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Mulberry4000's picture
sport karate and self defence

hi what do you think of the above and its ability to gather the tools of self defence. Does it harm or  enhanced the persons ability.

best wishes 

Mulberry4000's picture
Philios's picture

As someone who has competed only in point sparring matches (ippon shobu) for over 20 years, here's my view.  Sport Karate or point sparring alone is not enough for self defense but it does have some good qualities.  What it does train immensely well are blitzing, gauging/maintaining/breaking distance, timing, and above all, speed.  And sport karate athletes are typically... well, athletic and in good physical condition.  Certainly a good quality for running away!

The problems I have with it in regard to how well it translates to effective self defense are mainly that it engrains a lot of really bad habits: 

- The distance at which you spar is much further away compared to a real altercation.  Much harder to parry and defend against attacks at point-blank range.

- The techniques that score points are to safe targets with an emphasis on control instead of penetration.  Defending against a strike intended to simply touch the skin is much different than defending the same strike with the intent to knock your block off.

- Many attacks which you defend against in a sporting match you likely would not encounter in an altercation.  Two examples that instantly come to mind are head height hook kicks, and lunging linear reverse punches to the abdomen.  Both extremely common in point fighting competition but neither fall into the list of most common street attacks (HAOV).

- There is no continuity of the fight as once a point is scored, players are reset to the centre of the ring to give a level playing field.  One cannot capitalize/recover from a position of advantage/disadvantage.  

- There's no "weathering the storm" if you are hurt or stunned.  There's no fighting through the pain.  If you are hurt, they stop the match and let you resume once you have recovered.  Wouldn't that be the nicest mugger ever, if he suckerpunches you and then lets you recover before attempting to take your belongings!

- Minimal standup grappling (1-2 seconds to allow a footsweep or throw).  No ground fighting.  Grabbing and holding onto the opponent's limbs or clothing is not permitted.

- The whole "selling your points to the judges" by pumping your fist in triumph and turning your back to the opponent.  *facepalm*.

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

Mulberry4000 wrote:
Does it harm or  enhanced the persons ability.

Personally, I think it’s the wrong question to ask. If you go in to a grocer’s store looking for apples you should leave with apples. You should not pick up some oranges and then ask how “appley” they are.

Sport is sport. Self-defence is self-defence. Both have their own inherent value and we should not judge one by the standards of the other.

Here’s an article on that:


People can do one or the other, or even both provided they keep the demarcation. But it’s not wise to do competitions with the view to increasing self-defence skills. Nor is it wise to train in self-defence with a view to improving your competitive skill. Train for the objective at all times.

All the best,


davidom's picture

This reminds me of one of your podcasts rightfully titled "Context, context, context". I think that is really important to clarify the objectives of training both at the micro level (we are doing this drill in order to improve this and that) and macro (in this club or dojo we believe in training for this or that). The concept of the by-product myth that you have talked about sometimes really clarified some of my ideas about it.

Even though there may be some side benefits that help you to improve the physical aspect of self-defense by practicing sport combat, but nothing will prepare you for a particular activity as practicing that activity itself! For instance practicing kihon may help you polish and perfect your individual techniques, and this will have many many added benefits to your practice of competitive kata, but nothing will help you more than practicing solo kata in exactly the manner in which you will have to perform it in a competition.

Just a humble thought about the topic in question!

Dennis Krawec
Dennis Krawec's picture

Here is where I would say that it the job of the instructor to teach in a manner that fits the wants and needs of all students (this is where I have issues with the WTF TaeKwonDo club my son goes to, as it seems solely focused on competitions).

If a student wants to compete in sport kumite matches then that is where a student should be allowed to focus their training, but they should not be allowed to ignore applications for self defence and real combat. Likewise if students want to focus on self defence or health, then sport competition takes a backseat, but again it should not completly ignored, as there benefits that can be gained from practicing Karate as a sport.

Another way to look at it is; Karate is kind of like a swiss army knife, there are a lot of tools to learn, it's up to you on how you use them.

Anf's picture

Good question. Perhaps we should ask what karate as sport offers, and what is required for self defence. Karate for sport, as with any sport, develops fitness, strength, balance and coordination. Let's forget about technique for now and just hold onto those attributes. Us humans, like all animals, have certain built in instincts. One of the strongest of which is the instinct of self preservation. Someone who has had no training of any kind will instinctively try to escape danger, and will instinctively fight if absolutely necessary. That being the case, surely having a tough and flexible body, good fitness and balance and such can only assume to what is already built in. Is sport karate the best thing for self defence? Probably not. But then 'self defence' isn't either, unless it's practiced until it becomes instinct, otherwise in blind panic of genuine hostility, you won't actually use anything you've been taught, as instinct will just take over.

Mulberry4000's picture

i agree sports are good, fun and make lots of new friends, also there is cross over to self defence, not only is the body and mind in tune  to getting hit or thrown, but it toughens up the body. Of course it does not help with the shock of being attacked, the fear of being hit or stabbed, or shot, or surrounded by lots of men. So in my view sport is left to its own and so does all so called reality based systems. Now here is the crux of the matter, even when karate was developed, it was just one of the so called self defence system, Ian decries as not being realistic or untestable, which is true, yet on here and other fourms or websites, people extol the vitures of kata for  its self defence possiblities and its basis in reality, If that is the case then all others, who claim theirs is "reality based" have merit. All are untested to the point, you cannot go out and fight, to break someone's arm or kill them, even when japanese society was more dangerous. This society at the time of karate's developement had laws and morales which  said this was not right, indeed peopel where getting so fed up of the voilence from Jui juistus  clubs it was in danger of terminal decline.   So if todays reality based system have no merit or basis to pedal their theories, neither does the old masters of karate and its reason for development. Even military training is not reality  based because no bullets are flying, no bombs are dropping, it is all theory based on  past events. It is only when  when the balloon goes up, the training helps  and kicks in till the solider learns how to deal with the reality of battle. Still veterans know the difference between training and war, but they still value trainning over nothing. So going back to combat sports and reality based sytems esp karate.  To say it was developed as a civilian defence system, sure in theory but where is the proof it  worked and it worked why does karate lack this knowledge in reality? If the training is based on theory and not proven why train in it, even as a sport?

Chris R
Chris R's picture

I agree with what Iain said about training for your objective. I understand that some people argue that sport Karate can develop useful attributes (speed, flexibility, balance, timing, etc) that could be used in self defence, but my problem with this argument is that you can develop those attributes perfectly well without participating in sport Karate. You only have a limited amount of time and energy to train, so in my opinion you should spend that time and energy doing something that is specific to your goals. There is a lot more to this topic than what I have mentioned, but anyway ... I personally would choose one or the other, however you could do both as long as you keep them seperate and understand the implications of that decision.

Anf's picture
Chris R wrote:

I agree with what Iain said about training for your objective. I understand that some people argue that sport Karate can develop useful attributes (speed, flexibility, balance, timing, etc) that could be used in self defence, but my problem with this argument is that you can develop those attributes perfectly well without participating in sport Karate.

I couldn't agree more. Some of the toughest people I know have never had a single martial arts class in their life, but play rugby or do downhill mountain biking. One of my friends is an old school biker, the kind that takes things apart and modifies things and hurts himself quite a lot, but is as tough as old boots. But if none of those things interest a particular individual, but they've watched The Karate Kid (ok, I'm showing my age), then the local karate club might inspire them and give them a fun recreation. That individual still has all their inherent, natural, instinctive self preservation instinct and skill. The karate class will never take that away. But it will provide the facilities for the individual to add to that inherent ability.