to begin training for the event, they took a modern approach and modeled it after sports where the money and, thus, the superior training takes place.
“The thing is that is why we did a complete different approach from a lot of martial artists. If you see how martial arts developed, it’s always on the back of the wave. The big paid sports like American football, soccer, they are always in front of the wave when you’re talking about development, new ways of training, new support of athletes to make them even stronger and faster. Those are the paid sports so they’re way ahead of us. So what the Osaka dojo, my dojo, has been doing for years is trying to link up with those sports by networking and connections. There’s a lot more knowledge and development than gyms would like to admit. The thing is it needs to also fit the person. 50 years ago if you wanted to do a marathon it was completely different training than it is now. But nowadays, they contact their online trainer and say, ‘Okay what should my running schedule be,’ but it’s pretty precise but what if it doesn’t fit you? Then you’re probably not doing it the right way.”
In order to begin training for the event, Senol and his team needed to know the parameters they would be fighting under. For the proper and targeted training like Cem Senol mentioned they had to set the rules. Senol didn’t set the rules to his favor, either. Instead, it was tailored to a heavyweight weight class There would also be no protection for the Dutch karateka.
“There are a couple of things that we needed to do in advance. The first thing was what are the rules of the game I’m going to compete in? In a lot of kumites they are different. We looked at a lot of them and we see a lot of different approaches. A lot of different rules. We decided on a set of rules. That’s the first thing: if you want to join the game, you have to understand what you are joining. We sat around the table and I finally got the rules and the rules for this kumite are: it’s in a ring. That’s different than on the mat. Our full contact karate fighters are born in the ring, we’re not born on a mat. We also can fight on a mat but we’re born in a ring because there, nobody can escape. Then we decided we don’t really care about black belts and degrees and stuff like that. What we care about is level of skill. So we decided we’re going to use only experienced fighters. They all have to be 75 kilos and up because I’m a heavyweight. A lot of the percentage should be heavyweights. We also said no protection. No headgear, but also, if you look at a lot of other kumites they use shin protection. That’s not a problem but we said no shin protection, no hand protection, just full contact karate, the way it’s meant to be. Also, old school rules. None of that modern day Olympic shit if you hit someone with a very nice mawashi geri in the head you get a wazari. No, it’s knockout, knockdown rules.”
After discerning the rules, Cem Cenol, Gerard Gordeau and the rest of his team looked at another major factor going into the 100 man kumite: Cem Senol. They approached the fight and tailored the plan to who he was and how he fought.
“After you know the rules and the situation you’re going to get yourself into and they are clear, then you have to make a training schedule. The first thing with training schedule, except for the goal, is ‘Who am I as a person?’ If you look at me as a fighter I’m a fighter that I’m not very flexible, I’m not very athletic, but what I am is I can deal a lot of violence and I can keep on giving violence and I can also take a lot of violence. So that’s a fine skill to work with. But a lot of those 100 man kumites they have the rules like if you make a good score or you sweep somebody down, then the fight ends. Then it’s on to the next. We said, ‘No, no, no. It’s not going to happen like that. One and a half minutes each. That’s just how it’s going to happen.’ Endurance, endurance, endurance.”
Looking at the nature of the kumite event, they decided it was an endurance event more so than a traditional kumite. Knowing this changes how Senol would fight almost completely. He had to slow things down, making adjustments in pace, in preparation for not for five rounds but 100.
