Thomas Prediger says that Sport Karate is a "perverted system".

“I realized that this is a perverted system”: Thomas Prediger about Sport Karate

By Dr. Christian Tribowski

Kumite Boot Camp is the regular column of Thomas Prediger in which he will discuss crucial topics for Shotokan Karate. This time, he spoke with Dr. Christian Tribowski about Karate Do vs. Sport Karate.

Christian: Hello Thomas, I am very glad that you found the time for the interview. We want to talk about Karate Do vs. Sports Karate today. But before we start, I would like to ask why this is an important topic? Why is it relevant for you and the Shotokan community in general?

Thomas: Hello Christian, yes, thank you for having me. The reason is that a division between traditional and sports-oriented Karateka has emerged in the last two decades. And I think that this division does not do justice to Shotokan Karate at all. Sports alone does not reflect the whole variety of Shotokan Karate. Instead, we should seek for a comprehensive education in Karate Do.

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Sport Karate vs. Karate Do

Christian: Before we dive deeper into your argument we should define, what you mean when you talk about Karate Do and Sport Karate. What is what?

Thomas: Karate Do as a martial art shall, in my opinion, comprise all aspects of personality development. This goes for training and competitions. Everything in Shotokan Karate Do should strive for the development of good personalities.

Sports, on the other hand, focuses mainly on competitions and success. It is about being faster, more powerful, or more agile. Sport revolves around competition. Development of character and personality does not play a big role in sports.

The Perfection of Character Is the Goal

Christian: So, the major goal for Sports Karate is winning competitions, right? And Karate Do is about striving to make one’s character perfect, like the Dojo-kun teaches.

Thomas: Yes! I know that it sounds exaggerated to “make one´s character perfect” and it is difficult to define what that actually means in practice. But yes, that´s it.

However, I do not mean to exclude competition from Karate Do. Competitions are a very important part of the education in Karate Do. We need them in order to train certain aspects of Karate Do. Everybody, who avoids competitions or tries to demonize them, does not practice the whole spectrum of Karate Do. Unfortunately, they leave very important educational experiences out.

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Emphasize of Sport Karate vs. Karate Do

Christian: I think we have to elaborate on that. If competitions are a part of Karate Do and we also have Sports Karate, which focuses on competitions, where exactly is the borderline between both? Why and how are they different?

Thomas: The exaggerated and overemphasized form of competition like it is practiced in Sports Karate stands in a stark contrast to Karate Do. If wining is the focal point and making points in a competition is the only thing that matters, then the most aspects of Do get pushed out and eliminated. Because athletes will do and are supposed to do everything to win. That leads, for instance, to doping and bending of rules.

To develop one´s personality, on the other hand, requires to stick to the rules and to deal with losses. When you only want to become the winner, you will hold yourself back from making important experiences as a human being. For instance, that you cannot always win.

“Athletes intentionally stepped into Zukis”

Christian: You were the coach of several top athletes. What situations have you experienced where athletes bend rules to win?

Thomas: The most unsettling situations were when athletes intentionally stepped into Zukis or Keris in order to win a fight. Because their opponents would have got a penalty and they would have declared the winner. That was the moment when I realized that this is a perverted system. One cannot and should not risk intentionally his or her health in order to win.

Focus on Competition Corrupts Morality

Christian: Does that mean that the overemphasized focus on competition corrupts morals and rationality?

Thomas: Yes, of course. If nothing counts except winning then I will focus everything towards this goal. My character also develops in this direction. If lying becomes strategically senseful to reach a goal, people will lie. For instance, fighters will claim that they were injured by their opponents, although nothing happened. I have experience all that during competitions. Eventually, that undermines the development of a good personality. Then a good personality means to be honest to others and yourself. If you get hit, you must indicate that and do not disavow like some fighters in the WKF do. One must learn to stand defeat – with a smile! That is a crucial part of the development of your personality. Because no personality is perfect. We all have shortcomings. But we have to accept them and work on them. If we only want to win, the development of our personalities becomes meaningless.

8 comments

    • Sport Karate is not perverted. It has merits in physical and personality development. The same with traditional Karate that goals on self defense which is the purpose and nature of Karate- for fighting in actual self-defense for survival on the field. Learning karate for sports could diminish the nature and training of a combat effective Karate techniques because the learners learns what is applicable and effective in kumite competition. On the other hand, learners of traditional karate will train those which is for fighting but prohibited in competition like the spear hand, nakadaka ken, ippon ken, finger strike, four knuckle strike. These are hard and painful in their hardening to weaponize the fist in actual self-defense. Whereas, the Sports karate focuses on the close fist strike. In traditional Karate, the elbow and knee strike are also trained and hardened, including the shin to smash into the legs of an opponent. These karate techniques are hard and painful to train; and most learners do not want doing this things. They focus on punching the fist and kicking for the kumite competition. The body of traditional Karate are being hardened also by punching and kicking the body. I have to see competition karatekas doing this method of body hardening. A traditional karate can compete in sports karate. It will just limit its strike to those allowed; but a sports karate player could not be effective in street fight because his training is on sports karate which is point system. A nakadaka ken of a traditional karate may be able to destabilize its opponent on the street as he trained and hardened this weapon of karate which a sport karateka did not train for.

  1. Dont really agree with the “Why” of this article. I agree that Do is more important than Sport, but the reasons are different. I have met MANY people who had poor character and only did Do style Karate, and some great people who did sport. I feel that the focus needs to be on Do because Shiai or sport Karate is short lived, 10-20 years Max for a career in sport, and then if you dont have Do you have nothing to go back too! Shiai has its place in traditional Karate, if its WKF you are also facing other styles and it is more confusing to some and if you do Shobu Ippon you are pretty much facing others who have a similar style. I have many issues with modern Sport Karate…character development is not one of them!

  2. Sports karate is but a stepping stone to karate do. Competitiveness is a part of peoples nature and maturity thru time weans us off this into more depth and understanding of karate’s true purpose.

    • I have doubts that sport karate is a stepping stone to traditional Karate. When you spent years into sport karate you already ingrained a practice which may not be compatible with traditional karate when you shift to it making your learning and training more difficult because you are to adjust. But learning traditional karate from the start is also learning for sport karate. You just not use the prohibited strikes and techniques during sports karate kumite/tournament like fist strike only. The problem is when you instinctively react applying strikes and technique for actual self defense; That instead of punching your fist, you weaponize it with extended knuckles when you punched it inflicting injury to your opponent thus getting you DQd or at best called for being foul.

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