A Dirty Little Secret

Karate for Dummies – A dirty little secret

Hey out there. Hope everyone had a fabulous President’s Day holiday. We sure did. One of our weekend activities included taking part in a karate tournament locally. Generally speaking it was a nice event. It was not an ‘National’ or ‘Regional’ event. Rather it was a mid size local event, basically for traditional style karate practitioners.

Here where we live, there is a large legal firm that uses the media to share with potential clients and others, the little secrets that Insurance companies and others don’t want us to know. They end their commercials with their lead attorney saying: ‘…well, now you know’! So I thought we would add our own little ’… now you know’ piece here for you.

As I have stated before, we have been doing this (Karate) for a long time. But we have not been active participants in any…any, Regional, National or World martial arts competition. Personally, I did compete more than once in the NY State Open, and had lots of fun, even though I was even then unaware of the ‘Dirty Little Secrets’. Fast forward 25 or so years.

So here we are this past weekend and one of our advanced students is waiting to compete in Kata. To set the stage, I will share this. The head judge was a Certified judge/referee of a major karate ‘Organization’. He was joined by two other Certified Judges of the similar organization, even though this event was not sanctioned by that organization. It was just a coincidence that they were all there with their students and were asked to assist in the judging, which is a normal practice at small events. As many will already know, competitors are assigned colored belts for the purpose of identifying them while competing. Generally, the colors now used are red and blue (Aka and Ao). They are assigned once the competition pairings are set.

This week there were 6 advanced competitors in the Kata competition. Two were from the above mentioned ‘Organization’, one was from the tournament host’s school, two were from a team attending from outside of our country (kudos to them for their long trip) and the last was my student. So now we’re at the point of assigning belts and competition order. Let me inject this into the equation; I have learned that a competitor who is ‘fortunate’ enough to be assigned ‘Aka’ has a 50-60% better chance to advance to the next round. ‘Fortunate’ is the operative word. How does that ‘fortune’ occur? Good question? I’ll leave the answer for you to decide. So it went that the two ‘organization’ students and the ‘hosts’ student were assigned…’Aka’. Wow! How fortunate, indeed. You think!? To add insult to injury our student was assigned to compete in the first grouping. How important is that? Well, in this case, not so much.

To be totally honest, the three ‘Aka’ competitors were clearly the best of the six. Our student is quite competent. However, his Kata is very traditional. Not as ‘eclectic’ as those who apply European style form to kata, which is now heavily preferred in National and World tournaments. A competitor assigned ‘Ao’ and loses the first match, can only advance if the person who beats him continues to win. At this event that person did not win the second match, assuring that our student was basically done for the day. One shot …adios muchacho! More on this in another Post down the road.

As a seasoned instructor and observer at many such events, by the time the belt assignments were made, it was clear that all Aka who would place in the 1,2,3 order. Surely, unless some catastrophe took place, the others would follow in 4,5,6. No such catastrophic event took place. The script played out exactly as intended. I felt sorry not just for my student, but more so for the others who travelled so far, waited so long to compete (7 hours) and received so little respect for their efforts.

The moral of all of this: These things happen in competition. Be aware of the fact that there is politics even in the honorable world of our Karate. Judges have favorites. A judge who has done this for many years, and has seen the same competitors for those many years, already has a mind set as to what he/she can expect, and as a result small flaws may/will be overlooked in favor of a proven competitor vs. someone they have never seen or is not part of a major group.

As a parent, as a coach, as a participant, ask questions. Be alert during competition. Don’t be rude. That’s never acceptable. Just be alert.

…well, now you know!



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2 responses to “A Dirty Little Secret

  1. stefano

    It is surprising how private interests and “politics” could spoil and overcome even what should be a “martial art” where all embracers are supposed to “marry” its beutiful philosophy! I am sure though that in the majority of us the right values are still vivid and very alive! Interesting the little trick of the obi colors…..but what’s the point if they already knew who was about to win?

    • Hello Stefano. Thanks for your comment. Yours is the first comment we have received, and it is much appreciated. Of course, you are right. We in the Karate community extol the virtues of Karate-do and what it stands for. Taken directly from Gichin Funakoshi’s Master Text, Karate-do means that ‘..in daily life, one’s mind and body be devoted utterly to the cause of justice.’ That said, what ‘cause of justice’ do we aid, and what value does training one’s mind and body daily have, when results of competition in any manner are pre-determined or weighted one way or the other prior to actual competition? Unfortunately, politics has become part of our sport. Winning is all that matters. In the desire, I suppose, to glamorize the simplicity and pureness of what Karate truly is, some have chosen to guarantee the success of competitors, rather than allow pure skill and yes, sometimes luck, to determine the outcome.

      For those out there that are new to Karate, this is not to say that Karate is bad. It’s quite the opposite, really. Karate, taught purely as an art is an extraordinary, lifetime endeavor for most practitioners. It is only when competitive winning becomes the priority, the focus, that the true essence of Karate-do is compromised. Funakoshi Sensei taught in his precepts, # 20 to be exact, to ‘not think that you have to win, think rather that you do not have to lose’. It appears that to some, thinking only that you have to win has become the new precept.

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