Wednesday, December 31, 2008

What are we?

Ever since attending a recent karate tournament I have been puzzled. What are we doing?  

As I watched the tournament unfold, I kept asking myself one question. What has our martial arts world become? Yeah, I understand the ideology of bushido. I understand the concept of samurai honor. But what I saw that day and at most tournaments doesn't resemble that at all. I asked one of my brother martial artist' what did he see going on? We agreed that we saw a lot of yelling and screaming and little substance. Form without substance. Then we asked ourselves "is this a martial arts tournament or a sports competition"? If it is a martial arts tournament where is the martial arts?  Kata has turned into one long kiaaaaaaaaaah. A guttural yell that has gotten so bad that it makes chi and kiah sound vulgar. I saw one kata where the competitor either screamed or growled on every single movement of the kata. Kumite hasn't faired any better. Kumite doesn't resemble kumite. Sport karate has turned kumite into a double slap match. Everything is thrown to the head. Nothing to the body. There's only three kicks used: lead leg roundhouse, lead leg hook kick, and a jabbing sidekick. 

Tournament rules have been so twisted  that the fight has become a game of tag (to the head). Or better yet, a game of who can dive across the mat first. You can't sweep. You can't grab. All you're left to do is swat at the kicks and throw the double slap. The points are awarded, not for the use of controled contact, but for anything that makes contact. 

In the under belt divisions they can't hit to the head. When they make to black belt divisions they are let loose to try and knock each others heads off. 

I was talking with an elder of the world of martial arts the other day about the state of martial arts. He said quite a few things. There were a couple that stuck in my head. 

"Sport karate has taken the art out martial arts of competition." 

While we were discussing competitions in general he posed this question: 

"If you don't do kata, and all you do is fight, what will you have when your days of fighting are over?" "Will you be just another washed up fighter with nothing but old "war stories" of days of glory gone bye?" "It is the study of kata that allows you to remain youthful and continue your training."

I am taking the step to stay as close to the traditions of old as possible. My focus is to guide kohai to be the well rounded martial artists. That all kumite come from the technique of kata. Teaching students that there can be no kumite if there is no kata. 

Where have we come from? 
Where has the martial arts gone? 
I know it's out there somewhere.
What do you think?
Leave a reply.
Do not remain silent.

"I come to you with only Karate, Empty Hands. I have no weapons, but should I be forced to defend myself, my principles, or my honor, should it be a matter of life or death, of right or wrong, then here are my weapons, Karate, my Empty Hands." 


Michele said...

Nice blog.

You make interesting observations about the evolution of tournaments. I was recently asked about the relationship between sparring and kata. I replied that kata is the core of my kumite.

John Vesia said...

I agree with all your sentiments about tournaments. Kumite has devolved into a form of glorified tag. What's weird is that there are still plenty of bad injuries with the point-matches, mainly because like you said, the black belts - the ones who are supposed to have the most control - end up trying to rip off one another's heads. I haven't competed in years, but I still have respect for the ones who go out.

Can't sweep or grab? Those aren't traditional karate rules that I'm used to.

John Lyons-Sensei Universal Goju Karate School said...

The general rules for NASKA and other regionally rated tournaments now say the you can't grab the opponents gi. They say that you can not sweep.

Now up until a few years ago you could sweep and take a person down as long as you followed up with a point scoring technique. In most tournaments that is no longer allowed. I will say that WKF rule tournaments do allow sweeps, take downs, and scores to the floor.

I've been competing since 1979. Back then, there was no such thing as rubber coated foam safety equipment. At best some people wore cloth covered football type hand pads and shin guards. There were rarely major injuries. Contact to the head was frowned upon. A strike to the head was viewed as reckless and in some cases intentional. Swift consequences were imposed.

I run a pretty traditional dojo. I insist upon controled techniques. I will continue to teach control. I tell my students "if you spar in my dojo and you hit someone in the head I am assuming you did it on purpose". "Keep your composure and control yourself".

John Lyons-Sensei Universal Goju Karate School said...

These are the rules for sparring in NASKA tournaments:

"LEGAL TARGET AREAS: Entire head and face, ribs, chest, abdomen, collarbone and kidneys. ILLEGAL TARGET AREAS: Spine, back of neck, throat, sides of the neck, groin, legs, knees and back.
NON-TARGET AREAS: Hips, shoulders, buttocks, arms, and feet.
LEGAL TECHNIQUES: Legal techniques are all controlled sport karate techniques, except those listed as illegal.
ILLEGAL TECNIQUES: Head butts, hair pulls, bites, scratches, elbows, knees, eye attacks of any kind, take downs on a hard surface floor, ground fighting on a hard surface, any stomps or kicks to the head of a downed competitor, slapping, grabbing for more than one second, uncontrolled blind techniques, any uncontrolled throws, takedowns or sweeps and any other uncontrolled dangerous techniques that are deemed unsafe in sport karate."