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

Way back in the early to mid 1970’s, there were many karate tournaments, and I participated in several 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 every level, or belt. Very physical classes were the hallmark- blood, sweat and tears, to put it simply- and mildly! 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 conceivable backgrounds, and of all different styles. Back then, most of the tournaments were “non-contact”- that is, the fighters were expected to stop short of fully hitting their opponents. Often times however, this did NOT happen- that is, fighters did hit quite hard, despite the rule against full contact. There was no boxing gloves or safety kicks at these tournaments- since contact was supposed to be at a minimum.

At one such “non- contact” tournament- at the Commack Arena, at Suffolk County Long Island, I fought at the brown belt level. I was winning a bout, when, I scored a point against my opponent- and then, suddenly, he punched me full force in the face- thus breaking my nose, quite severely. It was quite a shock, and I had to retire- to a hospital. I was awarded the bout- but for the next month, my entire 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 had really lost control- to say the least! I still fought in some tournaments thereafter- notably, the Fred Hamilton tournament, up in Harlem. That was quite a spectacle. Way back in the 70’s, there was not yet the level of integration that we benefit from today, and our karate club was pretty much the only non-African Americans in attendance. Of course, that didn’t really matter, as the only thing that mattered was who was a better fighter- irrespective of skin color. One of the members of my dojo won his bout in a very dramatic manner- by executing a beautiful flying side kick- and stopping the kick about a millionth of an inch from his opponent’s head. That was no easy feat. I won one bout, and then I did lose to a very good fighter thereafter. That tournament was quite a spectacle- and it was a famous competition for many years.

At some of these tournaments, I also participated in the kata competition- the non-fighting part, where one performs the formal exercises of karate- the “forms”. This was really enjoyable- although somewhat nerve racking, as one’s performance is being rated by several highly qualified judges. It took a lot of concentration, good technique, and a total familiarity with the kata.

Although I did learn a good deal from these tournaments, I eventually grew tired of them. I realized- after quite some time- that my interest in karate- in the martial arts- was morphing- and I was much more interested in the mental aspects- the mind set, and also, the fitness angle. It did take 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 it all. Of course, to reach this feeling, I did previously attain a decent to moderately good level of karate fighting skill- not great, but at least a good level. I started to move on to something I felt was even more important- the development of the person as a whole, and for me, fighting was just a little subset of that. Nowadays, I am only interested in helping people get in shape- using karate and related techniques. Of course, one can learn to fight- and to 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 of my old karate training, as 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 as well as the fitness levels that can be attained.

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