OKKJ, Part 1: Karate. Chapter 1 – Definition and Categories of Karate. 2. The Classification of Karate. (2) Competition (sport) karate (kyōgi karate).

Translated from: Takamiyagi Shigeru, in: Okinawa Karate Kobudō Jiten, 2008, p. 81 – 84.

Karate became a discipline of the National Athletic Meet in 1981, at the Shiga National Athletic Meet. In Okinawa, competition karate (kyōgi karate) has received attention since the National Athletic Meet held in Okinawa in 1987. Until that time, the karate of Okinawa was strongly considered along with the conception of martial arts karate (budō karate). In 1981, the Okinawa karate circles were shaken by discussing the pros and cons of participating in the National Athletic Meet. An intense discussion erupted. Even though more than 20 years have passed since then, the after-effects of the above about the form and nature of Okinawa karate still continue.

The karate-dō of Okinawa has historically been proud of its existence with emphasis on the traditional traits as a “method of moral practice,” a “method of self-defense,” and a “method of physical education.” The foundation of its existence is its martial arts nature in itself. Competition, on the other hand, came into being as a new era element only long after the war. Therefore, it has lagged far behind other martial arts (budō) in incorporating one of the requirements of all modern martial arts, that is, the “method of competition.” However, as historical martial art karate (budō karate) backed by a strong tradition, this was unavoidable.

The techniques and their designations all have the character of “competing,” regardless of it being from craft, music, dance, or martial arts. In particular, as the history of arts and crafts shows, this tendency has been increasing since the early modern period. As long as karate is a martial art that possesses the qualities of an art or craft, “competing” as a “method of competition” is inevitable, and it is one of the processes that must be assessed historically. But, even so, it must not violate the fundamental martial disposition nor its methods of physical education and moral practice. For that reason, careful consideration is necessary. In other words, it has to be considered how to organically combine tradition (martial arts character) and modernity (competitiveness), and make them harmonious. In other words, karate equipped with the genetic correlation between kata and kumite is the so-called traditional martial arts karate (budō karate), and karate should not be used in a way that contradicts the traditional laws. Also, pursuing only the characteristic of “competitiveness” in a biased manner cannot fulfill the responsibility as heirs to the traditional culture.

Next, I would like to compare the characteristics of martial arts karate (budō karate) and competition karate (kyōgi karate) from the viewpoint of martial arts (budō) and sports.

Conceptual foundations

martial arts (budō) sport
1. Doctrine centered on the ideal of the “way.” 1. Anthropocentrism
2. The method of competition is “life and death.” 2. The method of competition is not “life and death.”
3. Techniques that certainly kill (hissatsu) cannot be performed in actual practice. 3. Techniques that certainly bring victory (hisshō) can be performed in actual practice.
4. Techniques spawn a sublime spirit. 4. It is difficult to enter the area of sublime spirit by the technique
5. Closely related to religious beliefs (Zen Buddhism). 5. Unrelated to religious beliefs.
6. Fully concentrated instruction and practice (shūren). 6. Take pleasure, enjoying watching or training, workout (renshū).
7. It has the sustainability of a life-long martial art (budō) regardless of age. 7. It has a time limitation to specific age groups, continuation is impossible.
8. System of techniques with the individual at its center. 8. System of techniques with the organization at its center.
9. Does not require an audience. 9. Does require an audience.
10. Classification: Title and rank system (throughout one’s lifetime). 10. Classification: rankings and standings (varies according to the match results).
11. Dōjō, keiko-ba, keiko-sho. 11. Practice ground (renshū-jō), sports ground (undō-jō), gym (taiikukan).

Those who establish themselves in the world of martial arts (budō) continually boil at the crossroads between life and death. This is because of its direct link to the martial philosophies of killing with one strike (ichigeki hissatsu) and complete self-protection (kanzen bōgyo) as a manifestation of the concept of life and death. Finding themselves in the absolute mental state of life or death, they practice severely. You have to be prepared for a fight for life and death in which taking one wrong step means to die.

Accumulating such desperate training, when reaching the high level of having the power over life or death, the practitioner can no longer use such a technique against another person. When a person feels terrified by the lethal skills he has learned, he or she feels unable to use that technique. At that point, the practitioner avoids any fight and conflict and becomes a practitioner of the logic referred to as “the wise man keeps away from danger” (kunshi ayauki ni chikayorazu). Thinking that the symbiosis of both oneself and others, coexistence and co-prosperity are what humans should seek as ideals, to become the embodiment of such an ideal, one needs to become a “truth-seeking demon.” In the end, one will enter the sublime spiritual sphere of human enlightenment.

In contrast to this, sport is based on a higher-points-philosophy to win a game. In training the techniques, it is pursuing victory or defeat, and not life or death. Use a sophisticated lethal move against your opponent. The logic to win requires a lethal move.

Also, sports, while displaying a high-level spirit of cooperation, does do not allow entering a high spiritual domain through the practice of techniques, and there is no ideological depth of learning the ultimate path of humanity through physical and mental training. There is no concept of a “path of the study of mind and body.”

Technical foundation

martial arts (budō) sport
1. The absolutism of one technique, one method. 1. Relativism between one or two or more techniques.
2. Principle of killing with one strike (ichigeki hissatsu). 2. Principle of winning with one strike (ichigeki hisshō).
3. Commences from the technical system of defense (uke). 3. Commences from the technical system of offense (seme).
4. The relativism of the first move vs. the second move (the phenomenon that the one who draws second always wins, as known from the Japanese board games of Go and Shōgi). 4. The principle that first move brings victory.

In the techniques of martial arts (budō), there are no second moves. It is a one-move absolutism that follows the strict law that you cannot make a mistake, whether attacking or defending. It is like with the sword fencing principle of the Jigen-ryū Kenpō (sword methods) of Satsuma, which goes, “Do no doubt the first sword technique; the second sword technique means defeat.” This is the ultimate nature of the tremendous technique of defeating an opponent with one strike. Martial arts (budō) is something absolute that does not tolerate a retry or a replay of a technique.

Sport, on the other hand, is a repetitive technique, with two or three moves. You can start over as often as you want. It is relative.

Next, let us consider for a moment the qualitative similarity shared by the two skilled crafts of martial arts (budō) and performing arts (geinō). Before that, I would like to mention the following.

In Japan, during the early modern period, martial arts (budō and bugei) have been equipped with unique characteristics and have been completed as a craft. It is naturally different from Western sports for entertainment, relaxation, and recreation, and has focused on training the body and mind, especially on forging the spirit in the process of practicing martial techniques. The performing arts (geinō) are close to this line.

Performing arts are technical skills, talents, and accomplishments in which humans express inner feelings (emotions) by using their bodies. Japanese calligraphy, painting, nō drama, music, dance, etc. are all characterized by acting using the body.

From this, it can be understood that characteristics common to both martial and performing arts are that they are all fundamentally based on the use of the human body and that they both have normative and aesthetic characteristics. If you see the impressive performances of kata in martial art (bugei), gymnastics competition, and dance, it should be readily understood that these three share the same artistic qualities.

© 2020, Andreas Quast. All rights reserved.

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