Sports

Karate fighting for its Olympic future after brief moment in spotlight


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or those of us of a certain generation, karate brings echoes of Mr Miyagi, Daniel-san, and the Karate Kid.

But not far from the Imperial Palace inside Budokan – the traditional home of martial arts in Tokyo – the sport was today fighting for its future.

Since the 1970s, karatekas have been pushing for its inclusion and under the Olympic Agenda 2020 where hosts nations can propose new sports, Japan and karate finally got its wish.

But the sport is acutely aware this is a sporting bow that could be painfully shortlived, Paris 2024 having instead opted to replace it with breakdancing. The hope is it can enough in three days to persuade Los Angeles 2028 to welcome it with open arms.

As a sport, it does not lack for history. Originating from the Okinawa Islands and part-influenced by kung fu, it made its way into the wider global psyche through American servicemen stationed there at the end of the Second World War.

And Budokan, built for the 1964 Olympics, itself carries such spiritual status for martial arts that when the Beatles became the first band to play a concert inside here they received death threats and need a 24-hour police escort for the duration of their tour.

It’s not quite karate as the uninitiated among us might perceive it – there are no bare hands and feet, instead padded gloves and shoes.

There are two classes of karate at the Games. In kumite, points are awarded by yuko – a punch, waza-ari – a mid-level kick and ippon – a decisive kick or punch on an opponent, each landed with a piercing scream by the aggressor.

The aim is to essentially hit but not hurt your opponent although the venom with which some of the punches are thrown and blood spilt from one opponent’s face in the morning session suggest that is not entirely adhered to.

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