Karate has a rich history, running back hundreds of years (thousands, if you subscribe to the theory of where it originated). I’ve often considered myself blessed to be part of that history in my own little way, even if karate and the martial arts are sometimes poorly viewed or badly portrayed through various channels. Movies and television certainly do the art no favours, and watching a tournament can be quite deceiving as well, since there’s a big difference between karate as a sport and karate as an art.
So, which one is better? At their very core, the easy answer is neither one is better than than the other. They both suit their purpose, they both have benefits and they both have disadvantages. It’s important to be able to recognize the pros and cons and acknowledged them, as well as hold them up against what your ultimate goals may be. Otherwise you may find yourself caught by surprise at what you learn and experience during your time in the dojo.
Let’s take sports karate for example… To clarify, I refer to sports karate as a style that trains primarily for competition, display purposes and to score points against an opponent. There’s nothing specifically wrong with this type of karate, provided you aren’t training with them for the art aspect or to use it in a real fight scenario. You’ll still learn, you’ll still develop and if tournaments are your thing, it’ll be right up your alley.
The issue comes from trying to use it for self-defence. If you ever find yourself in a real fight scenario, stepping in and delivering a strike and stepping out because you’ve scored a point likely won’t work on the street. I say “likely” because a kick is a kick and a punch is a punch, right? There’s a good chance that if done properly, you may stop your respective threat despite the training you’re doing. But sports karate may not give you the comprehensive toolbox you need to address the very real obstacles you’ll face in life.
If you study karate as an art, you’ll likely learn more comprehensively from a style standpoint but you may be lacking some of the hands-on contact that you would get from fighting in tournaments. Punching bags don’t hit back and “no contact” sparring matches will likely result in the practitioner never knowing what it feels like to have an impact on a hard surface or against another living target. Not only could that be dangerous but unlike what one may see in the movies, attempting flowery, complicated techniques in a real-life scenario will likely get you creamed.
That’s why it’s important to know what you’re after when training in karate or the martial arts and recognize the pros and cons. Although neither did inherently bad, it’s important to ensure it aligns with what your overall goals may be. And don’t be afraid to dip your toes in the pond to get some of the skills your style may not provide. For example, my style doesn’t do a great deal of floor work or grappling, making it ideal for me to occasionally practice with Judo or Jiu Jitsu in order to better complement my martial art’s toolbox. Food for thought…☯️