Monday, 13 August 2012

The Olympics would be the ruin of karate...

As we draw close the end of the London 2012 Olympics the IOC (International Olympic Committee) will start their analysis of the games and start voting on which sports to relegate from the next Olympics in Rio in 2016 and what new sports to add. Karate is on the list of potential new sports to add to the games next time around.

KARATE IS NOT A SPORT! At least real budo karate is not a sport.

The problem with taking a traditional martial art and turning it into a sport is that the sport version, by necessity, is reductionist. Sport reduces a martial art to a few basic moves that can be executed quickly and efficiently in a rule based environment. Karate as sport is reduced to not much more than gyaku zuki, mawashi geri, ura mawashi geri, ashi barai and various combinations of these moves. In many modern karate clubs the students actually think that kumite means ‘sport karate’. How far from the original meaning is that?

Then there’s kata – we all know that when kata is done for competition purposes it becomes all about aesthetics and performance. You don’t actually need to know what a kata means to put on a good performance. Don’t get me wrong, I like to see kata performed well; I admire people who can do it, there is a lot of skill in a good kata performance. I’m not knocking a good performance but all style and no substance is not what kata is about. Again competition reduces kata to a superficial state.

We only have to look at the traditional martial arts that are already represented in the Olympics to see the negative effect it has had on the art. I watched some of the judo live at the ExCel centre. I was bowled over by the atmosphere of being in the arena watching the event. I wasn’t so bowled over by the judo though. I hadn’t watched a judo competition before and had expected to witness some spectacular and varied throws, locks and pins. Most of what I saw was contestants clawing at each other to get a grip on the gi, leg sweeps and a quick pin on the ground. It seemed very reductionist – I’m pretty sure judo has more to offer than that. In fact I know it has more to offer than that because I have seen judo demonstrations at martial arts festivals. Even though judo was developed as a combat sport I’m sure Kano would be turning in his grave at how reductionist it has become.

Then there’s taekwondo. Like karate, taekwondo was not developed as a sport originally. I’m pretty certain that sport taekwondo does not resemble the traditional art one iota. It has been reduced to bouncing around with loose arms and kicking out to the body and head like a couple of kangaroos! But real taekwondo has forms and self-defence applications just like karate. The only way traditional taekwondo manages to survive is for it to have branched off from the sports version and be governed by the Kukkiwan (Traditional taekwondo headquarters) in Korea.  I doubt there are many traditional taekwondo clubs left outside Korea though.

Once a traditional martial art becomes an Olympic event the rush to get ‘Olympic Standard’ competitors means that many clubs turn themselves over entirely to training only in the sport version of their art. Clubs teaching the full range of the art will fall into decline unless they divorce themselves completely from the sport.

The situation for karate would be even more dire than it is for taekwondo. The reason karate is not yet an Olympic sport is because there are too many styles, too many governing bodies (that don’t agree with each other) and too many styles of competition.  Some styles risk going out of existence altogether: Assume karate becomes an Olympic sport but full-contact competition isn’t allowed – what will happen to styles like kyokushin karate? Will its popularity decline? And what about weight categories? Would they have to be introduced? Would sport karate as we know it have to change out of all recognition? Some styles wear a full-range of protective gear and others have nothing other than a gum shield and sparring mits. So even if you are a fan of sport karate you would probably have to make many changes to your sport if it became an Olympic event.

Karate is already practiced as a sport you may argue. We already have national and international karate competitions in a range of styles and yet traditional karate still exists – so what difference will making karate an Olympic event make?

I think it will make a big difference. Karate competitions currently are not broadcast on mainstream TV and tend to attract only audiences of family, friends and fellow sports karate enthusiasts. It remains below the consciousness of the general public. If you make it an Olympic sport then it will be televised worldwide to a very diverse audience who will expect to be thrilled and entertained by it. Karate is not entertainment, it is budo. To entertain the public sport karate will become more sensationalist – you already see this in some kata competitions where kata have become like gymnastic displays. It will only get worse.

The Olympics will be the death knell of real karate. Karate should be a life-long pursuit, accessible to all for the whole of their lives if they so wish. If we are only left with sport karate then, like most sports, in will become the domain of younger people only.

Anyone who values REAL karate should be opposed to karate as an Olympic event. What do you think? I have put a poll in the right side bar of this blog so that you can vote, or leave me a comment…

(If you are a martial arts blogger and you disagree with me then why not write a post giving your opposing view i.e. why the Olympics will be good for karate, and let’s have a debate!)

Update: result of the poll....

