Sport or Budo


Happy new year and I wish you health and happiness for 2016. Thank you for your continued support of this blog. Your interest is genuinely appreciated.

With the start of the new year many of us will recommit to our training, reevaluate our goals and focus on new ones. For me this meant I was back in the gym to dust-off my skinny muscles with a bit of weight lifting after a bit of a lay-off at my local community centre. At the gym I saw a new, bright red poster pinned on the wall listing the “principles of sport”. 

It immediately caught my attention and as I read through the list I was hard pressed to notice a difference between what it said and many of the tennents that modern sport Karateka and their dojo often espouse. Overall the poster had some very postive things to say, especially for young comepetitave Karateka, but those statements are not principles of budo. 

Students and teachers alike are often chastised that Karate-do isn’t a sport. They’re told that it’s budo or martial art. They may nod their heads in agreement but they might not be sure what is the difference between the two. It’s confusing isn’t it? 

Although there are some good definitions of how budo differs from sport written by far better writers than myself (e.g. Draeger, Lowry), I thought I would add to the discussion with the list below which was originally published in the book “An Outline of Okinawa Karate-do” (沖縄空手道概説) published by the Shohei-ryu Karate-do Association based out of Chatan, Okinawa.

The list is interesting and you can use it to give yourself a better idea of where your own Karate-do practice lies. Personally I don’t think Karate-do is 100% budo or 100% sport; it isn’t that simple. More likely your Karate-do practice will likely contain elements of both, and perhaps others, but the interesting part is to see which direction your practice leans towards. Perhaps this list will better shape your practice goals for 2016. 

Foundations in Thought


  • Primarily focused on principles of the school
  • Concerned with life and death during an encounter
  • It’s techniques and methods can develop a sublime spirit
  • Closely related with religion
  • Training is in earnest and serious
  • Can be pursued throughout one’s life regardless of age
  • As a system of techniques it focuses on the individual
  • Does not require an audience
  • Assessment: Titles and rankings (throughout whole life)
  • Rating: title and rank system (whole life)
  • Dojo (place of mental training)
  • Keiko / Shugyou
  • Student, disciple, pupil


  • Primarily focused on the individual
  • Not concerned with life and death during an encounter
  • More difficult to develop a sublime spirit from it’s methods and techniques
  • Not closely related in religion
  • Practice is enjoyable
  • Is limited by age and therefore cannot be continued throughout one’s lifetime
  • A system of techniques focused on the group
  • Needs an audience
  • Assessment: Rank based upon result(s) of competition
  • Rating: (change as a result of the game)
  • Practice area / exercise room / gym
  • Practice, play, rehearse
  • Member, athlete, participant

Foundation in Technique


  • It’s lethal techniques cannot be used in practice
  • Relies on single techniques
  • Focuses on the principle of finishing in one attack
  • Focuses on seizing the initiative or reacting after an attack


  • It’s techniques can be used to win
  • Relies on multiple techniques
  • Focuses on winning with one attack
  • It’s system of techniques begins with offense
  • Focuses on seizing the initiative to win