Karate and boxing may indeed seem to have a lot in common, and in this day and age, it is inevitable that the layman will be making comparisons between the two. Upon closer examination, it can be seen that there are several differences between them and these differences are not all obvious.
Above: Master Hirokazu Kanazawa (long time friend, former roommate, fellow competitor and fellow instructor with Louisiana Karate Association Chief Instructor Master Takayuki Mikami) practices with a boxer in London, England, circa 1965.
Boxing, which has been in existence for hundreds of years, has just about always been a “spectator sport.” Karate also has been in existence for hundreds of years, but it was never originally considered a “sport” (this would change drastically in the 20th century for better or worse). Karate was originally not only a physical activity, but considered by many to be a spiritual activity also, emphasizing good character, moral development, mental concentration and awareness. Boxing may be a sport that requires toughness, but it has never emphasized much else besides punching each other and winning in the ring. Boxing has also become a multi-million dollar spectator sport, which has also become more and more a vehicle for much gambling, vice and corruption. Karate (in the traditional sense) still has yet to become an Olympic sport (to the dismay of some and to the joy of others), is rarely seen on television and draws nowhere near the attendance at its tournaments that boxing does at its matches.
In terms of physical qualities, boxing, as it is mainly known worldwide, uses only the hands and arms; therefore using almost exclusively punching techniques. The emphasis is on hitting and hitting hard. In addition, learning how to get hit and avoid getting hit is also emphasized. Karate on the other hand, uses the entire body. Virtually any part of the body can be used as a weapon of defense or offense. There are literally hundreds of techniques found and learnt in Karate, such as tsuki-waza (punching techniques), keri-waza (kicking techniques), uke-waza (blocking techniques), nagae-waza (throwing techniques) and combinations of all of these and more. Karate also emphasizes proper breathing and the use of kime (focus or instant mental and physical concentration to result in a completely effective technique). Karate also requires learning kihon (basics) before any attempt at training with a partner is considered. The very first techniques that a Karate student learns are included in kihon. Kihon is taught in, and may be practiced in single techniques and/or combinations of offensive and/or defensive techniques. Kihon is the foundation of all Karate techniques and must be constantly practiced and refined at all levels of training. Thus, the Karate student is learning to control himself/herself, learning and developing techniques, while developing concentration and awareness of him/her, largely from the realization of what one is aspiring to, endeavoring to achieve per each movement and technique, while also aspiring to, and endeavoring to achieve the pinnacle of that which is being practiced at that moment. Yet, with continuous training and experience, many techniques become more physically and mentally “second nature,” and hence are therefore done in a much more natural “no mind” fashion. Therefore, unlike boxing, in which the boxer often practices techniques with little regard for organization, order, categorization and consists of encountering a single opponent, kihon includes the visualization of not just one opponent, but possibly numerous opponents (when practicing multi-directional kihon movements of defense and attack). Kihon teaches the beginning student of Karate the foundation of the techniques of Karate, as well what will be learnt later (in kata, kumite and an ending and continuous practice of even more kihon as the student advances in experience, ability and rank) and what will be continued to be built upon. Kihon teaches the beginning student the importance of fundamentals of one’s own techniques, movements, stillness and self-control before engaging in any type of physical encounter with an actual live opponent and/or opponents. Kumite (known as “sparring” in boxing; yet being much different and more detailed than “sparring”) is often somewhat erroneously labeled in an oversimplified way as “sparring,” while in actual fact there are several categorizations, types and levels of kumite. Kumite is initially learnt in a pre-arranged manner, thus giving the beginner confidence and thus the ability to learn safely and without injury. Yet, practicing kumite in a pre-arranged manner is also a part of training for all levels of students, from beginners to advanced. In boxing, sparring is rarely done (if ever) in a pre-arranged manner and contact is immediate.
