With the postponement of the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games, it is now only three weeks until we can finally see Karate make it’s cherished Olympic debut at home. Being one of the five sports added to the 2020 programme, Karate will finally see its Olympic pursuit, that spanned several decades, come to fruition.

In 2015, the Tokyo 2020 Organising Committee proposed to the International Olympic Committee to include Karate as a medal sport. On August 3, 2016, the IOC agreed. Karate has now joined Judo and Taekwondo as the third Olympics approved discipline in the Martial Arts category.

A Japanese Legacy

Karate emerged in the Okinawa prefecture several hundred years ago. Therefore, it is only apt that the Martial Art will make its Olympic debut in the country of its origin.

“There couldn’t be a better place (than Tokyo) to begin our Olympic adventure,” said Antonio Espinos, president of the World Karate Federation. “This will be a ‘fiesta’ for the entire Karate world.”

The event in Japan will be held in Nippon Budokan, an indoor venue located in Tokyo’s Kitanomaru Park. This venue was originally designed to host Judo events at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics.

Popularly known as the home of Japanese Martial Arts, Nippon Budokan hosted the first Karate World Championships in 1970. It is still Japan’s go-to venue for National Championships of disciplines such as Judo, Kendo and Aikido.

Karate Competitions and Scoring

Karate in Tokyo will have two events – Kata and Kumite – for both men and women, which will see a total of 80 competitors from around the world.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has decided to move away from the traditional system of Karate by only including certain weight categories and, introducing a modified points system.

“We will do our best and will have people describing what is happening,” assured Javier Escalante, Chairman of the World Karate Federation (WKF) Referee Commission.

“This is the best way to teach the public. The scoreboards will also be animated, so they understand what we’re doing,” he added.

Kumite

While the WKF has five weight classes, the Olympics’ men’s and women’s Kumite event will have three weight classes each. The male competitors will fight in 67kg, 75kg, and over 75kg categories. The female competitors will combat in 55kg, 61kg and over 61kg categories.

Each Kumite fight will see karatekas competing in an 8m x 8m area over three minutes. A karateka will win points if he/she lands a genuine strike – kick or punch – at designated parts of their opponent’s body such as the head, neck, stomach or back.

The first to score eight points more than their opponent, or the one to finish the fight with the most points, will be adjudged the winner. In the event of a tie, the karateka who scored the first point is declared the winner. If a scoreless fight is to take place, the winner will be decided by the judges.

In the Kumite category, competitors in each weight category will advance through an elimination round to reach the semi-final, and eventually the gold medal bout.

Kata

Unlike Kumite, Kata is a performance discipline. Men and women will perform a series of offensive and defensive moves, known as forms. There will be one Kata event, and one gold medal for men and women.

There are 102 Katas – like Heian Shodan and Nijushiho – approved by the World Karate Federation that the athletes can choose from to perform at the Olympics.

Traditional Karate uses a flag system for scoring. However, a Kata performance at the Olympics will be judged on a number of parameters, largely around technical and athletic performance.

With seven judges observing, Kata has a different point system too. A karateka’s two highest and lowest scores are not considered for their final score. This is established by weighted scoring around technical and athletic performance.

After the initial ranking round, a karateka either goes to the final/gold medal round or the bronze medal round.

The Qualifying Process for Karate

As per the Olympic qualification procedure, there will be ten karatekas in each weight class in the Kumite category for both men and women. For Kata, there will be ten men and ten women competitors too.

“The competition will be very tough,” reckoned reigning world champion Steven Da Costa. “We’ll all be equal and anything could happen. I don’t even know if there will be any favourites.”

Karatekas have been able to qualify for the Olympic Games primarily by two methods – rankings and qualification events.

The official World Karate Federation rankings will see 32 athletes – 16 men and 16 women – automatically qualify. The remaining 24 athletes – 12 men and 12 women – had to compete for their places based on their results at the qualification tournaments.

Each country can not have more than four men and four women competitors. They can have a maximum of one athlete at each event. Japan, being host country for the upcoming Games, are allowed eight quota places (four men and four women) for their Olympic contingent.

Karate at the Youth Olympics

While Karate is waiting to make a dream debut at the Summer Games in Tokyo, it has already featured in the 2018 Youth Olympic Games in Buenos Aires, Argentina. 

Japan proved their prowess by winning four medals (one gold and three silver medals) at the Youth Games. Iran came a close second, with one gold and three bronze medals.

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