You have entered into a local martial arts contest, one that advertises it is an “Open” tournament and you are trying to discern the rules. As a former salty old dog that has fought a few tourneys in the 70’s and early 80’s, you are shocked to discover that the rules have really changed!
In the early days of tournaments, Open tourneys meant that as well as being open to all styles – the rules were the same for hands and feet. One could do a jump-spinning-hook-kick to the head or reverse-punch the body for one point. Groin kicks as well as leg sweeps were legal (the three second rule to score on a downed opponents was in place).
Well this is NOT the old days anymore. The Closed tournaments still have inflated point values for kicks to the head and body but now even the open tournaments award more points for kicks!
In this article I am going to talk about the logic of a point system and what it is supposed to say about a fighter. Yes I will talk about sport karate in general and why this trend of flashier karate fighting may have happened. I will as usual give my opinion of where this went wrong (assuming you agree with me). I welcome the opportunity to hear you opinions in this regard. Here is a video about one organization’s rules.
Did you notice how many kicks were attempted to the head? Back when I used to fight tournaments, kicks to the head happened sometimes but not that common in open tournaments because one did not get any more points for throwing them. Also with groin shots wide open – one did not dare to just throw a high kick without a distraction or such (any good competitor would gladly smack your family jewels as the offending front leg went up!).
I pulled a few samples of karate rules from a couple of open tournaments and one closed tourney for your perusal.
The interesting thing to me is on both the open and closed tourneys – the emphasis is on getting the contestants to throw the flashy high kicks and do some jumping and spinning kicks to boot!
The other interesting thing is there are no groin kicks!
The only real difference I see between the closed and open tourneys other than a few more points for kicks – is one cannot even punch to the head in the Taekwondo tourney I listed (however you can in the youtube video I found – huh, must be different organizations).
Ok before we go any further – why do I care if the rules changed? My understanding of sport karate is sparring helps the students get some “real” fighting experience under their belt. Meaning after one fights their peers in the school – he or she is better prepared to use karate in a self defense scenario!
So there was no emphasis on kicks over punches or not kicking the groin. Back in the late 70’s specially developed “banana cups” were developed that protected one far better than the old baseball (front protecting only) cups. That technology has improved and the after sparring a few times recently I’ve got nailed with some hard shots without incident.
Back when I was sparring in the studio and later in open karate tourneys, I was learning how to fight! When as a green or brown belt I started to work as a bouncer – what I did in the school worked very well in real fights!
What if the rules favored high kicks without groin shots? My guess is I would have been a paper tiger. I mean where is the common sense of standing inside of ones critical distance (the distance one cannot reach you with a kick or punch) and trying to throw a high kick? That’s not fighting – if you come up against someone how knows how to fight – that is suicide!!!
Now I know some of you are screaming at your screen – sport karate does NOT approximate a real fight! True because you cannot allow eye gouges, spine, or throat strikes, but my point is that in a real fight, the groin is a great target that would be used in a real fight! No more Marcus of Queensbury rules are in effect on the street. You are in a better position by asking yourself what would matter in a real fight and then setting up your practice as realistic as possible.
To this end (adding realism), MMA is flourishing! I think that is mostly a good trend because short of having some wrestling experience, most fighters did not know what to do when the fight went to the ground. My main critique of MMA is there are no groin shots. I don’t really want to cap on the unrealistic tendencies of various competitions but rather on how sport karate has missed the mark by awarding more points for kicks than hands.
I think the open tournament rules changed to make the fighting more flashy. While I don’t like the change I think it was thought that the great fighters like Steve “Nasty” Anderson who had great counter/lunge punches were somehow making other competitors kick less – leading to less exciting matches? I think that maybe there was some jealously there but the rules change did not break Steve’s 10 year winning streak!
Here is the thing – you fight the way you train. If how you train does not work in a real fight – what good it it. Now I am not saying the fighters in the 60’s, 70’s and early 80’s were any better than the fighters today. Who knows about that but what I am saying is the rules were better. If you won a point fighting match you knew reasonably well that you could hang in a real self defense situation!
Let me ask you a question, are you any more knocked out by a foot than a hand? I remember telling a police board in my youth (while applying for a job as a policeman) when asked about what I knocked people out with – I replied either a hand or foot. It depended on what the guys was open for. I had no preference.
You see in my capacity as a bouncer at a rough bar – I did get into a lot of fights. I finished my fights with either hand or foot. I just used whatever opening that presented itself and was done with it.
So let me ask you, Do you think sport karate ought to approximate real fighting like I do?
If so, do you favor hand and feet being scored equally? Do you favor groin shots?
If not, do you think sport karate CAN approximate a real fighting experience? Or why not?
I’ll close with this video I found of Steve “Nasty” Anderson match in South Africa. Steve has the starts and stripes gi on.