Before engaging in Kumite the opponents must execute rei (bowing to each other). This is paramount in importance, is practiced in all Budo (Japanese martial arts), in Japanese culture and in Japanese society as a whole. Kumite may be categorized as follows: Kihon Kumite, in which 2 opponents execute techniques with each other: the attacker executing attacking techniques and the defender executing respective defensive techniques and not executing a counterattack at anytime in the exchange of techniques. This type of kumite is primarily for the beginner student to introduce him/her to the application of basic punching techniques, basic kicking techniques and basic blocking techniques. This type of kumite may be practiced in a stationary position, with both opponents standing in shizen-tai (natural stance) or while moving in various tachikata (stances), although most often in zenkutsu-dachi (forward stance). Yakusoku Kumite (pre-arranged or “promise” kumite) is kumite in which the attacks are known by the attacker and the defender in advance. Included in this category are Gohon Kumite (5-step kumite), Sanbon Kumite (3-step kumite), Kihon-Ippon Kumite (one-step kumite) and Jiyu-Ippon Kumite (semi-free 1-step kumite). The techniques and targets to be executed by the attacker are announced in advance to the opponent in these types of kumite. In addition, it should be noted that the previous types of kumite may be practiced with or without the count of the instructor and also executed beginning from either side of the body. Furthermore, within Kihon-Ippon Kumite and Jiyu-Ippon Kumite there is also the optional inclusion of Kaeshi Kumite (executed in Ippon Kumite or Jiyu-Ippon Kumite), in which the initial attacker defends against the original defender’s counterattack, and also within Jiyu-Ippon Kumite is the optional inclusion of Okuri Jiyu-Ippon Kumite, in which after the defender’s counterattack is executed, a second attack is made by the attacker without warning.
As noted, unlike boxing, Karate also teaches defense against multiple attackers. Happo Kumite teaches the student defense against attacks from opponents attacking from the eight basic directions, i.e. 12:00, 2:00, 3:00, 4:00, 6:00, 8:00, 9:00 and 10:00. This type of kumite may be done to the count of the instructor or with no count, as well as being done with the attacks coming with pre-determined techniques or random techniques, as well as pre-determined order or random order. In addition, the number of attackers may be increased or decreased in kumite utilizing multiple opponents. Finally, there is Jiyu Kumite, in which two opponents execute freely and without warning various techniques of attack and defense. Therefore, it stands to reason that the previous categories of kumite must be practiced and studied thoroughly, effectively and in deadly seriousness before attempting and engaging in forthright, genuine, effective and deadly serious Jiyu Kumite. Indeed, all types of Kumite must be performed with deadly seriousness.
The Karate-ka (practitioner of Karate) also learns to judge distance and to control his/her techniques in kumite, thus making contact (if and when necessary) much more effective and accurate than the wild, yet mostly strong punches of the boxer. The absolute control (while meanwhile having the option to make full and effective contact with the desired target on the body of the opponent; ultimately at a vital point on the body, hence stopping the opponent with one “finishing blow,” a definition of this concept regularly used by Master Hidetaka Nishiyama) and control of the proper range and distance from the opponent is called sun-dome. Sun-dome has been defined by Master Masatoshi Nakayama (Chief Instructor of The Japan Karate Association from 1957-1987) as, “to arrest a technique just before contact with the target (one sun, about three centimeters).”(1) Yet, the technique must have kime (using maximum power in the shortest time possible), while striving for ikken-hissatsu (to kill with one blow). By learning to control one’s techniques, the Karate-ka must also control his/her mind and body.
While in boxing, size, strength and those of the opponent will often solely determine the approach of the boxer and his/her psychological makeup will often influence his/her fighting style as a whole. In Karate, various strategies may be used according to the situation and according to the opponent. Sen no sen is taking the initiative first, go no sen is taking the later and deai is simultaneously taking the initiative. In addition, such body movements such as yori-ashi (sliding step), tsugi-ashi (skipping step), tai-sabaki (body shifting). All of these must have proper maai (distance) to be effective in attacking techniques, defensive techniques, as well as defensive techniques followed by counterattacking techniques.
Kumite will greatly aid in self-defense if ever the absolute need arises, is absolutely necessary and when and if there is no other choice than to defend oneself. Boxing, while the punches may or may not be effective, may aid in self-defense. In Karate however, the numerous techniques learnt will greatly increase the chance of survival for the Karate-ka. Karate taught with focus primarily on self-defense situations may include: defense against various weapons, defense while seated in seiza (Japanese formal sitting position on one’s knees) or seated on a chair, bench, sofa or similar, lying down, defense in close quarters, defense while wearing street clothes, as opposed to a gi (karate uniform), defense against attacks coming from various directions, defense against attacks by multiple attackers, as well as many other possibilities.
While Karate teaches defense against actual weapons (which boxing does not), it is also interesting to note that several Karate Sensei have trained with weapons, are familiar with them and occasionally train using them. Master Gichin Funakoshi (founder of Shotokan Karate, 1868-1957) has been photographed training with the sai (truncheon spear like weapon) and the bo (long stick). Master Hirokazu Kanazawa has trained with the sai, bo, nunchaku (flail consisting of 2 pieces of wood joined by a rope or chain), tonfa (baton with a handle), amongst other weapons. Master Takayuki Mikami (Chief Instructor of the Louisiana Karate Association and Japan Karate Association/American Federation) has extensive knowledge and experience of the use of weapons, as well being extremely proficient with the katana (Japanese long sword). Some non-Shotokan Karate Masters known for their expertise of weapons include Master Takayuki Kubota (Gosoku-Ryu Karate founder) and Master Fumio Demura (Shito-Ryu Karate-Do).
