“Shobu Ippon is not a game like Sports Karate.” Thomas Prediger about Kumite

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 Shobu Ippon and Sports Karate.

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What are the Difference Between Shobu Ippon and Sports Karate?

Christian: Where is the difference between the competition you have descript and the one´s that foster Do?

Thomas: You can see the difference when you look at the big associations: The WKF with its 8-point system and the JKA with the 1-point, Shobu Ippon system. The JKA also renounces weight-classes. Both systems have advantages and disadvantages, because they are man-made. But we have to consider the aim of the competition. The 8-point system of the WKF does not lead to situations that foster Do. It is more like a process-oriented sport where power and speed are paramount. The idea behind that system is, that over the course of a match the fastest and more powerful will win. Athletic determines the outcome of the match. While the JKA Shobu Ippon system creates way more uncertainties one has to deal psychologically with. The outcome of the match is not determined by your physical traits but rather through your mental state.

Just compare the fighters in both systems. WKF fighters are very athletic. The JKA fighters are less athletic but they have a splendid attitude, are very honest, and do not avoid dangerous situations.

The 8-Point WKF System is flawed

Christian: Does that also mean that the 8-point system offers more options to take advantage of it?

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Thomas: Yes! You can see that every year because the WKF constantly adjusts the rules. This goes also for World Championships. Right after the tournament the WKF alters the rules.

For example, some competitors do not tie their Gi very well. The reason is simple: if the Gi opens the referee has to stop the fight. That buys them time when they are under pressure. Because they can pull the Gi a bit and it opens. Before the last World Championship, the WKF changed the rules so that the ties at the Gi must be closed. Athletes could steer the fight with such measurements.

However, when you do not have a rule for such things like it is in the Shobu Ippon system then a fighter cannot take advantage. They would not gain anything by having lose ties at their Gi. That is something I find immensely important about Shobu Ippon: The rules force you to specific actions.

Shobu Ippon as an Educational Situation

Christian: Does that mean that Shobu Ippon has a different educational effect then the 8-point system?

Thomas: Exactly! The 8-point system leads to an inconsequential attitude. Because after the first point you get 7 more points to make-up your mistakes. Such a system does not reflect the seriousness of a real-life situation where you usually do not have more than one opportunity to defend or attack. Shobu Ippon is not a game like Sports Karate.

On the other hand, the execution of the technique has no decisive effect whether you get a point in Sports Karate or not. When you touch your opponent with your fist or your foot you will receive a point. In Shobu Ippon power and clean techniques are serious categories. If your technique is to weak you won’t get a point.

Keisuke Nemoto has been 5 times JKA All Japan Karate Kumite Championship. He is an shobu ippon expert.

Educational Goals of Shobu Ippon

Christian: But what educational goals does Shobu Ippon exactly want to achieve?

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Thomas: Very provocative speaking: To learn to loss! You must have the ability to loss. That sounds simple. But it is a different way to loss than in an 8-point system. In Shobu Ippon losing is always possible and sometimes you do not have much influence on it. In a single blow a fight could be over. Thus, you need a completely different awareness and tolerance. Due to the fact that the power of the punches and kicks is judged you might get hit but the referee does not give a point. These punches can still hurt und you have to stand that. The pressure of the situation is, therefore, very high. Your task is to stay capable to act and react. That requires inner balance and strength.

Christian: And focus, right?

Thomas: Under pressure you need the coolness to focus on your one technique that finishes your opponent. For instance, if you want to use a Gyaku-zuki then you always face the danger that you also get hit. Thus, you have to put everything you have into this one punch.

Christian: But let’s assume that we have a Shobu Ippon tournament and the winner will receive 100.000 US-Dollar. The incentive to fight and to win is now completely different than usually. Do you not think that such an incentive would lead to cheating as well?

Thomas: Some incentives are good. But I agree. Extreme prize moneys will again pervert the system. The competitors will then rather be motivated in a financial way. However, if we keep the rule system lean, we will still generate the learning effects. The motivation is less important for learning than the modus of your learning. Shobu Ippon is the more honest system. Competitors just do not have that much options to exploit the system.

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3 Comments

    • My Shotokan chief instructor has always stated, karate is first and foremost to polish the mind. To be honest and clear with strict eyes towards ones character. Being involved in sports can foster similar values depending on teachers even in karate competitions. To understand the technique is to be honest and mature on its effectiveness. Self defense in real life is very remote especially in the age of gun toting people. Learning how to communicate is a superior art to physically reactions. Many athletes in sports are mature and work very hard in training and relish winning but they also accept the loss. On balance sports are a wonderful place to be for young and old. I do not think that martial arts has a higher place. As a matter of fact, there is more discontinuity in karate technique than many technical sports whether it be soccer, hockey, baseball or pingpong.

  1. Very subjective and one-sided article. I´d like to mention first that I like both methods of competition. I am also coming from a traditional kung fu background with Sanda full contact fights, Taekwondo, and currently Karate.

    Phrases like „The JKA fighters are less athletic but they have a splendid attitude, are very honest“ imply that Non-JKA fighters are dishonest? Generalizing people defy the values that are essential of the Budo Do.

    „Such a system does not reflect the seriousness of a real-life situation where you usually do not have more than one opportunity to defend or attack. “ Nope, it is mostly true that real fights don´t last long, but they usually don´t end after ONE possibility of attacking or defending. Further more do neither 8-point system fighters or Shobu Ippon fighters gain the experience needed for real fights, compared to full contact fighters like Muay Thai, Sanda or MMA (yes, I said the bad word :)).

    I like the topic of the article, but it is very very biased and constructed around a „pseudo-romantic“ thought of „Do“-induced fighters that defeat their opponents with one hit. That´s an ideal, but not reality.
    It also stirrs negativity between Karateka that prefer one or the other way.

    I believe that we all practice a very valuable art, that expresses itself in many ways. Comparing the different

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