My short answer is a definate yes, they are good. As karate competitions can bring out the best in people.
But that can quickly turn to a definate no, they are bad for many karateka who compete. As karate competitions can also bring out the worst in people.
As many Sensei reading this will agree, attitude is everything.
Over the years I have seen it all at karate tournaments. Karateka arguing with the officials, I have even seen karateka physically attack the officials! I have seen blatant cheating by competitors, which is bad enough, only for the competitors Sensei to step in and back up his cheating student.
I have seen Sensei standing at the side of the competition area, trying to intimidate and influence the referee and judges, I have seen karateka deliberately go on to the mat to try and hurt people and the worst of all (my opinion only), is where the karateka show no respect to their fellow competitors or officials.
Enough of the bad stuff, which by the way, is perpetrated by a very small number of karateka. On to the good stuff, the benefits of competing are many, competitions can be great training and learning ground for karateka.
To begin with, the pressure of actually competing can be extremely daunting to many people, so just dealing with that alone is commendable.
Many Sensei talk about having the ability to switch on and switch off, this is an extremely important aspect of karate, calm and relaxed before the fight or kata, then as soon as you bow (rei), the switch goes on and you are ready to fight with every fibre in your body and soul.
With the fighting, there’s the fear of getting hurt to overcome, even though most Shotokan tournaments are semi contact, the karateka who are competing, deliver karate techniques at full speed, which can cause serious injury if not controlled, one mistimed technique and the competitors know, injury can occur, so overcoming that fear is a big thing for some.
Competition fighting really develops speed, reactions and timing. There is no time to stop and think, the fighter must react and to be able to react, the fighter must also be relaxed. When someone first starts competition fighting, they look for openings, but experienced fighters do not look for openings, they sometimes create the openings without knowing they are creating them, or they just appear, as soon as they appear, the experienced fighter will strike without thinking, or as Bruce Lee said ~
With kata competition, the karateka must have a ‘fight or die’ attitude, where every technique is delivered as if it was their last! This ‘Ikken Hissatsu’ attitude must be real, which brings me on to my last and very contoversial point about karate tournaments.
To the untrained eye, the senior kata competitors all look very similar, executing very strong and deadly karate moves, whilst stepping, jumping, spinning and dropping to the floor, but for some of them, all is not well 🙁
The trained eye can see that some karateka are doing their kata for real, yet others are simply putting on a show, exagerated pauses, horrific kiai’s and facial expressions straight out of a Hollywood movie! This is NOT karatedo, this is a sport and I believe the two are completely seperate, that’s not to say the people who do their kata in this way are not good, some of them are great athletes.
So, do I think karate competitions are good? YES, karatedo or sport competition, they are all good, you just need to know which one you are entering 🙂