Karate also teaches kata (pre-arranged forms) which teach the student numerous possibilities of self-defense against a single opponent or multiple opponents. Before and after performing any kata, rei (bowing) is always done. Rei is always present in Karate, and indeed always present in all Budo. These kata demand great mental concentration, memory, imagination and mastery of the techniques contained therein. While possibly looking like an “exercise” to the layman, kata are in fact pre-arranged theorems of self-defense; all of which contain techniques of self-defense and counterattack. # 2 of the Shoto Niju-
Kun (20 precepts of Shotokan Karate, which are philosophical and technical principles written by Shotokan Karate founder Master Funakoshi) states, “there is no first attack in Karate.”2 This precept is exemplified in a technical and philosophical manner in that the very first move of each kata is always a defensive technique. This precept also applies to daily life and is to be contemplated and studied further, as are all of the Shoto Niju-Kun. Kata have many applications to each movement and/or sequence. This is called bunkai. Bunkai is a study of possible applications that the Karate student either learns from their Sensei and/or discovers his/her own applications. Similar to bunkai is oyo. Oyo is the applications of the techniques and movements that are in the kata that are not obvious as the techniques and movements that are visually seen, learnt and done. Oyo may contain additional techniques and/or movements that are not necessarily actual techniques and/or movements that are learnt, seen and done in the kata in its established form. Adding techniques and/or movements to the original movements and/or techniques augment the kata reveal that there is much more to the kata then what is seen in its established form. Hence, with oyo it is seen that the movements in the kata may be a point of origin which possibly lead to several possibilities. Originally, Bunkai was thought of, taught and learnt as a personal study left up to the individual. While bunkai is largely a personal study, it has become more standardized in some Karate organizations, which are shown in textbooks and instructional DVD’s. The standardization of Bunkai is also to have the students learn a prescribed bunkai in order that all instructors and students teach and learn the same bunkai respectively. Bunkai may possibly be taught, learnt and done according to the rank and technical level of the student.
Whereas boxing usually consists of combinations of punches (many of which slide off of or graze the target having little actual effect, while other punches which do connect are very effective), in Karate the techniques are different. It cannot be overemphasized that ikken-hissatsu (to kill with one blow) must be striven for not only in kumite, but also in kihon and kata. The idea being to make the techniques so effective, that only one single” finishing blow” (as previously mentioned and described) is needed for self-defense to stop the opponent. Karate also teaches the striking of and uses vital points as targets, which can cause death, paralysis, and/or permanent injury to the opponent. In addition, while boxing uses punching techniques exclusively, Karate uses numerous types of techniques of defense, as well as techniques of attack using the arms, legs and the entire body.
While boxing uses some equipment for training, including the heavy bag, the speed bag, the jump rope, weighted gloves and weights, along with other equipment and ultimately requires a partner, Karate occasionally requires some equipment for protection and also equipment for training, such as the makiwara (striking post), heavy bag, timing bag, iron geta (weighted sandals to be worn to strengthen keri waza (kicking techniques) and dumbbells to be held in the hands to strengthen tsuki waza (punching techniques) and uke waza (blocking techniques), in addition to the heavy club, jump rope and other types of training equipment, much of which originated on Okinawa, which is the birthplace of Karate as we know it. Karate training may at times require training partner, but it is not necessary. One can train and practice Karate with or without training equipment and can train and practice alone.
