There are Two Types of Karate Tournaments: Which is Right for You?

What type of karate tournament do you prefer? There are two main types of karate tournaments, “open” and “traditional.”

  • Open tournaments are just like the name implies. They are open to all styles of martial arts and often allow gymnastic movements in the competition.
  • Traditional tournaments are more restrictive in the styles that they allow to participate and the demonstrations that competitors can perform.

Each type of tournament has its purpose, but one may not be right for you at a particular time.

As an under belt (kyu rank), my son and I completed numerous times every year and even participated in a regional promotion circuit. We competed in several states on the east coast and won state championships in kata and sparring. All of those tournaments were considered “open.” The gymnastics-in-kata craze was not very popular in the events that we were in. In those tournaments where the craze was common, we tried to sign up for traditional divisions and events when they were available.

senseikamaUnfortunately, traditional divisions in open tournaments are usually reserved for black belts only. Under belts do not have as many options. Being a traditional martial artist in a gymnastic-heavy open tournament can be a real uphill climb. After achieving my first black belt, I switched styles from Tang Soo Do (Korean karate) to Shorin-Ryu (Okinawan karate). After that switch, I was introduced to traditional tournaments.

Traditional tournaments restrict participation to practitioners who share a basic martial arts philosophy or style. Examples of traditional tournaments are an “all Japanese and Okinawan” tournament or an “all Chinese” tournament. In these events, competitors are restricted to skill-level-appropriate katas and sparring that form the foundation of their systems. No flips, no tricks, no shiny weapons!

Judging traditional tournaments is easier because it is more of an “apples to apples” comparison, while open tournaments leave much to the whims and discretion of individual judges. Some judges have a fondness for creativity and flair for the spectacular, rather than how well participants uphold the traditions and and purpose of the styles they study.

Many students and instructors flock to open and traditional karate tournaments every weekend. There’s always one going on somewhere! Students who are interested in regular competition train long hours, sometimes under the instruction of event-specific instructors. Tournaments help students to assess their individual skills, effectiveness and knowledge against their peers.

Tournaments also serve as “game day” for martial artists. The NFL has Sunday afternoon, and we have our Saturday tournament!

Regardless of your preference, keep training, keep working hard, and get out there and compete!