SKDUN 19th World Championships - 2011
In October 2011, SKDUN held its 19th World Championships, this time in Halle/Salle, Germany. Attended by some 27 countries from around the world, this was set to be an excellent event to celebrate and help propagate the development of traditional style karate competition.
Shotokan, at the moment – it must be said – is under attack. Like all traditional Martial Arts I suppose, the powers of Governing Bodies, Sports Councils, and outside ‘sporting’ influences means that the true ethos of Karate-do is being undermined. The work of the SKDUN however plays an important role internationally, in providing those with a traditional perspective an opportunity to participate in a shobu-ippon event.
Now before I indulge you all in a run down of events, I would like to highlight that I tend to steer clear of the clinical approach to competition reviews/reports. NO-ONE enjoys reading them unless they know the competitors being discussed. So forgive me, but I won’t be giving a blow-by-blow breakdown of events, with detailed results and accounts; basically because when I wasn’t coaching my own squad, I was either eating the awesome €2 German-style hotdogs, or sitting in the spectator area wishing the day would end faster. As you can tell, I’m not a good spectator. I am however an honest karateka that will hopefully give a clear and genuine account of the event.
Ok…let’s rewind. It’s midday on Friday, and after repeating the sentence ‘You cannot get on the train when I am trying to get off it’ in German, for what felt like the twelfth time that day, we arrive in Halle Salle. After admiring the street artwork – perhaps better described as half-hearted graffiti – we stroll from the tram to our hotel for the weekend.
‘Oh god…is that a…is that a brothel’ one of our competitors exclaimed in a fit of giggles. Oh yes! Yes indeed, our hotel was right next to a brothel. Over the course of the weekend, I heard stories of poor competitors staying at the hotel having an eyeful of the depravity taking place there. Curtains closed however and you could imagine you were somewhere else, anywhere else. Giggles aside, we were indeed next to a brothel, but there were no signs of it on the street itself, it seemed relatively respectful and well maintained, and if you didn’t look out of your window in the direction of the brothel, there’d be few signs of its existence.
After the very cheerful receptionist checked me and my Welsh team in, we went to our rooms, and while the rest of my team chilled, I attended the pre-event Coach meeting. Coaches from all squads in attendance were present and seemed to mingle and chat, seeming oblivious to the language barrier that divided them. Perhaps the fantastic thing about karate is its ability to do this. Beyond the language, race and cultural backgrounds, the simplicity of karate prevails – providing perhaps a mutually understood language that unites. Judging by the Sunday however, sometimes it seems to also divide, which is an unfortunate thing (which I will get to later).
We attended the event last year, in France. I would not lie here and say that we had the best of experiences there. I had found the competition in France to be a little bit of a disappointment. Generally speaking, refereeing was weak, the WKF had caused unknown levels of disruption (not to the blame of the event organisers – but instead a praise in their ability of overcoming the challenges posed), the town it was based in itself was a ghost town where everything seemed to shut at around 2pm, and the general atmosphere amongst the crowds was perhaps dampened by some of these elements. Truth-be-told, after the experience in France, as a coach I questioned whether I would like to return to another SKDUN event.
I can say, most emphatically however, I am glad I returned. At the pre-event meeting on that cold Friday evening, there was a real buzz amongst the coaches. The SKDUN panel then spoke, giving information about the event, proceedings and the policies of the weekend. Last year, it felt as if the event had a ‘make it up as we going along’ feel to it, and whilst, as typical of competitions in general, not everything went exactly to plan, the tournament this year was far improved. The days worked pretty much to the estimated times, which is a very rare occurrence in competition, and referees and stewards were very helpful in checking competitors onto each tatami. On reflection, one very positive strategy introduced was the wearing of competitor numbers on belts. It meant that referees were very clear when calling for competitors, there were no moments of confusion when badly pronounced surnames merged into other words. It certainly aided in the smooth running of the event, particularly with missing competitors. Numbers were simply called over the tannoy and were understood immediately; an excellent addition to the competition.