In addition to the physical and technical differences between Karate and boxing, there are also aesthetic and philosophical differences. While in boxing, the boxer goes to the “gym” and/or the “club” for a “workout,” the Karate-ka (practitioner of Karate) goes to the dojo (training hall or place for learning “the way“) for a class. The boxer has a “trainer” or a “coach,” who “puts them through their paces,” often with “sparring partners,” while the Karate-ka is taught by a Sensei (esteemed teacher or “one who has gone before”) in a class with fellow students of various ranks (achieved through time of serious, dedicated, proper training, along with preparation for the examination that the student will be given by his/her Examiner, who is at times the student’s Sensei at his/her dojo) that train together simultaneously, often pushed to the limits of their physical and/or mental capabilities and beyond during the training. In Karate training, the Sensei often pushes the student beyond the student’s preconceived notion about his/her abilities, hence bringing the student to new heights of development and improvement. In addition, the Sensei has gone through many years of Karate training, has been taught how to teach by his/her own Sensei and/or various Sensei (as in the Japan Karate Association Instructor Training Program; of which Master Takayuki Mikami, Chief Instructor of Louisiana Karate Association and the Japan Karate Association/American Federation was the very first graduate of), being knowledgeable of not only the physical Karate techniques and Karate philosophy, but also in subjects such as human anatomy, physics, adult and child psychology, as well as sports medicine, CPR and First Aid, just to name a few. The Sensei must also be able to instruct and communicate with students who do not speak, nor understand the language of the country where the training is taking place. An example of this would be a student training in Japan who does not understand Japanese, being taught by a Sensei who is teaching in Japanese and does not speak, nor understand, the language that the gaijin (foreign or “outside”) student speaks. The opposite is also necessary: the Sensei must be able to instruct and communicate with students who do not speak, nor understand the native language of the Sensei and simultaneously does not speak, nor understand the language of the students being taught in his/her class. In no way is the Sensei a “coach” and/or a “trainer,” nor should he/she ever be addressed as and/or referred to, nor thought of as such.
The formality and protocol of Karate is ever-present in and outside of the dojo. Upon entering the dojo, the Karate-ka traditionally performs ritsu-rei (standing bow). At the beginning of class, seiza (formal Japanese sitting) is performed, as well as mokuso (meditation), mokuso-yame (ending the meditation), seiza-rei (bow performed while sitting in formal Japanese sitting position) consisting of shomen-ni-rei (bowing to the front or most venerated position in the dojo); often where a picture of the founder of the style of Karate practiced in the dojo is placed, along with the flag of Japan and the country in which the dojo is located, as well as at times a Kamiza (which is a highly respected and venerated shrine) and finally Sensei-ni-rei (bowing to the instructor). The traditional class ends the same way, as well as with a recitation led by the sempai (senior student) of the Dojo Kun (precepts of the dojo): Hitotsu! Jinkaku kansei ni tsutomoru koto (One! Seek perfection of character), Hitotsu! Makoto michi no mamoru koto (One! Be faithful), Hitotsu! Doryoku no seishin o yashinau koto (One! To endeavor to excel and cultivate the spirit of perseverance), Hitotsu! Reigi o omonzuru koto (One! Respect others), Hitotsu! Kekki no yu o imashimuru koto (Refrain from violent behavior). “Hitotsu,” meaning “one,” is said to emphasize the equal importance of each precept. It should be noted that mokuso (meditation) at the beginning of the class will help the student and instructor clear their minds. For example, thoughts of what happened during the day and/or what will happen after class or indeed any distracting thought should be cleared out of the mind. The mind must be perfectly open and totally clear to learn and to teach. Likewise, at the end of class mokuso allows the student and instructor to subconsciously absorb the lesson and training given in the class, as well as calming the mind to face the outside world. Breathing should be controlled in mokuso, allowing oxygen to be absorbed in and released from the heart, brain, lungs, blood and entire respiratory system. The recitation of the Dojo Kun (sincerely recited and absorbed) will greatly aid in the student and instructor returning to the “outside world” in a more calm and fresh manner. Upon exiting the dojo floor and the dojo itself, the Karate-ka traditionally performs ritsu-rei once more.
In many dojo worldwide, students will perform soji (cleaning or cleansing the dojo), particularly the training floor, after each training session, exemplifying the respect for the dojo, as well as developing a spirit of cooperation and bonding. Outside of the dojo at informal and informal events, the students of the Sensei will display formalities such as bowing to their Sensei when he/she arrives at a location, as well as standing up when their Sensei enters a room or stands up, as well as bowing to their Sensei when he/she is departing. Hence, respect for their Sensei is omnipresent and constant. The same formalities are often followed with Sempai (senior student or students) by their Kohai (junior student or students). In either of these examples, the Sensei nor the Sempai request, nor insist, that these formalities be adhered to and be followed. These formalities are traditionally, respectfully and naturally done as a sign of genuine respect and genuine reverence. This exact same Sempai-Kohai idea and relationship also applies to Japanese culture in general, for example in schools, universities, business, (very importantly) respect for one’s elders, and respect for the elderly.
In boxing, there is no formal acknowledgement of each boxer’s level of proficiency, no indication of the length of the boxer’s time of being a boxer, no formal division of levels of experience and ability, no outward indication of the boxer’s experience, as well as no junior-senior protocol followed.