“When we’re starting to look at our training program, we approach it more like an endurance. If I have to fight pro karate rules, five rounds, or tournament rules, maybe one, two or three rounds, it’s not really a problem. The problem is doing those three rounds on middle intensity but then do it like 90 plus times. That’s the big challenge.” He continues, “We put a lot of different training things together and then we said, ‘Okay, some fighters they like to overcompensate. If they have to fight for five rounds, they’ll train every day 15 or 20 rounds. I like to do that but it only works if the intensity of those five rounds are really high. Then I overcompensate and it really works. If you have to keep a stable pace, like a basic pace you want to do through the entire 100 man kumite, then you have to train like 300 rounds. It’s not realistic. What we did was we trained up to a little bit over 100 rounds but we’re going to do a lot of diversity because you don’t really know what’s going to happen. You don’t really know what your opponent’s going to do but you also don’t know what you’re going to do. I know myself pretty well and I know I’m never giving up but I don’t know how my body’s going to react after fight 45, 55, 65. So that was a bit of a challenge but in all honesty, it was also a lot of fun. It was also a really good way to learn to know yourself even more.”
After diving in, the feeling of failure set in for Senol. Maybe he wouldn’t complete this major challenge. Maybe he wasn’t good enough. Maybe he should just give up. But Senol and his team prepared for this and created a system for when doubt creeped in that can be applied in almost any situation in life.
“I got to [the feeling of impossibility] several times. What I can say about it is the only thing that helps is if you get into physical problems and then eventually mental problems, there are two questions you want to ask yourself always: is it factual and is it helping me taking this way at the moment? Is it helping me now? What really helped me is that in all of the times, even if I couldn’t really answer those two questions anymore, there was only one thing: I’m never giving up. Never. We have an organization, a doctor. One of the things with the doctor, we made an appointment together because she has an oath to help people. It’s not like I said, ‘I’m going to buy your oath away, you only have to do what we say.’ We had to sit together and say, ‘This is a real serious thing. What’s going to happen to me?’ She said to me, ‘What can I expect?’ and I answered her ‘I don’t know.'” Cem Senol continues, “‘You can expect me not to give up.’ As long as I was verbal enough, that’s the only one who could stop the event was me. Maybe if I got out cold or got knocked down, or whatever happened, then the decision is up to her because I can’t make it anymore. That worked out quite well.”
The ultimate goal was to be a professional in the hardest of times for Cem Senol, to represent kyokushin. “You have to do this professionally. If you don’t do this professional, then it’s not going to be an inspiration to other people.”
Abdullah Tarsha: What is at the heart of Kyokushin?
Our final conversation was with Abdullah Tarsha, a Lebanese karateka out of Saudi Arabia. Tarsha completed his kumite in June of 2016. He tells us a story, similar to all of the others we’ve heard today, but also unique in every way. Tarsha’s lineage is straight from Mas Oyama himself. His father was Adnan Tarsha and trained with Mas Oyama in the 80’s when he traveled to Japan after massive success and notoriety in the Middle East region. His father wanted to do the 100 man kumite but couldn’t for one reason or another. To honor his father and the work they’ve put in together, Abdullah Tarsha wanted to complete the kumite in his honor.
“My father was one of his students, Mas Oyama. And he is now considered as the oldest kyokushin instructor in the Middle East. And you can guess that he’s my number one inspiration. I remember when I was young, he once mentioned about that he was aiming to achieve the 100 man Kumite. And for some circumstances, he couldn’t complete or he couldn’t do it. He couldn’t proceed with it. I was young, I heard that from my father. I kept it on my mind like, ‘Okay, that’s something I want to do. My father has tried to do it, he couldn’t for some reason, now I will achieve it for him.’”
Tarsha made the decision to do the 100 man kumite at a very young age. He is the middle child of three brothers, the others being Muhammad and Abdulaziz Tarsha, and Abdullah Tarsha talks of the unique position of being the middle child that drove him to be a better martial artist.
“I think seven to nine years old. The thing is that I’m one of three brothers, at that time who were practicing kyokushin with my father. And you know that always the younger, the older brother is like, he’s the first go for the for his father, right? And you always look at it, I look forward that this will be my successor, this will be my champion, etc. The young one, is the young one. So it’s like the candy you know, There’s anything he does is like, ‘Okay, that’s really sweet. Nice, excellent.’ All those encouraging, and I was in between, I was lost in between. That’s actually a good, and if you look at it from some angle, that it pushed me to do something way different than my other brothers.”
