Years ago Competition used to be the main point of training and we went to quite a few beginning in early Spring, running through June, all over the Region, and Nationals, first time in Chicago, second time in South Carolina.
My first competition I was ten years old and had barely even been training for two months. My right foot was taped up because I had cut it in a piece of metal in the bleachers, and I had nothing but my Gi, no Sparring Gear at all.
There was a spare head piece that was way too big, kept slipping down every time I would step in, getting sweat in my eyes to boot.
My first and only match in that tournament, the Yakima Open, was against a kid from the UKO, a Shito-Ryu stylist under Minakami Sensei's old Organization.
It was brutal, he saw my foot and used it by stepping on it, which only pissed me off, but since I could barely see it was hard to do anything about it, but I ended up leaving the match with two points to his three.
While I lost I certainly felt good about it.
My ribs were nearly cracked during my second go at Nationals as a thirteen year old Green Belt, and boy was I full of myself!
The kid that beat me was a Japanese kid from Hawaii with some very fast kicks. I walked away from that competition with a Silver Medal.
After that I focused on the deeper mechanics of what I was doing as I felt there was something more to it... While most people think of Karate as synonymous with competition, like a sport, nothing could be farther from the truth.
My Sensei would have me go through repetitions of Kata over and over, pointing out minute aspects of each movement while also detailing some deeper aspects of focus, to forget before and not worry about what came next, to be fully present in each and every aspect of the Kata.
This was to further carry over to life in mindfulness of cooking, cleaning, studying, thinking, speaking, everything!
Yes, there is a combative aspect of it, and this came out when Sensei had me fight one Student, bare knuckles, during this guy's test as a means of getting him out of his shell... Everything was automatic, and since I had been working Saifa, every automatic movement was based on that and I understood why Karate's combative aspects could not be watered down for sport in that moment.
There are people out there who teach Tournament Karate as though it is the same thing as Self Defense, but winning a Trophy is not the same as winning your next breath.
There are many out there that also believe so-called 'Street Fighting' is the same thing as Self Defense, but this so-called 'Street Fighting' is often just people facing off in mutual combat, while there may be injuries, there are usually no deaths and it does mirror what we see on Television in the form of Cage Fighting... Nothing wrong with it, but it is still more akin to Sport than Self Defense.
Training methodologies are often determined by the goal... If a person is training for Sport then their methods will reflect their aim and will not be the same as those training for Health.
If a person is training for the Cage Fighting aspect of Sport then they will include those methods of training that will stand them a better chance of actually winning, but if the aim is Self Defense it is something else entirely.
In the first aspect, basic Tournament Training, you are training to gain points in Sparring and Kata; Sparring, or Kumite, is a game of tag, even if it does allow for contact and knockouts, there are still rules to follow for safety and you are still going for points in rounds of elimination where there are judges and a referee.
In the Cage Fighting aspect you are training for one on one combat against someone who trains in a similar fashion, no weapons, and still rules for safety, but you are not training for points, you are training to knock the other person out or make them submit, and this is based on whichever your main focus might be.
People who train for Health might only focus on Kata and a little bit of the Combative aspect, but really only do that stuff for a good workout... Their goal is to stay healthy and training in a Martial Art is a unique way for them to do so, which may also give them something to talk about at social gatherings... Nothing wrong with that either.
Knowing the difference in aims and methodologies is as vital as knowing what actually qualifies as Self Defense, legally, because someone cannot get into a shouting match and meet someone in the parking lot for a 'good go' and have that qualify as Self Defense... No, that is a fight.
Self Defense situations happen unexpectedly and are hard to actually prepare for because training can never fully encompass things that might be experienced in a real situation, which is why people need to be aware of the limitations of their training and hold no false pretenses that what they do in the Dojo is complete unto itself.
In the Dojo we are always pulling punches, even just slightly, in order to avoid permanently injuring and maiming our partners... A good way around this is to include the follow-through in our minds, because visualization is a great aspect of training, which has also helped Olympian Athletes achieve pique performance.
In a Self Defense situation there may be two on one, three on one, with weapons, heck, I have even seen assailants themselves carrying pepper spray and make-shift weapons!
Down at the Plaza a guy was fighting with some other guy, so the second guy's buddy pulled out some pepper spray and sprayed the first directly in the face while he was distracted, then the second guy pulled out a huge knife.
This is NOT an isolated incident and some of these types of people even carry tasers... You can actually make cheap tasers with disposable cameras and no one would be the wiser.
People also do not think about things like training for defense against swords to have any carryover in the modern world, but people use Baseball Bats, Pipes, and Machetes!
There was an incident on the corner of Regal and Everett here in Spokane, just across the street from a place called Agnes Kehoe, where twelve people attacked our Apartment Building, armed with pipes, bats, and machetes.... There were four of us, including myself, defending the building, which had women and children inside.
Many people in the area can verify this, and if anyone questions the incident I can certainly provide the names of those others who were involved and at least one witness... I've already named the area... The attackers had the wrong address, they were looking for a guy that lived across the street.
The point is that there is a huge difference between one type of training and another, and a larger difference between training, competition of whatever kind, and actual Street Assault.
Street Assaults are ridiculous and if something sounds far-fetched you cannot count it out because it probably happened.
There is even a difference between Street Assault, Domestic Violence, and Warfare... They are different aspects of Violence that do not really have a lot of carryover... Warfare is not often fought in close quarters, it has not been for a very long time, thus very little time is focused on actual hand to hand combat, while the majority of training is focused on weapons and technical skills of each individual MOS, after boot camp, which is about building a warrior... Huge difference.
Going back to the deeper aspects I found after competitions had run their course, I could see how competitions were becoming the sole focus of most Karateka, mainly the Kumite aspects, which is actually a fairly new aspect of Karate.
The spirit is fine, but when this becomes the sole focus it tends to kill the actual art and it makes people belligerent, especially if they do not know the difference between Tournament Fighting, Cage Fighting, and Self Defense.
Karate Ni Sente Nashi means 'there is no first attack in Karate,' which means it is meant, specifically, for Self Defense... Can it be trained for the other aspects? Sure, but the main and original aspect was Self Defense.
If a person trains for Tournament play they should be aware that what they are training for, primarily, is not the same as Self Defense in the street and, thus, they cannot judge others by the same standards because they are two different things.
Good sources on this for further study are Rory Milly and Marc MacYoung... I suggest not only reading their work, but seeking them out for training.