(Excellent reader feedback on the article below: I would think the biggest difference noticed between the sport photo and Traditional Karate-do Budo is: no protective gear, not so much stance. Traditional karate competition is ‘Non-contact’ but is demonstrating distance control.)
As part of the course requirements for the World Japan Karate Association (WJKA) Instructor Trainee program I currently enrolled in, I was asked to write a paper on the differences between Sport and Karate-do. Sounds simple enough, but when I got into it I found that, as a karate-ka still looking for the essence of karate, it posed more than just the main question.
This is precisely one of the reasons I signed up to do the instructor training: it encourages me to have a deeper look and to try to find understanding in the not-so-obvious philosophies and teachings of karate-do.
In the end, I wrote that sport and karate-do have some similarities, but Karate-do (traditional Karate steeped in the principles of Budo) is as much an inward quest as it is an outward pursuit.
In examining sport karate, one thing stood out to me in particular during competition, and I think it serves as a good analogy for seeing the differences between Sport karate and Karate-do. In my research, I came across many images similar to the following.
What stood out to me is the body position of the competitors. Granted, not all sport karate fighters assume this position, but I have noticed that it is a theme in their fighting style: hips (and body) are Hanmi (off-center from the front) as opposed to the more Shomen (more centered to the front) fighting stance used in Traditional karate.
Now, I want to be clear, I’m sure that either of these competitors could knock the daylights out of you in a real situation, but I believe the overall aim of their practice is different than that of us traditional karate-ka.
In our practice, we stress the idea of intention. Intention is the mental and physical energy that we project ‘towards the opponent.’ Sensei Toru Shimoji teaches that your center line, including your stance, feet, and your lower belly (Hara) point to the opponent in front of you. As he says, your energy goes where you are directing it. Your body deportment has to project your intention through your opponent. The goal is to have your own energy encompass them and draw them in.
In this way, as Sensei Power demonstrates, you hit with your body – you penetrate beyond the point of contact. Thus, having the body/hips in Shomen, or even casual Shomen, I believe, is more effective in delivering a concentrated, powerful blow.
To take this notion further, traditional karate-ka have an overall aim of studying karate in order to find its essence: its personal value to the practitioner that goes beyond physical skill and adeptness. There is an overall feeling of facing front and pursuing self-discovery with an unwavering commitment.
In the opening of the class, we bow reverently to the Shomen and to the Sensei. This I believe is indicative of the overall pursuit. In a fight your hips, eyes, breath and hands are forward. In the karate-do journey your intention and your energy are forward…centered to the goal.
Shomen ni rei!