Tournaments Are For Losers

Am I saying tournaments are for losers? Really? Yes I am. I had the privilege to be

a corner judge at New York`s International Karate-Do Open Championship. This was

my first time at a major event. What I saw has changed my perspective on karate in a

big way.

I saw competitors of all ranks and many different styles of Karate. The dojo that I

first started training at was not into competitions. My sensei would say “we are not a

tournament school”. I trained many years and have never competed in or seen

competition like the one I saw this weekend. It was eye-opening to say the least.

Karateka from all over the world brought their best and wanted to see how they

matched up among others. We judged competitors performing kata in a head-to-head

“flag” matchup. Only one would win and continue on to the next round. In the

beginning rounds, you were given a kata to perform that would be either Heian 1-5 or

Tekki Shodan. Judging these rounds was fairly easy because one competitor would

show a better understanding of the kata than the other. It would be the later rounds

that would be more challenging to judge. In these rounds, you could pick your own


How do you pick a winner when they are doing different kata? This was profound to

me. One competitor would sometimes pick a flashy advanced kata while the other

picked what looked to be a basic one in comparison. Flash does not always beat

good technique. A lot of the time, the one who did a more basic kata would win. How

is that possible? Didn’t the advanced kata show more skill? Not necessarily. The

person who shows the proper dynamics and understanding of the moves with good

and sound techniques will win. Remember what Sensei Funakoshi said: “it takes a

lifetime to master one kata”. Many students seem to always want to do the next kata.

Some feel like they know their current kata well enough and are ready to move on. In

competition, these students stand out. They think that they are good because they

know so many techniques. You can be the best in your dojo, but tournaments are

where you really see how good you are.

Next on the agenda was kumite. Some students showed great skill while others

just punched and kicked as if they were kick boxing. After years of focusing on kihon

and kata, it seems that, when it’s time to show what you have learned, all of that is

forgotten. If you cannot spar, what’s the point to even learning karate? You would

have practiced countless repetitions of stances, blocks, punches and kicks and have

nothing to show for it. Karate is Budo, self-defense, physical education, and sport all

put into one. They are listed in the order of importance. As a Sensei, I need to do my

part and teach these elements. My Sensei says “practice makes permanent”. You

must practice your techniques often enough to create the right firing order from your

brain to your muscles. After thousands of repetitions, you will automatically show your

karate with little effort or delay. In sparring, these reflexes are challenged. You will

quickly see who has it and who doesn’t.

In closing, this is what I have realized: tournaments are a good thing. It provides

opportunity to go and meet other Karateka, test your sparring against others, and

display your understanding of kata in the ring. Doing this will make you better. As for

my comment “tournaments are for losers”, the victory is in learning. I believe that you

get more out of losing than winning. If you get beat you must train harder and become

the champion who beat you.

“The ultimate aim of karate lies not in victory or defeat, but in the perfection of the

character of its participants.”

-Gichin Funakoshi.

There are no losers in a tournament; there are only those who have trained hard and

those who need to train harder. Osu!

-Sensei Stacy Pursell Jr.

Simple, Humble and Pure

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