Showing your integrity in tournament
Show a bit of class when you compete. Don't take by stealth, points that you couldn't earn in combat.
At a World Cup qualifiers at Crystal Palace in London in 2005, I saw the very best and worst of sportsmanship. Competition for places was fierce, and the rules on contact penalised competitors more harshly than ever for contact, creating an environment that was ideal for cheating, and there is no doubt that I saw more of it than I would like. This lack of sportsmanship was repeated at the 2011 world cup, with incidents in the very highest divisions revealing disgraceful sportsmanship by people who should be setting a far better example.
In the past, UK tournaments have always made a mockery of GKR’s claim to be non-contact, with perpetrators of the heaviest contact arbitrarily being awarded or penalised points. However since the last World Cup in 2005, and especially since Sensei Gavin arrived in the UK at the end of 2006, UK competitions have been finally started to be refereed on a truly non-contact basis.
There are more severe penalties across the board, and no longer do warnings have to be given for dangerous contact, such as blows to the head. Instead, transgressors may immediately receive penalties.
The trouble is, part of the referee’s assessment process to determine whether or not head contact has occurred or not, or even to determine the severity of body contact, is the supposed victim’s reactions. Did their head move, have their eyes widened in shock or closed in a wince, did they flinch against a blow? At the speed that some exchanges take place, referees sometimes have to read these other clues to confirm their suspicions that contact has occurred because there is too much traffic through the contact zone, or the point of contact is obscured from both referee and judge.
Sadly, there is a small core of competitors who understand the referee’s assessment process, and abuse it to earn points and wins to which they are not entitled.
I appreciate the fact that the line between fair play and unfair competition may seem like a fine one sometimes. Stepping out of the ring to prevent an opponent scoring, staying out of reach when you are a point or so up, and circling quickly to force time-wasting resets are all legitimate, if unconventional tactics that use what I would call ringmanship to your advantage. Ringmanship or ring craft, is understanding the fine details of the rules, referee behaviour, opponent psychology, and the way the clock works, and using that to your advantage. It’s not cheating or unsporting, but it’s often darned frustrating for the opponent who just wants his chance to draw even.
Then there are the people who deliberately feign injuries or exaggerate contact when little or no contact has occurred. My opinion of such people is not very high to be honest. To me, it seems that these people are so desperate to win, that even though they may actually possess the skills to do so fairly, they leave nothing to chance, so they play act and exaggerate and abuse the system, cheating their opponents out of a fair shot at the bout.
However, it has occurred to me that these people may not realise that they are cheating. Perhaps they genuinely consider what they are doing to be nothing more than ringmanship; taking advantage of every part of the system to ensure the win.
At a recent tournament, I was hit repeatedly in the body but I did nothing. I’m sure I made contact too, and my opponent didn’t show it either. I respected him, and he me. It feels like what karate should be like at a more experienced level.
Afterwards, one of my friends who was watching, said to me, “I could see you getting hit you’ve got to let the ref know somehow.” As far as I’m concerned, my reputation as a fair-fighting karateka is worth far more than letting the ref know that I was being hit. Somebody once said to me, “If you ever go down, I’ll know that it’s serious because you’d never fake it.” I feel pretty proud of that, but I realise that in part, I’m being a fool to myself.
If my students were being repeatedly hit and the referee wasn’t picking it up, I would definitely want them to flinch, or briefly hold the injured area. Not to exaggerate, but just to let the ref know that contact has occurred at all. I don’t want my students making more of the contact than it was, but the rules are quite clear on contact. You might not react to contact against you, then you may touch your opponent once, get penalised and lose because of it.
I’d just like to make a special mention here of James McLarney, who was 13 at the time, and was punched repeatedly in the face during his finals bout, and never made a meal of it or tried to get unfair advantage, and went on to win the gold. I’d also like to mention black belt Marc Price (sadly no longer with us), whose opponent slipped to the floor during an over-enthusiastic charge. Mark not only did not leap in and score a point against his prone opponent; he actually stepped back and waited for him to stand up again before continuing. It wasn't the optimum course tactically, but it showed tremendous sportsmanship, and it made his eventual win all the more impressive. Marc was a true gentleman.
Most of us don’t want to be wusses in the ring, but perhaps many people might not understand the fine line between drawing attention to contact, and exaggerating it. They might consider exaggeration to be just another part of ring craft, in the same way that Portuguese footballers dive and fake injuries during matches. But let’s be honest, who has respect for footballers who do that?
If you get hit in the face, but not hurt, it’s fine to flinch or momentarily touch your hand to your face. It is not fine to collapse to the floor in tears, and then limp back to your corner with crossed-eyes, rubbing your cheek for all you’re worth to make a red mark. If you get hit hard in the head, then it is fine to show your normal reactions to being hit hard. If you get hit in the body, I would say that the same rules more or less apply.
Nobody is saying that you should be a macho man or a gritty gal about getting hit, but for your own self-respect, and the fairness of the fight, please don’t exaggerate and make a meal of it. Yes, you might win the fight by cheating, but your actions might forever put another person off karate, and worse still you’ll always wonder in your heart, if you could have won fairly. If you really want to win that badly, then practice more beforehand.
One final point, if you’re ever on my ring, and I do see you exaggerating or faking injuries, it will be YOU that pays the penalty!