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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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Missing Links of Karate: Why We Need Traditional Martial Arts

The missing links of Karate have become a research field for a community of innovative and open minded Karateka. We link Karate back to its roots in traditional martial arts from Asia. By doing so we focus on improving Karate and bring back what the art has lost through the development of modern Shotokan and Sports Karate. Therefore, missing links challenges conventional Karate wisdom and changes perceptions. By Heero Miketta

Questioning Shotokan

Practicing Japanese Karate will always bring up the question: “Which style?” – at least from those in the know. Three decades ago an answer by Hirokazu Kanazawa made the rounds in my Shotokan circles. “Martial arts,” the old master mumbled in reply, and was not willing to discuss this any further.

It impressed me at the time, because back then I had a moment of confusion myself. I had joined the instructor team of the police in the then German capital Bonn. It was a fortunate event to be welcomed in this rather elitist circle of good fighters with all kinds of martial arts backgrounds. I was a complete rookie, while all of them had tested their knowledge in more or less realistic scenarios.

My Shotokan fell short. What I had learned was too static, too focused on the long distance, and very much tuned into the rules of competition.

Shotokan Did not Meet the Reality of Fighting nor Philosophical Depth of Asia

Not an unusual story – I have met plenty of others with similar experiences, not only from Shotokan Karate. If you listen to Geoff Thompson, British author and martial artist, he describes the same learning journey. Self defense, realistic conflict, and violence prevention always question what we have learned in the dojo.

This was not the first time I second-guessed my Karate. When I started my training in Shotokan, coming from Judo and Tai Chi, I became disappointed at first. I found a sports system featuring tournament rules instead of the deep secrets I had expected. It was all sweat, mostly on my own, walking up and down a gym, hitting thin air. No Far East philosophy, nothing of the cool mystic background I imagined.

The Two Missing Links

Two missing links gave our research community its name: The actual combat content, and the deep knowledge, the Asian ways of thinking that challenge the Western mind.

The Bleeding Edge of Modern Society

This brings us straight to the core of martial arts: The connection of body and mind. What sounds like an advertising soundbite to the ears of experienced Karateka is a bleeding edge of modern society. In our book Missing Links of Martial Arts, we chose the term “debodification” to describe what is happening to humans today: An increasingly sedentary lifestyle dominated by screentime and virtual experiences. Fitness and wellness have the character of mere duties that have to be fulfilled. Looking good, being healthy, showing positive attitude is a mere part of a “personality package,” not a source of learning and personal growth.

This betrays modern people of genuine experiences that can only be made using the body. Some people aim to fill this gap in personal growth by attending Asian health systems like Yoga, Qi Gong, or meditation. Traditional martial arts offer the same philosophy in motion, and they bring even more to the table: Conflict, fear, stress, social skills, and communication.

The Depth of the Traditional Asian Styles

Modern fitness and self defense based systems offer much less depth. While mixed martial arts competition is a fantastic sport and often underrated by Karateka (also because of the testosterone-laden scenarios of competition in the octagon), it does not regard the deeper content of traditional martial arts. Do not underestimate MMA athletes, though. Many of them come from traditional systems and practice much more than what they need in tournaments. Grappling styles like Brazilian Jujitsu offer physical and mental training, as well as holistic knowledge. Nothing, however, beats the traditional Asian styles.

Shotokan Roots in China

The roots of our Karate go back to older arts from Okinawa and China, a fact that has not only been forgotten by many who think Karate is part of the traditional Japanese Budo curriculum. But it has been hidden by Japanese masters who went out of their way to rebrand Karate from “Chinese Hand” to “Empty Hand,” simply by changing the Kanji of the name.

In our Missing Link Community, we use the original character: Ko Ryu Kara Te – old style Chinese hand. The look backwards to China and old Kung Fu styles is as important to us as the focus on modern application and usability. We avoid chitter chatter about “the street” and what is useful. We care about what we can learn for everyday scenarios that actually happen in modern life.

Chinese Martial Arts as Compendium for Modern Karate

What did we find in the Chinese arts?

Flow

First and foremost: Flow. Static stances, powerful hard movements – both can be more obstacle than help for good martial arts:

  • Nothing is static in a fight.
  • A stance is just a short moment in the context of a bigger event.
  • The entire movement is much more important than the end position of a step.
  • Low stances only make sense in the context of weight shift and power development; they have no value on their own.
  • Every technique, any combination, needs to work in a flow, and with a partner.