However, in Karate, the student is able to be evaluated for his/her progress in Karate with Kyu (student level) and Dan (expert level) ranks by the means of taking an examination conducted by a certified Examiner. These examinations usually take place in one’s own dojo, the Hombu dojo (the main dojo and headquarters of the organization that the student is a member of), at a national or international tournament or at a regional or national training camp. Each Kyu examination consists of the examinee being asked and required to perform a syllabus consisting of Kata, Kihon and Kumite. For Dan examinations, the examinee is required the same, however for higher Dan ranks, Kihon may be eliminated from the examination and bunkai (application and meaning) of kata and/or specific sections of it. The very highest Dan promotions may be also include the consideration of the examinee’s many years of dedication to and contributions to Karate. There is usually a 3 month time period between Kyu examinations and promotions, whereas with Dan ranks there is a minimum of a certain amount of years of training and time between promotions that is required. Higher Dan ranks require a minimum age requirement to test for a higher rank. Formally, the examinee asks his/her Sensei for permission and approval before applying for and taking any level of examination.
Kyu ranks are accompanied by different color belts per rank earned, with some dojo allowing stripes on the belt, which the student wears. Some higher Kyu ranks keep the same color belt through different ranks. Kyu ranks are in the order of 10-1 Kyu. Dan ranks are in the order of 1-10 Dan ranks. Dan ranks wear a black belt, at times with Japanese characters stating one’s organization and name if desired. Both Kyu ranks and Dan ranks are presented with a certificate of promotion, signed by the Chief Instructor of the organization and the Examiner. Kyu ranks may have a membership card or passport signifying and recording their history of examinations. Dan ranks are required to have a passport, which signifies and records their history of examinations, along with other records of their participation in Karate, as well as their record of their qualifications and ranks as a Judge, Instructor and Examiner. In the Japan Karate Association, all Kyu and Dan ranks, as well as Judge, Instructor and Examiner qualifications and ranks are recognized worldwide. This allows a worldwide standard of the organizations Karate. It also allows students to train in any dojo worldwide and be able to train essentially the same as he/she would at his/her regular dojo.
As a sport, professional boxing is very popular worldwide. It is shown and watched by millions on television and on live and recorded social media. It is also written about and covered in newspapers and on social media. It is also participated in by amateurs, who may participate in it for enjoyment, with many aspiring to be a professional one day. It is a very competitive and violent sport, where only a few may become full-time professionals and receive national and/or world recognition. It is also a sport that can be participated in both for enjoyment and professionally up to a certain age for most boxers. Additionally, it is a sport, which up until the last 40 years has been participated in primarily by men, with very few women participating. Furthermore, it is also rarely seen with children participating. The reasons for this are primarily for safety (with most parents caring greatly about their children’s safety), the issue of young and immature children not understanding that boxing is a sport and not a means of and education of hurting others, as well as possibly using what they have learnt in boxing to attempt to solve differences with others. Teenage children going through adolescence may see boxing as a way of gaining attention and possibly using boxing to impress others and gain a reputation in their social circles as a good and strong fighter. Young adults may participate in boxing, doing it while young and as they grow older without realizing and/or accepting the fact that years of participation in it may possibly later in life (or earlier) cause things such as brain damage, dementia, memory loss, arthritis, damaged bones and joints, deterioration and/or damage of eyesight, severe headaches, insomnia, psychological and psychiatric issues such as depression, mental flashbacks in dreams and while awake (similar to PTSD) of being overwhelmingly attacked in the ring and of the violence of the sport, just to name a few things. In addition, many boxers will give up this sport and activity that they love because of not being a world class and well-known boxer. For them, the thrill of boxing comes from knowing that they can always endeavor to become a world champion, recognized by both other boxers and the public. At times professional boxers have become sports celebrities drawing public attention to themselves, at times publicly boasting about their abilities and reputations. And also at times, fierce rivalries may develop between 2 boxers, which may bring even more public attention to both the boxers and the boxing match event itself. In addition, the lure of cash prize and fame are often more incentives to win at all costs.
