A close friend who’s also a black belt Karate instructor texted me the other day. He was at the Karate national championships and was letting me know how he was doing. A team had asked him to join them so I advised him to be a ‘team whore’ and fight for whoever would have him. It’s all about getting the experience. He’s been training with me about a year and is a fairly experienced fighter in a JKD/ Crosstraining format. He said that he was doing well but finding the limited toolbox of the Karate fighters meant that speed and timing were their strengths. I think Karate or any one-point fighting is superb for learning about timing and distance and definitely something to have gone through on your path to wherever you’re aiming.
I know it’s not fashionable now to do this sort of fighting and that grappling and Vale Tudo are the rage but I have to admit to pangs of regret that I wasn’t there competing. I asked half joking if they had age range groups and was told no it’s all ages all sizes. By this time my mouth was sort of watering. I remember, probably with rose tinted glasses, the days I spent waiting to fight at crystal palace and other venues. On a whim I searched the house for my old Tokaido karate suits that I’d brought back from Japan thirty years ago only to find that I’d finally chucked them out in my most recent purge of clothing. However, in addition to all the Kickboxing/ boxing and grappling that we normally do I’ve decided to make sure that I do some of this type of limited strikes fighting at my club.
As to this type of combat not being as hard or macho as Thai boxing or Vale Tudo as some people think that’s what many Karate people thought of Judo back in the 60’s and 70’s and how wrong they were. I just think it’s a different type of combat that’s all. In terms of teeth knocked out, noses broken and groins mashed etc I’ve seen many more serious injuries in Karate competitions than in anything else. Watching teeth flying through the air used to be part of the fun of old style competitions when it was just bare knuckle and I bet it’s basically not that different now except they cheat and keep their teeth in with a gumshield.
Each format has it’s own type of pain and it’s own risks. The pain element in stickfighting is much different to the overall trauma of boxing. One is sharp and stinging and the other disorientating and painful in a blunter but deeper way maybe due to the gloves. None of it’s pleasurable but of course the aims to not get hit and make sure you hit the other person. It’s just fun, albeit with a hint of danger. This makes it more enjoyable if you escape unscathed. Each type of combat teaches you something about you and about your knowledge and control of fear, timing, distance, balance and all the other core things about fighting in general. The thing is to keep plugging away whatever the format and to take on new challenges that fit your life at that moment.
I talked to some of my senior students about doing this type of competition again as its just fighting and just to take part you don’t need too much specific training in preparation. Though of course if you want to do well the more you’ve got the better it is. JKD instructor Terry Barnett and I talked about it at length between chuckles and came to the idea that maybe all of us old guys could go and compete anonymously and wear masks. I can just hear kids in the audience saying ‘dad who are those guys in the masks?’ He could also add ‘and why are they so much better than everyone else’ or maybe more realistically ‘ Dad, why are they always losing?’ Because the truth of it is, if it’s not the area that you’re specialising in, you have a much higher chance of getting your arse kicked. Additionally, however good you were thirty years ago at that type of fighting you’re probably nowhere near as fast as a twenty year old. Mind you the idea of an ‘old git’ team comprising old friends like Peter consterdine and Geoff Britton who’s now back in the UK teaching and a few other wrinklies definitely had me interested.
The next time you’re at a Karate or semi contact competition and you see five bald guys wearing masks take it easy it could be us. Just as long as we don’t meet Terry O’Neill in the eliminations we may have a chance.