Nothing is more important than constant partner training. It is essential to develop mental flexibility and the ability to adapt to ever changing circumstances.

Structure

Another important issue is structure:

  • Posture,
  • stability,
  • full body movements and
  • the understanding of principles

This approach is superior to learning single techniques and executing them with maximum strength.

Movements make Perfect

Understanding – and feeling – the body and its movement makes for good martial arts. Discovering the capabilities of the own body and transferring it into work with a partner is surprisingly often neglected in Karate dojos, in favor of endless repetitions of techniques that make no sense without bunkai – the deep analysis of their meaning and usage. The external form of techniques, especially at the END of the movement, is getting much more attention than the application and the internal development of strength and power.

Traditional Martial Arts Connect Mind and Body

These holistic physical experiences create the connection of body and mind mentioned above. The body is the most important gate for emotional learning, and thus for the development of social skills, communication, conflict competence, coping with stress and fear, or in short: A life lived to the fullest.

No other physical training connects body and mind like the traditional martial arts do. The individual and their interaction with others is the main concern of our practice – and the challenges are physical as well as psychological and emotional.

The Missing Links between traditional Martial Arts and Shotokan
The Missing Links between traditional Martial Arts and Shotokan

What kind of martial arts do you practice?

So what is in a style? Why is the question, “What kind of martial arts do you practice” so important?

The Fallacy of Tribal Structures

The martial arts community as a whole has a very tribal structure. That arose surely from the way of teaching it in family structures in the past and then became a matter of national pride. Many Westerners are trying to be more authentic than their Asian teachers – so much that it borders cultural appropriation.

No Challenging of Opinions

Hierarchy and patriarchal structures in many associations are another issue. Not questioning the “master,” worshiping belt colors and double-digit dan degrees leads to an inability to challenge opinions, ask questions or be innovative.

Last but not least, styles give a level of security. To define what you are doing (and what you are not doing) gives control over your own training and a chance to measure your ability. “I have mastered this move, this kata, the rules of Shobu Ippon – I am a master now, my education is finished. I know where I am standing.” The comfort of narrow boundaries is enormous.

New Ideas Can be Challenging

We experience this in our dojos. Our ideas attract high ranked, experienced Karateka. But far too often they also put off these senior martial artists. “I have learned more in one of your lessons than in the last five years of training in my home dojo,” an experienced competition fighter told me. She was was talented, intelligent and fast. “I don’t like it,” she went on. “I will go back to my old dojo.”

Boom! Removing limits drops students into a void and leaves them confused. Our response is a sophisticated Kyu curriculum and a proper syllabus, giving beginners a scaffolding for their learning experience.

That is not the answer for advanced practitioners, though. Training with Missing Link is uncomfortable, challenging and needs engagement. That is what we face every day ourselves.

A Research Community For Karate

We see Missing Link as a research community. Yes, we build up new martial artists. But we also build up the knowledge of the community, and take on board the ideas and new impulses from experienced teachers joining us. Our ranking system is free of Dan degrees. The Okuden and Kaiden Master Levels that we use instead are not earned in a grading, but by delivering a thesis, a new idea, an own concept to the community.

A Diverse Community

This has brought an interesting mix of people to the Missing Link Community that started as a Shotokan-based venture. Soon members of our old ShoShin Projekt – a group of martial artists from different styles working together – joined the group. By now, our dojos in Germany, England, Denmark and Finland combine a colorful bunch of Karateka with a wide knowledge and the hunger to learn and discover more. The topics we care about grew beyond the narrow definitions of a style:

Missing Link offers a versatility curriculum and research.
Missing Link offers a versatility curriculum and research.

Innovative and Open Minded Tradition

What connects all teachers in Missing Link is the idea of a foundation curriculum, described in our book Missing Links of Martial Arts, and the general approach to teaching and learning, also detailed in the very same book. We feel that we have left the limits for personal development behind us in the past. But it also built a strong framework in which Karateka can feel at home if they don’t want to be restrained by an association that cares more for competition sport and purity of styles. Tradition, from our point of view, has to be innovative and open minded.

The Shotokan style is still a basis for many of our members. It has enormous values as a clean, straightforward gate into the complex world of martial arts. We call it the “Japanese garden of martial arts,” pretty and with intense focus. From this garden we want to head for the jungle, though.

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WUKF Professional: A New Karate League to Counter the Olympics

The WUKF has started its new professional karate league called WUKF Professional. While the focus lies on making points, fighters are allowed to knock out their opponent. Hence, the fighters go full contact. The WUKF, therefore, offers a third way between the WKF-based Olympic Sports karate and Karate Combat.

