Why was karate banned in the USSR?

Let’s find out if it’s true that mar­tial arts teach­ers were sent to prison.

Mar­tial arts were pop­u­lar in the USSR, but the author­i­ties did not like it. It came to bans and prison sen­tences for karatekas. Were peo­ple real­ly sent to jail because of their love for sports?

How did karate appear in the USSR?

Mar­tial arts became pop­u­lar in the USSR in the 1960s and 70s, when young peo­ple became mas­sive­ly inter­est­ed in karate. Mar­tial art pen­e­trat­ed into the Union grad­u­al­ly: for­eign ath­letes brought some tech­niques, Asian stu­dents showed some tech­niques, and some Sovi­et youth copied action heroes.

The first peo­ple who legal­ly taught karate in the USSR were Tet­suo Sato, Hashimo­to, Ako Tauluev, Alexan­der Pod­shchekoldin, Vladimir Kovalev. In 1977, the Cen­tral Karate School even appeared, the com­pe­ti­tion for which was 200 peo­ple per place. A year lat­er, the USSR Karate Fed­er­a­tion appeared, and in 1980 the first nation­al cham­pi­onship was held in Tashkent.

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Why did the authorities begin to imprison sensei?

The num­ber of peo­ple prac­tic­ing karate in the USSR grew to 6 mil­lion peo­ple when the sport was sud­den­ly banned. In the fall of 1981, a clause on “Ille­gal karate train­ing” was added to Arti­cle 219 of the Crim­i­nal Code of the RSFSR.

  • For learn­ing karate tech­niques you could be impris­oned for 2 years and receive a fine of up to 300 rubles.
  • If a coach took mon­ey from stu­dents, the fine increased to 500 rubles.
  • If the mate­r­i­al ben­e­fit could be con­sid­ered “sub­stan­tial”, and the coach had already been pros­e­cut­ed for sim­i­lar things, he could be impris­oned for 5 years with con­fis­ca­tion of prop­er­ty.

To demon­strate the seri­ous­ness of their inten­tions, the author­i­ties held a show tri­al of wushu train­er Valery Gusev. No one was inter­est­ed in the fact that Chi­nese gym­nas­tics has noth­ing to do with karate. Gusev was not only charged with teach­ing mar­tial arts, he was also accused of try­ing to cre­ate an orga­ni­za­tion whose goal was to over­throw the Sovi­et regime. As a result, Valery went to prison for five years and was released in 1988.

Why was karate banned?

What was the rea­son for the ban on karate in the USSR? One of the ver­sions is the out­flow of ath­letes from oth­er sports. Karate became so pop­u­lar that every­one did it — even the guys from box­ing and judo. Since these are Olympic sports, the depar­ture of ath­letes under­mined the pres­tige of the coun­try and could affect the results of the team.

Anoth­er alarm­ing symp­tom was the cult of the sen­sei, which is tra­di­tion­al in mar­tial arts. The life of young peo­ple was con­trolled by the state, and for­eign phi­los­o­phy could devel­op dis­sent in them. The author­i­ties were afraid that the sen­sei would begin to sup­ply fight­ers for crime or cre­ate cells with the aim of chang­ing the sys­tem.