This is a debate which dates back to the early 20th century when karate competitions were first introduced. Proponents of sports karate argued that by
encouraging sports karate, this would help make karate more popular. Though this was true many of the old Masters were against it saying that there would
too much lost from the art. In this article I will try to explain the basis for this argument.
Karate is inherently defensive. It was developed as a means of self defence against opponents, who may or may not possess weapons, using only the unarmed
body to defend yourself. If you train for this purpose you must train your body to be a weapon. You must condition your body to deliver powerful blows with
pin point accuracy, that will stop an opponent and assure self preservation. In order to do this you must “sharpen your tools” using Makiwara and other equipment such that when you deliver techniques you will not cause injury to yourself. All of the striking surfaces need to be conditioned i e : the tips of the fingers and toes, the knuckles, knees and elbows, shins, etc.. to name but a few. Sports karate practitioners do not train in this way. For safety reasons, the only techniques allowed in competition are with the hands and the feet, therefore your arsenal is greatly reduced. Also, techniques prevalent in the sports arena such as roundhouse and hook kicks are not very practical in street applications.
Besides your arsenal being reduced is the fact that your target area is also severely reduced, again, for safety reasons. In competitions you are only allowed to
target the head, face, neck, torso, and back. The martial artist may target anywhere on the body including hundreds of pressure points, which require pin point
accuracy to contact, limbs, joints,groin, digits, etc.. The fist and foot gear makes it next to impossible to hit with any accuracy because the striking surface is the
entire front of the fist, and the entire top of the foot vs the tip of one finger or 2 knuckles on your fist, etc… The pin point accuracy is not required to score a
point in competitions.
Another distinction between sports karate and Martial Arts is the distance between the combatants. In reality, most confrontations will, very quickly,end up in a
hands on situation and very often will end up on the ground. In Tournament play the competitors are a leg lenght apart or better. If they should seize one another
or end up on the ground the match is halted immediately. The competitors are separated and stood up and the match is re-started. I would dare say that 75% of real life situations will end up either hands on or on the ground and neither situation is allowed in competition.
Consider the mindset of the competitors; they will execute attacks back and forth while trying to “score” on their opponent. Granted, there are times when the best defense is a good offence, however, this is not the case in many instances. As we said earlier, Karate is inherently defensive and as such requires that an aggressive action be directed at the person before an effective and decisive counter attack may be delivered to terminate the aggression. You may only have one chance in a life and death situation. Your technique has to work because your very survival depends on it. In competition it is very different. If you get scored upon it is not a big deal. You will get numerous chances to even the score and, you need not score any points to win if your opponent is disqualified for violating the rules of the game. Not quite the same is it ? If competitions were set up using the Martial ideology, matches would all be sudden death; first point wins.
A few years ago I had the opportunity to train with the late Imamura Sensei at a karate camp in Canmore Alberta. He was a very interesting Sensei and he showed us techniques from “the old days” training with “O” Sensei. He never used a punch for a counter attack. He used spearhand to the eyes or throat, one knuckle punch to the temple or face, ridgehand to the nose or groin. He used elbows, knees, shin kicks, etc… For him it was not about scoring points it was about taking out the opponent quickly and decisively. There would be no second exchange. I found that I had difficulty doing the different techniques and really had to concentrate.
My muscle memory always told me to punch. It was hard to change. For the True Martial Artist it is almost like a “bad habit”.
As an overview I would like to say that some fighters in sport karate do not see the benefit in practicing forms. They do not see the big picture that karate is
fighting. This is why it was developed. Forms is fighting, throws and take-downs are fighting. The individual moves of the forms should be able to be done in real time as a defense against an attack. The throws and take-downs should be able to be executed against an attack coming in at full speed. The reason they don`t see it is because the forms are based on real life situations and are very different from sports karate. Today we have world class competitors who are masters of the game of karate but are not true masters of karate.
O’Sensei Tsuyoshi Chitose warned against training solely for competitions.
Study your forms and unlock the secrets of your art.