He continues, “So one of them, he always encouraged, always the asked to do the things he’s doing. The other no matter whatever he is doing, he will be, you know, he will congratulate because of what he’s done. For me, I have to do something like really amazing. So, that’s always that’s always was the case. So yeah, I’m the 100 man kumite, no one has done it in the Arab world and in the in the area, and my father wanted to do it. So for me, this was more than a reason to keep it in mind to to achieve it. And actually started to it was an idea but I started to put it in action. I think I was maybe 15 years or 16 years or something like that. I started to apply training, I was thinking about it, my target is to do the 100 man kumite.”
For Tarsha, a Lebanese fighter, getting into the championships for karate was a challenge as well. “One other reason or one other issue we had is that being Lebanese living in Saudi Arabia, and kyokushin not being popular in Saudi Arabia. This limited the championships here in Saudi Arabia. So for me, I never competed in local championship. We go to Lebanon and we go only for summer. And it’s rare to have a championship in summer.”
With those regional challenges, Abdullah Tarsha and his brothers moved on to a harder challenge. “So as a fighter, you always want to find a challenge and fight and it was limited and nearly impossible to compete in championship or facing any challenges. That’s why they’re our only option is the 100 man kumite or the 50 man kumite.”
Abdullah Tarsha and his brother first took part in a 50 man kumite, an easier challenge, but a noble one still, nonetheless. Tarsha saw this as an opportunity to test himself to prove that he was ready for the ultimate fight. He went to has father and talked a big game.
“My older brother, he has finished the 50 man kumite in 2007. And I finished it right after him, maybe four months later. And for me, I thought that maybe the 50 man kumite is a grant step for me towards the 100 man kumite. So I started preparing for the 100 man kumite, instead of preparing the 50 man kumite. It was 2007. And I remember telling my father, ‘Prepare yourself, I might surprise you, during the 50 man kumite,’ [proving] I’m ready to carry on up to 100.”
“Yeah, I told my father that,” Tarsha said with a laugh, “Maybe that I’m ready to take the 51 or 51, 100. But the shock was that I was tired after the first match.” Abdullah Tarsha had been humbled.
In fact, Abdullah Tarsha never had success in the 50 man kumite. He never even finished. “So, the preparation was something but the when you do it live, it’s something different. Psychologically, I’m talking. It’s something different. What happened with me during the training is that I never finished,” Tarsha said. “I never went over 31, my highest score or highest number of matches was 30.”
The experience, however, was invaluable to Tarsha. He managed to get an inkling of an idea of how tough the 100 man kumite would truly be. He understood the amount of effort put in. While all that was great, he also found out other important things such as the structure of the event and how he should approach the fights.
“So, after the first match, I felt exhausted and they had to drag myself after the 30th match. In the 100-Man Kumite, every 10 or 20 matches, you can take a break just to wipe your face on, maybe take a sip of water or something like that and just something I didn’t get to it. For me, I was thinking about no, I don’t want to stop until the 30th match. And that was another another mistake I made. Because I needed a break, I needed a break earlier.”
But then, Abdullah Tarsha knew he had what it takes to complete the 100 man kumite. After seeing where he fell short in the 50 man challenge, he knew his shortcomings weren’t unconquerable and that he could he could become the type of karateka that could complete combat sport’s hardest challenge. He began training to, once again, try the 50 man kumite.
“I had the experience, I had the knowledge, at least psychologically, I became already. And I started preparing after that. I knew where’s my weakness point, where’s my strength point and started working on that the next phase after the 50-Man Kumite. In 2012, I had to do it again. I had to demonstrate it just to make sure that I am prepared psychologically to take the challenge. It was so easy for me at that time. So I thought, ‘I have progress.’”
But it’s the mindset is really what set Abdullah Tarsha over the hill for his 100 man kumite. The ability to neglect pain and compartmentalize it out of his immediate mental state is what made completing the 100 man kumite possible.
