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How can Sport Karate Become Respected Again?

The picture shows children fighting is sport karate gloves. Thus, we ask the question:Is Shotokan effective?

Sport Karate has lost the respect of the global budo karate and combat fighter community. The reasons for this has been the sanitizing of karate to make it more attractive for the Olympic Games. But this project has failed. Now it is time to consider reforms of Sport Karate, to make it respected again. A proposal of reforms in the column Shotokan Essence by T.D. McKinnon

A Proposal of Reforms

Olympic Karate has been talked about, at least, since my heyday as a fighter in Scotland in the 1970s. The tournament organizers have been sanitizing competition Karate ever since, to present a more visually attractive event to the Olympic committee.

But has the whole sanitizing exercise been worth it?

With France leaving Karate off the agenda for the 2024 Paris Olympics, in favor of breakdancing, it appears that the Olympic dream might begin and end at the 2020/21 Tokyo Olympics.

Therefore, the answer must be: No, it has not been worth it.

With the sensitization, sport karate has also lost a lot of respect within the Budo Karate and combat fighter communities. Yahara Mikio Sensei, when asked for his opinion of today’s sport Karate, is reported to have said, “No… no, this is not sport Karate… this maybe ‘sport fighting’, but this is not Karate.” I myself call modern sport karate ‘martial ping pong’ rather than a Martial Art.

Therefore, since the Olympic dream is over, let us start to envision how sport karate could regain its credibility. To do so, I will review a few elements in the WKF rule system and consider how they could be changed for the better. With a focus on Kumite, I will finish with a proposal of how future sport karate could and should look.

Sport Karate and World Karate Federation Rules

Within WKF point scoring competition, a score is awarded when a technique is performed according to the following criteria:

  • Good form,
  • sporting attitude,
  • vigorous application,
  • awareness,
  • good timing and
  • correct distancing.

Once these criteria have been met it depends on the technique how many points a fighter receives. I give you a brief overview here:

Ippon (3 points) is awarded for:

  • Jodan kicks
  • Any scoring technique delivered on a thrown or fallen opponent.

Waza-ari (2 points) is awarded for:

  • Chudan kicks.

Yuko (1 point) is awarded for:

  • Chudan or Jodan Tsuki
  • Jodan or Chudan Uchi.

Shortcomings of Sport Karate: WKF Rules and 4 Areas for Reform

So, where are the shortcomings of the WKF rule system? Following I discuss 4 areas of reform which are fundamental to karate. However, willfully or not, the WKF has neglected them.

1) The Lack of Kime

The first area stands at the center of karate: the concept of Kime. In the WKF rules, Kime is mentioned in the ‘Kata points to be considered’. However, it is yet not mentioned in the ‘Kumite points to be considered’. Why is that? There seems to be a lack of understanding of exactly what Kime is. And although Zanshin is not mentioned in the criteria it is mentioned in the latest rule changes (page 13 article VI) as a criterion often missing in a scoring technique. However, while I agree in regard to Zanshin, in my observation, Kime is the element most often missing from WKF competition scoring techniques.

Because Lack of Kime = lack of intent, that the controlled technique would indeed do the damage it represents. A technique can be ‘delivered vigorously’ (WKF criteria) and have no ‘Kime’. More acceptable, from a Budo standpoint, would be ‘delivered vigorously with Kime!’

2) The Role of Referees in WKF Competitions

In WKF competition, the referee conducts the competition but doesn’t seem to make any decisions concerning the actual scoring. Unless a corner judge shows a flag the referee cannot award a score. At the latest Australian Karate Federation (Australian national level of WKF) Championships, I observed missed flag calls on several occasions. No wonder. It is difficult enough to control a bout, let alone, simultaneously, watch for flag calls. Conversely, I did see referees, having recognized a scoring technique, stopping the bout; however, with no flag support, the referee was forced to restart the bout without awarding a point.

The picture shows that the Olympic Dream of the WKF is over. That is the reason why reforms of sport karate should be considered.
The Olympic Dream of the WKF is over!

3) Yuko is Unnecessary

In my competition days (and still in Shobu Ippon and Shobu Sanbon), an Ippon was a decisive strike leaving the opponent with no chance of defending against it. It had to be delivered with Kime, while balanced and in a state of Zanshin. A slightly less decisive technique would score a Waza-ari; two Waza-ari equaled one Ippon. Cleanly delivered kicks to the head and strikes to a downed opponent generally scored Ippon. However, any technique, regardless of its nature, delivered with all the scoring criteria in place could score an Ippon, if it was considered a decisive technique.

