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Is traditional Karate becoming a thing of the past?

Is traditional Karate loosing it's identity to sport karate?

Is traditional karate becoming a thing of the past?

Unworthy instructors, self promoted masters, self promoted black belts, self promoted instructors. Unworthy associations who take into their membership shabby karate groups to enhance their numbers and profits, along with this is the mass introduction of sport karate are all to blame for the demise of true traditional karate-do

True traditional martial arts achievement is for only those who want to earn it by following the true traditional path of the empty hand way. How can others teach something they know nothing about?
Learning true martial arts should be a new adventure. Never be satisfied with your limits of your success and rise to eminence through even greater success. Never allow your spirit to be satisfied, keep your mind clear and unaffected so that things can be perceived exactly for truth and logic.

I believe that all styles of traditional karate has something to offer - but only if they build character first and the physical person second. There is no one style of karate better than another. Anyone who says, his or her style is the best is very foolish and unwise, for the style does not make the difference. The individual and their training makes the difference.
The person who has a good qualified instructor and trains hard, is going to be better than the person who does not have a good qualified instructor and does not train hard.”

A good dojo will have unity, conformity and stability, it’s students will feel pride and togetherness, yet individuality is always understood. For all of this to happen there must be a disciplined hierarchy of authority, for order, learning, achievement and advancement. But achievement is only awarded to those who earn it.

Being a black belt with it’s rewards brings obligations. If one is a true black belt then they must always strive to set a good example for others and to teach the true meanings of karate-do. Obligations of a black belt are, respect, loyalty and honour, and are owed to their seniors and dojo. For me this is true traditional karate.

Hanshi Gibson 8th Dan

Is traditional karate loosing its identity to sport karate?

Master Otake

Head of the Warrior School of Japan

Japans top traditional fighting school

speaking about sport karate fighting and real fighting, he quotes!

"If you loose the sport fight you can try again next time.

If you loose here, that is the end"


What is sport karate?

Honestly I do not know what the word "sport karate" is suppose to relate to.

I wish the powers that be would change the name to something more appropriate, as they did for kick boxing which was known at the beginning of it's life for some idiotic reason as "full contact karate". Call it combat sport, or touch fighting, anything else other than "karate".

Please don't get me wrong, I am not against competition participation altogether.

I believe that it may have a place in today's sport orientated culture, but the only good benefit in realistic terms I believe is for children. Competition or play fighting as I would prefer to call it can be good healthy discipline fun for children.

Strictly and safely controlled it should give them a strong sense of achievement, motivation, concentration and I hope that much needed self-confidence that many children lack. Therefore I feel that competition is a good thing for children to participate in.

The only problem with children's competition's I have experienced is the lack of understanding that some parents have of it. For example I have been asked why their child is not using their karate blocks to defend themselves. I tell them that they must understand that it is not true karate or any true form of self-defence, they should understand that its only a watered down game of fighting.

There are many rules to safe-guard children from injury as well as making it fun, although I have noticed that some groups sadly fail to implement these rules, however to call it "karate" is wrong, for eventually we will loose sight of what the word "karate" means, its intention and what it encompasses.


"Sport karate" is way down the line as a practical fighting sport for adults.

By promoting such a traditional powerful fighting art to adults as a sport is throwing aside it's whole philosophy, it's powerful blocks, it's strong skilful self-defence techniques and all it's traditions is surely sweeping away the true image of karate being a deadly fighting art.

Karate-do (the way of the empty hand) was never intended to be a sport or a game

Many adults who compete in karate competitions, especially the winners seem to suffer from a delusional form of self worship and an over confidence. These so called superstars imagine they have become indestructible because of winning a trophy or medal. I have no problem about real athletic sporting competitions and the winning of trophies or getting a name for oneself, but to say that "sport karate" competitors are all well tuned physical fighting athletes is very amusing to me.

If you ever have the chance to go to an adult competition you'll see many overweight and very unfit people with little or no fighting ability.

Many referee's look like they have just come from a pork pie eating competition.

Most referee's are senior instructors within their own clubs although one would not think so to look at them. Usually it's someone not very fit or good physically at karate usually goes into refereeing.

Looking very official and important in their blazer and gray flannel trousers wearing their association tie and badge I usually find that these people are usually has-been's or have never-been's trying to hang on to some power and authority.

Clearly, many do this purely for recognition within their own club, to impress students especially the younger ones in saying, look at me, although I may be useless at karate, am I not an important person within the karate world. They have to pursue this position, because it's their little niche, rubbing shoulders with top people so they can boast to others about who they know.

A great karate master once said "One should be proud and always aspire to be in the mould of your instructor". Well looking at some of these porkers makes me wonder why their students would want to aspire to anyone who are either fat, useless at karate or unfit.


