Karate, No Kidding: Can It Kick Its Way into 2020?

When I was growing up in the US, it seemed like all the martial arts were perceived to be this polymorphous Asian judo/karate/kung fu sport that looked really cool on the big screen. I recall this scene from Hanna Barbera’s The Flinstones where Fred and Barney escape the alien bad guys delivering blows and shouting “judo chop chop!”

Here we are in the 21st century, and we’ve come a long way. Judo and taekwando are Olympic sports, while wushu was given strong consideration. A couple of weeks ago, the Tokyo Olympic Organizing Committee recommended karate as one of five sports to be added to the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.

The recommendations for karate would include “kata” and “kumite”. Kata is the display of sequences of movements that come together in patterns, and like Hanon’s exercises for piano, need to be practiced over and over and over again. Kumite is a sparring competition that includes punching, kicking and blocking. Assuming the IOC approves next year, there would be one medal awarded each to men and women in the kata events, and three medals each for men and women in the kumite events, depending on the weight class.

There is said to be 100 million karate practitioners worldwide, 185 national karate federations, with around 2,000 global karate events held per month. What that has led to are schisms as to what qualifies as karate. One school of karate is called “kyokushin-style” is a full-contact sport, where the head and face are as much a target as any other part of the body. In other words, this is a version of karate where the intent is to deliver pain.

Kyokushin is very popular, but the vision of blood and broken bones on the mats of the Budokan in 2020 probably did not appeal to the powers that be, so it is the light-contact version of kumite that has been recommended to the IOC. As NewsonJapan.com puts it, “Those from karate schools that practice full contact would be allowed to take part in the Olympics if the sport was included, but would have to abide by the non-contact rule and wear mouth guards, body protectors and padded gloves, as well as shin and foot guards.”

Karate will likely be in the 2020 Games. It’s so popular that surveys repeatedly show that people think that karate is already an Olympic sport. One of the internet phenomenons who have been increasing popularity of karate for kids is Mahiro Takano, who has scowled and screamed her way into our hearts. Here she is in this great commercial for Japanese retailer, Aeon. She’s only 8, so maybe we’ll see her stomp her way to glory in the 2020 Games.