Thursday, July 07, 2005

Karate is not a sport

Self defense

All karate began in Okinawa several hundred years ago as a form of unarmed self defense in a time when invading powers made the ownership of weapons illegal. The Okinawans began to train themselves in methods of defeating opponents simply using their hands, feet, elbows etc.

The techniques they developed themselves and also imported from Chinese Kung Fu are powerful techniques which attempt to break bones, dislocate joints, tear ligaments, damage internal organs and basically cause severe damage to the opponent. These techniques are just as valid for self defense today as they were several hundred years ago against invaders and outlaws.

The point is that Karate was developed specifically to severely damage an opponent while minimising the chance of hurt to the practitioner.

Sporting limitations


Limited attack areas

Attacks are limited to the following areas; Head, Face, Neck, Abdomen, Chest, Back, Side.

Limited throws

For reasons of safety, throws where the opponent is thrown without being held onto, or thrown dangerously, or where the pivot point is above hip level, are prohibited and will incur a warning or penalty.

Limited contact

Techniques, which land below the belt may score, as long as they are above the pubic bone. The neck is a target area and so is the throat. However, no contact to the throat is permitted, although a score may be awarded for a properly controlled technique, which does not touch.

Prohibited attacks

Techniques which make excessive contact, having regard to the scoring area attacked, and techniques which make contact with the throat. Attacks to the arms or legs, groin, joints, or instep. Attacks to the face with open hand techniques. Dangerous or forbidden throwing techniques.


In terms of minimising harm to the self, Karate has a comprehensive set of techniques to block attacks from the opponent.

Many of these blocks such as age-uki (rising block) involve the warding off and grabbing of the opponents attacking arm with a hand and then breaking the arm at the elbow an instant later using your other arm. As such, many of the blocking techniques are also attacks on the opponent's limbs.

However, with the prohibition of attacks on limbs, these blocks become ineffective and the sport of karate becomes an attack based sport with limited defensive ability, Funakoshi's famous saying "There is no first strike in karate" becomes false, the person making the first strike does have an advantage and there is no penalty for making a strike. Contrary to popular belief, the defender has the advantage in a fight if he is prepared and unsurprised. Karate as a sport however, leaves the practitioner unprepared to defend.


Many of the attacking techniques involve grabbing the opponent and attacking sensitive areas of the body, groin, eyes, throat. Time after time the kata descriptions include statements describing how the opponent is pulled onto an attack. If an opponent's arm is grabbed it unbalances them, limits their defensive options and can be used for leverage in a throw. Grabbing though alowed is frowned upon in kumite and competition and the sensitive areas of the body are completely prohibited, this limits the effectiveness of a counter attack in a real situation. The sport of karate teaches you to be aware of the sensitive areas but never to attack them and rarely to pull your opponent off balance. Again the practitioner is unprepared.

The problem

The problem with Karate as a sport is that the very raison d'etre for Karate is to kill, disable or otherwise harm your opponent. This can clearly not be allowed in a sporting environment and so the punches must be pulled, the throws banned, the areas allowed to attack must be limited. The very sharp point of karate becomes blunt.

Gichin Funakoshi, the man who did more than any other to popularise karate thought that it must become more sport like in order to prosper. I believe he was correct in this regard at the time and it has become very popular as a result but in the process it has lost it's edge. Karate's future is now secure, there are many thousands of practitioners all over the world who will continue to practice, and to teach. I think it is time for the sharpness to be brought back and the attempt to blunt karate into a sporting mould to be reversed.


Fundamentally, sport is the antithesis of karate. It imposes rules on the art which pervert it's very purpose.


At Tuesday, October 25, 2005, Blogger Erik Mann said...

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