Karate: The journey, the fight and connection to Japan

Two karatekas battle it out during kumite

It was only half a century ago that the first international karate competition was held at the Nippon Budokan and come August next year, it will once again be part of the sport’s history.

“The Olympic Games was the aim and dream of the World Karate Federation as well as the dream of the karate family,” said Tokyo 2020 Karate Services Manager Aina Kobinata.

“It is written in the statutes of the WKF as their goal one day to be included in the Olympic Games.”

Tokyo 2020 Karate Services Manager Aina Kobinata

Karate has tried to be part of the last three Olympic Games and originally had missed out to wrestling to be included in Tokyo 2020. However, a ratification of the International Olympic Committees’ rules meant more sports to be included in the Olympic programme.

In August 2016, karate was one of five sports to be included at Tokyo 2020.

“We are extremely happy to be in the Olympic Games,” said Kobinata.

“It’s tough to explain with words but at least 100 million participants around the world are looking forward to watching karate on the Olympic stage.”

The birthplace of karate

Karate originated on the island of Okinawa during the Ryukyu Dynasty, where it was used by soldiers to fight and defend themselves as they were not permitted weapons.

The sport was introduced to the Japanese mainland in the 1920s before university students in the 1950s created competition rules because they wanted to use the techniques they had learned. By the following decade karate had been introduced around the global by Japanese instructors.

Now, there are millions of karate practitioners in over 194 countries

Karate consists of kata, which is when athletes demonstrate one of 102 recongised series of offensive and defensive movements, and kumite (sparring).

Karate 1-Premier League Tokyo Kata Male gold medalist Ryo Kiyuna

“In kumite, we have to perfectly control all techniques, and this is a unique point of karate while kata movements are all pre-arranged and each single movement has a meaning,” said Kobinata.

Karate has evolved as a sport since it first came to fruition in the mid-20th century but the sport still holds its traditional principles.

“I think karate is composed of tradition and innovation,” Kobinata said.

“Tradition is the technique of fighting, which a lot of people practice every day so even the karateka who don't compete, love to train the techniques to improve.

“The innovation is the improvement as a universal sport to be in the Olympic Games.”

The best to compete at Tokyo

Recently, the best karateka’s in the world gathered at Nippon Bukodan for the highly anticipated Karate 1-Premier League where over 600 competitors looked to earn qualification points for Tokyo 2020.

The final day of competition saw a sold-out crowd of 14,000 locals enjoying everything that karate had to offer.

While many attending karate at the Olympic Games might be new to watching, Chairman of WKF Referee Commission Javier Escalante has said efforts are being made to ensure all who come will understand what is happening.

“We will do our best and we will have people describing what is happening. This is the best way to teach the public,” he said

“Also using animation on the scoreboards so they’ll understand what we're doing.”

Karate 1-Premier League Tokyo Female Kata gold medalist Kiyou Shimizu

The event itself will see the top karateka’s from across the globe vying to take home a converted gold medal and write themselves into the history books.

“Spectators can watch the highest-level competition in Tokyo. I'm confident about this,” Kobinata said.

“You feel you should feel excited during that competition, it's so quick and powerful. You feel that you can't stop watching.”

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