Karate Preview

After several near misses for inclusion previously, the international karate community now has an opportunity to showcase the sport on the Olympic stage for the first time this summer at the Olympic Games in Tokyo. The sport will appropriately make its debut in the land of its origin.

Karate has been part of the Pan American Games since 1995. At the conclusion of the Pan American Games Lima 2019, the all-time medal count of Team USA is 14 golds, six silvers and 13 bronzes. The inclusion of the sport in Tokyo 2020 will allow the U.S. to try and continue that success on the Olympic stage.

The Olympic karate program consists of two different disciplines: kata and kumite. In kata, also known as forms, athletes are judged on their mastery of offensive and defensive movements, instead of actually fighting an opponent. The event is sometimes compared to the floor exercise in gymnastics. In kumite, also known as fighting, opponents spar with each other in an 8x8-meter area in three-minute bouts. Judges award points based on form, power and control to determine the winner.

The Olympic kumite categories will reduce the five weight divisions down to three by combining the two lightest and the two heaviest categories for each men and women. There will be three kumite and one kata category for both women and men. Team USA qualified Ariel Torres and Sakura Kokumai in kata, with Brian Irr qualifying in men’s kumite +75 kg.

Updated on June 24, 2021. For more information, contact the sport press officer here.

• The Tokyo Games are literally a homecoming for the sport of karate, which was developed in Japan in the 1400s before gaining worldwide popularity following World War II. Karate’s home country has historically dominated at the world championships, but in recent years Spain has become a world power in kata while athletes from all over the world will be medal contenders in kumite. The U.S. has won 35 medals at the world championships, the 10th most all time.

• The decision to not include karate in the Olympic program for Paris 2024 means this could be the only shot at an Olympic medal for the members of the U.S. team. The karate community is hopeful to get an opportunity to be back in the Olympic program in 2028.

• A former world championships bronze medalist in kata, Sakura Kokumai is ranked No. 6 in the World Karate Federation rankings. Kokumai, 28, grabbed a silver medal at the 2019 Pan American Championships and a gold medal in the 2019 Pan American Games in Lima, Peru. At the conclusion of the 2020 competition year, Kokumai had gained enough points to earn a place in the Tokyo Games in the first round of qualification, making her the first U.S. athlete to compete in the Olympic Games for the sport of karate.

• The 23-year-old Ariel Torres is on a roll in men’s kata. After beating out the most decorated athlete in Pan American Karate Federation history, Antonio Diaz of Venezuela, for the gold medal at the 2019 Pan American Championships, Torres has continued his success in the Karate 1-Premier League events. Torres was also a silver medalist at the 2019 Pan American Games in Peru. He is currently ranked No. 10 in the World Karate Federation world rankings. Torres is a two-time national champion.

• Currently ranked No. 9 in the World Karate Federation world rankings, Brian Irr is an athlete to keep an eye on in men’s kumite. Irr is the 2019 Pan American Karate Federation Championship bronze medalist and a gold medalist in the 2019 Pan American Games in Peru. Irr received his Olympic spot via the continental representation allocation from the World Karate Federation.

• August 5, 2021: Olympic karate competition begins with medal rounds for two kumite classes and women’s kata finals
• August 6, 2021: Men’s kata finals, plus two kumite medal bouts
• August 7, 2021: Final day of competition includes kumite finals in two weight classes