Do you think karate should be an Olympic Event?

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Wednesday, 1 August 2012

My Olympic pictures

Chelsea Football Club Stadium
It was so thrilling to be in London to watch some of the Olympic events live. We arrived Friday afternoon at St Pancras Station expecting to be half-crushed by the crowds but were pleasantly surprised by how un-hassley it all was. Volunteer 'Games-makers' were literally everywhere to meet and greet people where ever you went and to point you in the right direction or answer questions and give you information leaflets. 

We had an equally un-hassley tube trip over to Chelsea (you know we got to sit down on virtually every tube train we went on - now that's unheard of in 'normal' times!) We stayed at an hotel in the grounds of the world famous football club, Chelsea. The photo above is their stadium.  

We watched the opening ceremony in our hotel room, sitting on the bed eating pizza and drinking red wine! I thought it was great, a bit baffling at times but entertaining and very British! When did the Queen learn to parachute out of a helicopter? I thought the way they lit the cauldron was fantastic too! 

Hubby and I waiting for the road race to pass!
On Saturday (and just by luck) the men's cycling road race was going past our hotel. We were on our way down the road to catch the tube into central London when the crowds started cheering and we realised the race was just about to go past, so obviously we stopped to watch and I managed to get this photo! The photo's taken just a few minutes after the race started. The whole pack just whizzed back in about 2 seconds so I was pretty lucky to get such a clear shot....
Leaders in Men's Road Race

Olympic Rings on the Thames
Our visit to the Beach Volleyball wasn't until the afternoon so we spent a couple of hours milling around the South Bank Centre on the Thames, soaking up the atmosphere and getting a coffee. London has just become a giant Olympic stadium - it's just everywhere. Here's a photo of the Olympic rings floating on a barge in the middle of the Thames. You can see the London Eye in the background....

Airport style security at Horse Guards Parade
 We arrived in good time at Horse Guards Parade to avoid long queues to get in. As expected we had to go through 'airport' style security but they had so many stations and staff (the army) that it only took a few minutes. We then entered a huge spectator area where there were lots of food stands, toilets and grassy areas to sit until it was time to enter the actual stadium. 

If you have ever been to Horse Guards Parade before you would not have realised that such a huge stadium could be constructed on that spot! It can accommodate 15,000 spectators.
Me at Horse Guards Parade stadium
The atmosphere inside the stadium was amazing. I've never been to a beach volleyball tournament before so I presume that rock music, bikini clad dancers and Mexican waves are the norm!  

Before things got under way we were treated to interviews with Lord Coe (a former Olympic champion himself) and
former Olympic athlete Colin Jackson.                                                                                                                                                       

Then the tournament began. I managed to get a few photos, though the zoom on my camera is not too great!

Austria vs Czech republic

Brazil vs Mauritius

China vs Switzerland

Great Britain vs Canada

Sunday required an early start - 5.30am. Our next event, judo, started at 9.30am and we were supposed to arrive a good 1 to one and a half hours early. The event was at the Excel Centre in the East End of London. Chelsea is in the West End. So we had to get right across London for about 8.00am! 

Excel Centre
I was amazed by the size of the Excel Centre. I thought only judo was scheduled for this venue but there were in fact seven events going on so you can imagine how many people were all arriving at the same time! Never the less we still got through security in a matter of minutes and inside the centre. (I can't really fault the organisation of the games)

Looking back at crowds at Excel centre. London Docklands in background.

Inside the North Arena - the judo mats
We grabbed a coffee and made our way to the North Arena. I was amazed again at the size of stadium they were able to construct inside what is basically an exhibition hall (I'm easily amazed. You've probably noticed!)

Knowing that most of the crowd won't have watched a judo competition before they helpfully showed a few short videos outlining the rules and basic techniques of judo. Again I was a bit far away to take really good shots but here's a taste of what I got...

The guy in blue is Israeli but I can't remember who the other guy is!

The guy in blue is Colin Oates - GBR, he won this round

You would not believe the noise when a Briton came onto the mats - it was ear shattering! Sophie Cox and Colin Oates were competing for Britain in the half heavy weight category. Unfortunately Sophie was knocked out in her first match but Colin got through two rounds before being knocked out by a golden score in the quarter-finals. The support they received from the crowd though was phenomenal! 

All in all it was a brilliant weekend in a wonderful Olympic atmosphere. I'm so glad we were able to go and experience it first hand - an experience I'll never forget. However, it was tiring and we both came home completely shattered! Just like this dog who we saw in St James's Park:

Dog tired!
No it's not me!


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