The event was held in the Halle Salle Veledrome, a fantastic space that provided excellent spectator visibility, and a spacious area for tatami to be spaced out effectively. Arriving at the event with my Welsh squad, we were ushered to the spectator area by the stewards.
This, I must say, was another excellent feature of the competition, one that helped control the potential mayhem of having hundreds of people in one space. There was one steward in particular that seemed to allow the barrier-opening-powers go straight to his head and ego, but generally speaking they managed the areas effectively. Furthermore, there were pool gatherers – people that stood at the side of the area with placards to inform everyone of the next category to start. This also was generally helpful, apart from the few members of this team who had tiny, joined up handwriting, or would not keep still – instead choosing to shake the placard from side to side to make the reading from the spectator stands all the easier. Whilst I am allowing my sarcastic side to indulge, I must say that this was an excellent feature that helped the event’s efficient running, as this year none of my team missed their category. It made a huge difference to the ‘watchability’ of the competition. Generally, at any competition you are lucky to see what goes on in any category as the tatami is usually surrounded by coaches, friends, family, team mates, and other general in-the-way people, but with the aid of the stewards, only competitors and coaches were allowed at any tatami. It meant that you could sit in the stands and still watch all; of the action in comfort instead of spending your day asking people to “please sit down!!!”.
Now, from a competitor and coaching perspective, the greatest failing of many competitions is the refereeing. It’s a story of old amongst all sporting activities that referees get it in the neck. Generally however, it is clear that Colin Putt – Chief Referee – has been doing some excellent work to enrol fresh refereeing talent (mostly from Scotland by the looks of things ha ha) and elevate the overall standard. There remains however huge inconsistencies. This is not to the fault of Mr.Putt, as his work is evident; I simply blame the people that don’t listen to him. He made it explicit for example what the expectations were of the kata etc, yet do you think some of these people listened? Maybe it was the language barrier, or maybe it’s simply because they don’t listen.
For example, in one category – which I can speak about, as I personally saw it – there was a major issue over a competitor in Heian Nidan delivering a punch, instead of a tetsui after the Heiwan-uke sequence.
Now, here I teach and practice chudan zuki. Reference Best Karate by M. Nakayama and that too notes it as ‘chudan zuki’ and not tetsui. Granted however, reference texts by T. Kase and you will find reference to this technique as tetsui. Now my issue here was not that I believe chudan zuki to be the ‘the’ way, but that it is ‘a’ way followed and taught by the majority. Therefore, I was hugely disappointed when I saw a competitor be severely downmarked for practicing ‘chudan zuki’.
When I later spoke to Mr. Putt, he informed me that tetsui is the ‘standard’, by this I assume he meant the SKDUN ‘standard’ as it certainly is not the general ‘standard’…however he informed me that severe downmarking should not have taken place for not aligning with the SKDUN standard, instead awarding a downmark of just 0.1.
In my opinion you CANNOT have an open event where groups from so many associations and groups attend and have a ‘standard’. By this way of thinking – many groups should be advised not to attend such as SKIF members – as the Kanazawa approach to kata hugely differs to the JKA standard. Therefore which ‘standard’ do you follow, and if you don’t practice in line with this ‘standard’, are you ever going to stand a chance of succeeding?
Inconsistencies further made themselves apparent, when other tatami were correctly allowing for association difference, while others were downmarking in accordance to their own bias. Soapbox over.
From a kata perspective however, I did like that all Kata rounds used the ‘point scoring system’, as you ensure that the right people pass through. Many competitions favour flags over points due to their time saving qualities, but it often leads to an unfair final.
The refereeing within the kumite – in my opinion – was generally quite good. There was, of course, a few questionable decisions made – which will never fully be removed – but generally speaking this was far better than in the previous year. It is apparent that the development refereeing courses has made an immense difference to the standard of officiating. Referees were far more consistent in the kumite, and this has a very positive effect on those competing.
