Tournament karate has little to do with either of these aspects of dento karate. So, why do it? Well, it can be motivating. It can add a little useful stress (or spice one of my instructors used to call it) to our practice. Healthy competition also delivers its own rewards. Being able to lose and win with grace and dignity are important skills for our students to master.
Some schools stress the competitive aspects of karate over almost all other facets of the arts. Others refuse to consider competition at all. I take the middle path, I recognize that competition has always been in important part of karate practice, but that is not the goal of our art. In the 1700s and 1800s in Okinawa there was a particular boulder in Naha city where martial artists would meet to duel. In the 1930s as Shotokan developed in Japan it expanded largely among university clubs which competed heavily and regularly against each other. Our style, Shotokan karate, in the 1960 and 1970s was almost synonymous with competitive dominance in karate. Yet, our grandmaster Funakoshi Gichin, never competed and decried competition. After his death his school split into factions partially over the place of competition in Shotokan's pedagogy. Competition, like all things I suppose, is as good or bad as the purpose for which it is employed.
In today's case I think participating in a tournament was fun and beneficial. We attended Maine Traditional Karate's 6th annual competition. Our two competitors (out of a school of 20 students, so that should tell you important competition is to us, I guess) both did well and enjoyed themselves. They got to see students from five or six different styles and when they realized we were the only Shotokan folks present I think they felt a little pride in our school and style. One student didn't place in a very large kata division, but I was very proud of him as I saw him overcome some nerves and perform a really nice kata. A little while later he fought very strongly in his kumite division and took second place. Our other student was bumped up a division in kata because of low enrollment and had to compete against older and more advanced players. He scored third of three, but in a division of his peers I believe he would have scored very well. In his kumite division, which was age appropriate, he took third of six competitors. He's not the biggest kid in the world and he took a couple of knocks. Coming back from them I think he surprised his competition.
Today our students learned that its fun to compete. They learned that it's OK not to win. And they learned that it feels great to place and be recognized. Most of all I hope they learned to trust their training. We didn't train any differently for the tournament than we normally would and they competed strongly. There are a few other local competitions coming up over the next couple of months and I'll let parents and students know about them as I receive registration information. If Heisui Dojo people would like to compete as an adjunct to our "real" karate training I'd welcome taking another group out into the wider karate world.