Karate as an art of self-defence goes
back a long time, but since the 1950’s another aspect of Karate has developed: Sport Karate. This relatively new aspect of the activity has been criticized for placing too much emphasis on winning
contests and for being detrimental to the practice of fundamental techniques. There is, for example, a danger of beginning jiyu kumite (free sparring) prematurely without building a strong and solid
base of fundamental skills, the result being that a student will be unable to execute a strong and effective technique (the “finishing blow”) which should be the primary characteristic of
As with any other form of human activity there is no alternative to learning and practicing basic skills and movements step by step. There is a clear danger that an overwhelming desire to win a contest will be detrimental, as a student will focus on end results instead of paying attention to the stages necessary to reach such results. It is extremely important that the sport competition reflects and enhances the Karate training. The sport, or competition (shiai) of Karate, is a relatively new addition to the Karate scene. The display of prowess in the martial arts has traditionally been in the act of self-defence. Historically, this was only in a life of death situation. As Karate training became more popular and more public, the natural evolution led to a comparison of skills or the “testing of each other’s” (the definition of shiai). This of course evolved into what we know now as a Karate competition.
However, the “testing of one another’s skills” was (and still is) recognized by serious Karate students as a method of improving one’s skills. In order to achieve this there should be a high degree of respect between competitors, since the competition is helping to develop their Karate-Do. Unfortunately, there are sport Karate practitioners who have over emphasized the physical prowess and fighting aspects of Karate training, and for them “winning of contests” has become the main goal. Traditional Karate is not a vicious form of fighting but is an activity steeped with tradition, culture, and discipline. It is best exemplified by a famous quotation:
“The ultimate aim of Karate lies neither in victory nor defeat but in the perfection of the character of its participants.”
With an ever increasing number of students learning Karate, including children, the role of an instructor should be to ensure that these students will embrace traditional Karate not only as a sport but as a way of life. Physical and philosophical aspects remain integral components of the activity and one should not be given precedence over the other, but should be taught in constant relation.
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