At this stage in my career, virtually everything that I do with regard to sport karate is focused on growing the sport to make it a better place for the competitors of tomorrow. I believe that all the top athletes in sport karate, forms competitors and fighters alike, are some of the most entertaining athletes in all of sports. The power and stage presence of a traditional forms competitor, the obvious difficulty and entertainment value that extreme performers bring, all of it can be suitable for large-scale broadcasts if presented appropriately.
However, point fighters deal with a unique challenge when it comes to making their performances attractive to the uneducated viewer. Those of us who know the game can appreciate the human chess match and understand the complexity of the fakes, set-ups, and timing of the techniques.
The problem that point fighting faces is that an uneducated viewer has no idea what they are seeing when combatants collide and judges’ hands fly in every direction, with one fighter being awarded a point for a technique that the layman could have never seen. As someone who wants to see point fighters alongside forms and weapons competitors when sport karate ultimately gets more opportunities to appear on television or major streaming platforms, we have to work on making the art of point fighting more consumable now so that it has success when that big break occurs. I feel that an essential first step is the innovation of slow-motion replay, for three main reasons.
Clearly Visible Techniques
The first and most obvious of these reasons is that a slow-motion replay would make the scoring technique clearly visible to everyone watching. Keep in mind that I am only suggesting this feature be made available for fights in the night show (shout out to the promoters for recently increasing the number of fights we see in the show), as this benefit is primarily for broadcasting and not the impact on the fight itself. Imagine watching a fight on a stream somewhere, while the judges are determining who scored and the competitors come back to the line, a 3-5 second slow-motion replay shows the clash. Everyone watching from home sees which punching hand reaches the body first. What used to be a bizarre collision of two fighters that no untrained eye can make sense of, now has a clear indication of who made contact first. In turn, this will force our judges to be held more accountable. If they are not 100% certain who made contact first, they should call a “clash”. A common criticism of this idea for slow-motion replay is that it could expose our judges and the occasional calls that are missed. My immediate response is… is that a bad thing? Furthermore, having judges or referees means that mistakes are inherent to the sport. How often do we hear about a blown call at the end of a basketball or football game? It happens! The fact that judges are human and make mistakes, just like any other professional sport, it not a valid justification to hesitate about the introduction of slow-motion replay. If anything, judges may be even more careful to make the right call because they know thousands of people at home are going to see any mistakes that take place.
Cleaner Techniques with Rule Modifications
Another concern that I have heard when explaining this idea is that it could expose fighters for poor techniques that wind up scoring. My argument here is that just like judges would be held accountable for their calls, fighters would be held accountable for the techniques they score with. Do you think any fighter would want to be known for their blitz secretly being a backfist with minimal power as opposed to a true reverse punch? I am sure that most fighters would pride themselves on scoring with a true body punch. I believe that techniques would automatically get cleaner because fighters know that any no-so-pretty technique is going to be replayed in slow motion for the world to see. A secondary impact of this innovation would be the consideration of some rule changes that eliminate certain techniques. If it is decided that we don’t want backfist-to-the-body blitzes to be displayed in slow motion, then I feel it would be reasonable to outlaw backfist to the body all together (not just the lead hand as NASKA rules currently enforce). The issue here is that judges will not always be able to tell the difference between the backfist and the reverse punch at the world-class speed of these fighters, which is why the next benefit is so important.
Implementation of the Challenge Flag
Having slow-motion replay available in night shows introduces the possibility of a challenge flag. This flag would be available to coaches only once per match, and could be used for the reassessment of any rule application. Most commonly this would be used to assess who truly landed the technique first on a close clash, but could also be used to challenge if a fighter was in bounds or not, if any time was remaining on the clock when a final technique was thrown, or to determine if a technique was actually legal. Referencing the previous point about the reverse backfist-to-the-body, if a point was given for such a blitz the opposing coach could challenge, the replay would reveal if the technique was a punch or a backfist, and the point can be upheld or reversed based on what the majority of the 3-5 judges see on replay.
The clear benefit of this is that match-deciding calls can be made with substantially more accuracy, as most fans recognize that late-fight calls are often influenced by the momentum of a comeback fighter on a scoring streak. There is also significant benefit to the entertainment value of point fighting as a whole, which is really the purpose of this proposition in the first place. Some of the tensest moments when watching a football game is when there is a close call, a coach challenges, and viewers get multiple slow-motion replays by which they can form an opinion about the call while the suspense mounts for the referees’ decision.
This would have a secondary impact of starting social media debates between Impex/KTOC fans yelling through their computer screen that Avery Plowden landed first, while Straight Up fans dive into their comment sections explaining why they think Bailey Murphy actually landed first.
Some friendly competitive discussion about which way a close call goes is good for the sport. It brings hundreds of millions of extra views to the NFL on social media when the refs make a close call, with one fanbase always being furious and the other feeling validated and overjoyed.
Alex Reyes has already proven that people take an interest in these close calls through his series on the Point Fighter Live page in which he asks followers what call they would have made. I feel it is important to reiterate in conclusion that this is all about making point fighting more consumable for an uneducated audience. It all starts with using slow motion replay on streaming and broadcasting to show exactly what the scoring technique was. That has a trickle-down impact that would hold judges more accountable for their calls and fighters more accountable for their techniques, with the possibility of some synergistic rule changes.
Finally, it provides an opportunity to add another exciting element to point fighting that would both increase the accuracy and validity of the results as well as providing a new topic of intrigue and discussion that point fighting fans could enjoy.
Ultimately, the more new viewers that we attract to the sport, the more attractive the sport is to potential sponsors who care more than anything about viewership, and access to more sponsors ensures a brighter future for the sport karate competitors of tomorrow across the board. With regard to point fighting, it all starts with slow-motion replay.
Special thanks to Lindsey Little Photography for the image used in this article.