There is a big difference between the traditional point-fighting sport karate called ‘kumite’ and full-contact martial arts.
In most karate styles, sparring and fighting (whether in the dojo or at tournaments) is based on a light-contact or semi-contact point-scoring system, designed to teach, execute and reward quick, crisp, clean striking.
With point fighting, the objective is to score more points than your opponent by means of effective striking techniques and sweeps/throws/takedowns, and the fight is stopped by a referee every time a point is scored, to award the point and reset the fight.
The objective is not to knock the opponent out and contestants can even be disqualified for using ‘excessive force’, especially to the head.
This video will give you a good flavour of what point-fighting sport karate is all about.
Enter Karate Combat – the world’s first professional full-contact karate league!
Karate Combat was founded in April 2018, with the purpose of revitalising & promoting the martial art and sport of karate, and bringing it into the modern era and digital age to appeal to a more youthful audience.
The promotion hosts epic underground events featuring a roster of over 100 of the top male and female karatekas from 30+ different countries, from various styles of karate, including Shotokan, Goju-Ryu, Shito-Ryu, Wado-Ryu and Kyokushin.
Fighters compete in ‘The Pit’, a square 6,5m x 6,5m (21’4″ x 21’4″) combat arena surrounded by 45° angled walls designed to encourage continuous action with cage-free views, CGI effects and high-tech, video-game style analytics.
Check it out:
A bout lasts for 3 x 3-minute rounds, with fighters using 4oz gloves, while wrestling, submissions, knees, elbows and uppercuts are not permitted.
Throwing techniques are allowed with immediate follow-up; a standing opponent may use ground punches, and a grounded opponent may use punches and kicks, including up-kicks, for a period of 5 seconds.
After 5 seconds, the referee intervenes and brings the grounded opponent back to a standing position and the match is reset, with the intention of keeping the action focused on striking.
Former UFC Heavyweight Champion Bas Rutten is heavily involved and hosts Karate Combat venues alongside special guests, while former UFC Welterweight & Middleweight Champion Georges St-Pierre has recently signed on as a ‘Season Sensei’ to provide guidance, analytics and insights for contestants and viewers alike.
In case you didn’t know, GSP comes from a karate background, having studied a style of karate called Kyokushin – one of the most famous and only forms of full-contact karate.
“My first martial art was karate. It was the foundation I built my career on. I always wanted to see an organization arise which would give a platform for elite full-contact karate fighters to compete, and that’s what I see in Karate Combat. I’m a big fan of what Karate Combat is doing and I hope I can help take things to the next level.”– Georges St-Pierre
Semi-Contact vs. Full-Contact: A Comparison
While the two videos which demonstrate what traditional semi-contact sport karate looks like vs. professional full-contact karate, I can also personally vouch for the massive gap between semi-contact and full-contact martial arts.
Having studied, trained and competed in Goju-Ryu karate & kumite for almost 10 years, and achieved a high level of competitive success (I was a Karate All-Styles World Champion back in 2004), I know exactly what semi-contact point-fighting is like.
Recently, I started boxing – a full-contact sport in which the sparring is intended to mimic actual fights, in order for you to be able to stress-test your skills in a simulated but very similar environment to being in a real boxing match.
What I have realised and had to learn the hard way is that semi-contact point-fighting is not a very effective breeding ground for transitioning into any full-contact martial art, for a number of reasons:
- Because semi-contact point-fighting teaches you to pull your punches & kicks, and not to try and actually physically hit or kick someone with purpose and power and the intent to cause damage, it becomes a bad habit in a full-contact environment where your intention is to punch and kick through the opponent full force to the point where they cannot continue
- Since the bout is stopped immediately after scoring in point-fighting, you can also develop the bad habit of landing a technique and then not thinking about or reacting to what happens afterwards, when you’re in a full-contact fight that doesn’t get stopped until the end of a round or until you’re lying unconscious on the floor
- Only competing in semi-contact combat sports can leave you with a false sense of security and an over-inflated confidence in your martial arts skills and your ability to defend yourself in real-life, full-contact situations, because you’ve never trained to experienced the true, fast, unstructured, adrenaline-fulled, chaotic nature of an actual fight nor the genuine sensation of being hit full force, taking actual damage and being able to stay calm and fight back
While there are some useful advantages that martial artists can learn from point-fighting (timing, speed, accuracy, distance control, getting ‘in-and-out’), the infamous Jack Slack put it best when describing why sport karate is somewhat unrealistic as a base for full-contact fighting or MMA or even real-life self-defence situations, with his description of how most exchanges go:
Having said that, it’s not impossible to make the transition from semi-contact to full-contact; there are loads of mixed martial artists and full-contact fighters who come from karate backgrounds.
Rafael Aghayev is an Azerbaijani five-time karate World Champion and eleven-time European champion, and one of the karatekas who has successfully made the switch from semi-contact kumite to full-contact fighting in Karate Combat.
Here’s a cool, direct, visual comparison between Rafael Aghayev fighting in a traditional, semi-contact, point-scoring kumite bout vs. the modern, full-contact, professional Karate Combat league:
Traditional Point-Scoring Karate
Modern Full-Contact Karate Combat
Because of it’s full-contact nature, Karate Combat has been likened to watching MMA without the ground-game.
One thing’s for sure – it looks incredibly entertaining, and could even be the bridge this martial art needs to seeing it become a genuine and respected contender for attention in the world of combat sports.