Jiyu Kumite. Is it hurting our Karate?

I’m not one to try and sell anyone an idea or an opinion, but when it comes to Karate I don’t mind singing its praises. Karate has been beneficial for me on a series of levels and it is a significant part of my life. The physical benefits; the mental benefits; the bonds I’ve formed and the friends I train with; the fascination around karate itself, and it gives me excellent material for writing.

Oftentimes though, what I hear from potential Karate practitioners is that they have no interest in participating in a contact sport, and their understanding is that karate is just that. In most cases, of course, they are right.

kumiteFree sparring didn’t exist is traditional Okinawan karate, but became prominent as karate moved to Japan and became a competitive sport, especially between the universities of the day. Free fighting had a particular allure to it amongst the younger generations. One prominent Okinawan Sensei said that in free sparring we are simply trying to satisfy ego.

Shotokan in many dojos does promote Jiyu Kumite without protective gear – even dojos that no longer participate in formal competition. Herein lies the dilemma. Although Karateka are not supposed to make contact, the reality is that they do – and people get hurt.

Even if we accept that free sparring makes your karate better (I don’t), are we limiting ourselves in terms of attracting people to the Dojo because, as working stiffs like the rest of us, they can’t afford to (nor have any interest in)  getting knocked around in the Dojo? Are those of us already immersed in karate training opening ourselves up to unnecessary injury?

Karate…always something to ponder.