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11 Feb

 

Sport kumite is a modern 20th century Japanese addition to the original Okinawan karate. For those that choose to follow a very classical budo Way of karate the sport version represents anathema to them; to others the sport version is karate. After all why learn all those techniques if you have no arena to test them in?
 
For me personally I tend to swing hot and cold with sport kumite as I have no interest in competing and let's face it - I'm getting on a bit so it's hard to keep up with the younger ones!  However, sport kumite is a part of our syllabus and I think there are some benefits to be gained from doing it whether or not you are interested in competition.
 
First, the problems with sport kumite:
 
1.       It can teach a ‘fighting’ mindset rather than a ‘self-defence’ mindset. Fighting requires two people to consent to the ‘fight’. Both are trying to ‘win’ the bout by attacking the other person. Self-defence requires a mindset that wants to avoid fighting and does only what is necessary to avoid, prevent, de-escalate, control or escape a violent situation.
 
2.       It can cause confusion to the student if both classical and sport kumite are being taught side by side. I found this very confusing when I was in the junior kyu grades.  Until I understood that two different types of karate were being taught I didn’t understand why in one part of the lesson I needed to keep my feet planted firmly on the floor and punch from the hip and then later on I had to be up on my toes moving around and punching quickly without pulling back to the hip first!  I cope with it now by completely compartmentalising these two different versions of karate as if they were two different arts.
 
3.       It does not provide an arena for testing out skills and techniques (other than sport karate skills and techniques).  It bears no resemblance to how an encounter in real life may pan out, mainly because of the rules designed to maintain the safety of the competitors which means that most of the effective techniques are taken out.
 
However, though I don’t feel that sport karate bears any resemblance to a real situation and has many negative aspects that doesn’t mean that there is nothing positive and useful to be learnt from it either. I’m always the optimist and generally look for positive things to take away from any aspect of my training.
 
The benefits of sport kumite are:
 
1.       For many people facing an opponent in a sparring bout is the first time they’ve ever been in a ‘fight’ and had to find their courage to defend themselves. Not everyone who does martial arts has a history of getting into street fights or bar brawls as a youth or has worked as a bouncer or in the security sector. Sport kumite is as close as they’ve ever been to a real fight. It can take some people a while to find their courage to spar effectively with an opponent. Finding this courage is essential if you are to have the confidence to defend yourself in a real situation one day.
 
2.       In sport kumite, despite the relatively safe environment and limited number of techniques in use, the fight is still unpredictable and has a random element to it. This teaches you to be very aware and focused for the whole of the fight. It teaches you to react quickly and anticipate your opponent’s next move. It teaches you to look for opportunities to strike and to recognise telegraphing by your opponent and capitalise on it. You have to keep your mind empty of extraneous distracting thoughts, stay in the moment and control your aggression so that you don’t lose control of the fight.
 
3.       Sport kumite also teaches you to take a punch. Even in the light weight version of kumite that we do a punch can land a bit harder than intended and wind you or land on your nose which is very painful. A kick can catch you in the ribs. When this happens you have to learn to carry on despite the pain. This comes as a shock to newcomers whose instinct is often to stop once they are hurt or stop if they have hurt their opponent. However, unless the injury is quite serious the referee won’t stop the fight so you have to learn to just carry on. You can’t afford to just stop defending yourself in a real fight when you feel pain – your attacker will just carry on.
 
In conclusion:
 
I think that when one is engaged in sport kumite it is important to recognise it for what it is – sport. A real violent encounter in the real world will not resemble a sparring round in the arena and so sport kumite cannot entirely prepare you for this event (neither can any other form of martial sport e.g. boxing, wrestling, MMA etc.). However kumite does teach some skills that are essential to good self-defence – good speed and reaction times, anticipation, focus, defending your head, carrying on after being hit etc. In fact one could question how these skills could be learnt without the random element that kumite provides. 
 
Never the less, sport kumite is an incomplete package, it leaves out the techniques that are essential to controlling and/or restraining an attacker – slaps, eye rakes, vital point strikes, locks, throws, joint breaks etc. It also focuses your attention on violence and attacking rather than avoidance and escape which would be the self-defence strategies of choice. 
 
Though sport kumite offers something useful to the martial artist it is important to be mindful of its limitations as well. What do you think about sport kumite in karate? Feel free to leave a comment or e-mail your comments to me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
 
15 Jan

I’ve been thinking a lot about stances recently. I like to see good stances: correct feet positioning, strong bend of the correct knee (or knees), correct weight distribution, good back posture, head held up looking forward etc. Good stances look strong and stable.

