Three Things Sport Karate can Learn from Curling
Sport karate and its potential involvement in the Olympics has always been a sore subject amongst the community, primarily because it hasn’t happened yet. It was a big step forward for traditional kata and kumite to be featured in Tokyo, but exclusion from the Paris Olympics seems to be a speed bump. WAKO and president Roy Baker are making great strides with the International Olympic Committee, and we hope that these dreams come to fruition. However, every time the winter Olympics rolls around we find ourselves asking, “How on earth does curling get into the Olympics? Forms, weapons, and point fighting are all SO much more exciting than a rock sliding on ice!” While I agree that sport karate is exponentially more entertaining than curling, there are three very simple things that curling has right now that sport karate does not.
1. Easy to Follow
The most obvious feature of curling that makes it a good spectator-sport, and therefore a good Olympic sport due to the importance of ratings, is that it is very easy to understand what is going on. Stone in the middle of the circle? Good. Other team knocks stone out of the circle? Bad.
The commentators on NBC also do a great job of explaining what needs to happen. Without a viewer knowing anything about scoring, the simple statement “the Americans just need to land inside the larger circle to take the lead” goes a long way.
When placed in the context of sport karate, there are adjustments that can be made both in terms of competition structure and broadcasting that can make the sport easier to follow. On the structure side, I can understand how it would be confusing for a viewer to see a traditional competitor taking on a creative/musical/extreme (CMX) competitor, as their routines are completely different. Sometimes, it feels like trying to score a snowboarding run against a skiing run. Sure you can do it, but does it really make sense to do it? I know that proposing a structural change to grand championship divisions is complicated, but it should at least be considered.
On the broadcasting side, it would be helpful to have dedicated moments in the stream to explain the rules of the forms/weapons and fighting divisions. Pro Point did this very efficiently by having a pre-recorded video that lasted just a few minutes and explained the scoring techniques to any new viewers. The 2-3 minutes that it takes to introduce the major rules of the most popular divisions is absolutely worth it.
What about the intricacies of sport karate? Are you really going to try to explain the details of martial arts techniques to the viewers in just a few minutes? No, but curling shows us that you don’t need to know the fine details to be entertained by a sport. Outside of some guesses based on physics, I have no idea why they sweep the ice in front of the stone. I have no idea what the broom is made of, I don’t even know why the guy who pushes the stone has to squat so low. The key is that I don’t need to know all of that to enjoy the sport, just like someone doesn’t have to know all the details to enjoy a forms/weapons performance or point fighting match.
Why do fans root for a particular athlete? There are some sports fans that don’t even have a favorite team, they just root for a particular player. This happens when a fan can see an athlete’s personality, grow fond of that character, and then they follow them consistently rooting for their success. In American curling, we don’t have to look any further than Matt Hamilton: the luscious-locks boasting, mustache-rocking, crazy shoe-wearing meme king of curling.
I’m fairly certain that when you say the word “American” in other countries, they picture somebody that looks just like Matt Hamilton. He embraces the style, and has said publicly that he actively tries to stand out with his appearance. In one interview, featuring his signature Wisconsin accent, he even said that he wants people to think, “if that weird dude with the mustache can do it, so can I”. The characters don’t end with Hamilton either, as “skip” (otherwise known as captain) John Shuster is a 5x Olympian who plays the role of the old pro and has a classic rise-from-the-ashes story as his team placed dead last at the 2010 winter games, just to come back and win the gold medal in 2018.Sport karate already has some great characters, we just need to tell their stories to more people. In point fighting, the archetype of the classy veteran is fulfilled by Jack Felton and the antithesis of the young superstar is played by the likes of Elijah Everill and Bailey Murphy. In forms and weapons, we have the same dynamic with Sammy Smith and Haley Glass. There are others of course, like Rashad Eugene who plays the part of the fan-favorite that will do quite literally anything when he takes the stage. There are plenty of others to name, but the more the merrier! If you are a junior sport karate competitor who wants to make a name for themselves, take that extra moment to play to the crowd when you’re on stage. Take the time to make that social media post that tells people more about who you are. These are the things that win fans for the sport.
Anyone who reads my articles probably saw this one coming. Unity is the single most important factor in trying to get Olympic involvement, or more broadly trying to land sponsorships for the sport. It needs to be clear who the international governing body of the sport is, so that sponsors and the Olympic Committee alike can understand who to listen to. Curling in particular has the World Curling Federation, which was formed from the former International Curling Federation with the SPECIFIC goal of pushing for Olympic Winter Sport status. Seems like that plan worked out, doesn’t it?
There is nothing wrong with having separate leagues like NASKA to set the standard in the states and WAKO to set the standard in Europe, with other solid leagues like PROMAC for regional organization and WKC for annual nation-dependent championships. At some point, however, the major role players in the sport will have to collaborate to put together a package that is enticing to sponsors or the International Olympic Committee. The sport needs the professional appearance of WAKO referees and the incredible point fighting talent that league displays. The sport also needs the high-caliber NASKA fighters who complete that picture, as well as the top-tier forms and weapons competitors who have set the international standard for the last three decades or better. The sport needs, more than anything, for all of the great minds to work together to put all the best athletes on display with the best possible production, to give the sport its best chances at attracting fans and sponsors.
These are simple suggestions that require complex solutions. The only way to ever elicit change is to start the conversation, so that ultimately the powers that be understand what steps must be taken to keep moving in the right direction. Next time you ask yourself, “why does curling get to be in the Olympics and not sport karate?”, remember all the things that curling has gotten right that our community hasn’t done yet. Curling took the necessary steps to make it to that stage, and sport karate can too as long as we work together.
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