According to its president, Pawel Bombolewski, WUKF Pro seeks to make karate respectable again as an efficient martial art. Thus, the league also includes Kata as a discipline. We wanted to know more about WUKF Professional. Therefore, our distinguished author, Jonas Correia, interviewed Pawel Bombolewski about his career as a competitor, why he created WUKF Professional and what we can expect from the format in the future.

1 – Oss, Sensei Pawel Bombolewski! It is a great pleasure to interview you about your karate career and WUKF Professional Karate. Sensei, why and when did you start practicing Karate?

Pawel Bombolewski (PB) – Oss, it is a pleasure for me, too. I started Karate when I was 7. I was very inspired – like many people at that time – by martial art movies. Bruce Lee, Chuck Norris, Jean Claude Van Damme were my idols and first heroes. However the biggest influence on the beginning of my Karate-Do was my first Sensei Paweł Golema 7th Dan. He was and still is a big businessman in Szczecin. I always admired his remarkable way of applying Karate principles in life, especially in business. You need to wok hard, not giving up, being reliable, not afraid to taking risks etc. I think he had a big impact on me. I am very grateful to him for bringing my mind to the state where it is today. 

Pawel Bombolewski´s best Shobu Ippon fights

2- How has your training routine been lately?

PB – I use to conduct classes almost every day, from Monday to Saturday. The last class of the day was usually a advance group or squad training, where I train with my students. From training 6 days a week, half was orientated on traditional, budo Karate training and other half on Sports Karate. However, even in the sports classes we still started with mokuso and finished it with the Dojo Kun. I think we all need to remember what is most important in Karate. For me it is self development. In my opinion following budo principles is like using great tools to develop yourself. 

3 – You have been Shobu ippon WUKF World Champion several times. You teach Karate. You organize tournaments regularly, including the 2020 WUKF World Championship, which you organize for the 2nd time. And you are also responsible for WUKF Professional Karate events. How do you reconcile your competitive career with all these activities?

PB – It is actually very hard, especially that I divide my time between 5 governing bodies. I am lucky enough to lead the EUKF as Vice-President, WUKF Professional as President as well as UWK Poland, BKA Poland and BKA Sri Lanka. To be an athlete in addition to this becomes very difficult and requires a wise plan of training. The biggest issue is having no time for recovering. As a result that means a high chance to get injured. So I have to train physical strong only when I know I will be able to recover afterwards.

Pawel competing in Shobu Ippon Division on WUKF World Karate Championships
Pawel competing in Shobu Ippon Division on WUKF World Karate Championships

This was one of the reasons why I decided to finish my career as a competitor. I focus on working for international and national Karate organizations. Now I will have more time for my students. Competing and coaching at the same time had always been very hard to manage. My participation at the WUKF European Championships in Odense, Denmark was my last performance as a competitor. 

4 – And now you also organize WUKF Professional. How did you come up with the idea of creating this league and what is it about?

Pawel Bamboleski competing in Kata division
Pawel Bamboleski competing in Kata division

PB – I remember this day clearly. It was January 1, 2017, first day of New Year. The idea came during a flight from Qatar to Sri Lanka, where I traveled to conduct seminars. For some time, I had been thinking about some common patterns in all sports. One question, which bothered me the most, was, what can we do to beat the Olympic version of Sport (Karate)? I couldn’t find an answer until I watched the “Steve Jobs” movie on the airplane. I don’t know why and how, but after watching this movie, all the pieces fell into the place.

When I started to explore the topic, I found out that in the majority of sports in the Olympic version, even if it is highly respected, is still called “amateur”. Therefore, it holds not importance for many big sport stars in the world. They put much more effort in their professional performances and careers.

WUKF Professional promotional video

Then I asked myself another question. How should a professional Karate look like to make it respectable like in the old good times again? I decided that it must be a point system with full contact. The events have to be quite short and focused on delivering a remarkable show. A point system guarantees a style of fight approximately similar to sports Karate.

This is what we got used to in the last 30-40 years. Allowing athletes to make techniques with full contact, creates the possibility of winning by knockout. As a result it becomes much simpler and more understandable for spectators. Saying that, after 2 editions of WUKF Professional I see that we still didn’t fully achieve my aim. After every event we make changes in the rules, making it simpler and simpler. Learning is never an ending process and I’m happy that we improve every time.

