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“A sign of character.” Thomas Prediger about Competitions and Sport Karate

Sports karate exaggerates with its focus on tournaments. However, competitions can have an educative effect. But only when they are conducted in the right way. We talked with Thomas Prediger, chair of our advisory board, about the value of competitions for karateka and how karate tournaments will evolve after the dismissal of the WKF from the Olympics 2024. By Dr. Christian Tribowski

The Competitions Against Oneself

Christian: I would like to go a little bit deeper into the educative role of competition. Do I understand your argument right: While in Sport Karate the competition is the end, in Karate Do it is just a means to an end?

Thomas: In Karate Do, tournaments are a forum or they should be a one. It is a space for experience. And it is a space where you have to be honest to yourself. Without the opportunity to compare myself I will never truly practice. Everything I have learnt in training might stay theory until I face pressure and an opponent. That not only counts for Kumite but also for Kata. Without this exposure one will lack necessary learning experiences that are highly important to develop one´s own Do.

In my opinion, even an examination is a competition: A competition against yourself. During a tournament, we add another factor of uncertainty: the opponent. That is a challenge and it creates pressure. There you have to show how strong your Do is. Are you capable to fight honestly and loss with a smile? That is a sign of character.

Without this test, Karate Do will be cheap talk. Only a test can show whether I have incorporated the Do during training.

Competitions and the Experience of Limits

Christian: So, are tournaments a compromise between “absence of violence” (Dojo kun) and the martial arts dimension of karate do?

Thomas: Yes, you need a media and forum to experience yourself. Competitions offer this option in a peaceful and regulated way. This regulated and supervised way of conflict is necessary for socialization of human beings and for the society in general. I must experience my limits and boundaries. Maybe a little bit like stones in a river. They grind each other and become round after a while. At the end, they fit perfectly together.

Thus, competition can be an integrative means. This goes also for children. They must learn to asses their own strength. If we do not open them a regulated and supervised forum, they become a factor of uncertainty in the future. Because they will not know how to handle and apply their strength in a positive and fruitful way.

Christian: How old should children be when they take part in a competition for the first time?

Thomas: I think it is not a matter of age or grade. The rules are important. Like in the JKA where Katas are executed parallel. The children have then a direct comparison. Kumite must be very formalized like Gohon, Kihon, and Jiyu Ippon Kumite. A sufficient level of certainty is necessary for children. Unexpected situations should be avoided. That is very important for them to grow and to get used to the situation.

Sports can be Karate. But Karate Do cannot be Sports!

Christian: Let us talk about the future. What do you think how will the field of competition in Karate Do evolve? This is especially interesting because Karate will become Olympic next year but was excluded from the Olympics 2024. e

Thomas: This is what I expected. The WKF did not represent the whole Karate community and it did not spend much effort to integrate the other associations. It seems as if the committee in France recognized this. In my opinion Olympic competitions would have become to elitist anyway. Only professional fighters were capable to start at the events and they would have not much in common with regular Karatekas.

I would suggest something different: We need an open tournament for all Shotokan Karate Do associations. Currently, every association – if big or small – is a silo. They all should agree upon a certain set of Shobu Ippon rules and have joint tournaments.

But we should go back to the roots. That would lead to less big competitions like Olympics. It would be better to hold a bigger number of smaller tournaments where more people could attend. The Olympics are good for the media. But for the vast majority of people it is too far away from their reality. Smaller tournaments would benefit more people. They all could make the educative experience of competitions. Big tournaments do not achieve this goal. They just monopolize the attention of the audience and the smaller structures will dry out.

In the end, Sports can be Karate. But Karate Do cannot be Sports!

Christian: Thomas Prediger, thank you very much for this interview!

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“Shobu Ippon is not a game like Sport Karate.” Thomas Prediger about Kumite

Shobu ippon and sport karate could not be more different. Thomas Prediger, however, knows both because he won the Shoto-Cup and was kumite head coach of the state of North Rhine-Westphalia in Germany. In this interview he illuminates the difference between both systems and why he thinks that sport karate is a game. By Dr. Christian Tribowski

Kumite Boot Camp is the regular column of Thomas Prediger in which he will discuss crucial topics for Shotokan Karate. This time, he spoke with Dr. Christian Tribowski about Shobu Ippon and Sport Karate.

What are the Difference Between Shobu Ippon and Sport Karate?

