Sunday, September 9, 2012

Sport Karate is as Real as it Gets v1.1

I believe that the test for any martial art is NOT sport, but rather self defense.

A system of fighting can only be tested in situations and simulations that replicate the mental and physical stresses that are found in the struggle of a fight.  I have heard from many people who specialize or only train in sport karate, that tournaments prepare people for the life and death struggles that might appear in fight, but I find that closer to rationalization than I do to fact.

I have been attacked, and there are elements of sport karate that increase your effectiveness for sure, but the core of the survivability of an altercation is not found on the tournament floor, but rather on the training floor.

However, sport karate can be an important tool in our self defense tool box, and it may be one you ignore at your own risk. From my experience in martial arts, now over 45 years, I have learned that nearly everything I have seen has an application in my life, be it mental or physical, and all of that has direct and meaningful application in real life.

For example, if a person is attacked, and they have never or rarely felt the struggle of ego and the fear of injury, mental and physical, then they will fight with fear and not with confidence.  It is neither safe nor responsible to put ordinary citizens directly in harms way, allowing them to assume the risk of brain injury, orthopedic reconstruction, non repairable emotional trauma, merely for the sake of making them "safer."  That's akin to the old witch trials, where they tossed you in the water, and if you drowned, you were innocent, and if you survived, they killed you. The vast majority of our students need to be able to have confidence without the risk to life and limb a professional soldier might be willing or forced to assume.

We have, therefor, rediscovered that Sport Karate is a tool, a method, to emotionally charge our students, build competitive energy which needs to be controlled, put them in the path of ever increasing physical contact based on ability and size and put them in the path of failure or success, where their skills can be tested.  Is it Fighting?  No, its a tool to build confidence in timing, speed control, power control, weapon selection and use and its all done live and unrehearsed.  In a world where 60% of conflict can be stopped by sticking up for others or yourself, the confidence to stick up needs to be taught, and that only comes from the putting yourself in a situation where you can test it.

I have met people who insist that if it is not "Real," it is of no value.  Yet, they wear gear, another set of tools, to limit the damage. They have rules of contact and courtesy; that makes it the same tool, different rules. When we first opened our school, a competitor came in, in the fashion of the day, and derided our sparring skills, all white belts I might add, as "false" and dangerous, creating a false sense of security.  He went on to say how his school fought full speed with full power at all ranks, with no gear.  I'm thinking, "good for him; idiots are needed to make the rest of us look like Bruce Lee.  My instructor just happened to be there.  He asked this guy if it were true that they fought full power full speed without gear. The guest replied in the affirmative.  My instructor then said, "Then You Must Suck."  The meaning was obvious to me immediately.  If you fight full speed with full power without ANY gear, and nobody dies, you did it wrong.

I can't, in good conscience, suggest that my students go get drunk to feel disoriented before the fight. Nor can I in good conscience tell them that we are now going to fight so hard that many will end in the hospital.  One of my BJJ instructors once said to us, if you fight in the ring, you will spend a minimum of 2 months in the hospital or home mending torn ligaments or broken bones. We choose to leave life and death combat in sport to the Romans in the grave of history.

I began competing in the Martial Arts in 1977 while in college.  I really don't recall much of that first tournament, while a white belt in Shorin Ryu, other than sparring.  At that time, gear was not required and was in fact rather new, at least in the mid-west.  We just fought.  I got the same rush I got from stepping onto a field to run or into a boat to row.  That feeling that says, "are you good enough?" right on top of that feeling of "You are moments away from proving yourself."  The test was at hand, and I stepped into the ring, and did my thing.  Back then, there were many dozens of competitors in each division, so it was a long day, if you won.  I did win, though at this point I no longer remember what I won, or for how many rounds.  I got a trophy, though I don't thing I got first place.  It was probably important back then what size the trophy was, or if I won or was a runner up, but the only thing I remember today about that day was what I was told to do, which can be summarized in, have fun and go find out how good you are today.  I also remember that no matter how it turned out, we were forced to look at the outcome and find ways to get better.

But the rush .... the adrenaline, the Fun of the fight was addictive, and remains with me through today.

Yet, there is more. The benefits I have re-discovered in our student body that go beyond the fight are the same benefits I saw in my own life in all sporting endeavors in High School and College, from wrestling, football, cross country, crew all the way to karate.  Those who engage in sport while they are young gain benefits that will last their entire lives and those who continue or begin to compete when they are adults will likewise see benefits reflect in their current lives.

Benefit #1 - Character.  Test what you know against others with the same skills or better skills, so you can sharpen your own skill.  Be strong enough to know that the point is not the trophy, though the rewards do matter, but rather the growth.