See the full fight of WUKF Professional between Daniele Spremberg and Tamer Mourssy.

5 – Do you think WUKF Professional will change the history of Karate? How is to be part of this important moment?

PB – I strongly believe WUKF Professional is a turning point in the world of Karate. I feel honored and proud to be part of it. Especially that this platform really counterbalances Olympic Karate. WUKF Professional is something totally new and creates opportunity to go to another direction in sports Karate. What really amazed me in WUKF Professional is that we connected modern formula of presenting and conducting matches with the rules that were based on the old, great times. Back then Karate was truly respected by all martial art fans, because of it’s effectiveness. 

WUKF Professional 1 in February 2019 - Poland
WUKF 1 in February 2019 – Poland

6- Do you intend to fight in WUKF Professional?

PB – No! (laughs) Too many people say I would always win because I organized the rules most suitable for myself. I also think it is better if I focus on managing it, because it is a very responsible task. 

WUKF Professional 2 in November 2019, Poland
WUKF 2 in November 2019, Poland

7 – How has been the public reception regarding WUKF Professional?

PB – It was fantastic! We had over 30 000 viwers of WUKF 1 in social media channels and a majority of positive feedback. People praised the high quality of streaming (7 cameras, video review system) and the quality of our promotional videos. In WUKF Professional we are using 2 Polish companies: See TV and MA Vision. They are absolute amazing in what they do. The level of streaming is so good.

Soon we will start cooperating with a big TV channel, fully dedicated to martial arts. I’m sure that will also have great impact on WUKF Professional development. Every day, we have a lot of new people, who visit our websites karateprofessional.com and professional.wukf-karate.org. In addition, our social media channels have more and more followers every day. This is making me happy to see the fruits of our hard work.

The figthers at the WUKF professional aim for the KO.
The figthers at the WUKF professional aim for the KO.

8- I attended the first WUKF Professional event in Szczecin, Poland. I was impressed with the organization. Are you responsible for all the details, or is there a team in charge of that? What is your role within WUKF Professional today?

PB – Our team takes the responsibility for organizing events. I am the head of this group. That means to make plans and motivate them to work hard for the success of the event. In 2014 we organized WUKF World Championships in Poland. At that time, it was the biggest and the best WUKF event. On the Opening Ceremony we had opportunity to host the living legend, former President of Poland, and Nobel laureate Mr. Lech Wałęsa.

That event was such a success that after 6 years the WUKF Executive Committee decided to grand us the right to organize the WUKF World Championships 2020. Szczecin is therefore the only City in the WUKF history, which will host this event for the second time. This is a big honor for us, but also a big responsibility.

The entrance of  fighters at WUKF Professional - Athlete: Danielle Spremberg from Italy
The entrance of fighters. Athlete: Danielle Spremberg from Italy

We know that people expect only the highest level of competition, including accommodation, transport and catering. We will do our best to make the best Karate in the world.

Within WUKF Professional I am responsible for the Professional Karate formula. Our Professional Karate Commission includes me as a Chairman, Sean O’Brien from Ireland, Noel Mantock from England, Rajat Chakraborty from India and Valeriy Kusiy from Ukraine. We create the rules basied on feedback from the WUKF Professional Referee Commission. We also set the policy and media direction of WUKF Professional.

While WUKF Professional also wants to deliver a good show it does it with more humility than Karate Combat.
While WUKF Professional also wants to deliver a good show it does it with more humility than Karate Combat.

9- You strive to make Karate more professional like football, basketball, and mma. You also included Kata at this level. Do Kata competitions work under the same rules as regular competition?

PB – I believe that the Kata rules we created are as simple as possible. It is a one flag system. Free choice of kata, tokui, any style you like. There are some proposals to make 2 rounds, random choice of katas etc. We consider all options, as I believe we have to be open for the feedback of people.

Kata at WUKF Professional

10 – Could you simply clarify the rules of WUKF Professional in Kumite for us?

PB – In the shortest possible way: it is a point system in a shobu ippon spirit with full contact. The duration of a match is 3 rounds with 3 minutes each. There are 3 type of points: 

  • Yuko: 1 point normal type of action, which we are used to at a amateur competitions
  • Wazaari: 5 points awarded for a knockdown
  • Ippon: 10 points awarded for knockout
  • Awasete Ippon: awarded by referee for having 10 points lead on the opponent
  • Senmonteki Ippon, which is a technical knockout, awarded for creating situations where you opponent is clearly unable to fight
WUKF Professional: The fighters know what is expecting them.
WUKF Professional: The fighters know what is expecting them.

