I'll be honest...watching karate in the Olympics wasn't really on my priority list. But from what little I did see, I have to say I was very impressed with the incredible level of athleticism displayed by both the kata and kumite contestants.
After learning that the gold kumite medal was won via a disqualification for excessive contact following what was in every other aspect a nicely executed jodan mawashigeri (see above), my initial thoughts were...well, there's some more fuel to add to the fire for those who view karate unfavourably and consider it very much a watered down system. The contestant who 'combatively' lost the match, ends up earning the win! However, I think it also emphasises a very important concept for the application of our art and indeed, something that all martial arts practitioners can learn from:
Context Determines Content!
In the application of any human expression towards a specific goal, context will always determine the content and this of course is governed by the rules of engagement. In other words, we naturally adapt to the environment and stresses we're placed under. Those who don't will be far less likely to succeed.
S.A.I.D: Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demand!
If excessive contact is not allowed in sport karate kumite and if that rule is broken, then quite rightly, the match should be determined fairly and accordingly. Karate is not at fault here. The competitive format is not to blame either. In fact, everything in that particular 'arena' is working as it should be.
I would suggest that the failure comes from the outsider that looks in and sees one 'contextual application', yet (whether consciously or sub-consciously) audits what they witness against an entirely different 'contextual application'. Of course, the fact that the term 'karate' has become such a global label, means that a degree of uneducated misrepresentation can and does often occur, but in essence...it's pointless trying to fit a square peg into a round hole and sit there directing blame at the peg, or indeed at the hole!
Sport karate is sport karate. The athletes who are involved in this contextual application of the art are conditioned to excel under the governing rules of engagement. To me, that's a display of perfect adaptation and is therefore pretty inspiring to see. In fact, everyone in karate who seeks to pursue a level or perfection in a particular area, deserves the utmost respect. Even if the specifics between our expressions may be different (and in some cases poles apart), if considered as a global blueprint for contextual development, more 'practical' or 'traditional' karate-ka can learn a great deal from the way modern sport karate has evolved and in particular, how these athletes have grown to adapt and excel within their specific environment.
This common blueprint is what brings us all together!
My congratulations go to to all the Olympic karate athletes for their achievements and what were some amazing performances. It may not be my definition of 'karate', but it is certainly one definition that's just been represented at a very high level. A shame that this kumite gold recipient had been decided upon by a disqualification. But rules are rules!
The short amount of footage I watched of Olympic karate and the social media debates that quickly followed made me think that rather than argue about what we consider to be 'true karate', we'd all be much better off accepting that everyone's martial arts journey is different, appreciating that we have a common blueprint wrt S.A.I.D, and learning from each other about how we may take more productive steps towards our own contextual goals...
...whatever karate means to us...is our true karate!