Traditional Karate versus Sport Karate

Traditional Karate versus Sport Karate

By Tracy Warrener Van Kruistum

Ever since I can remember, there has been an age old debate as to which is better, ‘Sport Karate’ or ‘Traditional Karate’? The arguments from both sides were interesting to say the least! Some traditional schools mocked the sport karate schools’ students and their techniques. Sport karate schools would mock traditional schools’ techniques. I think its important to understand each art as an individual and the benefits both can have.

Traditional Karate, as we know it to be today, have some different focuses than Sport Karate. For some Traditional Martial Artists, the importance of history, philosophy, culture, discipline play a major part of what sets the two apart. The traditional martial artist sees their martial art as an ‘art of self defence’. 

The Sport Karate martial artist, has often had some traditional background to their training, but choose to focus on the competitive or ‘Sport side of the martial art. Though competition is part of both Traditional and Sport Karate, Sport Karate focuses heavily on it. The biggest differences between the two are in execution of techniques, katas and sparring. Most of the techniques taught in traditional karate are taught in sport karate. The way they are executed can be different, depending on the instructor. Kata (forms, patterns) are a big difference between the two. Traditional Karate for the most part, stick to Kata patterns that are performed exactly how they were taught by the masters- or as close to them as possible. They strive to understand the hidden movements and self defence application of the moves. Sport Karate can use some traditional patterns, but often add their own flare to them, sometimes adding or deleting moves, some perform them with music. Many times, kata patterns are created by the participant. Traditional Martial Arts often wear solid white uniforms, Sport Martial Arts may wear different coloured uniforms, or white. When it comes to sparring, this is where again much of the difference can show between participants. Traditional Martial Artists follow their own set of sparring rules, techniques allowed or not allowed. Some matches are for points and some are timed matches. Sport Karate Martial artists also have the same. What is challenging to both is learning how to fight each other. As a referee at tournaments, I have heard the critique from both sides.

Personally, I think that both of these interpretations of Karate Do, have a place. If someone wants to follow a more traditional, disciplined and formal style of training, learn about the philosophy behind the art ,then Traditional Martial Arts are a wonderful to learn. If a person would rather learn their martial art as a sport, get involved in a more competitive side of the martial art, isn’t too concerned with learning about history, philosophy of the art, than Sport Karate maybe for you. Karate has come a long way since its inception. This ‘Martial Art’ is flexible in so many ways. It can be studied as a Traditional Art or studied as a Sport. The fact is that many modern schools now a days are a hybrid of both of these. Which is why Karate has made leaps and bounds and is even making its way to the Olympics in 2020. The most important thing to remember when this debate comes up, is to remember to respect all martial arts and martial artists. Each person who commits their energy and time to their training deserves that. There have been some amazing Sport Karate practitioners who have had a major influence and have helped pave the way for martial arts as a whole. At the same time there have been many famous traditional masters that through their inspiration and passion for their martial art have been the pioneers that helped start it all.

Tracy Warrener has been fortunate to have been raised within the Martial Arts since the age of 4 years old and is a 4th Degree Black Belt in Goju Ryu Karate. She has had the opportunity to study with some amazing Martial Artists. Sensei Richard Kim, Sensei Peter Urban, Professor Don Jacob, Sensei Jim Wilson, Professor Wally Jay, just to name several. Of course her main Sensei is her father, Sensei Don Warrener. Throughout the 40 plus years of her involvement in the Martial Arts, she has worked her way from being a student of the martial arts to a Martial Arts Sensei ,teaching hundreds of students. She has ran and managed martial arts schools teaching students of all ages, worked within the community teaching at fitness centres, schools, businesses and Women’s Shelters, the benefits of Karate. One the causes close to her heart is teaching and empowering young girls and women the importance of self defence and awareness. Her program called Look Strong! Act Strong! Be Strong! focuses on easy self defence techniques and mind self defence techniques. In 2013 she was awarded The Silver Lifetime Achievement Award in the Masters of the Martial Arts Hall of Fame in California for her contribution to Women in the Martial Arts. She is also a Certified Reflexologist and Reiki Master. She has starred in three of her own DVDs produced by Rising Sun Productions on Reiki, Reflexology and her Look Strong ,Act Strong ,Be Strong Self Defence Program.