11 – In most karate competitions, there are weight divisions. Does WUKF PRO also have weight divisions?

PB – Yes, we have weight divisions. They are divided every 5 kg: from – 60 kg to +90 kg in male category and from – 50 to +65 kg in female category.

12 – How are the athletes selected to compete and what should they do if they are interested in competing?

PB – At first, athletes need to register on our website and pay the annual license fee for the WUKF account. During registration they fill out all the information about their amateur career, add contact data about their manager if they have one, etc. When competitors have registered they must wait until selection. They can also be active and try to persuade organizers to organize a contest for them. If a competitor is famous this will be easy, proposals are coming all the time. For not so famous fighters it is important to stay active and to have a skilled manager, who can arrange fights.

13- In the first event, despite the rules allowing the knockout, I had the impression that there were still remnants of traditional arbitration in the manner in which the points were scored. Already in the second event, I realized that the referees were stricter regarding the scores. The result was more intense fights. Breaks were not as frequent as in the previous event, increasing the possibility of knockouts in the fights. Will there be any changes to the rules for the next event worth sharing with us?

PB – Yes, after WUKF 2 we worked to change the points system. We will most probably remove the Wazaari for a knockdown. So, there will be no middle way between simple point and knockout. Another proposal is to make 2 types of points: 1 point and 2 points. We also consider awarding more points for using advanced techniques or for perfectly good actions.
Coming back to WUKF 2 and WUKF 1: During the first event the referees too easily awarded fighters with Yuko. On the WUKF 2 it went the other way: the points were not given when they should, in my opinion it was too strict.

Pawel Bombolewski in action during a Shobu Ippon match.
Pawel Bombolewski in action during a Shobu Ippon match.

It is important to find a balance and to understand what we are looking for in WUKF Professional Karate. But it is a process and we all learn. Rome wasn’t build in a day. For me it is obvious that the development will take some time.

But people in WUKF know very well that I am always looking for improvement and that I’m not afraid to test new technological solutions. I just want to mention some ideas for devices I invented this year like remote controls for rotation kumite used on the WUKF World Championships in Bratislava, Slovakia. I also invented a Video Review System used for the first time at the WUKF 1 in Poland.

14- We are all curious to know where and when the next event will be. Is there a date and place already established?

PB – WUKF 3 will be most probably held in Dublin on May 24, 2020. Mr. Sean O’Brien will be in charge for the event. He proved that he is a great organizer, managing a very succesfull WUKF World Championships in 2016. Now, he is looking for sponsors. After he has found them we will officially publish the poster of WUKF 3. Great news is also that we plan to conduct the first fights for a Professional World Champion title in Dublin. We are all excited to see great professional bouts in Ireland. And we are curious who will win a Champion’s belt!

WUKF PRO 1: Barry McAnulty vs David Carter

15 – Many Karate practitioners especially in Okinawa training Kata without the jacket. Does the fact that WUKF professional competitors do not wear the top of the uniform in Kumite have any special reason?

PB – It is obviously to show how muscles work. Of course we are not the pioneers here, being influenced by other sports, mostly by professional boxing.

16- What are your expectations for the future of Professional Karate?

PB – I expect that this modern formula will keep delivering to spectators a big show. It will be entertaining to watch the bouts. All kind of martial arts enthusiasts will enjoy it. I also predict that soon we will be able to pay even higher rewards to our best competitors. Also, I don’t out rule a Pay Per View option for WUKF Professional events in the future.

Full contact and knockouts are allowed at WUKF Professional.
Full contact and knockouts are allowed at WUKF Professional.

17- Sensei, thank you so much for sharing some of your time. If there is something you would like to share with us that is the right moment.

PB – I would like to invite all of you to watch the upcoming WUKF Professional gala and the biggest event in WUKF history: the 9th World Championships in Poland, July 1-5, 2020. I have to admit: organizing World Championships one month before the Olympic Games is quite a challenge. But I can assure you, you will not be disappointing. WUKF currently delivers the highest organizational level of competition and our competitors are not only great athletes. For the majority of them Karate is a way of life. This makes WUKF special. We are one big family!

Take downs are awarded with 5 points at WUKF Professional.
Take downs are awarded with 5 points at WUKF Professional.

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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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What is Zanshin? – The State of A Fighting Mind

The picture shows karateka in full zanshin expecting the next attack or counter.

