Karate vs Muay Thai in the 1960s – Origins of Japanese Kickboxing
- co-authored with Kevin von Duuglas-Ittu
In June of 1963, for the first time in Tokyo a top Karate fighter faced a top Muay Thai fighter. High level Karate fighter (3rd degree black belt) Tadashi Sawamura faced top Thai fighter Samarn Sor Adisorn. It is unclear if elbows were allowed in this bout as none are to be seen, whereas they had featured very prominently four months prior in a victory by Thai fighter Rawee Dechachai over the Japanese fighter Kenji Kurosaki. In this fight Tadashi’s defeat was complete, it was reported he was knocked to the ground 16 times. But it did lead to Tadashi then devoting himself to some Thai techniques (different kicks, elbows, knees) and becoming a superstar in the rising sport of Japanese Kickboxing.
Tadashi Sawamura vs Samarn Sor Adisorn
By one account I’ve read, there has been historical Thai bitterness around Japanese Kickboxing, due to the feeling that the Japanese had in someway “stolen” the Thai sport and art, in a kind of appropriation (something some feel is going on today through MMA and westernization),
Experiences in the late 1960s, when Japanese martial arts promoters appropriated many of the techniques and trappings of muay as kick-boxing, and later as K-1, but discarded the cultural connections to Thailand, further stoked these fears. Thais were incensed by this injury to national pride, and there is a strong resistance to letting it happened again with the rise of MMA.
On the other hand, I’ve also read that in the beginning Tadashi suffered ostracization from the Japanese for abandoning more traditional Japanese arts, though he quickly grew to become a Japanese hero, an anime was even created in 1970 celebrating his achievements. This fight, and its aftermath is arguably the origin of present day, 2nd wave Muay Thai internationalism, ironically enough, triggered in part by Buakaw’s success in K-1 (Japanese) tournaments, along with the rocketing popularity of MMA.
In any case, above is the video of the historic fight which set the internationalization of Muay Thai rolling. The Tashashi fight was indeed big, but it had been preceded four months earlier in a show where 3 Japanese Karate fighters faced off against 3 Muay Thai fighters, but oddly only one Muay Thai fighter seemed to be Thai, (Kenji Kurosaki, JPN vs Rawee Dechachai THAI). That fight is included here as well, after the Tashashi fight. As mentioned, the Thai Rawee won with heavy use of elbows.
If you want to read up on these fights, and the origins of Japanese Kickboxing, take a look at this 1968 Black Belt magazine article. written about 5 years after the fact.
(As a fun side-note, there is a Sor. Adisorn gym is still producing fighters in Khorat. It is possible that there is more than one gym with this name, but it’s unusual to have overlap without association. I’ve fought one of their top female fighters, Phetseegnern, and hope to face her again in February.)