|The logo for the campaign to get karate into the 2020 Olympic Games|
As most karateka already know, the WKF (World Karate Federation) is making a push to get karate into the 2020 Olympic Games. Specifics haven’t been ironed out, yet, but the marketing campaign is already underway. I am not particularly fond of the idea of Olympic karate for a couple reasons, although I understand where people are coming from with wanting karate to be an Olympic sport. There is a great deal of exposure to be had, and we could definitely use that momentum to help spread the art the way taekwondo and judo (the two most popular martial arts in the world) have done. I just don’t think it is in the best interests of the art.
With regards to sparring, how can you justify to the non-martial-artist public that karate is any different from taekwondo? Nobody that I’ve run into that doesn’t train knows the difference, and they can’t tell the difference if you show them two videos for comparison, except that one video includes more padding. Along those lines, I suspect that the IOC would require the same protective gear for karate that they do for taekwondo. This makes it highly unlikely that karate sparring would be included in the Olympics, and the IOC’s concern for safety (or, at least, the appearance of safety) makes knockdown-style sparring pretty unlikely.
|Usami Rika, WKF Kata Champion, now retired|
So, if we go away from the sparring idea, another thought that has been brought up is kata competition. I can appreciate a well-performed kata as well as the next karateka, but over the past couple of years I have decided that I am not a proponent of kata competition. The idea that the performance of a kata can be judged to be better or worse than someone else’s based entirely on its appearance promotes showmanship over effectiveness. If kata competition is put into the Olympics, I see that being marketed as the ultimate goal of karate, and the idea of practical karate will fall by the wayside once again.
|A current, modern karate competition|
Now, all that being said, I don’t have any problem with people competing in tournaments and having that be their goal. If you have fun doing it and find value in it, then that’s great! I just think that, as a whole, the art will suffer if Olympic kata competition is marketed as being the highest possible achievement in karate, which is precisely what I fear will happen if it is included in the Olympics. If there were some way to make demonstrations of practical applications required for the kata competitions, then I may change my mind, but all the proposals I have seen look like they are trying to make karate into a performance art instead of a martial art.