“The thing happens with us as a fighter is that we neglect pain. And that’s, it’s a good thing but it has its disadvantages. You broke your finger you think you’re okay, you carry on? Feeling pain is like an alarm for the human being.”
Much like Cesar Rufo Silvestre from the start of our journey, Abdullah Tarsha took some unique approaches to training. Having failed his first 50 man kumite, he got to the root of what makes the challenge of fighting 100 people in one day so difficult: pain and suffering. So, like Silvestre, he put himself through just that.
“I was training myself to become not to feel pain as much as possible. And this means not even feeling the cold weather. So during winter, I finished my three hours training, which includes some fighting body exercises, weight-lifting, swimming, and I finished everything, This was during my college. So and then I leave college, walking back home, 20 minutes of walking. I’m wearing all the T-shirts during winter, I’m just came out from swimming pool. So yeah, it’s cold, you feel it’s cold, [Eventually] I don’t feel cold anymore. So for me, the winter has changed. Same thing, the pain for me, the pain has lifted so this thing doesn’t feel pain anymore.”
Having failed, having put himself through the pain, all of that, Abdullah Tarsha was prepared not only physically, but psychologically.
“Failing the 50 man kumite was essential to me to be prepared for the 100 man kumite. I knew my way, I knew my weakness and I know what I have to prepare myself for. And 50 or 100 is just increasing the number but the psychological preparation to be ready, it doesn’t really relate to the number, it’s something inside inside you.”
Tarsha trained in the hot, cold, through injuries and sickness. Then a week out from his tournament, Abdullah Tarsha became very sick. Instead of giving up, he saw this as his final challenge before the 100 man kumite.
“I was so sick, temperatures high. I thought, ‘Okay, that’s my final exercise, my final training. I will go and do 100 rounds on the training, punching bag and I did that. I started fighting there. And I think I had to stop for two or three times just to throw up because I was because I was sick and I finished it. So I felt like, ‘Okay, I’m ready. I’m more than ready.’”
Despite being sick, Tarsha soared in his kumite. He was sick. Hurt. But most importantly, he was prepared. Tarsha was almost there but still 20 matches out from finishing. Despite that, he knew in his heart that he had accomplished what he wanted to do for his father.
“So less than a week later, I’m kind of recovered or still I can’t breathe through my nose. And I went through it, everything is fine.” He continues, “But once I passed the 80th round, I felt like it’s over. That’s it. The next 20 is just like a cherry on top. I can’t explain it more. For me, I felt like it was just a matter of time. I started feeling happy, I almost had tears come in my eyes because I finished it although I was just in the 80’s, you know? 20 more matches. I felt like okay, it’s over. It’s over. I started you know, start to feel happy.”
Tarsha was elated. The impossible had been made possible. But in a moment of humor, but also a reality of what happens and the damage you take, Abdullah Tarsha had to slow down the onlookers in the celebration.
“So, after I finished, I was a bit worried because I had to two or three strikes to my ribs and felt a little bit funny. I thought maybe it’s broken again. In the traditional celebration after finishing the kumite they lift the fighter up. So, everyone jumped at me they wanted to do it. I stopped them. I didn’t feel comfortable to do it. I’m afraid of my ribs. So it’s done,” he said with a chuckle.
The recovery for Tarsha was very hard and grueling, as you can imagine. Abdullah Tarsha took a week of pain and suffering, just what he trained for. While it wasn’t easy, Tarsha suffered through.
“I went back home for the next week. I couldn’t sleep because I had cramps when I slept. I felt cramps from my toes up to my back. And I can’t sleep on your right not on your left not even your back even your stomach. Everywhere you have injuries. I couldn’t eat you couldn’t or drink. I could have maybe only orange juice but my stomach rejected it. Because of taking too many blows to your stomach. Your stomach is squeezed and so you can’t have something drink although you’re out of energy. This happened maybe for a week or something but then I have recovered.”