I must say that the standard of competitor both within the kata and kumite events was of an excellent standard. The brightest shining of the countries were – as always - the Romanian team. They arrive in droves, occupy the majority of the spectator seating, and have an excellent standard, dominating the podium in most events they participate in. Technically also, they are excellent. I overheard so many people saying ‘Romania again’, but I put that simply down to envy over their clear success and mass of talent.
Another team I – and my Welsh Squad – have a real affection for is the Scottish team. They are a comical group that can fight as well as they drink. They stayed in the same hotel as us, and were always the last up celebrating, and first up in the morning. Their stamina is impressive, as is their karate. Their Coach Ronnie Smith is a lovely fella that clearly has a strong and impressive following in Scotland. Watching the team, you see a close bond amongst the competitors, and their individual and team events – particularly within kumite – are very exciting to watch.
Something that became apparent on the Sunday however, were two things that in some ways tainted the weekend for me. A trend developed where the crowd started to ‘boo’ against decision made on the competition area. This is NOT acceptable, and is not reflective of the traditional values of Karate-do. Furthermore, the fact the refereeing panel did nothing to shut them up, compounded the trend, with other groups starting to join in. This disappointed me.
Then – there was a two hour delay because of the Azerbaijan team – who for some reason (I believe due to a disagreement due to a decision on the tatami) started trying arguing and causing trouble with stewards. They disrupted the entire Sunday afternoon, and events were severely delayed, leaving competitors – who had been told that in 30 minutes their categories in the Masters event would be starting – standing warming up, then going cold for a further hour and a half. Don’t get me wrong, watching a group of people offering another out to a fight isn’t necessarily boring – but it was truly embarrassing. If this team is allowed back to the event next year, that will not only undermine the ethos aimed at being promoted within the competition, but it will make a complete mockery of the event itself. I shall let you know next year if they attend.
One category introduced this year was the MASTERS event, where a dan grade female and male from each country had to compete in Kata and Kumite to find an overall winner. In the Male category, this was relatively simple, and Romanian candidate put on an outstanding presentation of karate. Within the Ladies however, there was a different winner in the kata and kumite category, so they two winners had to fight off to become the overall winner. This outcome - potentially - did not seem fair and maybe an alternative system should be developed to help even this out. But saying that, even with the delay in beginning this category, the atmosphere was electric. Whilst these elite competitors were warming up – the only people near the mats – there were countries singing to their competitors, trying to out-sing others, random break outs of cheering and even Mexican waves. It cannot be denied that the addition of this category was an excellent idea, and hopefully next year it will receive the undivided attention it deserves, as all team s will behave themselves… I’m sure!
The standard of this category was truly exceptional and the principle behind the event led to some very exciting fights, and kata performances, with each person wanting to be crowned ‘Grand Champion’. Romania put in another excellent show, and took both the male and female Grand Champion Titles, with outstanding displays of karate by Tinca Georgiana.
The only complaint heard on the day was that family members felt frustrated that they couldn’t photograph or film the competitors, however the event was professionally filmed and photographed, and the clarity and sense of organisation that was achieved by keeping the competitors and spectators separate far outweighed the moans from over eager parents. It was an excellent decision and the professional filming added to the air of importance to the competition, helping keep the focus on those people that matter; the competitors.
Overall, I must say that whilst this report seems hugely mixed in negative and positive comments, I do feel the event was on the whole, very positive. All competitions will have glitches and failings and all competitions will have people that complain. What I have tried to do here however is provide an overall, objective report of the event. I would definitely encourage people to attend, as I think it is not only an excellent opportunity for traditional competitors, it is also an important part of the ongoing efforts to keep traditional competition from dying out under the weight of WKF discrimination.
In conclusion, I cannot help but encourage more people to attend this competition. Every tournament has glitches, but it is evident that every year the SKDUN team are working hard to improve every performance. They have made excellent changes, and I am eager and waiting to see how much further they can develop and improve the world of traditional competition.
Shaun Banfield & Emma Robins