An instructor’s consideration.

This essay has been submitted by Paul Simpson, Yondan of Gima-Ha UK (Shisei Kai Branch).

It is thought provoking, and written from his personal perspective.


For  the purpose of this submission I have discussed traditional and sports karate.  

The definition of a sport by the Oxford English Dictionary is, ‘an activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others for entertainment’.

Sports karate meets every aspect of this definition but traditional karate can only meet the first parts, which are, ‘an activity involving physical exertion and skill’.

 In addition the word ‘martial’ is defined as being related to fighting or war and by placing martial before art this now identifies karate as a fighting art.

To gain wider acceptance of karate, sports karate has been seen as the way to sell karate to the masses. This is seen in the way that some dojos advertise themselves as the home of champions and a quick fix to self defence. Sports karate is about ego and winning trophies, not about the development of the mind and body. As there is no contact in sports karate and contact can result in disqualification in tournaments, the karate-ka can fall into the mind set of finishing techniques short of impact and this would be disastrous in a self defence situation. In addition the use of kiai has been exaggerated to impress the judges and has become just a load shout. A kia should be the bringing together of the mind, body and spirit at the exact moment. 

In sports karate the execution of the katas has changed. Some moves have been embellished to impress the judges and there is no thought of what lies within the kata. 

Kata is a method of training in effective techniques that could be used in a self defence situation. When we are practicing kata we are fight imaginary adversaries that are the same height as our self and the technique should reflect this.  Kata is a collection of techniques, joined together to aid in remembering and practising them but also the techniques can be extracted from the kata and practiced for use in self defence situations.

When a person is young, gaining a medal/trophy is all important, as they are looking to be the number one among their contemporaries. As they become older their body changes and it cannot perform at the level it could previously. Some karate-ka leave karate at this point, which is a great shame as these are sometimes the very gifted ones. They consider competition to be the end-all of karate. Individuals who continue training and further progress in karate come to realise there is more to karate than trophies and a deeper understanding of karate is sought.  

In “Karate-do: My Way of Life”, Gichin Funakoshi noted that, “The ultimate aim of Karate lies not in victory or defeat, but in the perfection of the character of the participant.” 

Sports karate has moved away from the original concept of karate being a form of self defence which trained the whole person, the body and also the mind.  

Gichin Funakoshi gave twenty principles on how one should carry out their life to be a complete karate-ka. 

  • Karate-do begins and ends with rei
    Hitotsu, karate-do wa rei ni hajimari rei ni owaru koto o wasuru na
  • There is no first strike in karate.
    Hitotsu, karate ni sente nashi
  • Karate stands on the side of justice.
    Hitotsu, karate wa, gi no tasuke
  • First know yourself, then know others.
    Hitotsu, mazu onore o shire, shikashite ta o shire
  • Mentality over technique.
    Hitotsu, gijitsu yori shinjitsu
  • The heart must be set free.
    Hitotsu, kokoro wa hanatan koto o yosu
  • Calamity springs from carelessness.
    Hitotsu, wazawai wa ketai ni seizu
  • Karate goes beyond the dojo.
    Hitotsu, dojo nomino karate to omou na
  • Karate is a lifelong pursuit.
    Hitotsu, karate-do no shugyo wa isssho de aru
  • Apply the way of karate to all things. Therein lies its beauty.
    Hitotsu, ara yuru mono o karateka seyo; sokoni myomi ari
  • Karate is like boiling water; without heat, it returns to its tepid state.
    Hitotsu, karate Wa Yu No Gotoku Taezu Netsu O Atae Zareba Motono Mizuni Kaeru
  • Do not think of winning. Think, rather, of not losing.
    Hitotsu, katsu kangae wa motsuna; makenu kangae wa hitsuyo
  • Make adjustments according to your opponent.
    Hitotsu, tekki ni yotte tenka seyo
  • The outcome of a battle depends on how one handles emptiness and fullness (weakness and strength).
    Hitotsu, tattakai wa kyo-jitsu no soju ikan ni ari
  • Think of hands and feet as swords
    Hitotsu, hi to no te-ashi wa ken to omoe
  • When you step beyond your own gate, you face a million enemies.
    Hitotsu, danshi mon o izureba hyakuman no teki ari
  • Formal stances are for beginners; later, one stands naturally.
    Hitotsu, kamae wa shoshinsha ni atowa shizentai
  • Perform prescribed sets of techniques exactly; actual combat is another matter.
    Hitotsu, kata wa tadashiku, jisen wa betsumono
  • Do not forget the employment of withdrawal of power, the extension or contraction of the body, the swift or leisurely application of technique.
    Hitotsu, chikara no kyojaku tai no shinshuku waza no kankyu
  • Be constantly mindful, diligent, and resourceful, in your pursuit of the Way.
  • Hitotsu, tsune ni shinen ku fu seyo

In my opinion karate is a martial art as it develops the body, mind and when used correctly and responsibly can be lethal. It also allows people to train all their life, something that sports karate can never do.

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