Question: Which of the following is not an official Olympic medal sport? Is it A) Judo, B)  Taekwondo, or C) Karate? If you guessed C) Karate, then you answered correctly.

It may come as a surprise to you that karate is not an official Olympic sport, despite its widespread popularity throughout the world. In fact, karate has been rejected by the International Olympic Committee on three separate occasions. However, the upcoming 2020 Tokyo Olympics have created a new movement for official adoption, along with a new strategy.   

Judo made its Olympic debut in the 1964 Tokyo games, having been featured in all but one Olympics up to the present. Taekwondo made its grand entrance during the 2000 Sydney games. So why is karate – far older than established Olympic events such as table tennis, water polo, and volleyball – not among them?

There are actually a multitude of reasons, including the fact that there are so many different styles of karate, each one having different lineages, focuses, philosophies, and number of forms. It’s near impossible to pick just one to use for official purposes at the Olympics — it would be like proclaiming that one style more “correct” than the others. However, karate is already an official sport in the Asian Games, which are held every four years and are billed as the second-largest multi-sport event after the Olympics. So perhaps all hope is not lost…

Enter Kyokushin (極真; literally: “the ultimate truth”), a style of full contact karate that was founded in 1964 by the Korean-Japanese martial artist Masutatsu Oyama/Choi Young-Eui. There are estimated to be over 12,000,000 practitioners of Kyokushin karate spread out over 120 countries around the world, with over 230 organizations in Japan alone. Due to its strong emphasis on hard techniques (a martial arts term that refers to the priority given to countering force with force), Kyokushin has often been seen as actual combat fighting rather than a sport, a view which has hindered its progress towards inclusion in the Olympics.

▼Kyokushin’s emphasis on contact sparring


Tokyo’s winning bid to host the 2020 Games has sparked renewed efforts to include karate as an Olympic sport for the first time ever in the country of its origin. However, this time, the endeavor will aim to promote both a traditional style of karate with softer techniques (in which the force of the opponent is deflected while exerting minimal force), as well as the hard-technique Kyokushin style. The two styles will try to advance together in the hopes of making the Olympic cut. If their joint effort succeeds, they will become two separate Olympic disciplines, similar to how both freestyle and Greco-Roman wrestling are included on the official roster.

Furthermore, if both of the styles make the cut this time around, there may be negative consequences for taekwondo, the Korean martial art with an emphasis on powerful kicking. Taekwondo has already suffered from poor TV ratings during past Olympics, and with its similarities to Kyokushin karate, there has already been talk of dropping it from the Games altogether.

▼A video in which a Kyokushin karate fighter goes head to head with a taekwondo martial artist

This writer is by no means an expert in the various disciplines of martial arts, let alone karate, so if you have any reflections about the possible inclusion of karate in future Olympics, please feel free to share your insights with the rest of us in the comments section below.

Sources: Hachima Kikou, Chosun Online
Images: Vividcar, Oceanside Kyokushin