The fiasco of adult competitions with it's refereeing errors, it's rules, it's system of scoring, it's lack of technique, contact, and realism is not doing karate any favors.

For the public to see black belts loosing fights to lower grades clearly shatters the belief of the deadly black belt image. It is sending the wrong message out and the wrong impression about the skills and strengths of what a true karate black belt should stand for.

Before the promotion of competitions, achieving a black belt meant something, something that took many long years of blood sweat and tears to achieve and something to be proud of. In showing such poor standards in the name of such a powerful fighting art these competitions tarnish all that is good about the art and the problem is many who enter competitions seem totally oblivious or don't care to this fact.


Unlike many true challenging sports, "sport karate" is totally false in its awards.

Lets take into account the overall structure of "sport karate" lack of contact, lack of techniques and lack of realism. Clearly it must be way down the line as a practical and effective fighting sport. Thai boxing, boxing, kick boxing, ultimate fighting, cage or K1 fighting are much more practical in terms of learning about contact, fitness, strength, hardness, aggression and as a fighting sport goes, much more realistic in it's approach, methods of training and more exciting to watch.

If it was a real fight, many of these winners and champions would be dead meat.

Throughout my 50 years in karate I have witnessed many examples of the true nature of the beast of "sport karate". One example: A weedy looking guy won a match over someone I knew to be a former boxer who weighed around 14 stone. The little guy's tactics was to throw a single punch and then run. The refereeing as usual was very bad, scoring the little guys although very fast but totally weak punches, even giving him a point when he actually tripped and on his way down he stuck out his hand touched his opponents jacket. Well after that fiasco it made me wonder what is this all about. I have witnessed these type of scenarios many times, the over weight pasty faced guy who sits all day in an office actually beating an opponent who looked like Arnold Schwarzenegger all because he was faster to the "touch", and I do mean touch, scoring the winning point that was not effective or practical to hurt or stop anyone in a real fight. The facts are that many a winning point at competitions only lightly touch their opponent. What amuses me is the way they come away celebrating with the impression of thinking that they have actually beat their opponent for real.

They seem to never take on board the reality that it's a watered down game and not real fighting. If it was a real fight many of these so called winners and champions would be dead meat in seconds.


Sport karate has rewritten the rule book to such a deadly fighting art.

By taking away many deadly techniques from traditional karate, "sport karate" has rewritten the rule book.

Lets look closely at an adult competition:

Fighting is usually fought on a sponge matted area in a large open space. It's a one to one fight, fighters usually fight in the same weight category, competitors know they have to play by the rules or loose points.

If a fight gets a bit rough, or if you fall on the floor competitors understand that they are completely safe as the referee will quickly stop the fight giving them a chance to get up and restart the fight. Unlike the old days of competition there is hardly any or no contact at all involved. Winning is mostly done with a single punch or if you are lucky a kick. Contact and real combat techniques have been fully stripped away, i.e.

no hooks, uppercuts, spinning fists, open hand strikes, low kicks, ground fighting, butting, chokes, grabbing, pushing, holding, biting, or throwing etc. Taking these techniques away is taking away karate itself.


Make it more realistic.

If adults really wish to spar (or play at fighting) then I say keep it in the dojo.

However, please make it a bit more realistic than what we see at competitions.

There are lots of ways to enhance sparring such as 2 or 3 onto 1, or try incorporating full contact with boxing gloves to feel being hit for real as this will take away the fear and will make you react faster. Use knees and elbows, wrestle, use chokes and locks, all slightly controlled of course. Make it rough by grabbing and pulling, fight continuously longer for stamina even to the last man standing. Most importantly the instructor must explain fully to their students that this is only a form of training and what the difference might be in a real fight. Students must understand the various situations that they could find themselves in, such as fighting in an enclosed or small space, being aware of obstacles around you, fighting more that one person, the difference against weapons etc. The importance of strength, the difference of wrestling strength stamina to aerobic stamina, the need of explosive power, endurance, aggression, mental hardness and finally strategy and skill.

A Japanese master once told me, "knowledge (skill, technique) is power, but understand, it will only give you power if you have the ability to use it".

Many "sport karate" competitors would not be interested in this sort of training as it would certainly be to hard for them. Also they might get hurt, beat up or knackered which would certainly affect their image and would burst their little bubble.


Like watching paint dry. That's why there are no big sponsors, televised or media interest.

For many karate groups today competitions have become the main purpose and reason for training. Many clubs only concentrate towards the winning aspect of competitions. I know of certain groups who award students grades in line with their success in competitions.

