Karate will make its first appearance on the Games programme at Tokyo 2020, with men and women competing in kumite (sparring) and kata (forms) events at the Nippon Budokan.
Karate is a martial art that originated in Okinawa during the Ryukyu Dynasty period. It spread throughout Japan during the 1920s and then worldwide following World War II. It is predominantly a striking, kicking and punching art. A Karate practitioner is called a karateka.
Broadly speaking, Karate competition consists of kata (forms) and kumite (sparring).
Kata are demonstrations of forms consisting of a series of offensive and defensive movements targeting a virtual opponent. Competitors choose the kata they will demonstrate from 98 that are recognised by the World Karate Federation.
At events such as the World Championships, one competitor is assigned a blue belt and the other a red belt, and each takes turns demonstrating their kata. Five judges hold up a coloured flag to indicate their preferred athlete. A point-based system that totals the scores awarded by the judges is under consideration for Olympic competition.
Key factors include the strength, speed, rhythm, balance and power of strikes and kicks; the solidity, clarity and force of movements; and the proper expression of the meaning of each technique with beautiful, flowing motion. Competitors are required to demonstrate movement that is both slow and fast, and weak and strong, along with focus and concentration.
In sparring, two karateka face each other in a matted competition area measuring 8m x 8m. Competitors wear a traditional Karate suit known as a gi. Three offensive techniques are allowed: striking, kicking and punching. Athletes must land a series of blows on the target area of their opponent’s body with explosive energy and also with precision. Attacks with good form, power and control earn between one and three points. A competitor wins by amassing eight points more than their opponent within the duration of the bout or by gaining more points than their opponent in the allotted time (three minutes for men, two minutes for women). In the event of a tie, the competitor who scored the first point is the winner.
Karate’s quest to secure a place on the Olympic programme dates back to the 1970s. In 2015, the Tokyo 2020 Organising Committee proposed the inclusion of Karate as one of five additional sports, a decision that was approved by the International Olympic Committee. Athletes will compete at the Nippon Budokan, the spiritual home of Japanese martial arts and a legacy venue from the Tokyo 1964 Games.
International Federation: World Karate Federation