competition image

karate today exists as much as a sport as it does a system of self-defence, and different clubs may choose how much emphasis to place on each aspect of the art. training for competition is naturally different from training for self-defence, but there is a large cross-over in the skills required, and given that we hope having to defend ourselves is an infrequent thing, competitions can be a useful measure of progress. depending on who you ask, they can also be fun.

competitions are not compulsory

the title says it all, really. competitions are entirely optional, and if you don't want to do them, that's fine. but do be aware that competitions provide an aspect to karate that you don't get in training, and as such are a valuable addition to your study. as controlled and contrived as competition fighting is, it is as close as you can get to a genuine test of your abilities without actually being in a proper fight, so it should be looked on as a great opportunity to place yourself in a high-stakes, adrenaline-enriched environment, even if it is an artificial one. any advanced karateka will strongly recommend competing, particularly at higher kyu grades when it is assumed you have a certain level of competence. and it is important to remember that:

you will not die at a competition

competition karate, as often comes up in comments threads, isn't "real fighting". it isn't meant to be, so quite why this is a valid criticism is beyond me, but whatever. competition fighting is always to a strict set of rules specifically designed to reduce the risk of injury, and so while like in any sport there is a finite chance you will get hurt accidentally, in reality you can expect to compete time and time again without incident. for kumite, mouthguards and hand-mitts are compulsory, and lack of control is penalised.

if you are wondering about competing, the best thing to do is attend a competition and see for yourself how they run. you will notice a difference between categories of fighting, female/male, and kyu/dan grade, and you should bear this in mind for which category you would be in. at national competitions, senior male kumite can be very intense, but at local competitions and in lower categories the level of aggression can be quite different. competitions are run for everyone, after all, and there is always a suitable place to join in.

style and timings

competitions are formal events, and are run throughout the year on a regional and national basis. listings for upcoming competitions can be found on the events page, as well as on the KUGB calendar. local competitions with different associations can usually be found by internet searches. entry forms for competitions are usually required to be submitted around two weeks in advance, to sort out fighting orders.

competitions take a long time

since karate attracts all types of people, there are usually lots of separate categories for kata and kumite, with children being separated by height as well as grade in order to make sure all matches are appropriate. the downside of this is that there is often a lot of waiting around at competitions, and it is worthwhile knowing this beforehand. with a limited number of areas available for matches, adult categories may not start until a couple of hours after the competition as a whole starts. bring your ipod, and plenty of snacks! more importantly, it can be difficult to judge when to warm up, and being in the sports hall for such a long period can be very draining on the system.

kata, and the flag/points system

for elimination rounds of kata, the flag system of red and white is used to indicate the winner. both karateka are called, with the person designated red (aka) collecting and wearing a red tag. red always stands to the referee's right, in both kata and kumite, with white (shiro, with no tag) on the left. after bowing and being called on to the mat, the referee will announce the kata (chosen from the heians, up to that corresponding to the lower belt of the competitors) and the competitors perform it at the same time. the referee will then call hantei, and each judge (usually two, at the back of the area) will flag for either competitor. the referee then signals the winner, red or white.

for finals, a points system is used where each competitor performs on their own the kata of their choice, and the judges award points (usually between 5.0 and 6.0). the competitor with the highest score wins, with drawing competitors performing their kata (or a different one) again for a differentiating score. points are taken off for mistakes in the kata.

team kata, where a team of three perform their chosen kata in unison, are scored by the points system.

kumite, and the mirror/flag system

for kumite, all points are scored according to criteria outlined in the rules of the competition; in the KUGB, this is generally shobu ippon and half points are awarded far more often than full. in elimination rounds, a referee and a judge will operate the mirror system, where both are on the mat and signal using their hands. for finals, a system of one referee and four judges at the corner of the area signal using flags. while the referee has discretion, a simultaneous flag by two judges must be acted upon. knowing how the scoring works, and what the judges are looking for, is a part of competition technique and part of the subtlety of karate competition.

team kumite events are decided by number of wins from matches of either five or three fighters on a team. if a team does not have the full number, they may still compete but must forfeit the fight for their missing fighter. if there is an even number of wins, the match is decided on number of ippon wins, then number of full ippon (rather than awasete ippon) wins.

half-points (waza-ari) are awarded for well-executed techniques that are accurate and timed correctly, but controlled. full points (ippon) are awarded for decisive techniques (including combinations of techniques), techniques delivered to undefended areas or on the moment of unbalancing the opponent, or with perfect timing. control is again important; warnings are given for uncontrolled techniques, which can easily lead to disqualification.

for small children, free kumite is often replaced by ippon kumite, with the flag system being used in the same way as for judging kata.