However I have to state that there are a very small minority of hard core traditional karate people that have entered competitions who are well respected, but hopefully this still should not distract one from the truth. Of course some competitors may be athletic which is very commendable, however it certainly does not automatically give them that true martial spirit or ability for real combat.

Unlike boxing or kick boxing or any other exciting sport where constant contact action is involved, where opponents are trying hard to knock one another out. "Sport karate's" main scoring technique is usually a single controlled punch called "gyaku-zuki", where competitors dance around for ages before eventually deciding to use it. This is for me and I would think for most people in the street is like watching paint dry. That's why there are no big sponsors, televised or media interest in these competitions, and also why adult competitions are mostly only spectacled by it's own competitors, class students or families of the competitors.

What is a British karate champion? Is it someone who can beat the living daylights out of every karate person in Britain?

It's most unfortunate that clubs who participate mostly in competition, contrive to indoctrinate many of their students, especially the younger ones into a false sense of security, image, glamour and fame. For those who believe it all are truly sucked into a false vacuum. These clubs are always trying to boost their image by proclaiming how many karate champions and trophies they have, "look at us they smugly say, "we have a British karate champion" , surely we must be the best club with the best students. Would  someone please explain to me what a British karate champion is? Is it someone who can beat the living daylights out of every karate person in Britain?

Are they a deadly fighting machine? Are they someone that should be worshiped by lesser mortals within the karate World?

Sorry to bust the bubble, but being a competition karate champion clearly does not make you a super person.

Ticky Donovan the British team coach once quoted in a karate magazine that "most British champions could not punch their way out of a wet paper bag".

What does that tell you!

"Sport karate" could be inhibiting!

I believe that "Sport karate" could implant dangerous way of thinking. I remember a long time ago reading about the death of a British karate champion.

The papers said he was foolish enough to think just because he was the British karate champion that he was able to take on a knife wielding thug, unfortunately it led to him being stabbed to death. Being obsessed with competitions and lacking any realistic self-defence training made it hard for him to separate competition fighting from reality. A very dangerous way of thinking which I believe was the mistake that finally cost his life. For being accustomed to fighting within a totally safe environment with safety rules, regulations and having the St. John's ambulance people on the side ready to rush in if anyone got a knock I am sure can over a period of time create a false illusion. I really believe that many who are infatuated with "sport karate" have lost the plot, in that they believe that by winning a trophy or having a championship name makes them invincible.

Habits formed and reinforced over time through "sport karate"can be extremely inhibiting.

Being taught to pull punches and kicks is one of the fundamental problems of "sport karate".

Many karate groups have forgotten the true purpose of karate and the words of it's founder masters.

Is it not sad that many karate groups have forgotten the purpose of karate, students of karate should continually strive to train for real life combat, especially for dangerous situations and not be distracted or restricted in anyway from focusing on this.

The founder masters of karate, such as Gichen Funakoshi, Chojun Miyagi and Kenwa Mabuni viewed "sport karate" (referring to adults in their day when sparring was with no rules, very brutal and very realistic) "as fairly insignificant, a thing to get over with as soon as possible so the student's real career in karate could begin". If they were depressed of the state of karate then, then what would they think of the present state of karate. They would be surely horrified.







Words by the late great karate legend, Enoeda sensei, is something that should be taken on board by all participants of sport karate

"the real discipline of karate will be destroyed and it will become just another sport"

picture of enioda"It fundamental that karate should be practiced in the true spirit of the martial arts.  "Sports karate" is a recent development of this ancient art and it should not form a predominant part of the true karate ka outlook.

It can have its detractions. With sport karate, formerly the emphasis was on keeping a strong controlled technique, but now it is more on match-winning techniques, lessening the importance attached to the need for good solid blocking.

This is a pity.  I believe that we must still employ powerful techniques because if we do not and think only in terms of competition, the result will be that the real discipline of karate will be destroyed and it will become just another sport.

Therefore, for someone committed to competition within the larger context of practicing karate, it is vital to work hard at basics in order to develop later a strong and correct fighting technique.  There must be hard training and commitment".


Sport karate in the Olympics. Will we eventually loose sight of karate's true identity?

The rush to sell the farm and gamble everything on the Olympics is not a good thing as many believe it's not really a good spectator sport. I also believe it will last no longer as a traditional art as Judo did after it was introduced as an Olympic sport during the 1964 games in Tokyo. Will the general public end up establishing a completely false impression of what true karate is all about and eventually loose sight of it's identity. One thing is clear, the image of karate in the Olympics is not going to be what most of the general public expect it to be, for I suspect their vision will be of a Claude Van Dam or Jet Li fighting scene , well their in for a big surprise.

What of the future? who knows.

With the old debate that "sport karate" may enter the Olympics and what of the future of traditional karate? who knows.