Many years ago, I watched (the legendary tournament fighter) Frank Brennan Sensei, subtly, encourage his opponent to attack with mawashi geri. Mid-kick, Frank executed a gyaku tsuki that knock him to the floor. Frank scored an Ippon, and his opponent received a Mubobi (unprotected while attacking recklessly). The epitome of timing!

With WKF criteria in today’s competition rules, a Yuko might be awarded for the gyaku tsuki; if indeed a warning isn’t given for excessive contact.

As mentioned in the WKF Rule Book – affective from 1.01.2019 – 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.’

Quite right, it should score nothing. From a Budo standpoint: a technique that has not managed to touch enough bases to score a Waza-ari and has no potential to cause damage should score nothing. So where is the point of a Yuko?

And yet, technically, one Yuko can win a match. Indeed, one Yuko could win an Olympic Gold Medal. From a Budo standpoint, that is just wrong. Only a karateka, who really prevails, should win a fight.

4) Senshu Rule and Hikiwaki

Senshu rule: in the event of a draw, the fighter to have scored the first point in the match wins. This rule is questionable. In my competition days, I liked to claim a psychological edge by getting the first score. However, from a fighter’s viewpoint, the Senshu rule is nonsense. This rule creates the incentive to get the first point, which is usually a yuko, under any circumstances.

Even worse is the Hantei rule, whereupon a drawn match cannot be decided by Senshu, i.e. no score given. An arbitrary vote is taken. Hantei is another rule that, from a fighter’s perspective is nonsense. What if a fighter focuses on a counter-strategy? Hantei fosters hyper-active fighters instead of fighters with Zanshin.

In the event of Hikiwaki (a draw) we had Enchousen, a one-minute extension rule. If, at the end of that time, it was still a tie the ‘sudden death’ rule was applied (first score wins). Those rules worked well. They were quick, simple and easy for competitors, officials and audiences to understand.

Reforms of the WKF rules are necessary

Sport is generally considered good for an individual, especially the young: teaching many of life’s lessons. But sport is not for everyone. Not everyone benefits from the kind of stress that accompanies competition with others. Nevertheless, even for those who don’t wish to compete, seeing your art performed, realistically, at an elite level is enlivening.

However, flash and showmanship have replaced Budo and practicality in sport Karate. Not only has this trend lost the respect of the martial arts world, traditionalists and the martial combat fighters alike, but also the wider community. To reform the four mentioned areas would be at least a first step to a more acceptable approach of sport karate.

True Karate-Do Spirit is missing

I have felt for some time that the true spirit of Karate-Do is missing from sport Karate, particularly the WKF. It’s a shame, because competition on such a wide, varied, multi styled level could be a positive, developmental element in Karate-Do. It was for me. However, the tendency for the sport to take precedence, as in many purely sport orientated organizations, diminishes the understanding of the larger picture: Karate-Do.

Karate-Do is far more than sport, more than Budo even. Karate-Do is a way of life, a competition with one’s self: ‘to be better today than you were yesterday.’ Rather than

merely honing and perfecting a few athletic techniques, the goal is being better in an expansive, holistic way.

Shobu Sanbon as Alternative

As for the sport: for what it’s worth, to close the ever-widening gap between the sport and the art; I, a life-long karateka, would recommend to the WKF: If the Shobu Ippon format is too restricting, the Shobu Sanbon format could be implemented. It forces the karateka to focus on a few decisive and vigorous techniques but still offers enough time and space for spectacular action. Of course, if the WKF did that they would need to teach competitors and referees alike the difference between ‘Delivering Vigorously’ and ‘Delivering with Kime’!

This legendary fight between Toshihito Kokubun and Johan Johan LaGrange in Tokyo at the Shoto World Cup 2000 shows how intense and exciting Shobu Sanbon fights can be.
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2nd Yamato Cup: A Tournament Report

The 2nd Yamato Cup took place in Düsseldorf, Germany, on last Sunday. It was an event full of emotions, ups and downs, comebacks, victories, and experiences. The head of the organizing committee and chairman of The Shotokan Times, Thomas Prediger was very happy with the tournament. “Since last year, the number of starters has risen of about 50 percent. But we still maintained a welcoming and relaxed atmosphere. So everybody had a great time with a lot of experiences and fun. Next year, the 3rd Yamato Cup will be even bigger. And we will work even harder so that everybody has a good time in Düsseldorf.” The Yamato Cup was jointly organized by the Dojo Yamato, Düsseldorf, and the SC Taisho, Siegburg.

