For a martial art that has been captivating the world for centuries, Karate has made leaps and bounds in the past few years. It seems that this evolution has split into two paths, on one hand the amateur sport, known as point-Karate, was finally announced as an official Olympic sport, an honour hoped for by athletes around the world for many years.
On the other hand, under the recent surge of full contact professional martial arts such as MMA, kickboxing and Muay Thai many Karateka wondered how they would fare given the opportunity to test themselves full contact. Thus, the promotion Karate Combat was born, headed by combat sports legend Bas Rutten.
In 2021, Tokyo hosted the Olympic games, and for the first time Karate was participated in on the world Olympic stage. However, in the final gold medal match of the entire tournament a controversial result materialized.
Saudi Arabia and Iran met in a bid for Olympic gold. The former was represented by Tareg Hamedi and the latter by Sajad Ganjzadeh. What looked to be a win on points for Hamedi turned around late when Ganjzadeh in an attempt to pull ahead in a dash forward, got caught with a front leg round kick coming in.
The kick would knock Ganjzadeh out cold, and leave both the Saudi Arabian and the crowd waiting anxiously for a judge’s decision. By Olympic point-Karate rules, you can be penalized for excessive force. This is because traditional Karate is meant to demonstrate control, ellagence, technique and athleticism. Control being one of the most important, assumes that athletes should be able to restrain from damage while executing perfect technique and timing. It is also a means to safely allow the multiple match a day format required by the Olympics and other large tournament events.
However on the other side, one can also be penalized for not intelligently defending themself. If you were to run face first into your opponent’s punch without attempting to parry, block or move off the line, what kind of skill set are you showing? Ultimately the judges would rule excessive contact and Hamedi, who was up on points, would lose his chance at gold by disqualification. Discourse on whether the judges made the right call quickly began circulating, and one of those with an opinion seems to be Karate Combat president Adam S. Kovacs.
“I love amateur karate – I was a world-level competitor myself – but you don’t find this rule in other amateur combat sports like boxing, wrestling or judo. I think it’s bad for our sport, which is part of what drove us to create a full-contact professional karate league. I think Hamedi was robbed of a gold medal and I don’t think that’s how Ganjzadeh wanted to win either. So we are offering both fighters a rematch in Karate Combat under full-contact rules before the end of the year” stated Kovacs on the official Karate Combat site.
The reason this is important is that Karate Combat had already signed Ganjzadeh earlier in the year, already setting up half a potential rematch. The other half according to Kovacs is entirely up to Hamedi.
If the original match had taken place under Karate Combat rules the result would not only have been the opposite, but the tragic foul would have been a celebrated highlight. Ultimately, as diverse the world of Karate is, so are the differing opinions on what people want to see in the sport. Both point-Karate and Full Contact are beautiful in their own way and demonstrate different aspects of a martial art which has evolved and grown in different directions for centuries.
If the two men decide to fight once again under the different ruleset, it would not be the first time Karate Combat has pit two former amateur opposition against one another. Earlier this year Jessica De Paula and Christina Kavakopoulou met in a full contact rematch of their first encounter on the point circuit.
De Paula, who had won under amateur rules, seemed less comfortable and lost a clear match under the Karate Combat banner. How this change in ruleset would also change the Hamedi and Ganjzadeh matchup remains to be seen.