It was 12 years ago, and Kenneth “Kenny” Buffaloe, a Kyokushin Karate instructor, was in his dojo beating a bag, practicing his technique, when, suddenly, he turned and noticed his son, Christian, was imitating his every move.
Fast forward to the present. Christian, now 14, is a rising star in full-contact Kyokushin Karate. He has competed all over the world and continues to train two and half hours daily with his father (who’s also his sensei) in their home dojo in rural North Carolina.
“Our training is a lot of bag work, a lot of running, jumping ropes, sit-ups, conditioning, pad work, focus training,” Kenny told ICTMN. “We do a lot of fight-oriented training because our style is a fighting style – it’s not like the play-Karate stuff. I mean they’re really fighting (each other).”
According to Kenny, Kyokushin Karate is aggressive and because it is full contact, the 50-year-old style of Karate has a lack of followers in the U.S., but its notoriety grows exponentially worldwide.
Its popularity is due in part to its practicality, Kenny said. Kyokushin is a style of fighting that prepares one for real-life situations, or street fights, and not just bouts at tournaments with other trained fighters.
And although Kyokushin Karate can be brutal and the training grueling, Christian, who took to it at the age of two and a half years old, said he loves every minute of it.
“As far back as I can remember, the first time I saw it, I’ve really been drawn to it. I really love it,” he said. “It’s very, very hard and tough, both physically and mentally, but I still feel like [it’s] a challenge that I want to pass through.”
To date, Christian has placed first at seven of the 14 championships he’s competed in. He ranked in the top three at the other seven.
Christian — an honor student — added that he believes Kyokushin is a positive influence as it helps him focus on his studies.
“It helps your character. It builds you up,” he said. “The philosophy of the style can also help you in everyday life, the way you deal with people and everything; health benefits. Everything,” he said.
In September 2008, Christian, then 8-years-old, made history when he became the first American Indian and North Carolinian to come in first place at the Kyokushin Youth Championship in New York City. Christian was the sole American in the tournament and fought against much larger Japanese and European opponents, Kenny said.
In 2011, Christian again made history when he was awarded the highest honor a Kyokushin fighter could receive: the Fighting Spirit Award.
“That’s an award they usually only give out to adults,” Kenny said.
And along with his prowess at Kyokushin Karate, Christian is also Lumbee and Haliwa-Saponi, and will hit the pow wow trail as a traditional dancer.
“I like it. It’s fun and it’s part of the culture,” he said about the traditional dance. “I chose it because of the story that it tells and I feel like it’s a really passionate thing to do.”
Periodically, when he and his father attend Kyokushin competitions around the world, the pair will field questions about being Native American to fellow fighters who possibly have never encountered an indigenous North American.
“We’re patient with them,” Kenny said. “And we always take it as a chance to educate them about Native American people.”
Kenny said he and Christian are never vexed by the questions and comments of those at competitions, even though a majority of them “come off the wall.”
Once, a competitor approached Christian and said he thought all Native Americans had been killed, to which Christian quipped, “Well, they missed this one.”
Questions like that do not throw Christian off his balance or interrupt his focus. Before a bout, he said all that goes through his head is the fight.
“I can’t think about anything else. Not even a game plan about the fight. It’s unpredictable,” he said.
Next, Christian has the All American Open International Karate Championships in June, which will take place in New York City.
In the meantime, he continues to revel in the one-on-one training he gets to have with his father.
“It’s a really cool situation. … He’s training me right here every day. And he’s there and it’s one-on-one. He can focus more on me,” he said.