Chito-Ryu karate competitors

A team of 40 Australians practised outdoors this week ahead of the Soke Cup, the world championship for Chito-Ryu karate.

More than 300 competitors have gathered in Penticton for the Soke Cup, the official world championship for Chito-Ryu karate.

The Chito-Ryu discipline was formed by Tsu Yoshi Chitose in Japan just over 70 years ago.

Chitose’s son, Chris, who is now the world leader in the sport, and his son are in Penticton for the tournament.

A large crew of more than 40 fighters from Australia, who range in age from five to 55, arrived early to prepare for this weekend’s tournament at the Trade and Convention Centre.

The entire Australian team held a team practice in Rotary Park near the shores of Okanagan Lake Wednesday morning.

Mike Ditson, a world champion in 2010 and experienced black belt from West Kelowna, is the tournament director for the Soke Cup, which has been held once every three years for the past 40 years.

This is the third time Canada has played host to the event. Toronto hosted in 1998, and Vancouver hosted in 1989.

“Our sport’s sensei was asked to find a place to host the world championships in Canada, and we decided to go on a bit of an exploration across the Okanagan,” said Ditson.

“We tried to find the best place, and the Penticton Trade and Convention Centre is bigger than any other place we could find . . . and it made a perfect fit for us to be here. It’s an amazing venue and exactly what we need.”

Competitors from six countries — Canada, Australia, the United States, Hong Kong, Japan and Norway — are battling this weekend.

Chito-Ryu karate is not as popular as some other martial arts disciplines. However, it is extremely popular in Canada, and that’s why there’s such a large contingent at this year’s Soke Cup, Ditson said.

Competition started at noon Friday and continues Saturday. The top fighters in each division will compete for medals starting at 9 o’clock Sunday morning, with the action continuing into the early afternoon.

The first fighter to score three points on decisive blows is declared the winner by tournament judges, said Ditson.

Each fight is 90 seconds in the junior divisions and two minutes for adult competitors, which increases to three minutes in the finals.

Spectators can enter for free.

Like all other martial arts, karate is about discipline and hard work, and competitors often train for many years to be able to compete in the Soke Cup, Ditson said.

“The amount of training you put in for the amount of time spent in competition is grossly disproportionate,” he said. “The training time far exceeds competition time.”

Martin Phillips, team leader for the Australian contingent, said he is thrilled to return to Canada and B.C.

“I competed in my first Soke Cup back in 1989 in Vancouver and I haven’t missed one since,” he said.

“Being able to meet up with old friends from around the world and compete against them is always exciting.”

Travelling thousands of kilometres to compete in a sport where most are eliminated in two minutes is simply the nature of martial arts, he added.

“You have to train incredibly hard to make sure you’re better than everyone else over two minutes.”