Karate in the Olympics

Ever since the early 70s, the karate community has expressed tremendous interests in competing in the most prestigious sporting event, the Summer Olympics. On August 3, 2016, news broke from the International Olympic Committee’s organizers before the Rio Olympics that karate was approved for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Hence for the first time in history, eight gold medals will be up for grabs in karate at the Nippon Budokan, the “Mecca” of martial arts, one of the most prestigious stages for Japanese martial arts, mixed martial arts and wrestling.

Separate competitions will be held for kata (form) and kumite (sparring). Regardless of any previous experience or belts held, in every match, each competitor is randomly given a blue or a red belt to distinguish them apart for judges.

The kata competition will feature the top karateka around the world demonstrating their posture, form and technique against a virtual opponent. The competitors are expected to show fluidity, power, rhythm, speed and strength in their strikes and kicks. The karateka’s performance will be judged by three of seven experts tallying their points according to the strengths and weaknesses of the demonstration. The two top competitors (one male and one female) will walk out with the doors with the gold. 

The Kumite category is expected to be one of the most dynamic and exciting combat events to appear in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Two dedicated experienced karateka battling each other in a game of reflexes, wits, power and technique. But karate matches in the Olympics will be slightly different from others, as they will not be full contact matches.

Each karateka has to show self-restraint or else they will be heavily penalized; that means no strikes below the belt and no attempting to knockdown, all strikes will need to demonstrate maximum speed, power, accuracy and most of all control. There are six separate events, three weight categories for each male and female. Competitors are awarded points if they have landed a strike to the head or neck with a kick, a kick to the belly or torso and if they have delivered a punch to the opponent. Each fight will last up to three minutes, and ends as soon as a karateka gets eight points more than their opponents or if that doesn’t happen, then the winner is the competitor with the most points.

Because karate is such a diverse sport with various philosophies in each style, only those recognized by the World Karate Federation (Goju-ryu, Shito-ryu, Shotokan, and Wado-ryo) are eligible to compete. Any practitioner around the world that follows WKF rules and is affiliated with a recognised karate national federation may be eligible to apply. For the 2020 Tokyo Olympics only 80 spots are available, 60 for kumite and 20 for kata, each split equally for males and females.

To be qualified, a karateka must have competed in major karate championships like the WKF Continental Games, or be the top 50 highest ranked athletes in their weight category in the WKF World Ranking. For Australians, being a member of an organization like Kimekai, that is accredited by Australian Karate Federation is essential (the AKF is the only karate organization in Australia with full IOC recognition). There is a quota for 2 karate athletes from the Oceania region, selection is granted to the highest world ranked karate athletes, at present Australia has a very good chance to have representation at the 2020 Olympics. 

Due to the prestige of holding the first ever karate Olympic event in the home country of karate, competitors will have had many years of gruelling practice and competed in a host of difficult tournaments. Just a year to go before we see these giants display their prowess. “The K is on the Way”!