Article by Emanuel Giordano
The use of modern protective equipment in Karate is nowadays a matter of course both in sports and traditional Karate. In fact, without listing all the various regulations relating to competitions, we can say that Karate sports athletes, more or less, wear body protection. To a lesser extent this also occurs in traditional Karate training, where even the use of the jockstrap is strongly recommended, especially in traditional Okinawan Karate, where the use of low kicks is more widespread. There are also many articles related to Bogu Karate / Bogu Kumite, among which I point out Timeline of Bōgu-tsuki Karate (A. Quast, 2016), which also illustrates the various types of training and competitions that use various kinds of protections, also specifying their development over time.
In this article, however, I would like to offer you the thoughts of some of the great Karate masters of the 1900s. In fact, although Bogu kumite had a great expansion on the island of Okinawa after World War II, the use of protective devices dates back to much earlier. Everyone knows the photos depicting the masters Yabu Kentsu, Mabuni Kenwa and Taira Shinken, but the words written by other masters are less known:
KYAN CHOTOKU SENSEI
“Traditionally, kumite training was performed without any protection, and therefore accidents happened. It is therefore necessary to use some protections as in kenjutsu, and to wear padded gloves. In this way accidents can be avoided. [...] For training, apart from the makiwara, and the protections mentioned above, there is no need for any other equipment, not even a partner or a large space. This is one of the advantages of Karate.” (Taken from the interview given to Miki Nisaburo in 1929).
MIYAGI CHOJUN SENSEI
“[…] Taking this opportunity, we should stop advertising Karate as a mysterious and magical fighting art [native] to a small archipelago called Ryukyu. We should open Karate to the public and receive criticism, opinion and study from other leading martial artists. In the future, we should invent complete protections for a Karate tournament in total safety, like other fighting arts, so that Karate becomes one of the Japanese fighting arts.” (Taken from Ryukyu Kenpo Karate-do enkaku gaiyo, 1936).
CHIBANA CHOSHIN SENSEI
“[…] Karate is very popular in the capital, but neglecting kata and using them for sports competitions seems to me a mistake. Furthermore, during sports matches without protections, it cannot be ruled out that accidents may occur.” (Taken from Karate-do ni tsuite, 1958).
THREE CONTEMPORARY MASTERS, THREE DIFFERENT THOUGHTS
As we have just read, these three great masters had similar but different ideas. Kyan sensei simply speaks of the use of protections during kumite training, a term that not only indicates sparring, but a whole series of combat exercises. He doesn't mention tournaments or competitions. Of another opinion, however, was Miyagi sensei, who clearly speaks of the use of protective devices during a hypothetical Karate tournament, in order to allow it to be carried out in total safety. Chibana sensei, on the other hand, simply criticizes the excessive emphasis placed on competitions by Karate practiced in mainland Japan, as well as the lack of use of protections during fights. It is difficult to judge the ideas of these masters simply by extrapolating a few sentences from their writings, but it is nevertheless interesting to analyze what they considered worthy of being written.