STRIKING POST — August 2021
Like many others around the Globe, I watched, with great anticipation, the debut of Olympic Karate. I did not see all the kumite events however, I did see a few of the women`s divisions as well as the male +75 kg division which featured Ontario native, Daniel Gaysinski, representing Canada. Congratulations to Daniel, he fought gallantly and made us all proud. I must say however, that I came away with mixed feelings.
For the most part the matches were very good, and I thought that Chris De Sousa-Costa did an excellent job on the commentary. Some of the women had issues with excessive contact and some matches had a fair bit of blood spilled. Also, in the men`s +75kg division, the Gold medallist was carried off the tatami on a stretcher. These are less than ideal situations for sure. Almost all the contact penalties issued were obvious i.e. The Dr. had to be called in. There were, in fact, some very hard contacts to the head and face that were scored and not penalized.
As some of you may know, In Nova Scotia, we are currently dealing with some serious issues regarding competitions and how they are officiated. Personally, I feel we are at a crossroads. I believe it is high time that we address the “elephant in the room”, and that is the amount of contact that is allowed and the fact that athletes are getting hurt. This should be our number one concern. Athletes have been telling us the same thing for years, and that is; Provincially our threshold for contact is high. Nationally, it is even higher! This does not bode well when our athletes compete internationally. Often, they end up getting penalized for excessive contact. As a result, in recent years, there have been numerous high-level athletes who have dropped out of competition due to injuries sustained from contact. This is not considering the lower level athletes who may have stopped competing and we don`t even know about.
Athletes will only do what they are allowed to. If we lowered the threshold for contact and were quicker to upgrade the penalties, we would have less contact. Right now, it can be part of the strategy. Hit the opponent in the face to slow them down or keep them back a bit. If they received a Hansoku- Chui instead of a keikoku maybe it would not be worth it? Personally, I don`t think many of the contacts are accidental. I competed for many years myself, Provincially and Nationally, and I won`t say that I never hit anyone however, I will say that I almost never hit anyone by accident. If we want to grow the sport of karate in Nova Scotia, we have to address the issue of contact.
Nationally, they have begun to try to address this issue. They have adopted mandatory concussion training for all referees, and they are taking steps to track athletes who have suffered concussions. This is a good first step, however, I think we need to also track the offenders. The athletes who are guilty of excessive contact. If there are no sanctions for the offenders, then there is no incentive to do better. We should do like the NHL have someone, or a group of people, in charge of player safety. They can look at the videos, get the Medical charts, Interview the offender, and hand out discipline. Could be suspension from competition, or team training, etc. The bottom line is like the world-renowned coach Antonio Seba said, “If you don`t have control, go do MMA ”. Karate is about control.
In the past we have gone to great lengths to ensure that our application of the rules has been in line with the world standards. In many cases this is to our advantage. However, as we all have witnessed during this Olympic experience, the very best judges in the world call points that are off target and fail to call points that are revealed by video review to be scoring techniques. Imagine if you asked them to call if a technique had “touched” the face or not. Even a video review would have a difficult time to tell if a touch had occurred. And Yet this is what we are asking Provincial and National Referees to do with no help from the judges. Why? Five pairs of eyes on the play are surely far better than one
This is not only in the interest of safety, but also in the interest of fairness. Everyone knows that if you do not give a contact it will usually not only continue but also escalate. And if you have everyone looking (4 judges and 1 referee) then there is less chance you will miss something.
There are other issues besides this one that need to be looked at as far as Provincial applications of the WKF rules. However, this is by far the most important one and KNS handling of this issue will, in large part, be a defining factor in the future success of our competitions.