Christian: Where is the difference between the competition you have descript and the one´s that foster Do?

Thomas: You can see the difference when you look at the big associations: The WKF with its 8-point system and the JKA with the 1-point, Shobu Ippon system. The JKA also renounces weight-classes. Both systems have advantages and disadvantages, because they are man-made. But we have to consider the aim of the competition. The 8-point system of the WKF does not lead to situations that foster Do. It is more like a process-oriented sport where power and speed are paramount.

The idea behind that system is, that over the course of a match the fastest and more powerful will win. Athletic determines the outcome of the match. While the JKA Shobu Ippon system creates way more uncertainties one has to deal psychologically with. The outcome of the match is not determined by your physical traits but rather through your mental state.

Just compare the fighters in both systems. WKF fighters are very athletic. The JKA fighters are less athletic but they have a splendid attitude, are very honest, and do not avoid dangerous situations.

The 8-Point WKF System is flawed

Christian: Does that also mean that the 8-point system offers more options to take advantage of it?

Thomas: Yes! You can see that every year because the WKF constantly adjusts the rules. This goes also for World Championships. Right after the tournament the WKF alters the rules.

For example, some competitors do not tie their Gi very well. The reason is simple: if the Gi opens the referee has to stop the fight. That buys them time when they are under pressure. Because they can pull the Gi a bit and it opens. Before the last World Championship, the WKF changed the rules so that the ties at the Gi must be closed. Athletes could steer the fight with such measurements.

However, when you do not have a rule for such things like it is in the Shobu Ippon system then a fighter cannot take advantage. They would not gain anything by having lose ties at their Gi. That is something I find immensely important about Shobu Ippon: The rules force you to specific actions.

Shobu Ippon as an Educational Situation

Christian: Does that mean that Shobu Ippon has a different educational effect then the 8-point system?

Thomas: Exactly! The 8-point system leads to an inconsequential attitude. Because after the first point you get 7 more points to make-up your mistakes. Such a system does not reflect the seriousness of a real-life situation where you usually do not have more than one opportunity to defend or attack. Shobu Ippon is not a game like Sport Karate.

On the other hand, the execution of the technique has no decisive effect whether you get a point in Sport Karate or not. When you touch your opponent with your fist or your foot you will receive a point. In Shobu Ippon power and clean techniques are serious categories. If your technique is to weak you won’t get a point.

Keisuke Nemoto has been 5 times JKA All Japan Karate Kumite Championship. He is an shobu ippon expert.

Educational Goals of Shobu Ippon

Christian: But what educational goals does Shobu Ippon exactly want to achieve?

Thomas: Very provocative speaking: To learn to loss! You must have the ability to loss. That sounds simple. But it is a different way to loss than in an 8-point system. In Shobu Ippon losing is always possible and sometimes you do not have much influence on it. In a single blow a fight could be over.

Thus, you need a completely different awareness and tolerance. Due to the fact that the power of the punches and kicks is judged you might get hit but the referee does not give a point. These punches can still hurt und you have to stand that. The pressure of the situation is, therefore, very high. Your task is to stay capable to act and react. That requires inner balance and strength.

Christian: And focus, right?

Thomas: Under pressure you need the coolness to focus on your one technique that finishes your opponent. For instance, if you want to use a Gyaku-zuki then you always face the danger that you also get hit. Thus, you have to put everything you have into this one punch.

Christian: But let’s assume that we have a Shobu Ippon tournament and the winner will receive 100.000 US-Dollar. The incentive to fight and to win is now completely different than usually. Do you not think that such an incentive would lead to cheating as well?

Thomas: Some incentives are good. But I agree. Extreme prize moneys will again pervert the system. The competitors will then rather be motivated in a financial way. However, if we keep the rule system lean, we will still generate the learning effects. The motivation is less important for learning than the modus of your learning. Shobu Ippon is the more honest system. Competitors just do not have that much options to exploit the system.

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The Kumite Carousel

Have you ever used the kumite carousel for your kumite training? If not then it is time to integrate it in your training regime. Because a fight comprises 3 aspects of behavior:

  1. Waiting
  2. Reaction
  3. Action

All 3 must be trained at the same time – if possible. Moreover, they should be trained under pressure. Then all three aspects become routinized and automatically executed by the body.

Kumite Carousel

The Kumite Carousel is a efficient method to train all 3 aspects at the same time and still put pressure on the Karateka. Thomas Prediger, Chair of our advisory board, utilizes it in his Kumite Boot Camp.