  • The picture shows participants at the 2nd Yamato Cup.
  • The picture shows participants at the 2nd Yamato Cup.
  • The picture shows participants at the 2nd Yamato Cup.
  • The picture shows participants at the 2nd Yamato Cup.
  • The picture shows participants at the 2nd Yamato Cup.
  • The picture shows participants at the 2nd Yamato Cup.
  • The picture shows participants at the 2nd Yamato Cup.
  • The picture shows participants at the 2nd Yamato Cup.
  • The picture shows participants at the 2nd Yamato Cup.
  • The picture shows participants at the 2nd Yamato Cup.

Yamato Cup: Bigger and International

150 starter from 16 dojos met to compete for the individual, team, and the overall victory. The tournament was open for children and teenager from age 6 to 17. All of them fought in two pools about the victory. Most excitingly, a dutch team, the Centrum Weng, from Beek in the Netherlands took part in the competition. Therefore, the 2nd Yamato Cup became unintentionally but very appreciated an international tournament.

  • The picture shows participants at the 2nd Yamato Cup.
  • The picture shows participants at the 2nd Yamato Cup.
  • The picture shows participants at the 2nd Yamato Cup.
  • The picture shows participants at the 2nd Yamato Cup.
  • The picture shows participants at the 2nd Yamato Cup.
  • The picture shows participants at the 2nd Yamato Cup.
  • The picture shows participants at the 2nd Yamato Cup.
  • The picture shows participants at the 2nd Yamato Cup.
  • The picture shows participants at the 2nd Yamato Cup.
  • The picture shows participants at the 2nd Yamato Cup.
  • The picture shows participants at the 2nd Yamato Cup.
  • The picture shows participants at the 2nd Yamato Cup.
  • The picture shows participants at the 2nd Yamato Cup.
  • The picture shows participants at the 2nd Yamato Cup.
  • The picture shows participants at the 2nd Yamato Cup.
  • The picture shows participants at the 2nd Yamato Cup.
  • The picture shows participants at the 2nd Yamato Cup.

The competition categories comprised:

  • Individual kata
  • Individual kumite: Kihon ippon, jiyu ippon, and shiai (from age 14 and older)
  • Team kata
  • Team kumite: Shiai

Offering a Space for Mental, Spiritual, and Physical Growth

The guiding idea behind the Yamato Cup described Thomas Prediger as follows: “We want to bring children and teenager from different associations and dojos together so that they can compete with each other. The aim lies not on winning. But we focus on mental, spiritual, and physical growth. We want to give them a secure and structured space. Within this space they can make challenging experiences and we support and guide them on their way.”

Fairness as Central Aim of the Yamato Cup

In opposite to other tournaments the Yamato Cup brought karateka and dojos from different associations together. “The tournament is open to everybody, who practices Shotokan”, said Thomas Prediger. To guaranty fairness the organizers chose a sophisticated approach. Instead of favoring a system of rules from one of the attending associations, all starters had to comply and were judged according JKA Japan rules. That created a level playing field for all children and teenager. Because all had to prepare for this rules in particular.

In addition, the referee body consisted of 15 referees from a variety of dojos and associations. The attending dojos were invited upfront to send referees to the tournament. As head of the referee body the organizers could also win Jörg Reuß from the Shotokan Karate Dojo Tsunami in Cologne, Germany. During his competitive career Jörg gained huge international experience. He won the a gold medal at the World Games in 1989, became 2nd at the JKA World Championships, and won several European Championship titels. After this active career he also became an international referee for the JKA.

Moreover, every referee had to take part in one of the four preparation seminars. These seminars took place in the weeks prior to the Yamato Cup. There all referees learnt the system of rules for the event and how to conduct the competitions.

Starters and Dojos were Happy

Dojos and karateka alike expressed their gratitude and how much they enjoyed the Yamato Cup. All of them want to come back and look forward to the 3rd Yamato Cup in 2020.

Overall Winner: Centrum Weng

The overall victory went to the Centrum Weng from the Netherlands. With highly engaged and passionate fights the dutch team won the most medals throughout the whole competition. Therefore, the Centrum Weng took the challenge cup back home. Tamara Wewengkang, head coach of the team, was more then happy and proud when Thomas Prediger handed her the Cup. However, the other dojos have the chance to win the trophy on the next Yamato Cup in 2020. After the Cup means therefore before the Cup.