Monday, January 08, 2018

Old School Karate Point-Fighting

Traditional karate bouts are scored with points. After a strike such as a punch or kick is scored, a point is awarded, whereupon the fighting is stopped by the referee. The combatants return to their marks, square off, and — hajime! — the action resumes. So, it's a stop-and-go-affair, it lacks flow, say like a boxing match, or most combative fighting sports that have more-or-less continuous action. The idea of the point-match in karate is that all strikes are considered the equivalent of atemi — lethal strikes. I go into more depth about point-fighting in this post.

In a karate match, every strike delivered should be with the intent to annihilate your opponent, especially if you regard your techniques as "lethal." But karate point matches get some flack for looking like a game of tag, with players maintaining a bizarre fighting range so as to not get scored on. Long range strikes and tactics are favored as there is virtually no in-fighting. The emphasis on distance management, and de-emphasis on launching an attack lacks combative realism. Obviously, training this way is counterproductive for preparing you for the real thing.

A few years ago I posted an article about point-fighters who were reluctant to commit to executing anything for fear of getting countered and losing. It can make for a spectacle. A kenpo practitioner emailed me recently about that post, and asked me if I knew of any famous karate competitors that didn't engage in what he called larping.*

Check out this sample of a bout between Jim Harrison and Fred Wren from 1968:

Supposedly both guys were taken to the hospital after this match. Obviously, neither guy had any reservations about going all out. Harrison and Wren were legends in their day, and both guys should've been carried out on their shields. It's worth noting that this fight, far from the train wreck it may appear to be, is a technical montage of sweeps, take-downs and brutal hand and foot combinations — all without any discernible protective gear. Bear in mind that this match happened 50 years ago; sport karate has come a long way since. But along the way, maybe the old school spirit of things have been lost. It all depends what you're training for. Remember, how you train is how it happens.

* Larp; acronym for "live action role-playing." Think American Civil War or medieval knight reenactments with costumes to duplicate historic events for appreciation of an era and/or culture. Enough said.
I realize there are a plethora of brutal matches to be found online, and that certain styles, such as Kyokushin karate, emphasize heavy knockdown fighting, sans low kicks and head shots. The Harrison-Wren bout just really stood out for me because of its unique intensity, and its place in American karate history. For anyone interested in the source video here it is.

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