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Tournament Karate?

by Tim Myers, Sandan

Too often I have been asked the question;

"Do you teach tournament karate?"

Aside from giving the inquiring person an hour long lecture, (Which it would take to do the question justice) I try to answer as succinctly as possible.

My personal experience has led me to the following conclusions. When a beginning student enters my dojo for the first time, I teach them kihon (basics) at the outset. At the same time, the student is introduced to the history of karate, along with the lineage of Matsumura Shorin-ryu, and the basic traditional philosophies and values that it precipitates. Inevitably, the dreaded question about "tournament karate" surfaces. This is when I take a deep breath, and ask the person to sit down for the long explanation.

When students of karate-do, start the tournament scene, they are faced with a dilemma. Most so-called "karate tournaments" have rules and regulations that are anathema to traditional karate training. For instance; all who have trained under Day, Sensei know only too well, that in combat you must be able to control the situation no matter how it unfolds. If the attacker is kicking and punching, you must deal with it. Likewise if the attacker grabs you and you find yourself on the ground, you must be as prepared to fight there as you are standing. This is why an MBK student trains in not only karate, but judo and jujutsu as well. The MBK has been trying to tell people this for years, but the UFC has finally made the general martial arts community "sit-up and think" about it. Now, because of this, many karate dojo are hiring in jujutsu instructors in order to keep students. We have even seen this here in our hometown, Cleveland, TN.

So, what does this all have to do with "tournament karate?" In tournaments, the rules do not usually allow the participants to grab or do any type of grappling with the opponent. Therefore many "Tournament Champions" have never found themselves lying on their back wondering why that spinning hook kick to the head "just didnít work".

Another problem with tournament rules, is the illegality of aiming for vital areas. The throat, eyes, groin and other areas of vital interest are forbidden. Once again the "Tournament Fighter" finds a dilemma; Since karate training is all about making the techniques second nature, or without thought, if one trains for tournaments, then not striking vital areas will be what one becomes conditioned to do. Some have said, "Well, I know that I can go ahead and go for vital areas on the street, so I will when the time comes." I say, not so. I will refer to the old martial arts adage; "The technique will occur in the ABSENCE of conscious thought. To change from tournament reaction to the rules training, to hit the vital areas on the street training, would require conscious thought, thus slowing down the reaction time. Hence, tournament training is defeating the purpose. When a fight happens and one is under pressure, one will revert to what has been practiced most.

To emphasize this, I teach my students that fighting often occurs in phases. Phase one is usually blocking and then counter attacking fast and hard. Once I have trained my students to be able to do this, I teach them to deal with phase two, which is usually grabbing the opponent pulling them into a counter-attack, and learning to control their balance in order to keep them from launching a strong technique. At this point phase three happens. This is when the fighters sometimes find themselves on the ground. As a matter of fact, I myself usually take the fight to the ground at this point, because most fighters are inexperienced in ground work.

Day, Sensei has told me many times, "Most street fighters will follow the swing-swing grab and roll sequence."

This is good advice. I have witnessed a few street fights and found this to be true. The street fighter usually tries a few punches then if he realizes the other guy is a better puncher he loses his temper and tackles. The fight then belongs to the best trained ground fighter. Not so in tournaments, where the "fight" never gets past stage one. If a tournament competitor were to ever display some of the above mentioned fighting abilities, they would be disqualified immediately. Thus the tournament karate practitioner has to train to condition the body to follow the "rules" and not react naturally.

In a nutshell, a true warrior must be able to react appropriately to a real attack without any "tournament" preconditioning getting in the way and slowing things down. In a real situation, this small hesitation could mean the difference in living or dying. So why do people get so "tournament crazy"? Donít ask me, ask their egos.

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