I think I often confuse people because I am such a staunch supporter of Real Budo Karate and I am so opposed to Sport Karate…but I support Shiai Karate practices or tournament Karate. I have been told that my views are hypocritical by a few people on the boards that I write on and even by a few instructors…but its not that I support opposing views, its that they don’t understand my definitions of Shiai Karate and Budo Karate!
I think that its important for me to be clear here…Shiai Karate is NOT sport Karate! Sport Karate has no spirit to it. The main purpose of Sport Karate is fancy techniques that will score a point and gain you a medal at the end of the day. The Katas are fancy, use a tone of yelling for no real reason and can only be described as performance art! The practitioners of sport Karate often will create Kata or add to a Kata to make it more interesting. I think we have all seen them yelling and wearing their tangerine gis with patches all up the legs and arms…and often a promotional patch on the back for some auto-body place.
The value of sport Karate is pretty much skin deep only. You can be a fantastic athlete and get seven foot high trophies and know very little about Karate. I have seen people who have fourth Dans in styles of sport Karate who did know know who Itosu was, did not understand basic Japanese commands that our white belts know and did not know what a Dojo Kun were. They also had self created rituals that they thought were 100% traditional....like yelling at judges what Kata they are going to do after marching within a foot of the instructor…yelping for Kiais and did thinking that they had to make a Shaolin fist movement every time they bowed because Karate apparently comes from “Shaolin…a town in china….” Really…I am not kidding!
Shiai Karate is an expression of Budo Karate or “real purpose Karate”. The tournament standards are much higher, the proper use of Kata with realistic looking bunkai is put into play and the whole purpose of Kata participation is to show your understanding of Karate…not to dance and make up moves while you screech! Shiai Kata competition is about perfect form and application or intent of application. You can see that the person doing the Kata is applying it in a fight!
Shiai Kumite competitions are not based on who can tap the other guy the fastest and then run away, its whose techniques…if not bridled and controlled…could end a fight. They are often not pretty and the kumite often shows a lot more scary moments than in a sport Karate event, and we don’t wear 10 pounds of latex foam rubber for protection. Often a solid punch is landed and unlike the sport version, we don’t stop the fight! We get up, spit out a few teeth and get right back to it.
Sport Karate Can not be Budo Karate! Not only does it lack the true spirit and intent, but the focus is all wrong as well. Funakoshi said that you should not look to winning, but look to not losing! Or in other words, medals and trophies mean NOTHING if your whole focuses is on prizes and accolades about tournaments. Karate is a self defense first and foremost and not a performance art or event of high impact tag! Budo Karate is a serious form of combat training were you may get hurt a little in the learning process. When one is so concerned about form and not enough about application, the standards for a persons ability to perform self defense tend to go down drastically. I have seen a lot more Tae Kwon Do, which is a form of sport Karate, guys get dropped in street fights than I care to mention.
The mentality is all wrong as well. They get built up egos when they excel at this performance art and they think they can beat an attacker in the street. Even the more real combat sports like Judo and wrestling lack real life qualities when done wrong and they tend to get the wrong mental out look when they excel at their one sided sport. Budo Karate teaches us to honestly respect the person you are facing as an opponent because of the unknown factors that can effect a real life fight.
Real Shiai Karate, were a real strike can cause damage if not guarded and held back, teaches that even if you are the faster, and have “better Karate” the “underdog” can lay you out. Shiai Karate can be a good tool to teach Budo Karate in a different way. We can implement some changes that will make these more a learning tool and less a way to show off and build ego in the wrong people. We can implement a Embu competition that will show real life Karate self defense to kids and adults. The non-back and forth point tournament stuff that is effecting our art. We can also put back in Bunkai challenges to the younger kids that will allow them to explore the use of Kata waza in self defense. Shiai Karate can be a good solid component in teaching Budo Karate.
Dojo sparring should also be much different than Shiai and tournament Karate. First off it’s a game of give and take, no one is looking to hurt the other, Techniques are properly thrown, but the intent is not to damage or score points. It’s a tool in teaching Budo Karate. Both sides should win and ego needs to be tossed out the door. A senior sparring with a junior is not going to look like he is playing with the junior, he should take him seriously and treat him with respect. I recall two good stories about Dojo sparring to illustrate what Dojo Kumite should be. …
Years ago I went to Kangeiko (early morning training in the winter) and after our fourth hour long morning class I stayed back with a senior of mine who wanted to train. I was waiting for school to start at the U of W so I stuck around. We engaged in a 45 minute Dojo sparring session that was incredible. We were very tired after we were done, but the control we both had and the respect for each other lead to a great work out. He scored points on me and I scored points on him. After we were done I was not just tired, I had to peal my Gi off and after sitting thru class took a nap back at the club to recharge.
The next story…not so nice. I was sparring with one senior who always had to win. He had to show that his ability to score fancy techniques was better than my ability. It became sad when he would get visibly frustrated over a simple reverse punch landing. We were to keep a specific pace agreed upon and as my points landed he began to increase speed….the result was I was injured with a back kick very quickly into the third minute of sparring. It was not pleasant and I was very sure that the kick was no accident as I had landed a side kick to his mid section seconds before he spun around and hit me with his full weight. No one enjoyed the training or learned from this exercise….well I learned what a tool someone can be…but that does not count.
Dojo Sparring is one of the most important exercises that can be undertaken by intermediate and advanced level students. It can also be a devastating event in a students learning if they train with the wrong person. The idea is not to “Score a point” but to set up and execute a technique or to learn how that person is going to attack you and learn to counter. If you don’t land the technique or the block and counter is not their…learn how to correct it. If you think you ALWAYS MUST SCORE and have a bad attitude about it…take up knitting or something because Budo Karate is not for you!
Sport Karate has a few flaws outside of attitude and intent that limits its use and will ensure it is never Budo Karate. It wont be Budo not just because it feeds unstable egos and often builds them were they were not present before, but equally important…it just is not ever going to translate into real self defense. Or Jiei Budo Karate do. Jumping around and leaping in to tag a target then jumping and turning to run while screaming…well it would get you killed in the street. Go to YouTube and watch some sparring at these sport events….especially go and watch the Kata….its a bit of a JOKE and anyone that has seen the JKA videos will know what I mean.
One of the major flaws that Sport Karate has is the tip tap – tag you are it style of Karate. They move straight back and forth and then the guy that rushes in first normally wins. They don’t move to the side and they don’t learn angles. The judges and ref score the fighting based not on technique but only on who tagged the other guy first or who had the flashy techniques. I actually saw a perfectly timed Gyaku zuki get turned down for a point because a flashy hook kick that did not even land properly scored a second before. In the real world that hook kick would not have ended the fight, but the Gyaku zuki would have.
Also their Kata is to much performance art and not enough combat demonstration. Watch some of the international open style tournaments and you can see some of the more “modern” sport Kata beating traditional forms. The traditional form is clean, has good lines, the Kiai is a true controlled spirit shout and the form looks solid….the sport guy is yelling like an idiot, techniques are flashy and often mean nothing….yet they win! Why…because they are fancy and crowd pleasing forms.
As you can see I am not against tournaments, as long as they are presented a particular way and Budo is still not just at the root…but the heart of the tournaments. I don’t say you should not reward people for good competition, but make sure the standards and scoring is clear on why we are giving points and we are really trying to present Budo in tournaments, not just get flashy and look good. Ego needs to be left at the door as well. Sport Karate is a waste of real Karate students time….Budo shiai tournaments however can be a great tool for improving a student…and instructors Karate