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Arthur Hohvannisyan. "100 kumite is not doable on just being functional!"

A significant event in Kyokushin world occurred on March 29, 2009: Arthur Hohvannisian (Oganesian) has successfully passed the ultimate Kyokushin test – Hyakunin kumite – 100 fights. It took 5 years for the new candidates to come up: Tariel Nikoleishvili and Kentaro Tanaka are also preparing for this Kyokushin feat. What are they going to face during the test and who will they become after the test is over?

For the readers of, sensei Arthur Hohvannisian agreed to answer our questions and share his thoughts.

100 fights – that’s an event on the world scale in Kyokushin. Before your hyakunin kumite test there was a long pause, and after it no other people went for it for a long time . Why? No one worthy of the honor?

No, I believe there are a lot of good, worthy practitioners. But there are high requirements just to qualify for the test. For instance, one needs to become a Japan or World Tournament medalist, and to actively work in the organization.

Up to this day there were not many people like that. But last year two fighters – Kentaro Tanaka (multiple times Japan Tournament medalist, and also the winner of World Weight Tournament) and Tariel Nikoleishvili – everybody knows him now – got the permission to go for the test.

Tariel and Tanaka are light­weight, and far from being the tallest fighters. Tariel is only 172cm (5’7”). Out of the previous successful hyakunin tcandidates, possibly only Kancho Matsui is close to his height. How much more difficult is it for shorter and lighter fighters to take this test?

Kentaro Tanaka and Tariel Nikoleishvili met on tatami before. The fighter’s height and weight are, of course, very important and provide some advantages during the test. But I think everyone knows how technical Tanaka is and how powerful his low­kicks (mawashi) are; and everyone also knows Tariel’s spirit, how much power and endurance are in his arsenal. So, it wouldn’t be right to say they’ll be lacking something. In fact, they have some advantages that tall fighters do not possess.

During this test the size is far from being the most important factor; what’s important is how strong and ready your spirit and body are. And these guys are definitely fine in that respect. Tariel has proven in many tournaments that his spirit and conditioning are of a very high level.

In addition, they will work on it, and bring it to the whole new level. They’re worthy of this feat!

100 fights: that’s not a hundred but thousands of strikes coming at you. Is it possible to condition the body to make it ready for such volume? What are the weakest spots that need extra attention in preparation for this test?

Preparation is possible and is, of course, necessary. You just can’t avoid all strikes – not that many, so you have to be able to take them, too.

Two weakest spots are knees and elbows, and they definitely need special preparation. Elbows inevitably take a lot of strikes as one covers the ribs and mid­body with them. Pretty much all mid­level strikes hit the elbows, so they need to be conditioned for that, take a lot of hits during the preparation. In addition to that it’s necessary to "pump” some muscles a bit – biceps, triceps, shoulders – to cover the bones and weak spots with them.

Knees take a lot of strikes too, but – thank God – knee pads are permitted now, that’s a very good thing. Still, they need to be conditioned as well to be ready.

At some point those small sticks held in fists during the fight have been removed (before that, dropping one of those sticks was counted as a wazari). And now the test will be done without them. How adequate was the use of those stick? And why were they removed?

The 100th fight is only minutes away from the finish line... Today’s rules don’t allow grabs, and the sticks were used to force the closed fists, no gi grabbing. But before that grabs had been allowed, actually.

I don’t know whether it was good or not with those sticks, I trained without them. But I think it’ll be more convenient without the sticks: one can feel his fist better, can open it sometimes when needed – without worrying about dropping the stick.

Is the scoring in hyakunin kumite the same as in tournament fights: wazari, ippon?

In hyakunin kumite the scoring is done a bit differently than in tournaments. For instance, sweeps get you a score. And if you touch the opponent’s head but he doesn’t fall – no knock­down – you still get a wazari. So, any slap to the head with a kick – regardless of the kick type (mawashi, ushiro­mawashi, etc.) – gives you a wazari.

Does that scoring work both ways or only for the person being tested?

Both ways. You get slapped on the head, your opponent also gets a wazari. Fights are viewed the same way as in promotion tests, but participants fight a lot harder.

How many fights do you have to win versus lose?

There is no strict rule on that but the losses should simply be fewer than wins. Besides, if you lose in 51 fights, you just won’t be physically able to move and go on.

