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Who Are We to Judge?

When most people wade into the debate about competition in martial arts, they are usually concerned with sparring. I'm going to pass that one over for now. Where most people view kata competition as more benign, I am actually more opposed to that activity.


In sparring competition, whatever we may think of it, at least the goal is agreed upon. If you hit the opponent, or tap them, or hit the air somewhere in their vicinity, a point is scored. Whatever the rules are, you are free to use your style as you see fit to accomplish them.


Kata, however, is different. What is the goal of a kata, after all? Do all kata have the same goal? Of course not. Do instructors in open competitions understand the methods of all other styles? Can they effectively judge whether the student is achieving the goal of their instructor, kata, and style? No, especially at a high level of performance. How can an outsider judge another style's practitioner?


Each kata that I teach gives very specific lessons. I look for exact points that other schools teaching the same kata might not, and vice versa. I teach different internal mechanisms and external physiology that most people would not observe unless they had been specifically shown by me or felt the effect. How could someone from a different line of instruction possibly evaluate these things? How could I, in turn, evaluate them for a style that I didn't know very well.


Thus, in open competition, you have judges – however experienced – evaluating something they cannot understand. If a style has any depth, an outsider should be incapable of making a value determination. The teacher is the only judge who can do this. Transmission of an art is personal between a teacher and a student. We must ask ourselves, then, what is the value in submitting to the judgment of someone who cannot understand our training path? Why do we need the approval of someone who can't understand what they're seeing? A trophy is only food for the ego – it serves no other purpose – but winning it takes away from valuable training with the person who is actually qualified to judge your progress.



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