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Torakan Karate-Do

The Olympic Dream! Is there still hope for the sport of Karate?

For many years the Karate competition organisers have been attempting to do whatever it takes in an effort to make the Olympic dream come true. It was being talked about in my heyday as a fighter, in Scotland in the 1970s; and in the 1980s in Australia, while still fighting but also refereeing at national level, I was taking an active part in the drive toward the Olympic dream; and we seemed so close. Along the way – initially WUKO, changing its name in the 1990s to WKF – the tournament organisers have been trying to sanitise the competition aspect of Karate to make it more palatable for the Olympic committee. I fear though that through the process they have lost their way; although the recent changes to the rules, interestingly, seem to be a step back towards sanity.

However, here we are now, 2019, and it appears that the Olympic dream might start and end in Tokyo next year. So, has this whole sanitising exercise been a waste of time.

I have just finished reading the most recent updated WKF Karate Competition Rules: affective from 1.01.2019. What they are calling the ‘new competition rules’ are in actual fact a step back in time, almost, to the era of Budo competition. At least now a kata competitor will be judged on their own merit. This has not been the case within the WKF for many years. Until now a kata competitor would find themselves embroiled in a personal elimination match every step of the way against successive other competitor opponents.

Can you imagine, let’s say, an ice skating competition (Olympic or otherwise) being judged in the way the WKF have been have been judging their kata competitions??? Yes, quite ridicules, I agree.

In regard to the kumite, it also seems that there is a return to a more referee controlled bout, in regard to decision making re: scoring et cetera, which is good news; a step in the right direction at least. They are, however, still retaining the Senshu rule (first point determines the outcome should there be a draw); a rule that, personally, I think stinks; and also the Hantei rule.

It used to be the referee who decided what a score was worth. Oh sure, there were guidelines for rooky referees; generally speaking: head kick - Ippon; body kick - Waza-ari; any scoring punch and or any hand strike - Waza-ari; take-down or sweep and follow-up - Ippon; all providing that the scoring criteria was met of course. However, the referee could and did award Waza-ari for head kicks, or nothing at all (some of the ura mawashi geri I have observed in recent competition would not have scored a thing). Also, if the referee considered that, in a real situation, a technique would have ended the conflict he would award an Ippon (a full point) for that technique, regardless of its nature... A Waza-ari (a half point) was considered to be a technique that would have done considerable damage… Yuko wasn’t even on the table, but let’s talk about Yuko for a minute. As mentioned in page 13 article X:

‘A worthless technique is a worthless technique – regardless of where and how it is delivered. A bad technique, which is badly deficient in good form, or lacking power, will score nothing.’

And, quite rightly, it should score nothing… Remember, that from a Budo point of view, a technique that would have caused no damage would have been pointless (would score no point). So, a technique that has not managed to touch enough bases to at least score a Waza-ari (is a technique that, in fact, had no potential to cause damage) should not score anything at all. So where is the point of a Yuko? And yet eight Yuko can win a match. In fact, technically, one Yuko can win a match; one Yuko could win a championship match. Indeed, one Yuko could win an Olympic Gold Medal. From a Budo stand point, there is something not quite right about that.

Hantei: whereupon a drawn match cannot be decided by Senshu for whatever reason… an arbitrary vote is taken; which, based on each judge’s personal view point, by its very nature, can be highly biased. Another rule, especially from a fighter’s perspective, that stinks.

In my day, I actually fought many tough, talented kumite fighters and, as a general rule, I liked to get the first score in (for that psychological edge), and more often than not I did get that first score in, so perhaps you might assume that the Senshu rule would have suited me. Nay, not so. In the event of Hikiwaki (a draw) we used to have Enchousen (a one minute extension rule); if, at the end of that time, it was still a tie the ‘sudden death’ rule came into play (first person to score a point wins). Those rules worked well; they were quick, simple and easy for everyone (competitors, officials and audiences) to understand.

In the updated WKF Karate Competition Rules: affective from 1.01.2019, Kime is mentioned in the kata ‘points to be considered’, and yet not mentioned in the Kumite, ‘points to be considered’… please explain? Zanshin is mentioned (page 13 article VI) as a criteria often missed in a scoring technique; however, to my mind, Kime is the element most often missing from a scoring technique (therefor lacking a very necessary element for Budo Karate). A lack of Kime is a lack of intent (intent that that strike would indeed do the damage it is supposed to represent). ‘Delivered vigorously’ (is one of the WKF criteria) just does not measure up to ‘Kime’, from a Budo stand point. A technique can be ‘delivered vigorously’ and have no ‘Kime’ and, from a Budo point of view, that is what appears to be happening in a lot of today’s sport Karate.

Yahara Mikio Sensei is reported to have said, when asked for his opinion of today’s sport Karate, “No… no, this is not sport Karate… this is ‘sport fighting’, yes, but this is not Karate.” I must say that I feel inclined to agree with Yahara Sensei.

Good timing, is supposedly another of the essential criteria in today’s sport Karate; however, I feel, not as important as ‘good timing’ was when Karate competition was more ‘Budo’ orientated. Let me explain my statement further: for instance, when I was fighting I could set up a situation where I might be awarded an Ippon for a body punch. Perhaps encouraging an opponent to attack with a mawashigeri, I would execute a gyakazuki, or even a chokuzuki that would knock him to the floor. Now, because he was moving onto it, he may even attract a Mubobi (unprotected while attacking recklessly) while having an Ippon scored against him! These days, as a matter of course, a Yuko might be awarded for the body punch, or perhaps even a warning given for excessive contact.

I have felt for some time that the true spirit of Karate-Do has been missing from the sport of Karate and ‒ although I do feel that the competition that sport Karate can offer can be a good and positive element in Karate-Do (the whole picture), I know it was for me ‒ the tendency for the sport to take precedence, as it does in many purely sport oriented Karate schools or clubs, diminishes the understanding of the larger picture: Karate-Do.

I know that a sport, any sport, is generally considered good for an individual, especially a young person: it teaches many of life’s lessons. However, sport is not for everyone; that is to say, not everyone wants to compete with others, not everyone wants the kind of stress that accompanies competition with others. Karate-Do is far more than the sport; Karate-Do is far more than the Budo even. Karate-Do is a way of life that is basically a competition with one’s self to be better today, or more than you were yesterday; and in a much more holistic, expansive way than merely honing and perfecting a few athletic techniques… as in the sport.

Nevertheless, I am pleased that a step has been taken to improve the standard of sport Karate; and although I don’t think that it goes anywhere near far enough, at least it is a step in the right direction.

For what it’s worth, the following are the recommendations of this life-long karateka, for fair and clear competition rules that speak more to the Budo karateka:

  • Get rid of Senshu and Hantei rules, and Yuko scores.

  • Go back to the Shobu Sanbon format.

  • Ippon is awarded when an exact and powerful technique, which is recognized as decisive, is delivered to the recognised scoring areas with good form (technique, position and balance), Kime, Zanshin, timing and correct distancing.

  • Some examples of effective techniques delivered under the following conditions should be considered as an Ippon:

  • When an attack is delivered with perfect timing as the opponent started to move forward.

  • When an attack is delivered immediately as the opponent was unbalanced by the attacker.

  • When a combination of successive and effective tsuki and keri techniques accurately find their target, especially undefended areas, whether jodan or chudan.

  • Combined, effective use of tsuki, keri and nage techniques.

  • When the opponent has lost their fighting spirit and turned their back.

  • Effective jodan-geri techniques.

  • Waza-ari is awarded for a technique almost, but not quite, comparable to Ippon.

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