Difference Between Traditional Karate and Sport Karate

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Published: January 10, 2023

Karate is one of the most known sports worldwide. We know it as a form of martial arts focused on physical abilities and competing against others. However, it wasn’t always like this. In its beginnings, karate wasn’t as we know it today. In fact, experts from DubaiPT Personal Trainers agree there is a significant difference between traditional karate and sport karate, which is what this article will focus on.

The origins of karate

Despite the widespread belief that karate originated in Japan, its rightful birthplace is Okinawa. Even though Okinawa is currently a part of Japan, it was its own country back in 1300 AD when karate was born. And the story of its birth is quite an interesting one. Namely, under Japanese rule, weapons were banned in Okinawa. This resulted in a greater demand for fighting techniques without using weapons.

a man practicing karate alone showing the difference between traditional karate and sport karate
As a martial art with an exciting history, people practice karate in many different ways.

Therefore, several masters developed fighting techniques that they derived from Chinese martial arts. And all of them were crowned under one single term—karate. However, the title of karate founder belongs to Gichin Funakoshi since he popularized the style Shotokan. This style is the preferred choice for any modern karate trainer in Dubai and the most famous karate form known today.

How karate spread across the globe

a girl practicing karate
Karate originated in Okinawa and was brought to America by the soldiers who were positioned in Japan during WW2.

As time went by, these close-combat techniques became so popular and imprinted into society that they became a part of the school curriculums at the beginning of the 20th century. When Okinawa became a part of Japan, these techniques were wildly spread across the country. Karate was officially acknowledged in 1935.

During WW2, American soldiers that were in Japan brought home karate techniques they learned while there, and so karate spread abroad. This foreign close-combat martial art was alluring to the Americans, and the Japanese were happy to have the opportunity to spread their heritage across the world.

The main differences between traditional karate and sport karate

Throughout the years, and across many countries, people developed many different styles of karate. As the years passed, these styles became more and more distant from the original martial art form. So, today, we will get a closer look at the main differences between traditional karate and sport karate of today, which mainly lie in the:

  • Purposes and goals—what is the main difference between traditional karate and sport karate regarding their objectives
  • Atmosphere—how today’s karate studios differ from traditional dojos
  • The opponent’s weight—did it always matter?
  • Techniques—what fighting styles were used then vs. the ones we use today
two people wearing black karate uniforms and practicing
Traditional and sports karate differ in techniques, goals, atmosphere they practice in, and body sizes of the practitioners.

What are the objectives of traditional karate and sport karate?

The main objective of traditional karate was always survival and self-defense. As such, its purpose is to disable the opponent as soon as possible, so they wouldn’t be able to continue the fight. This is why karate practitioners developed the term “finishing blow.” When traditional karate practitioners competed against each other, a point would be awarded to the person who delivered this finishing blow, and the fight would be over. The purpose of the training was to develop the mind and body and find the balance between them. Thus, karate became an excellent cardio workout that anybody can practice. It is also a holistic approach in a way since it emphasizes the philosophy of life and finding balance.

On the other hand, modern-day karate focuses on point scoring, competing against opponents, and developing fighting and winning spirit. The finishing blow isn’t necessary since the focus is on delivering fast and precise blows to your opponent. Whoever can achieve this first gets the points. You can say that the main difference is that traditional karate is primarily an art form, whereas sport karate is more of a sports event. Today’s karate practitioners in Dubai are athletes that follow a specific monthly meal plan Dubai professionals create for them and train to compete and win medals.

a little girl holding nunchaku
While traditional karate mainly focuses on finding a balance between the body and the mind, sport karate strives for achievements in competitions.

How is the atmosphere different?

Once upon a time, karate masters and their students practiced their martial arts techniques in dojos. The interior design was minimalistic. The decor of dojos was only hardwood floors and minimal equipment. In contrast, today, karatekas (karate practitioners) learn karate in well-lit gyms, surrounded by mirrors and mats on the floor.

Does the weight of your opponent matter?

In traditional karate, weight was never an issue. The focus was on delivering a single blow to beat your opponent regardless of their weight. However, weight is of great importance in sport karate. For this reason, practitioners usually follow a diet plan for muscle gain and fat loss, depending on their goals. Since karate is a competitive sport today, there are weight categories. Eight of them, to be exact.

How are the techniques different in sport karate vs. traditional karate?

The techniques karatekas used in traditional karate differ from modern-day ones mainly due to the objective. Traditional karate practitioners focus on dedicating their life to studying karate and perfecting their techniques. They aim to get complete control over their bodies and deliver precise, crisp, powerful blows, which makes it an excellent abs workout. Whereas karate students of today use techniques that teachers adapted for close combat of today. Sometimes, teachers adapt these techniques to provide the best self-defense for the student.

Both forms use katas or forms but in different ways. Traditional karate focuses on maintaining tradition and uses katas passed down throughout many generations. Sport karate, however, loves to use exciting, demonstrative katas to entertain viewers and attract new practitioners.

Traditional karate in the world today

Although traditional karatekas do everything in their power to maintain the traditional spirit of this martial art, many forms and techniques have sadly been lost or changed. While traditional practitioners still exist and are trying to keep the philosophy of ancient karate alive, modern karate schools are more dominant. This is because there is a tremendous demand for proven techniques that do well in competitions and help win medals. Therefore, as the sport continues to evolve and change, the existence of genuinely traditional karate dojos is quite debatable.

two karate practitioners wearing black belts representing traditional karate and sport karate
Some still try to preserve the original philosophy of karate. But due to the significant influence of the Western world, that might be a challenging task.

The belt system in karate

Like many martial arts, karate uses the famous belt system. There are seven colors: white, orange, blue, yellow, green, brown, and black, and each represents a stage in the karateka’s journey. The white belt is for beginners, who will, after an exam, get an orange belt to indicate their progress. Upon receiving the blue belt, a student has surpassed the beginner stages. This stage introduces new movement, and teachers (senseis) expect the students to control their minds and bodies better. Next, the yellow belt is for the students who showed great potential. It means they better understand coordination and can now use more complicated movements.

The black belt is not the end

Since green represents growth, senseis expect the students with this belt to grow spiritually in preparation for the more advanced levels. The following brown belt is for those who have genuinely begun to discover themselves. They practice with black belts to develop their own unique styles and prepare for the ultimate level, the black belt. The black belt’s characteristics are that it has three levels or Dan’s.

A black belt practitioner Dan I has mastered all the karate levels and has the necessary knowledge to teach them to new students. It is the final stage, but it’s not the end; it’s instead a new beginning. The actual “final” stage is the black belt Dan III where students face an exam before a referee and judges. To let you have a peek at it, just the physical requirements are the ability of a student to do 120 regular pushups, 70 one-handed pushups, 450 crunches, 100 squats, and 150 jumps.

Final words

Whether you share the values of one or another, practicing traditional and sport karate for anyone. Nowadays, there are many dojos in Dubai UAE and the rest of the world where you can learn this martial art and use it to achieve your goals. Karate is an excellent sport whether you have an interest in competitions, finding balance, or just for recreational purposes. Either way, it has many physical and mental health benefits that will help you lead a happier and healthier life.

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