After all the years of one goal in mind and finally achieving it, Tarsha had to find a new way of life. But with a life dedicated to karate, he wanted to keep it within the sport he’s become one with.
“For me, you know, the last nine years of my life before running my kumite all my trainings all my even when we go picnic, I think, ‘Let’s take like five or 10 kilometers running for my 100 man kumite. So that’s been in my life for nine years. It was a bit difficult to me to adjust it now. Now the challenge is done. So, another challenge came up on the horizon, which is the World Championships. We were not lucky when it comes to championships because of our situation here in Saudi Arabia being Lebanese. But now, I’m an adult, I have a family, I have an income for myself. I can go to Japan, I can compete there. So my next goal was the world Open Championship.”
Abdullah Tarsha made his way to the Open Championship in Japan. His results weren’t what he wanted but there is a caveat: his first match was against multiple Open winner Shoki Arata.
“I started preparing for that. I went to that world for Open Championship in Japan in 2019. But I was out of luck because my first competitor who were in my first round was with Shoki Arata a was the Japanese champion. And for me, it was the first, my first experience in a World Championship.”
How does the 100 man kumite change a karateka on a deeper level?
With this experience, change is inevitable for those that go through the 100 man kumite and even more so for those that complete it. In our final section, we circle back to all of the athletes who have talked about their kumite. They answered one question with three parts that is the crux of this story:
How does the 100 man kumite test the karateka’s body, mind, and spirit?
For Cesar Rufo Silvestre, completing the 100 man kumite brought him inner peace like he’s never felt. After all the years of training, preparing, torturing his body for this event, Silvestre knows he’s done everything right. But he also learned another thing about himself: he has the will to achieve.
“When you finish the 100 man kumite, from the beginning, what you feel is an inner peace never experienced. You thank yourself for the greatness you have achieved, a result of long training and suffering. You know you’ve done everything right. As you assimilate it, over time, you really focus on what you just achieved. And it affected my life, my person, my way of thinking, my way of seeing life itself. I can say for myself that I have become a long-suffering person, I mean, in my case, I have been performing kyokushin for more than 40 years, and I can tell you that there is nothing in this life that I cannot do. It gives you this confidence and security in yourself. Make you be ‘another me,’ more courageous to perform or face any situation. It seems a surreal situation but in the first person I say that it is the most real feeling that I get from the event.”
For Junior Robert McInnes, having his father at his side and fighting for him was the crux of why he fought. He went through so much pain and had several bad injuries. After fighting 110 men, McInnes found strength with the encouragement of his father. Upon completion of his kumite, McInnes also had some incredible realizations that have helped him through life.
“I must have been kicked over a thousand times. My legs were swollen, my bottom rib was poking out, my chest felt like it was caved in. When it was all over I was almost collapsing. One of the shihans stood close to me so I could lean on him while Soshi Sugihara was reading the 100 Man Kumite Award. But I was humbled as when I looked up I saw Soshi crying next to my Father. These are two of the toughest men I know and highest ranked masters in the WKO. I knew then what it meant to achieve this quest I was about to pass out and my father grabbed me and whispered in my ear, ‘I’m so proud of you, Son.’ Suddenly the fighters swept me up and started to throw me in the air. That was the most painful part of the kumite,” said McInnes laughing. “Today in my mind I realize that being pushed that far both, mental and physically, prepared me for anything the world might throw at me. But even more I now have a different concept and understanding of how important the spiritual side of karate is.”
Cem Senol was the most analytical of all of the karateka I interviewed on this endeavor. He and his team took a very modern approach to the 100 man kumite. But Senol was no exception to finding himself and life perspective in completion of his event.
“The body, at first, a lot of test is what is your tactic, what’s your fighting style, and how long under extreme duress can you maintain it? And when your tactics, go over the wall, what’s your new battle plan? While the event is going, can you keep the new information you get from your corner? Can you make it work in the kumites? Can you make it work in the different opponents? Can you keep on switching to different styles, different approaches? Some opponents go really hard, they are tough. Some opponents are a little bit more backwards fighters. That’s the physical parts. Can you stay as long as you can uninjured?”
