The open circuit,
By Sensei Neil Prime.

I am starting to gain a whole new respect for the open martial arts competition circuit. Maybe not so much for some of the showy antics that goes along with it, but certainly for the physical talent that is required to perform some of the high speed, high precision techniques involved.

Last year a few of our Wado Kai karateka competed in the 1999 Ontario Open Martial Arts Challenge, which was quite an eye opener. This year some of us attended again. Again, it was truly a learning experience. I know it was for me.

First of all, let me explain what the open circuit is since some of us may not know the difference between what we do and the open circuit. The tournaments sanctioned under the Shintani Karate Federation are "closed" to members of this organization only. This is fine because people can be judged on an even level as they perform similar kata within their belt divisions. When sparring you can expect a certain level of control and expect a certain level of intensity.

When competing in kata within the open circuit you can almost guarantee that a traditional Wado Kai kata will not compare to the modified techniques of the newer styles. The reason being is that the newer katas are choreographed for esthetics. Simply put, they are judged on how they look. I don't believe they have the same attitude that is the heart and sole of the traditional forms. Traditional forms are meant to be effective in defending yourself. Newer forms are much more pleasing to the eye with much higher kicks, broader and lower stances, and usually a whole lot more sequences which allows the judges to view the real showman for a longer period of time. Most of this is okay until we start getting into backflips and scissors kicks emphasized by one continuous kiai throughout the whole form.

The sparring is somewhat different in that contact is expected. Headgear is worn so head contact is allowed. I was told that facial contact is not, but the judges will tell you out right that in the Black Belt division, as long as there is no blood drawn then pretty much anything is acceptable. Although I'm told different by the judges and the tournament organizers, a headshot will always beat a body shot. I'm not sure what to think about this because I have found in our tournaments that a body shot seems to always beat a headshot. In my understanding and belief of sparring it is not supposed to be either way. It is supposed to be the first technique fired to a scoring target that, if completed would be enough to stop a retaliation or oncoming attack. Bottom line is, if you want to compete in any tournament then you have to do what the judges like to see.

I think the main difference between traditional martial arts and the newer sport karate is that there is a different respect level. I much prefer our tournament etiquette where a bow means something and a points are scored with humility. In the modern sport karate it seems that there is a mixture of high ego content similar to a pre-fight interview with Macho-Camocho and a post point party similar to what the NFL deemed as a penalty after scoring a touch down.

The only real blemish on the whole event was that the scorekeepers did not set up the bi-sheet properly for the senior Black Belt division (35 and over). This in itself wasn't a problem. It was deciding who was going to get a chance to come back in and to make sure nobody had to fight an extra fight. I couldn't believe the whining from the competitors in this division. No wonder the respect in the lower divisions is at a lull. These guys are the instructors. Look at what they're teaching! Anyway, this certainly wasn't the highlight of the event, nor should it have been blown out of context as it was.

Overall I think both systems have their pros and cons however, we have the upper hand. Unless these competitors belong to our organization they can not compete within our tournaments. I think we should take advantage of the fact that these people are willing to allow us to compete under their rules, and when in Rome we should do what the Romans do. This can only improve ourselves and then maybe we can show them how to win without gloating and how to lose without making excuses. We have to show true sportsmanship and humility no matter what the circumstances will be.

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