Karate was never originally intended to be a sport. The founders and pioneers of Karate never thought of it as such and never intended it to be a sport. Some were (and some Sensei still are) completely opposed to Karate being a sport. It is only within the last 70 years or so that a sporting and competitive aspect of Karate has been developed. However, many who enjoy participating in it as a sport view it as, train it as and learn it as a martial art first and foremost. Also, Karate has only occasionally been commercialized with things such as cash prizes and other types of prizes given to the winners. Traditional Karate-ka see this as abhorrent, despicable and the abuse of what is learnt and practiced as an activity containing the striving for improvement in one’s character, the shunning of fame, fortune and notoriety, hence developing genuine humility, modesty and respect for others. Karate as a sport has never had the attention and popularity as boxing has had. It is also very rarely been given the attention of television and live and recorded social media. Nor has it been ever covered and reported about in newspapers and social media as much as boxing has. This lack of popularity has been disappointing to some who are primarily interested in and participate in Karate as a sport, yet has been seen as very positive to those who view Karate strictly as a martial art. The lack of public attention and the lack of sports media coverage is largely seen by these traditional Karate-ka as keeping Karate pure, therefore with much less of a possibility of it becoming a “spectator sport,” along with it becoming a commercialized, multi-million dollar enterprise.
Karate may be participated in by children who learn discipline, respect for others, manners, social skills and self-control, as well as develop confidence, develop coordination and get regular exercise, amongst several other things. For teenage young adults, it includes all of the aforementioned traits, yet at this critical time of life is very likely to be an extremely positive influence in many aspects, particularly as avoiding peer pressure, avoiding negative influences that many adolescents encounter such as the use of drugs, alcohol, tobacco, violent behavior, crime and gang activity, amongst other things. For young adults, Karate can additionally contain to the aforementioned (which adults may also encounter), help one focus better on issues such as living, managing and enjoying one‘s life in an organized and healthy way, being a better spouse, being a better parent and child to their own parents and grandparents, as well as feeling overall much healthier and younger than one might feel if not for all the many positive and healthy things that Karate-Do learnt, studied and practice can bring to a person for the rest of his/her life. In addition, Karate can be learnt and participated in by both male and female persons of all ages, whether one is in top or poor physical condition, has weight issues (underweight or overweight), is weak or strong, or has rarely or has never participated in any activity which includes physical exercise and mental concentration. And whereas boxing may be done by only one member of a family, it is not unusual for 2 or more members of the same family to be training in Karate. And it is sometimes the case that 2 individuals will meet through the practice of Karate and will eventually develop a relationship and possibly become husband and wife. Hence, the participation in Karate potentially has numerous family and social fringe benefits.
While boxing is largely an individual activity and sport, Karate training exists in a class of students. However, Karate was originally largely taught from teacher to student on a one on one individual basis, often in secret. It gradually became practiced more in groups of students. Classes may be divided up according to rank and/or experience as separate classes or divided within one class, with different Sensei teaching the different ranks of students separate from the other students. Or at times all ranks will train together. This is often the case at Karate training camps. These training camps allow the student to focus largely and/or exclusively on Karate training. These training camps can be regional, national or international. They may vary in length from 2 days to 7 days. Some camps include extra activities such as rank tests, a tournament, team tryouts and lectures on various topics, amongst other things. There is often a party held during the middle of or at the end of a camp, which is an opportunity for students and instructors to socialize. However, in many cases the students and instructors do not socialize at the same location, as to keep the relationship between the Sensei and Deshi (student) more formal. This is not only at events such as parties, but within day to day activities. Most training camps are for all ranks, while some are exclusively for Black Belt students. Camps also provide the opportunity to meet and become friends with other Karate students and instructors. Often times, students and instructors from different national or global locations of origin and will form friendships that can last a lifetime.
Seminars are similar to camps, but are usually given by a single Sensei, often with a theme and/or specific area of training and study, such as kata, bunkai and kumite. Additionally, seminars usually are held for one day.
These aforementioned events exemplify that while boxing is a much more individual activity and endeavor, Karate is largely a group activity in which the students and instructors are participating as a group, and in many cases like a family.
In terms of actual sporting and competitive aspects regarding boxing and Karate, there are numerous differences seen and observed upon further and closer examination, scrutinizing, and analysis.