Zanshin belongs to the central concepts of budo and Shotokan karate. In this article give you a detailed account about the fighting state of mind. By Thomas D. McKinnon

What does Zanshin mean?

Literally translated, zanshin means ‘left over or remaining heart /spirit/mind’. However, for the dedicated karateka, it means the state of total awareness. Being still within, while aware of one’s surroundings, and being totally prepared for anything.

It also conveys the fighting spirit of the individual after the fight. If victorious, the fighter needs a forward-looking awareness and should not lose focus by the victory. If by chance the fighter loses, he will carry an indomitable spirit with honor and grace. Then no real defeat of the character takes place. To encapsulate in a single sentence:

‘Zanshin can be said to be a state of total, calm, alertness. Before, during and after combat a physical, mental and spiritual state of awareness.

Our friends from WaKu Karate in Tokyo give in this video a hint about the concept.

Some Western Interpretations

I’ve heard many attempts by instructors to translate the concept into English for the western student to understand:

  • being in the zone, a mental state of focused concentration on the performance of an activity; while dissociating oneself from distracting, irrelevant aspects of one’s environment.
  • a state of readiness to do again what you have already successfully done.
  • to focus intently on the moment (without emotion)… a state of sustained, committed concentration.

Other Arts also Require Zanshin

Zanshin is not the exclusive property of karate, or even the martial arts in general. It is a necessary characteristic of any credible soldier, police officer, security operative or martial artist. Also, outside of any fighting formats, the Japanese art of ikebana (flower arranging), chado (the tea ceremony) and Sumi-e (ink painting) requires zanshin: a state of being ever ‘present’.

In kyudo, the Japanese martial art of archery, it refers to the body posture after the loosing of an arrow. The posture reflects the mental aspect (zanshin) maintained before, during, and after an action.

In kendo, the concept describes the continued state of alertness, spirit, mind and body, and readiness to meet the situation maintained throughout the whole situation. Zanshin – maintained before, during, and after an action – is one of the essential elements that define a good attack.

In iaido, the practice is calm and quiet, and the most important feature of iaido is the development of zanshin (a calm, reflective mind) throughout.

Zanshin in Shotokan Karate

In Budo karate competition, shobu sanbon or shobu ippon, to score with a technique requires zanshin. Fighters must maintain the mental aspect before, during, and after the scoring technique and not just a show at the end for performance.

Our author Thomas D. McKinnon exactly knows what zanshin means. He was soldier in the British Army and operated a high-level security company.
Our author Thomas D. McKinnon

Without zanshin, kata would appear only as a number of techniques performed in a dramatic arrangement (as seems to be the case for most sport karate performers). Enoeda Keinosuke Sensei (whom I had the good fortune to have as my chief instructor in my formative karate years), for instance, performed kata like the midst of battle.

Certainly, as well as kime, one of the aspects that a Shotokan karateka should be displaying, at the very latest, in preparation for shodan (that first blackbelt grading) is a solid understanding of zanshin.

Being Aware: The Foundation of Fighting Spirit

The famous samurai, Miyamoto Musashi, reputedly said:

“Both in fighting and in everyday life, you should be determined though calm. Even when your spirit is calm do not let your body relax, and when your body is relaxed do not let your spirit slacken… Zanshin.

Toshiro Mifune as Miyamoto Musashi depicts zanshin at its best.

From a personal perspective: Formerly, as the CEO of a high-end, close personal protection company, I was responsible for selecting the personal protection operatives. All trained martial arts, some were former soldiers, and some were former police officers. Most would say that we obviously engaged them for their martial skills. However, their combat ability, certainly a desirable factor, wasn’t the primary dynamic in their engagement. Each successful CPPO applicant possessed that subjective but essential, qualitative characteristic: zanshin.

Zanshin in Everyday-Life

Zanshin means always being ready to do what is needed when it is needed. Having it in your life has many merits but one of the chief benefits would be the tendency to avoid pitfalls. Think about it: is it not better to avoid disasters than, after the fact, figuring out how to survive them?

Having a sense of when something is not quite right may not be a measurable element.

However, with zanshin in your daily experience, you will fortuitously take the only route through a disaster zone that delivers you, hale and hearty, to the other side. That is part of what it can deliver for you: a more fruitful life experience.

Zanshin is a characteristic that will help and assist anyone who takes on the way of life that we call ‘Karate-do’. Regardless of what other choices you make in your life i.e. career, family, living environment et cetera, zanshin enriches all.