In Martial Arts Competitions there are different types Kumite (Sparring).
In JKA (Japan Karate Association) Shotokan Tournaments the type of competition Kumite is Ippon Shobu. This Budo (way of the warrior) type of fighting resembles that of a Duel, with the intention of
“To Kill with one Blow”
This context would come from the days of battlefield warfare in which Samurai warriors would have to go into the field with their swords or other close combat weapons, with the intention to “kill or be killed”. When there are multiple opponents on the battlefield, every strike counts, as the more techniques and strikes one executes, the more energy is being used. The most efficient way for Samurai to survive is to be quick and efficient in their execution of strikes, to destroy their opponents with the least amount of effort and energy. In a Duel, both in Eastern and Western (Cowboy) traditions, a match is decided with one strike, or one bullet. Who can provide the quicker draw with their sword or with their gun? I would make the assumption this is why Cowboys and Samurai are often paralleled to each other (as seen in recent media with the 2016 movie The Magnificent Seven <1960’s version> paralleling Seven Samurai)- Efficiency in saving bullets for Cowboys, and efficiency in amount of strikes used by Samurai.
Now in present day competition, to assume that killing or damaging the opponent is the sole objective is dangerous and incorrect. Most of us who practice Karate have to go to work the next day, families to feed, lives to live and students to teach! The intention, the mentality is what is held with the tradition in this Style of JKA competition. The deeper philosophy as I understand it, is to go in with that same intent as the warriors did of “kill or be killed”, at the same time demonstrate civility in ones ability to exercise total control with ones actions. This is where the true challenge in competition is. How can one deliver a killing blow, without actually “killing” the opponent? In this society we have come to a point where most humans don’t believe that violence solves problems (except the politicians…hmmm…but I digress…) but rather exercise self-control and diplomacy. To me what my Karate is teaching me is this discipline to go out with full commitment to get a job done as efficiently as possible, whether it be in Kumite or in Life.
In JKA Ippon Shobu matches, there are pre set conditions in which 2 participants square off against each other in a 10m x 10m ring, with a time limit of 2 minutes, with the sole intention of demonstrating the ippon, Finishing blow. This is a full contact event, but the aim is not to actually hurt each other, but rather exercise the “sundome” rule (literal translation: stopping the moment before) to deliver a finishing blow whilst demonstrating control. This is the challenge as it requires total intention and commitment to deliver the finishing move with Kime (Concentrated focus and energy at point of impact) all while being able to arrest it the moment contact is made. To judge this, a full ippon is awarded when one of the competitors is able to demonstrate an execution of a technique with full commitment and control. However, due to the challenge and risk of injury, some techniques which may connect but not necessarily demonstrate a full on destruction of the opponent, will be awarded as a Waza-ari (half point). Therefore in competition, 2 waza-ari’s can be accumulated to fulfill an Ippon. Another thing to note is there are no weight classes so any fighter must be ready to challenge any opponent, bigger, smaller, taller, wider, slimmer, faster, slower. A quote from Sensei Tanaka’s book Perfecting Kumite “In a fight, my opponent will always change, but one thing I know for sure is that I remain the same.” This mentality really requires the Karateka to have faith in one’s own training and abilities, one’s own Spirit, to be able to surmount any obstacle put in front of them.
Below is a sample video I mixed of the 2017 JKA Canadian Nationals Adult Men’s Kumite.
JKA Kumite in Japan
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- Sensei Nakayama Best Karate Series
- Perfecting Kumite – Masahiko Tanaka Translated by Schlatt
- My own training, and Kumite Competition experience, Osu! 🙇🏾