In this blog I want to write my feelings and ideas about sports karate, combat sports in general and the push for Olympic recognition within certain circles of the karate community and maybe even add my own thoughts on how to improve the problems that many like-minded karate practitioners face.
First of all I think that competition is a good thing in almost all areas of life, even karate. I am extremely proud of my karate competition "career" and I consider it a "paying of dues" if you will to a good few years of hard earned trophies, medals and titles. At the time I enjoyed competing and I especially enjoyed winning. The medals and trophies have now long since been recycled as student awards within my clubs or have been broken in storage but the memories of the victories are still right there in my mind.
I have spent time competing in both kumite and kata events and had success in both at different times. The kumite fighter I perhaps was in my late teens and early twenties would likely destroy the kumite fighter I would attempt to be now just like the kata competitor of my mid and late twenties would easily beat my best katas now but I consider my karate to be better than ever at this moment in time.
This is quite an interesting concept I think. Even though I have a box full of medals to show my previous prowess I feel my karate has improved since yet I would not feel confident in the competition arena. This is because I don't feel that competition karate is a true representation of real karate.
To open my case I'll start with kumite fighting. In karate competition there are two main types of semi-contact rules in use across the world. The first is shobu ippon and the second is WKF. My understanding of the rules is probably not entirely up to date but I'm sure there have not been any huge changes recently. In shobu ippon rules there are two tiers of points, ippon (1 point) and waza-ari (half point). Basically the idea is that an ippon is a finishing technique or a technique that shows supreme skill and prowess. A waza-ari is a lesser technique or one delivered with less focus, speed or power.
In wkf rules there are 3 tiers of scoring, ippon, yuko and waza-ari worth 1,2 or 3 points depending on skill, striking area, focus, speed and power etc. this is all fair enough but I have one large issue with all of that. In both styles of competition a fighter can only score with either his fists or his feet. This means no knees, elbows, headbuts, forearm strikes and even knife hands. It also means no joint locks and throws. If we look at kata being the cornerstone of traditional karate we see all of these techniques within most kata. The heian kata have all of them in them in very obvious Bunkai applications. I feel the rejection of these techniques makes kumite turn its back on what real karate is all about. I understand the need for safety in competition and the difficulty in controlling knee strikes etc will inevitably lead to injuries and would have stopped the wide spread popularity of karate in the past due to the brutality of the sport and inaccessibility to many of such a contact sport.
It is because of all these points that I don't feel that wkf or shobu kumite events are a true representation of the karate that I study and train with and the reason I don't agree with karate having a place in the Olympic Games. I cannot deny that the top level competitors are fantastic athletes and highly skilled in their discipline just like gymnastic competitors or archery competitors but that is what they are, athletes and not martial artists. If karate did make it into the Olympics there is a very good chance that it would increase interest in karate clubs and lead to increased participation, this can only be a good thing but the wider majority of karate clubs do not represent what is being shown in the Olympic sport of karate. I also understand that karate would only have kumite and not kata events if included in the Olympics, this to me is completely ridiculous and absolutely goes against what separates karate from other martial arts and that is kata.
Now don't get me wrong, I have the upmost respect for the athletes competing on the world stage in karate and the events that they do but I feel that the more pragmatic and practical karate-ka should be looking for something different.
UFC and other MMA events goes some way to filling the void but even they are often skewed by their rules which tend to favour grapplers over strikers. Also the full contact element will put many off.
There is a movement growing in parts of the UK called combudo which is a very neat idea of MMA in a gi and on mats rather than a cage. But they still fight for knockouts (although only kicks are allowed to the head and not punches) and submissions. There is also kudo or daido juko which seems to be a hybrid of kyokushinkai and judo with throws and body punches but done wearing protective head gear. Both of these events seem very good and a step in the right direction but still not quite there in my eyes so I have recently tried playing around with something in my dojos.
I hope that the rule set that I have devised will appeal to the karate-ka that trains their kata as a way to drill combative scenarios. They hopefully also have a bit of experience in ground fighting tactics and techniques and some throwing ability. These rules could also appeal to practitioners of other arts and maybe even the MMA fighters, especially those that have a traditional martial arts background. Also offering events with these rules could help retain some of the student base that wish to try a more "full on" karate event without the need to go over to the local MMA gym (where traditional karate is often seen as a kids activity and not combative at all).
Here is an outline of my rules.
Competition area - 8x8 metre square mats as used in kata events and wkf tournaments etc
Judges - 1 ring judge and ideally 4 corner judges with coloured flags (1 white, 1 blue or similar)
Time limit - 3 minute bouts. Timer stops when referee stops fight.
All these things define the bout as a sporting event but are accessible to most and can even be used in addition to existing wkf/shobu kumite events.
Safety equipment - MMA style gloves which provide padding to fist but allow holding and grappling techniques to be performed.
Groin guard, shin protection pads, gum shield.
Kudo head guard (like a standard head guard but with a goldfish bowl type plastic screen covering the face)
Points scoring - my idea was for points to be award continuously so the fight rarely stops. The timer will keep rolling and points will be added when scored.
Points can be scored by striking anywhere on the body except the throat and groin (for obvious safety reasons) and with any punches, kicks or elbows. Knees are not allowed due to potential control issues.
I also feel the concept of one hit-one kill is not feasible in a real situation so to score from a striking technique you need to perform an unbroken flurry of 3 strikes eg kick to leg, punch to body, elbow to head. This is harder than it sounds!
My theory is that a flurry of 3 continuous strikes whilst not finishing your opponent, should certainly open the door for the one hit kill that many karate-ka seems to dream is a possibility. In the same vain I think any strike that drops your opponent should be rewarded with a score so a head kick that knocks your opponent to the ground or a strike to the legs that brings him to his knees will score.
I also think that throws should warrant a score. Throws and sweeps are not rewarded in the sporting rules but are allowed provided they are followed by a punch when your opponent is grounded. This all also has to be performed within a certain time frame. In reality a well executed throw can either cause serious damage or at least stun your opponent temporarily allowing you the opening to finish the fight off. Because of this a throw is awarded with a score.
Ground fighting is completely outlawed and ignored in the wkf/shobu versions of kumite. I feel this is rather ridiculous and often makes karate fighters a laughing stock to other martial artists. In my rules striking is allowed on the ground and scores in the same way as it does whilst standing (3 strike flurry rules). Submissions should also be allowed so any locks, chokes etc can be performed and if your opponent submits you score a point. Your opponent may also submit if they simply feel over whelmed and over powered by the strikes put upon them. Also if the referee feels a competitor is being over whelmed he may award a submission.
In the event of a submission the timer stops, the points are awarded and the fight will restart as normal. This gives the good strikers a chance to score points and compete equally against a submission fighter and makes each bout last the distance.
Fouls should be fairly minimal as excessive contact is not such an issue. Area violations will still be applicable and I think a first offence warning followed by a deducted point/point awarded to opponent for every consecutive offence. Time stops and match restarts in centre of mat as normal.
Illegal strikes and strikes to illegal areas could also follow the same penalty pattern with judges discretion allowing disqualification if necessary.
Obviously these rules may need a little tweaking over time but I hope to try and get them in use at some local tournaments as exhibition events in the near future.
Feedback is always welcome on my blog posts and on this especially as it will need critique and adapting to evolve into something genuinely interesting.
Thanks for reading.