Prior to a professional boxing match, each boxer is introduced and announced to the audience. This is most commonly done with fanfare. Upon entering the ring, each boxer is once again introduced and announced to the audience. Traditionally, the 2 boxers will greet each other in the center of the squared ring and also traditionally tapping each other’s gloves as an exchange of sportsmanship. The male boxer is clad in shorts, while the female boxer is clad in shorts, a tank top, or possibly spandex clothing. Both male and female boxers wear boots, as well as wear gloves, often with the hands taped up under the gloves, occasionally protective headgear and wearing a mouthpiece. The ring is surrounded on all sides with ropes, which the boxer can push the opponent into or be pushed into and also allows the boxer the convenience of being able to not accidentally step out of the designated fighting area. The boxer also has his/her coaches and assistants on the floor on the side of the corner of the boxer. There are a maximum of 12 rounds, each of 2 minutes in duration with weight divisions included in some professional and amateur boxing events. There is typically a resting period of 1 minute between rounds during which the boxer can be attended to by his coach and assistants. There is 1 referee in the boxing ring, with judges outside of the ring who only observe the match and who influence and/or decide the decision of each round and the final decision. If knocked down, a boxer has a count of 10 given by the referee to get up and continue. Otherwise, it is known as a knockout. A knockout can end a match during any of the rounds. The referee also has the authority to stop a match if he/she feels that the match is or has become extremely dangerous for either boxer who may be defenseless. The opposite boxer is then declared the winner. This is called a Technical Knockout. At the end of the match, the winner is declared, usually given a large belt with a huge buckle, symbolizing the match and their victory thereof, and most often his/her arm is held up for the audience to see. And in professional boxing matches, there is usually an onslaught of photographers, reporters and media personnel. After the match, there is most often analysis on television and radio sports programs by sportscasters and live footage is often shown of the highlights of the match.
In a Karate tournament, there are different categories offered for participation in. There are also different divisions of these categories, which may be divided by factors such as age, rank, school, university and dojo. Children as young as 4 years old may participate in the Children’s Division and competitors well into their 70’s and 80’s may also participate in the Senior Division. There is also a Collegiate Division included as well. There is no fanfare on the day of the Eliminations, while on the day of the Finals there is usually a performance by a band, singer or instrumentalist of the national anthem of the country of which the tournament is being held and the national anthem of Japan. There are occasionally Karate demonstrations given by students and/or instructors at this time. During the Eliminations, the Referees and Judges are often dressed in the traditional white Karate gi. Otherwise, the Referees, Judges and Officials are dressed in a coat and tie with the colors of a blue coat, white shirt, red tie and gray pants. This attire is worn during the Finals. Referees and Judges are barefoot while in the ring. All competitors are required to wear a white traditional Karate gi and their belt representing their rank, as well as being barefoot.
The events are held in a squared ring, which is marked off by a square of tape around the entire ring. There are also marked or taped starting positions on the floor for competitors participating in kata and/or kumite and also a position on the floor the Referee during kumite. The competitors may compete in either the Kata event and/or the Kumite event. In each ring, there is a Referee who is seated at the front of the ring and 4 Corner Judges at each corner of the squared ring. All Judges and Referees must be familiar with all of rules and regulations of the tournament, as well as being trained in refereeing and judging both kata and kumite. There are also table Officials who keep score of the events and make announcements when necessary. The kata event consists of 2 competitors simultaneously performing a random kata, which is selected by the Referee. One competitor wears a red flag around his/her waist, while the other competitor wears his/her usual belt. Upon the whistle call of the Chief Judge, the 4 Referees hold up a flag of white or red signifying who they each feel was the better performance of the selected kata. The competitors who have won this preliminary round then go on to the next round performing their chosen kata individually. The Referee and the Corner Judges are each holding a scorecard, consisting of numbers and decimal points of which the Referee and Corner Judges present their individual score. The total numbers are added up and the highest score and lowest score are omitted. In the case of a tie, a different kata is most often required and performed. In some tournaments, the preliminary round of 2 competitors performing the same kata simultaneously is not done. There is also the Team Kata division, which consists of 3 competitors performing the same kata in unison. It must be noted that each competitor may participate only in the kata division or only in the kumite division. Or the competitor may participate in both the kata division and the kumite division. It also must be noted that participation in a Karate tournament is not required, nor encouraged by his/his her Sensei. It is completely optional.
