Hopes high for karate’s in­clu­sion for 2020 Tokyo Olympics

The China Post - - SPORTS - BY KEN ARAGAKI

Af­ter 17 years of in­ten­sive train­ing, Ja­panese univer­sity karate cham­pion Emiko Kawasaki may be about to re­al­ize her life­long dream and have a chance to com­pete at the Olympics.

Karate, a mar­tial art con­sist­ing of punches, kicks and blocks, is among the sports Ja­pan is con­sid­er­ing for in­clu­sion on the Olympic pro­gram for the 2020 Tokyo Games.

Although karate has failed to win Olympic in­clu­sion three times be­fore — for the Bei­jing, Lon­don and Rio Games — chances are a lot bet­ter this time for the tra­di­tional Ja­panese sport.

Tokyo or­ga­niz­ers, who are also con­sid­er­ing the in­clu­sion of base­ball and soft­ball, squash and surf­ing, have un­til Sept. 30 to se­lect one or more events to rec­om­mend to the In­ter­na­tional Olympic Com­mit­tee. The IOC’s fi­nal de­ci­sion comes in Au­gust 2016, when it meets ahead of the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

For 22-year-old Kawasaki, hav­ing a chance to com­pete at the Olympics would be the ul­ti­mate re­ward for her daily 5:30 a.m. runs and count­less hours of prac­tice and com­pe­ti­tion.

“I don’t see any­thing I’ve gone through as sac­ri­fices,” the sec­ond­de­gree black belt said. “I see my­self first and fore­most as a karate com­peti­tor.”

If ap­proved, karate would be con­tested in two cat­e­gories; a solo per­for­mance called kata, or “form,” which demon­strates the chore­ographed se­quences of karate tech­niques; the other is spar­ring matches called ku­mite.

Kata must be pre­cise, speedy and pow­er­ful as two con­tes­tants per­form their katas and a panel of five judges de­cides the win­ner. There are 86 des­ig­nated each last­ing 3-5 min­utes.

Dur­ing a re­cent prac­tice ses­sion at Tokyo’s Kokushikan Univer­sity, the 4- foot- 11 ( 150- cen­time­ter) 113-pound (51-kilo­gram) Kawasaki prac­ticed a kata rou­tine called su­par­in­pei, jump-kick­ing in the air re­peat­edly.

Ku­mite con­sists of three-minute spar­ring for men, and two-minute matches for women. For safety rea­sons, in­ter­na­tional com­pe­ti­tion usu­ally man­dates that punches and kicks must be stopped be­fore they make ex­ces­sive di­rect con­tact with an op­po­nent.

Those from karate schools that prac­tice full con­tact would be al­lowed to take part in the Olympics if the sport was in­cluded, but would have to abide by the non­con­tact rule and wear mouth guards, body pro­tec­tors and padded gloves, as well as shin and foot guards.

Sergey Kush­nir, a for­mer coach for the U.S. karate team who runs Syra­cuse Mar­tial Arts Kenkyukai in up­state New York, said di­vi­sions among karate or­ga­ni­za­tions have been an ob­sta­cle in the past to the progress of the sport.

“We are all sep­a­rated even among our­selves. We can­not even agree what karate is,” Kush­nir said in a tele­phone in­ter­view. “Hope­fully, we’ll unite to get into the Olympics.”

Misaki Oku, a 19- year- old first-de­gree black belt who is on Ja­pan’s na­tional team, wants to com­pete in ku­mite in 2020 and says karate’s virtues of re­spect and cour­tesy make it a good fit for the Olympics.

“We should never lose the ba­sic val­ues of our mar­tial art,” Oku, her face bruised from train­ing, said in an in­ter­view.


In a re­cent pre­sen­ta­tion to the Tokyo Olympic or­ga­niz­ing com­mit­tee, World Karate Fed­er­a­tion Sec­re­tary Gen­eral Toshi­hisa Nagura em­pha­sized that while karate has truly be­come a global sport, it em­bod­ies the tra­di­tional Ja­panese val­ues of Budo or “the mar­tial way,” re­fer­ring to the rig­or­ous dis­ci­pline and spir­i­tual pu­rity that is asked of the prac­ti­tioner.

“It has spread world­wide as a global sport, cross­ing the bound­aries of na­tions, re­gions and race.” Nagura said. “But at the same time, our big­gest ap­peal is that it orig­i­nated in Ja­pan.”

Adding to karate’s mo­men­tum, the Tokyo city gov­ern­ment unani- mously adopted a res­o­lu­tion in Novem­ber call­ing for the in­clu­sion of karate and the com­bined bid for base­ball and soft­ball.

The Ja­pan Karatedo Fed­er­a­tion says more than 100 mil­lion peo­ple prac­tice karate in 190 coun­tries, more than base­ball and soft­ball’s com­bined to­tal of 65 mil­lion play­ers in 141 coun­tries.

Shuji Kusaka, JKF sec­re­tary gen­eral, be­lieves karate meets all the cri­te­ria the IOC will be look­ing at in a new event, in­clud­ing uni­ver­sal­ity, roots in tra­di­tion and gen­der equal­ity.

“All we need to do,” Kusaka said, “is just wait for the happy news.”


Mayumi Someya, 22, left, and Kayo Someya, 24, sis­ters on Ja­pan’s na­tional karate team, prac­tice ku­mite, or spar­ring matches, at Teikyo Univer­sity in Tokyo, July 23.

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