Benefit #2 - Fun.  Even when you lose, the test itself fills you with the same feeling of challenge and fun that riding a roller coaster does.  Part of the fun is in just doing it, and looking around at the end of the day to see just how few others have the courage to ride the wave as you just did.  All surfers crash into the waves or the shore. They always crash, yet they ride the wave anyway, for the fun of it.

Today we went to a regional tournament in Rhode Island.  The main reason we went is that I only achieved 4th place the last time I competed, after 10 years of not competing.  Worse, there were only 4 competitors there.  I could easily take the stance that I have severe arthritis in both knees, I have no ACL in my right knee, I have TBI and am terrified of ANY social encounter, the other three were all rated competitors and I have not competed in a decade.  All true.  All unimportant.  The fact is I lost. There is only one winner, and it was not me.  I hate losing.  It was on me, and I decided that if I walked away based on the excuses, I would teach myself and my wife's and daughter's students that quitting is ok.  It's not ok for me.  It would be the coward's way out, and I have been a coward in my life many times, but Black Belt and Coward should not coexist in the same body.  Let me say this again.  I hate to lose.  I would rather avoid any situation where I might lose, yet I showed up today, again, just to focus on my weaknesses and find them so I could plan on how to eliminate them.

Benefit # 3 - Personal Growth - Facing weakness and the fact that there might be people more qualified than you out there takes courage.  Doing something about it guarantees personal growth. The picture above is Master Anne McCoy, who once again stepped into the ring this year, and has won 3 out of 4 times she has sparred.  Even in those of us who have been doing this for decades can afford a little personal growth.

Why did it take 10 years for me to return to sport karate? First, the needs of the students always out weigh the needs of the instructor.  One of my instructors competed all the time. I tied him once.  If he was in the ring when I was in the ring, nothing good was going to happen.  His competitive side out weighed the rest of his life, and when he was there, I found that I did not want to compete.  If he won, that was expected.  If I won .. well, I had to much respect for the man to let that happen.  He did not understand the need of the student.  Another instructor was known by literally thousands as someone who stopped competing the day he had to compete against a student.  He told me that his student's need were more important than his.  He already had enough marble.  He moved on.  I bought into that example, and I still do.  However, I now see that I did not stop because of his example, but rather because I wanted to avoid the work required to win, which I was doing then, and the chance of defeat, in front of my students.  So, I took the out.  It was a mistake.  The picture to the left is of Master Barbara McCoy, who combined with Master Anne McCoy above reminded me of the next benefit.

Benefit # 4 - Leadership.  Barbi and Anne competed because their students wanted them too.  Barbara was first.  I saw them win and lose, and enjoy what they were doing, but mostly I saw the impact it had on their students.  They led from the front.  It worked.  I followed.

Benefit #5 - One of the most sacred acts of a black belt, and one of the reasons the belt is black to begin with, is to pass it on.  Tournament Karate allows us to do that.  If we do it well, our students will pass us by and become better than we ever dreamed we could be.  If you are an instructor who allows their students to compete, even creates an environment that encourages it, then I applaud you. If you are a student, and you compete, ride the wave. You encourage us all.

Finally, I want to make sure you see what I see, in terms of real life expectations.  The ability to Lead, Grow, develop a stronger Character and have fun, even when it is tough, are all qualities of a traditional martial artist.  It is hard to develop some of the qualities without stepping into a ring, to test them.  You won't step out of the ring assured that you can defend yourself, but these qualities alone will insure you have what it takes to develop the skill necessary to defend yourself with honor.

Any fool can attack an kill someone, but the hall mark of a Black Belt is far deeper than that.  We do the right thing at the right time, in harmony with those around us.  We are not a military unit.  Our mission is different.

So, as tools go, as things we do emulate reality without risking our students, Sport Karate is as Real as it Gets.

Literature About Sport Karate

There are 1000's of books, dvd and magic bullet methods to become better at sport karate.  The best way is your instructor.  Everything else is a support system.  One of the better books that could be added to your support system is below:

Sport Karate Point Sparring: An essential guide to the point fighting method Paperback – September 30, 2011 - by Ed Yuncza (Author) "Finally, a book dedicated specifically to Sport Karate point sparring! Learn what the successful fighters do and become a more successful point fighter. Whether your goal is the national tournament circuit or sparring at your local school, this easy-to-follow book is sure to improve your sparring abilities."


  1. By learning Mixed Martial Arts an individual who totally integrates his/her intellect, body, emotions and spirit. This integration helps to create a person who is free from inner conflict and who can deal with the outside world in a mature, intelligent, forthright and virtuous manner. Kids Brazilian Jiu-jitsu in Connecticut

    1. I have discovered, that it is not the art, like BJJ or karate, but the instructor that makes it effective for DO, the inner way. Other than that, i agree totally.