You only need at least three practitioners. One faces the two others while all constantly change their position in a fixed order – they rotate. By doing so they constantly change their roles: Observer, attacker, defender. The quick changes of the roles puts the karateka under pressure and forces them wait, react or act.

The following video shows you how it works.

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“I realized that this is a perverted system”: Thomas Prediger about Sport Karate

The picture shows Thomas Prediger who says that Sport Karate is a "perverted system". He also sees a great potential for kumite in violence prevention.

Kumite Boot Camp is the regular column of Thomas Prediger in which he will discuss crucial topics for Shotokan Karate. This time, he spoke with Dr. Christian Tribowski about Karate Do vs. Sport Karate. By Dr. Christian Tribowski

Christian: Hello Thomas, I am very glad that you found the time for the interview. We want to talk about Karate Do vs. Sports Karate today. But before we start, I would like to ask why this is an important topic? Why is it relevant for you and the Shotokan community in general?

Thomas: Hello Christian, yes, thank you for having me. The reason is that a division between traditional and sports-oriented Karateka has emerged in the last two decades. And I think that this division does not do justice to Shotokan Karate at all. Sports alone does not reflect the whole variety of Shotokan Karate. Instead, we should seek for a comprehensive education in Karate Do.

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Sport Karate vs. Karate Do

Christian: Before we dive deeper into your argument we should define, what you mean when you talk about Karate Do and Sport Karate. What is what?

Thomas: Karate Do as a martial art shall, in my opinion, comprise all aspects of personality development. This goes for training and competitions. Everything in Shotokan Karate Do should strive for the development of good personalities.

Sports, on the other hand, focuses mainly on competitions and success. It is about being faster, more powerful, or more agile. Sport revolves around competition. Development of character and personality does not play a big role in sports.

The Perfection of Character Is the Goal

Christian: So, the major goal for Sports Karate is winning competitions, right? And Karate Do is about striving to make one’s character perfect, like the Dojo-kun teaches.

Thomas: Yes! I know that it sounds exaggerated to “make one´s character perfect” and it is difficult to define what that actually means in practice. But yes, that´s it.

However, I do not mean to exclude competition from Karate Do. Competitions are a very important part of the education in Karate Do. We need them in order to train certain aspects of Karate Do. Everybody, who avoids competitions or tries to demonize them, does not practice the whole spectrum of Karate Do. Unfortunately, they leave very important educational experiences out.

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Emphasize of Sport Karate vs. Karate Do

Christian: I think we have to elaborate on that. If competitions are a part of Karate Do and we also have Sports Karate, which focuses on competitions, where exactly is the borderline between both? Why and how are they different?

Thomas: The exaggerated and overemphasized form of competition like it is practiced in Sports Karate stands in a stark contrast to Karate Do. If wining is the focal point and making points in a competition is the only thing that matters, then the most aspects of Do get pushed out and eliminated. Because athletes will do and are supposed to do everything to win. That leads, for instance, to doping and bending of rules.

To develop one´s personality, on the other hand, requires to stick to the rules and to deal with losses. When you only want to become the winner, you will hold yourself back from making important experiences as a human being. For instance, that you cannot always win.

“Athletes intentionally stepped into Zukis”

Christian: You were the coach of several top athletes. What situations have you experienced where athletes bend rules to win?

Thomas: The most unsettling situations were when athletes intentionally stepped into Zukis or Keris in order to win a fight. Because their opponents would have got a penalty and they would have declared the winner. That was the moment when I realized that this is a perverted system. One cannot and should not risk intentionally his or her health in order to win.

Focus on Competition Corrupts Morality

Christian: Does that mean that the overemphasized focus on competition corrupts morals and rationality?

Thomas: Yes, of course. If nothing counts except winning then I will focus everything towards this goal. My character also develops in this direction. If lying becomes strategically senseful to reach a goal, people will lie. For instance, fighters will claim that they were injured by their opponents, although nothing happened. I have experience all that during competitions. Eventually, that undermines the development of a good personality. Then a good personality means to be honest to others and yourself. If you get hit, you must indicate that and do not disavow like some fighters in the WKF do. One must learn to stand defeat – with a smile! That is a crucial part of the development of your personality. Because no personality is perfect. We all have shortcomings. But we have to accept them and work on them. If we only want to win, the development of our personalities becomes meaningless.