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What It Was Like to Fight in Karate Tournaments in the 1970’s
Way back in the early to mid 1970s there were many karate tournaments, and I participated in a few of them. I received my black belt in 1975 from a great master- Sensei Fred Corritone, here on Long Island, New York. He was a very tough instructor, and our club, or dojo, did things the old fashioned way – we earned each level, or belt. Very physical classes were the hallmarks – blood, sweat and tears, to put it simply – and soft! Our karateka or karate students sometimes went to karate tournaments – either on Long Island, or in Manhattan and other cities. We fought people of all imaginable backgrounds, and of all different styles. At the time, most tournaments were “non-contact” – that is, fighters were expected to stop completely hitting their opponents. Often, however, this did NOT happen – that is, fighters hit quite hard, despite the rule against full contact. There were no boxing gloves or safety gear at these tournaments – as contact was to be kept to a minimum.
At one such “non-contact” tournament – at the Commack Arena, in Suffolk County Long Island, I fought at the brown belt level. I won a match when I scored a point against my opponent – and then, suddenly, he hit me full force in the face – breaking my nose, quite hard. It was quite a shock, and I had to retire to the hospital. I was awarded the match – but for the next month my whole face was swollen, and it turned completely black, blue and purple. I had sustained a pretty severe trauma. It can be said that my opponent really lost control – to say the least! I still fought in a few tournaments after that – notably the Fred Hamilton tournament, up to Harlem. That was quite a spectacle. Back in the 70’s there was not yet the level of integration that we benefit from today, and our karate club was virtually the only non-African-Americans in attendance. Of course, that didn’t really matter, because the only thing that mattered was who was the better fighter – regardless of skin color. One of the members of my dojo won his match in very dramatic fashion – by executing a beautiful flying side kick – stopping the kick about a millionth of an inch from his opponent’s head. That was no easy feat. I won one match, and then I lost to a very good fighter. That tournament was quite a spectacle – and it was a famous competition for many years.
In some of these tournaments I also participated in the kata competition – the non-combat part where you do the formal exercises of karate – the “forms”. This was really enjoyable – although a little nerve-wracking as his performance was being judged by some highly qualified judges. It took a lot of concentration, good technique and a total familiarity with the kata.
Although I learned a good deal from these tournaments, I eventually got tired of them. I realized – after a long time – that my interest in karate – in the martial arts – turned – and I was much more interested in the mental aspects – the mind set, and also the fitness angle. It took many years, but I eventually lost my interest in pure fighting – which is an important part of karate, of course – but it is only one aspect – and for me, at least, it became the smallest part of all . Of course, to achieve this feeling, I had previously achieved a decent to moderately good level of karate fighting skill – not great, but at least a good level. I began to move on to something that I felt was even more important – the development of the person as a whole, and for me the fight was just a small part of it. Nowadays I am only interested in helping people get in shape – using karate and related techniques. Of course, one can learn to fight – and defend oneself – but that is less important than getting in total mental and physical shape – at least for me. I will always remember the tournaments – as with all my old karate training, because all aspects are a learning experience – and I am happy to have found what I consider to be the core meaning of karate – and for me that is its Zen aspects like also the fitness levels that can be achieved.
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