Can you blend self defense and sport seamlessly in karate training? There are some techniques that will never be acceptable in a competition format that hopes to go mainstream that are useful for self defense, and there are some things that are dangerous in real life when there are so many unknowns about the situation that work wonders in a controlled sporting situation.
So the question is, can sport and effective self defense be trained at the same time? Are the two like oil and water and will never mix in training? Essentially can one training program effectively train a student for competition, and real world self defense?

I think the first thing that has to be noted is that a competition ruleset that is vastly different from the current sport karate point fighting start and stop format would be necessary for this to work. The stop and go format used currently can provide valuable training and insight for concepts like timing and distance, but is very incompatible with training for the real world.

Karate includes take downs and some ground fighting in it’s traditional forms as trained and taught in Okinawa in the old days, but if you can’t guarantee your opponent has no friends with him or is unarmed, then going to the ground is dangerous, so a karate competition should have take downs and ground fighting included, but should limit it, because knowing how to put someone on the ground effectively can open up an opportunity to disengage and end the conflict that way in a real world scenario, but also knowing how to defend against take down attempts is important to ensure that some Joe isn’t capable of simply tackling you, or in case you meet someone who does have some ground fight training you can have a chance of remaining on your feet.

Ground fighting should be included once one or both participants are on the ground, because things happen. Gravel causes slips, legs can get tangled, or in the most unfortunate of cases, someone with training as a ground fighter capitalizes on an opportunity and successfully gets you down, you need to have the repertoire to be able to effectively defend yourself until you can get back on your feet.

So now we’ve established that karate does include take downs and ground fighting in it’s traditional training, we need to decide how much ground fighting to allow, or if it should be limited at all in the first place. There is currently one ruleset for karate combat sports that allows up to 5 seconds of ground fighting. To me that is too little to really cause a karate-ka to work on actual ground fighting, so a 5 second limit is a no go. I personally would do 15 seconds of ground fighting before standing up opponents, unless one fighter clearly has a joint manipulation or choking technique engaged, and is simply trying to lock it in for the win. If the 15 second time is reached and they have the technique and spend 2 seconds trying to lock it in but lose it, then the referee immediately stands both contestants up.

Part 2 will discuss what limitations should be allowed for the stand up fight.