The Kumite event consists of 2 opponents performing Ippon Kumite in the Beginner-Intermediate Division and Jiyu-Ippon Kumite performed by youth competitors in the Brown Belt and Black Belt divisions with Jiyu Kumite performed in the Finals. One competitor is wearing a red belt around his/her waist, while the other competitor wears his/her usual belt. For adult competitors Brown and Black Belts perform Jiyu Kumite in their respective divisions. These rules apply to the Collegiate Division also. Some tournaments eliminate Ippon Kumite and Jiyu-Ippon Kumite and only consist of Jiyu Kumite. There is also the Team Kumite division, consisting of 3 or 5 members of a team, doing Kumite in twos. The team with the most wins overall is the winner. In all of these divisions, there are is a Referee who stands in the ring and controls the match and announces the points, fouls, warnings, and stops and starts the match, ends the match and announces the decision. 4 Corner Judges holding a red flag in one hand and a white flag in the other. The Referee and Judges all have whistles to be used when necessary during kata and kumite divisions. All Kumite competitors are required to wear a mouthpiece and in most tournaments wear light white gloves designed for kumite. In Kihon Kumite and Jiyu-Ippon Kumite and Jiyu Kumite the Referee and Judge choose the winner if one of the opponents has not already scored an Ippon (full point) or a waza-ari (half point) as is done in the preliminaries as in the kata events, with the exception that the Referee does not hold a flag and is standing in the center of the ring and may move around as may be necessary.. The Jiyu-Kumite matches are 2 minute long, while the Finals are at times 3 minutes long. Points are awarded for techniques executed accurately to the target and/or targets. Techniques such as tsuki-waza (punching techniques), uchi-waza (striking techniques), keri-waza (kicking techniques) and nage-waza (throwing techniques), along with others and combinations thereof can all be techniques to be used that can award the competitor a point. If the technique is not quite an effective or “killing blow” it may be awarded a waza-ari. If the technique is considered to be an effective or “killing blow” it can be awarded an ippon. Factors such as zanshin (“remaining mind” or “awareness”) must also be included before, during and after the execution of the technique. The executor of the attack and/or counterattack must also not attack, nor counterattack recklessly and must show that he/she can defend himself/herself. Unlike in boxing, there are no ropes, but only the tape on the edge of the floor of the ring. The competitor must be careful to avoid stepping on the line or outside of the line. For the first two times of stepping out of the ring, the competitor is warned. Should the competitor step out of the ring 3 times, he/she is disqualified. Competitors engaging in unsportsmanlike behavior can also be disqualified. These are the traditional divisions and rules of most Shotokan Karate tournaments. While occasionally rivalries may develop, they are usually friendly rivalries in which the competitors most often greatly respect each other, are familiar with each other and see each other as a person to improve oneself. And often times, competitors and those with rivalries are good friends. This is yet one example of the opportunity for and camaraderie and friendships to begin, develop and often last many years, if not for the remainder of one’s life.
At the end of a division, the top 3 competitors are given a medal, bronze for 3rd place, silver for 2nd place and a gold medal for 1st place. And a trophy is usually given to the winners of the Finals of most divisions. The results of the Finals are announced and the competitors, Referees and Judges often greet each other and talk with each other at this time. Winning competitors who win and competitors who place are often congratulated by many. It is also usually common for a social event such as a banquet or party held after the entire tournament. This allows and gives opportunity for the very important aspect of all competitors, referees, judges and officials, friends and family members socializing and enjoying them after a tournament. It is very rare for a Karate tournament to have any coverage or mention on television or radio sports programs.
It can clearly be seen that Karate is not nearly as popular as boxing and never has been. Today, boxing is indeed being participated in more and more by both men and women. However, as we have seen, in boxing, “only the strong survive.” It can be seen that it does not lend itself to young children and older people. Indeed, as mentioned, many former professional boxers have suffered from brain damage and other effects of years and years of boxing, and/or from trying to participate in boxing as a boxer after a certain age. Karate however, can be practiced safely by anyone from childhood to one’s twilight years. To further exemplify this fact, it is not well known that Handicapped persons (as exemplified by Master Tetsuhiko Asai, who is credited for the invention wheelchair Karate) can also practice Karate in all areas of kihon, kata and kumite as well as self-defense. Karate-ka who train in a wheelchair may participate if desired in tournament Karate, in which in some tournaments there is a Wheelchair Division. Wheelchair Karate consists of the Karate-ka performing Karate while seated in a wheelchair. Master Asai also invented adaptations of kata to be performed in a wheelchair, as well as wheelchair kata and kumite invented specifically for persons using a wheelchair.
Unlike boxing where many boxers must retire and/or are only to participate in their younger years, in Karate anyone weak or strong, male or female, young or old may participate and train. Master Shojiro Koyama has often referred to Karate as, “lifetime exercise.” Practiced properly, it is that indeed.
The emphasis on boxing is on winning and defeating another person. In Karate-Do, “the ultimate goal lies not in victory or defeat, but in the perfection of the character of its participants.” (Gichin Funakoshi: 1868-1957)(3)
1. Best Karate volumes 1-11, Masatoshi Nakayama
2. Perfection Of Character: Guiding Principles For The Martial Artist & Everyday Life,
3. Karate-Do Kyohan, Gichin Funakoshi