Next Time Were Going To Win The Old Fashioned Way What It Was Like to Fight in Karate Tournaments in the 1970’s

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What It Was Like to Fight in Karate Tournaments in the 1970’s

In the early 1970s, there were many karate tournaments, and I participated in a few of them. I received my black belt in 1975 from a great teacher- Sensei Fred Corritone, here in Long Island, New York. He was a very tough instructor, and our club, or dojo, did things the old-fashioned way—we earned every level, or belt. Very physical classes were the highlight – blood, sweat and tears, easily – and gently! Our karateka- or karate students sometimes went to karate tournaments- in Long Island, or in Manhattan- and other cities. We have fought people from all kinds of backgrounds and all different styles. At the time, most tournaments were “no-contact”—that is, fighters were expected to completely stop their opponents. However, most of the time, this did not happen – that is, the fighters hit too hard, despite the rule against full contact. There were no boxing gloves or safety kicks in these tournaments – as contact had to be kept to a minimum.

In 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 in the face with such force – breaking my nose very badly. It was quite a shock, and I had to retire to the hospital. I was awarded – but the next month, my whole face was swollen, and it was completely black, blue and purple. I had suffered a very serious trauma. It could be said that my opponent had truly lost control- to say the least! And then I fought in some tournaments—notably, the Fred Hamilton tournament, in Harlem. It was quite a spectacle. In the 70s, there was not yet the level of integration we enjoy today, and our karate club was almost exclusively non-African-American in attendance. Of course, it 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 a fight in a very dramatic way – by landing a beautiful flying kick – and stopping a blow about a millionth of an inch from his opponent’s head. It was not easy. I won a fight, and then I lost to a very good fighter. It was a highly watched tournament – and it was a popular competition for many years.

In some of these tournaments, I also participated in the kata competition – the non-combat part, where one practices the formal karate exercises – “forms”. This was really fun – although a little nerve-wracking, as one’s performance is judged by many highly qualified judges. It took a lot of focus, good technique, and a thorough familiarity with the kata.

Although I learned a lot from these tournaments, I eventually got bored of them. I realized – after a long time – that my interest in karate – in martial arts – was morphing – and I was more interested in the mental side – the mind, and also, the fitness angle. Many years passed, but I finally lost 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 have already achieved a level of karate fighting skill – not great, but at least a good level. I began to focus on something that I felt was even more important – the development of man as a whole, and for me, war was only a small part of it. Now, I’m just interested in helping people get in shape using karate and related techniques. Sure, one can learn to fight- and self-defense- but that’s less important than getting in shape mentally and physically- 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 essence of karate – and for me that is Zen . aspects as well as fitness levels that can be achieved.

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