What were your feelings during the test? And what would you have changed in your preparation? What did you feel lacking?

100 kumite is beyond human capabilities. This is a tough question... I spoke a lot on this topic before. One cannot go through it by just having flawless technique. It doesn’t matter how far you’ve gone with technique. That alone won’t carry you through this test. It’s very important to be mentally ready for it, psychologically ready to endure until the very end, not to give up. To know that it will hurt very much, it will be very difficult to keep going, the desire to stop and give up will be very strong... and regardless of your body’s condition at that time you just have to overcome all that.

And that doesn’t depend on how much time you spent on running or lifting weights. I wish, of course, I could win all 100 fights by wazari – but I’ll accept what I was able to do.

At some point did you get the "second breath" – mental or physical, while reaching some real limit?

No, that second breath definitely did not come.

I am not sure what limits I reached or didn’t, but from the early 70’s and until about the 90th fight I don’t remember anything. I have no idea what I was doing during that period, I just don’t remember, it’s like a void in my memory. And then, after the 90th fight, somehow, when the famous and especially strong fighters came into play, then again I remember everything. Was that some kind of limit, borderline? I was told later that during those 20 or so fights I punched someone in the face. But I don’t remember that, and to this day I haven’t even watched the recordings of the fights.

Do those pauses between fights help?

Yes, those pauses help. But there is only one real break – after the 60th fight. It’s a 10 minutes break to change the gi and shin pads, because they become very heavy with all the sweat they absorb, and make it almost impossible to move around.

The number of fights is high. I’m sure a lot of liquid is leaving your body. Was the thirst very strong?

Yes, of course, and hydration is allowed. It’s very important to drink. I lost about 9 kilos (20 pounds) during those 2.5 hours of fighting.

Is only water allowed? Or sports drinks also?

Yes, isotonic sports drinks! Water is not good for this, it doesn’t help to recover energy, it doesn’t contain the necessary microelements. Specialized sports drinks are definitely better.

You’ve witnessed Tariel growing up into a fighter. You probably can imagine how he would go through these fights. What do you think he should focus on and leverage technically?

Considering his body type, height, weight and the fact that he’s not a frequent head kicker, he should concentrate on the sweeps. While he’s preparing for these 100 fights, he should make the sweeps automatic and perfect. As soon as his opponent raises a foot – sweep him to the ground. That should become his special skill.

That’s my opinion only. I don’t know what his sensei Gyadukian will decide, but that’s what I think.

Did many people participate in your preparation for the 100 fights? Who were your sparring partners?

Kentaro Tanaka and Akaishi Makoto took part. The training was conducted by Ryu Narushima, and Kancho Matsui guided the process and provided advice to Narushima. My sensei Manukian from Armenia sent me training instructions on general physical preparation which he developed with assistance of the Olympic champion Yuri Vartanian.

How many fights did you reach during your sparring training?

I did not do training fights.

You did not work on reaching the number of fights?!

I did not have enough sparring partners for that.

But that did not stop from you going through the test, looks like?

I don’t know, maybe it would have been better if I had trained more with sparring partners... But I did a lot of roppon geri – for an hour or more, and I hit the heavy bag for 2 hours non­stop. My training sessions lasted 5-­6 hours with no interruptions.

How long did it take to recover after the test? And what took the biggest damage?

100 kumite for some people is the most daring dream, and for some, it is the limit of how far they will go in life. What took the most damage is the soul (laughing). As for the body, I was lucky: no injuries at all.

I don’t really want to talk about this now, not to affect the mindset for those who are aiming for that now... You see, after the fights I felt some kind of emptiness emerge. No more desires for anything. It felt like I’ve done everything there was to do... What are you going to live for? What to aim at? You’ve passed the peak and there is nothing higher than that. Finished, and now what? What’s the next target to reach for? Nothing!

I was 33 back then and I didn’t understand what to do from that point on, how to live.

Thank God, I was in Japan then, a guest of Matsui Kancho, who had his own experience of the hyakunin kumite test, and he gave me the golden advice: "All this time everyone has been working for you, helping you prepare and pass this test, and now it’s your turn to pay back. You should travel around the world and teach others."

At that time, those words gave me the newfound purpose in life.

I pray you’ll find the words of the "golden advice" for others, too.
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