Thoughts on 1960s point karate

Discussion in 'MMA Forum' started by cross_trainer, Aug 21, 2021.

  1. cross_trainer

    cross_trainer Bergeron Avatar Club Full Member

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    I recently rewatched the 1968 professional (point) karate championships, which marks one of the few times anybody caught top 60s point competitors (Lewis, Moon, Mullins, etc.) on high quality color film.

    In thinking about those matches, I can kind of see why the old fashioned point karate styles were considered good training for self defense for regular people back in the day (and why the weaknesses weren't fatal to same.)

    The matches are all short. You can squeeze a lot of these quick, explosive point bouts into a single tournament, which means that the top fighters could rack up dozens/hundreds of fights. And you'd be facing guys from all sorts of oddball styles back then, so you'd see a little of everything. Bill Wallace -- who competed as a point fighter before his kickboxing career -- described how he used to use his spring break vacations to do a martial arts road trip, staying (and fighting) at a different martial arts school each night of the round trip. Fighters from different weight classes fought each other because the rules weren't *quite* full-contact enough to make such fights a mismatch.

    The rules are also set up so there's not going to be a massive amount of concussive wear and tear (at least on the brain) despite all those fights. They hit full force to the body with bare fists/feet (indeed, at least one of them had their ribs broken in the competition I watched, and second one might have suffered a rib injury as well), but they didn't hit the head full force.

    (On the other hand, they actually targeted the groin in these competitions, which is why so many of them had their hands low. It was apparently a thing back then. I don't think they hit the groin full contact though.)

    As far as the negatives go -- and there are a couple -- the biggest is probably the start-stop rhythm. The fighters will maintain their form until they get off their first combination/counter/blitz, but after that, it devolves into a tangle. They don't adapt well to infighting or continuous fighting generally. Lewis remarked how after he learned boxing, he could just "jam" good black belts during gloved sparring and start throwing combinations with impunity. The short fights also didn't put a premium on stamina; some of the early guys trained -- and looked -- like bodybuilders under their gis. (Again, Lewis is an example; Greg Baines is another.) Wallace mentioned that he remembered seeing fighters smoking cigarettes between matches in some tournaments. Plus there's the aforementioned lack of full contact to the head. Judges did score light contact to the head (and competitors often hit harder than they were allowed to), but you wouldn't have gotten the same experience as a boxer by any stretch of the imagination.

    So it's a pretty bad type of competition if you're planning to go into the ring or training for MMA.

    But y'know, it might not be terrible for self defense. It's my understanding that most self defense situations are pretty quick and unpredictable, one way or the other. Being a bulked-up guy who's had a hundred quick, blitzing matches against all sorts of unfamiliar styles in a ruleset where you have to defend groin strikes (and where you get hit full force, and learn to defend bareknuckle strikes, but rarely are concussed) isn't exactly the worst prep for learning to defend yourself. Sure, your form will deteriorate after the first exchange or two, but by then you're probably grappling anyway. (And most of these guys knew judo.) So if you're a regular person, you could do worse in the 1960s than train karate.

    Not great. I'd still prefer MMA or a lot of other approaches. But also not as self evidently silly as it first looks. And there weren't many options for self defense training available to the general public back then.

    Unfortunately, the rules quickly got watered down when the next generation of guys who actually wanted to fight left for kickboxing. You stopped seeing dojos full of aggressive young guys hitting/kicking each other bareknuckled to the body (and sometimes with excessive force to the head.) Karate from that period was vulnerable to McDojofication because of the rules; much more so than the truly full contact styles that came later.
     
    Last edited: Aug 22, 2021
  2. BCS8

    BCS8 Obsessed with Boxing Full Member

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    Well Machida developed his style from karate and in my opinion, and at his best, he was very effective with it.
     
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  3. cross_trainer

    cross_trainer Bergeron Avatar Club Full Member

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    Yeah, you're right about that. Machida's JKA karate is the closest you come to the old school American stuff. (There are a couple others within the last 10 years as well.) The difference from what I can see is that even the modern JKA guys are a lot more mobile than Lewis, Norris, et al. Also, Machida has the benefit of cross training and a much better approach to fitness.
     
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  4. cross_trainer

    cross_trainer Bergeron Avatar Club Full Member

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    It also occurred to me that one of the top tournament competitors of the 60s / early 70s was, in fact, a JKA stylist named Tonny Tulleners. He makes most of the retrospective top 10 lists from competitors of that era. He shared the less mobile style of that era, and was considered unusual because he competed in both JKA and open/freestyle karate events. (Most JKA guys stayed in their own sandbox.) Tulleners had a reputation for being an unusually tough guy, with very hard sparring at his dojo. He was known as one of the bigger fighters of that period physically, although I don't know whether he'd be considered all that large by today's standards. (I don't know what his actual height/weight were.)
     
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