Two posts in one day after weeks of silence...
The tournament last weekend has reawakened the old debate about sport karate vs. martial arts, and this time there's a new twist because we have some new members of our dojo who come from a much more sport-oriented background. Although they've worked very hard with us and are great to have, they also naturally have some loyalty to their old style, as well as a certain philosophy that they were taught and that they agree with. They get understandably defensive at times when they hear disparaging comments about sport karate. We get defensive when they try to argue with us about it. The incident last weekend illustrated the divide: some of the new people defend the person who broke my husband's nose, while we try to make it clear that such behavior is not acceptable in our dojo and never will be.
Since that type of debate also comes up frequently online, I thought I'd just go on record with what I believe the differences are between traditional martial arts and sport karate, and when or if there is a problem or a conflict.
To start with, I want to emphasize one thing: unlike some traditionalists, I am not anti-sport-karate, per se. I fully support participation in tournaments, I understand competitive spirit and why people would want to win. Not a problem. I understand and respect the amount of training and dedication that it takes to become a top competitive martial artist, and I respect the skill level gained in the process. I accept that some degree of feistiness between competitors will naturally arise in high adrenaline situations, and that some injuries or aggressiveness go with the territory.
For me, the problem arises when winning becomes more important than martial arts. What do I mean by that?
Well, there are some people who practice solely to win tournaments. If they stop winning, they quit martial arts because it's "no fun anymore". That's a problem for me.
There are some people who practice only what they need to in order to win, and regard everything else you're trying to teach them as an irrelevant waste of training time. That's a problem for me.
There are some people who think that winning is worth it at all costs. This might include people who are willing to risk injuring an opponent in order to land a flashy sparring technique, when a lesser, and less dangerous, technique would have done just as well. That's a problem for me.
There are some people who pitch tantrums when they don't win, fling accusations at fellow competitors or judges, claim there's unfair bias or that people were just jealous of them. That's a problem for me.
There are some people who gloat when they do win, showing blatant ego instead of humility, rubbing it in and showing no respect whatsoever for their opponents. That's a problem for me.
Are these things problems for me in every sport or every form of competition? Not necessarily. Different endeavors have different rules of behavior. Why are they a problem here? Because they are antithetical to the spirit and philosophy of traditional martial arts. The body has learned but the soul is still immature. A true martial artist should be working on both. Some sport-oriented martial artists never work on any aspect but the physical, so I consider them unbalanced. With all that skill should come some knowledge and discretion concerning what to do with it. I'll go on record also as saying all the fuzzy philosophy in the world doesn't make you a martial artist unless you also work the physical and attain true skill.
When people can train diligently, work hard and endeavor, and grow on all levels, then I support them. If they love to compete and are willing to bust their keisters to win, then I respect them. In fact, I have no problem at all with competition (I personally don't enjoy it, but that's just me) as long as the competitors remain martial artists.
When they don't, then I want nothing to do with it. Our organization, our region, our senseis, our dojos do not endorse such an approach, and anyone who wishes to train with us needs to accept that. For us, winning will never be more important than respect and hard work. We give much greater value to the person who can walk away from a pointless physical confrontation then we do to someone who lets themselves get baited into unnecessary violence, in the dojo, the tournament ring, or the real world. That's not skill or mastery, it's ego. And it's not worth it.