Beginners find stances difficult to master; they generally lean too much with their upper torso, don’t bend their knees enough, have their feet in a line, have incorrect weight distribution or look down at the floor. I’ve been there; it’s hard to get it right or for it to feel natural. It takes a long time and a lot of practice to get stances right and even longer to get the transitions from stance to stance smooth and quick.

A lot of people would argue that stances are for beginners or that they slow you down or are just too unnatural to be useful in real self-defence situations. I would beg to differ.

Stances are an essential part of achieving economy of movement when doing self-defence. Economy of movement is essential if you are to move swiftly around your opponent, getting yourself into advantageous positions to apply a technique, unbalance them or evade a strike. Good footwork is essential to achieving this; if you teeter around your opponent with lots of small steps, getting your legs crossed and generally wrong footing yourself you are likely to come a cropper.

Good use of stances helps you to:

…Shift your weight smoothly and quickly from one leg to the other as required

…Maintain your own balance and stability by keeping your centre of gravity low but your posture upright

…Unbalance your opponent either by directly using the stance to destabilise a balance point e.g. placing your knee directly behind theirs using a zenkutsu dachi (forward stance) or shiko dachi (sumo or horse stance) or more indirectly by using weight transference e.g. grabbing them and stepping back into a kokutsu dachi (back stance) or neko ashi dachi (cat stance).

…Quickly put yourself in the most advantageous and stable position to execute a restraint, takedown or throw.

…Move out of the way quickly and effortlessly if required.

Karate pays a lot of attention to stances. Most karateka will have spent many hours of their training going up and down the dojo in shiko dachi or neko ashi dashi with sensei picking up on the smallest postural transgression –“bend your knee more”, “stick your bottom in”, “turn your back foot in more”, “turn your back foot out more”, “put your weight back more”, “put your weight forward more”…….

It can all seem so picky sometimes and people will question the wisdom of needing to be so precise with your footwork and postures. After all, if you are attacked would it matter if you weren’t in the perfect cat stance?

Well, yes it would matter if cat stance was integral to the technique you were trying to execute on your assailant. If your technique depended on you suddenly shifting your weight backwards, pulling your opponent off balance whilst allowing your front foot to follow through quickly with a swift snap kick and then be able to spring forward off the back leg to land a punch; then being able to instantly get into a perfect cat stance may be crucial. Failure to achieve it may leave you unable to pull your opponent off balance and with too much weight on your front leg you won’t be able to kick effectively either and if your back leg is too straight you may not be able to spring forward for that punch – that could all lead to disaster!  

Stances are more than just good footwork, they involve the whole body. Good upright posture is crucial to a good stance. Without good posture you cannot engage the core muscles properly and without the core muscles engaged you cannot get any power in your strikes. Also, with poor, bent over posture you are liable to lose your own balance and be easily pulled over by your opponent.

Stances aren’t always an integral part of a technique; sometimes the situation may require you to be lighter and quicker on your feet. Evasion may be more important than getting a technique on your opponent. The art of tai sabaki (body movement) is an exercise in good stance work, except this time the stances are higher and lighter allowing quicker movements. Tai sabaki still involves attention to posture, feet positioning, weight transference and good transitioning so it is still stance work even if you don’t choose to call it that.

I really feel that we neglect stance training at our peril. Without good stances our techniques will be weak and our movements clumsy. When you watch a senior black belt in action the thing that really stands out more than anything else is the way they move – it is precise and effortless. This is because of their use of stances; they always put their feet in exactly the right place with their weight distributed correctly and their posture upright and it all flows so smoothly and naturally.

So if your own stances are poor and your movements clumsy get back to some formal stance training – up and down the dojo until your thighs ache; you’re actually doing yourself a big favour….

04 Jan

Blog post by Sue Wharton..


Congratulations to all those students who successfully passed their dan grading in December.

The successful students were:

 

Sensei Steve Hegarty: Awarded Shodan - Iona Blundell, Sean Stanley, James Seamer, Joey Humphreys, Poppy Clarke

Sensei Phil Jones: Awarded Shodan - Ellie Bickerstaffe, Rebecca Hamilton, Bradd Parfitt

Sensei Dave Moon: Awarded Shodan - Louise Topham, Colin Williamson

Sensei Steve Nelson: Awarded Nidan - David King, Martin Wong.

 

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