Giving Credit Where Credit Is Due
WAKO opened the doors to “kicks to the legs” in 1991 and only recently to Thai boxing. This is how it came about.
We like to say that “life is continuous change, and only those who can adapt to change survive”. The essence of the whole story lies in this universal aphorism. WAKO now embraces 7 disciplines: semi, light and full contact, low-kick, Thai/kickboxing, musical forms and aero/kickboxing. Some might say 7 is too many - others maintain that it is necessary for WAKO kickboxing to include a wide range of possibilities to satisfy the requirements of any enthusiast who approaches our world for the first time. According to his psycho/physical make-up, each person is free to choose the specialty that best suits him. And he enjoys himself. Taking part in kickboxing for the benefits to physical and mental hygiene, simply for the pleasure of feeling “in shape”, is now one of the major factors pushing millions of people toward our sport. But one can also participate due to a desire to learn self-defence technique or to try, through competition, to excel in one of the specific disciplines.
Obviously, this has not always been the case.
In 1974, Mike Anderson and his partners (including George Bruckner) offered the world, for the first time, a show that featured only “full contact karate” in the event they promoted in Los Angeles, which was destined to become the cornerstone of our history.
In 1978, when George Bruckner promoted the first World Championships of WAKO (World All-Styles Karate Organizations, which was formed to compete with WUKO - the World Union of Karate-Do Organizations) he only had competition in full contact and semi contact. The same can be said about 1979 in Tampa, Florida, the second edition of the World Championships promoted by Mike Anderson.
How then and why did we come to the present situation? George Bruckner, an authentic “revolutionary” in the world of Martial Arts - considering the gap between traditional karate and full contact karate, which he helped to launch and popularise around the world - was actually a great “conservative”. While he chose full contact karate as the maximum technical expression of the new discipline, he didn't want to go any further in its development. He believed it was dangerous for the fighters to attack with leg kicks (because it would shorten their competitive careers) and, wrongly, that those who attacked the thighs did so only because they were unable to kick higher. In other words, he regarded low-kick fighters as almost handicapped, people with hip-femur joint problems. He thought they were lacking as “artists” and he believed all full contact fighters should imitate Bill Wallace, who was the best in his day at understanding and interpreting full contact. But Wallace in his prime would never have agreed to fight low-kick because he had suffered serious ligament damage as a college wrestler. In fact, Bill used only his left foot for kicking. Bruckner was clearly wrong, and he also refused to observe what was happening outside of his new world. Unfortunately, he didn't realize that in the rest of the world important things were taking place that should have made him wary. While he and Mike Anderson were busy consolidating WAKO, which was basically an amateur organization, there were others who, following the model of professional boxing, had founded two professional organizations that had the same goals: promote and sanction fights all over the world and sell the television rights of the major events. These two organizations were PKA (Professional Karate Association) and WKA (World Karate Association). Both were founded in the U.S.A.
The PKA was born following the famous event promoted by Mike Anderson with the collaboration of Don and Judy Quine (see the article about it in the History section of this site). In 1974 Mike Anderson left the PKA to the Quines, who had been the principal financial backers of his event. The WKA was founded in the autumn of 1976, just two years later, by Howard Hanson and Arnold Urquidez, brother of the more famous Benny, who shortly later became the true standard bearer of the organization throughout the world.
What distinguished PKA from WKA?
The fact that the former was essentially involved in full contact (and Bill Wallace became its symbol), while WKA was involved in both full contact and a Japanese variation with the possibility of attacking the opponent's thighs with kicks using the shin.
PKA operated primarily in North America and in Europe for a few years, especially in subsequent years when PKA was run by Joe Corley, a Georgian whose interests now are limited to his “Academies” and his most famous tournament, The Battle of Atlanta.
The WKA was founded because Benny Urquidez had opened “the door to the Orient”. Benny, who was born in 1952, is an American Indian weighing little more than 63 kilos. He was a truly exceptional athlete with highly refined technique and an indomitable spirit. He was invited to Japan for a series of matches against the best local fighters, almost all of which he won. In a short time, Benny “The Jet” Urquidez, as he was known, became a legend in the 1980s. The background of both Wallace and Urquidez was in karate, the martial art they would soon leave to turn professional in the new discipline that had become more lucrative for them.
During the 1980s in America and Asia PKA and WKA prospered in the professional aspects of some of the disciplines we now practice, while in Europe WAKO (which was forced to change its name to the World Association of Kickboxing Organizations to avoid legal problems with WUKO) continued to grow and get better organized in the major countries.
The turning point came toward the end of the 1980s. First of all, since 1984 WAKO had been led by Italy's Ennio Falsoni, a former WUKO world karate championship runner-up (1972) who had a more “open” mind than George Bruckner and fewer preconceptions. While the PKA was winding down, in large part due to the retirement from competition of their star attraction, Bill “Superfoot” Wallace, the WKA, which had lost both Howard Hanson and Arnold Urquidez, penetrated Europe with Holland's Fred Royers and started promoting semi , light and full contact, disciplines that had previously been the exclusive domain of WAKO.
Ennio Falsoni attempted to reach an agreement with Fred Royers. The idea was for WAKO and WKA to sign an exclusive collaboration pact in which WKA would stay out of WAKO territory and WAKO would give WKA exclusive rights to “kicks to the legs” and eventually its best fighters for professional matches.
WKA's answer was negative on all fronts. Evidently they felt they were stronger and since the proposal came from WAKO, they thought WAKO was weak.
Consequently, during an assembly in Madrid in 1991, WAKO officially decided to adopt a new specialty, low-kick, and it has been enjoying increasing success ever since. Although at the time there were few countries interested in low-kick, it was still a winning move. WAKO had something extra to offer its members and an additional weapon to use against the competition from WKA.
Those who use low kicks to the legs utilizing the shinbone, and thus must learn how to block such attacks, soon discover that it all comes from the famous Siamese art of Muay Thai. Therefore, it is quite natural for a low-kicker to develop an interest in Thai boxing. It happens in all the gyms where full contact is practiced: everyone experiments with boxing because it is an absolute necessity; everyone tries both full contact and low-kick; everyone starts using clinches and using the knee to the ribs, in others words they take up Thai boxing. All fighting sport athletes must know as many techniques and combinations as possible. It's a personal necessity, part of an almost obligatory road for those who take up these disciplines professionally. Then, the fighter develops a preference for this or that aspect of our sport, but everyone understands the differences and knows the history and the technique. Thus, it was obvious that WAKO would officially open up to Thai/kickboxing (it happened in 2000) and aero/kickboxing.
And then there is WAKO-PRO, which was born at the same time as low-kick in WAKO. We have mentioned PKA and WKA as “professional” organizations. But they were soon joined by others, WKC, ISKA etc, which call themselves “world sanctioning bodies”, but there is very little substance behind their names. Unfortunately, for years we had watched, helplessly, as we developed great champions, only to see other organizations benefit, inserting our fighters names into their “international rankings”.
Clearly WAKO had to expand into “professionalism” or face losing all of our best fighters. WAKO's institutional activity, which amounts to organizing world championships every two years and regional championships in the alternating years, isn't very much and lacks visibility. But with the activity of WAKO-PRO, we can have our name before the public all over the world on a weekly basis, as well as having the means and the reason for drawing in the media for more prestige for us and for our best fighters.
With its latest moves in sports politics, WAKO has aimed to satisfy both its primary needs and the market's demands, which will prepare our organization for future competition.
We believe that everything has been done to better serve the interests of our members. The more “services” WAKO offers, given equal costs, the more competitive it will become. This is a simple law of economics which has changed the life and image of our organization.
- Ennio Falsoni