Continuing, Senol speaks on the rest saying, “The mind thing is it develops yourself because you have to know, like I said earlier, all the doubt and all the frustration, annoyance, anger, despair, it’s all lining up and it’s all coming at you at one time or another. Then your mindset has to be, in my opinion, only on one thing: never give up. Point. The spirit is like a dome over everything. You need the budo spirit, bushido. You have to have that to do something like this. Thats the difference between all the other styles and full contact karate: we challenge ourselves because of internal motivation. External motivation is only secondary. If you see kickboxing, MMA, it’s all external motivation. It’s money, it’s fame, it’s the position in the under the people you are with. In full contact karate and a lot of other sports like judo and all the traditional sports have a lot more internal motivation. And for internal motivation that is what you need.”
And finally, putting a poignant stamp on the end of this study on the 100 man kumite is Abdullah Tarsha. Tarsha says that the benefits from his nine years of training have benefitted him both physically and mentally throughout his entire life.
“I can say that it has changed everything, it has changed everything. I have developed better body condition, the condition and I have more muscles, better stamina, but most of all is the way of thinking or you can call it the psychological side or the spirit. We as fighters always relate our life issues with our fighting issues.”
Tarsha continues and talks about the lessons learned from fighting 100 men at once. He says that while the 100 man kumite seems novel and a long term target, we all face our 100 man kumite throughout life and the important part is facing it head on.
“The 100 man kumite is nothing different than 50 man kumite or the World Champion, nothing different than the things you face at work. Or maybe for kids at school, it’s the same thing. It just requires longer stamina from you just to take it and never to stop. It’s okay to end. We must teach our kids that it’s okay to feel pain, it’s okay to get scared. But it’s not okay to act upon it.”
Abdullah Tarsha says you should approach everything with your fighting spirit. Life is full of challenges and the ability to tackle them head on is imperative to having a good life.
“So, similarly in your real life, you should not show that, in school or in work or in life, with your wife, or with your father or with your son, you should not show that you’re scared. You have to be at your best all the time, all the time. You keep the target in front of you always looking at it. I remember in my fights in the kumite thinking, ‘Okay time is up now. Okay, all shake hands. Next part is coming up.’ I look at the scoring the scoring board or the numbers, the counter at we are not far in, 50 or 51 or 30 like that. So when I look at it, for me, it’s like a percentage, It’s like you’re downloading an app or something.”
It’s that theoretical percentage bar that Tarsha used that got him through life. And the math works out easy for him. One fight is 1% of the 100 man kumite. But he says you don’t have to have 100 men in front of you looking to kick you, break your ribs, looking to knock you out. Instead you simply have your target and you keep your head down, working on you own percentage bar. That’s what the 100 man kumite does for a karateka’s fighting spirit. That’s what your fighting spirit throughout life should be.
“You can know how much to achieve, but you will achieve it. That’s the point. So this is what we learned. For me, that’s what I want to tell everyone. This is what you should keep in mind. You have a target and you’re in this point, and that’s your target. And what is in between is just a percentage bar.”
Note: As I finished writing this article, I teared up a bit. Of all my work, this article has been the longest journey, but the most fulfilling. I want to take some time to thank some people. Thank you to all the athletes who took time out of their day to speak with me about their incredibly deep trials throughout the 100 man kumite. This article isn’t possible without the participation of Cesar Rufo Silvestre, Junior Robert McInnis, Cem Senol and Abdullah Tarsha.
It’s crazy for me to think how global this article truly is. I am from America. But I get the opportunity to write about the stories of people from The Netherlands, Lebanon, Japan and Spain. But I also want to thank you, the reader. Everyone in this article, myself included, want to tell a story, be it ours or someone else’s. You’re the reason we tell that story.