Karate finally makes Olympic debut


TOKYO—THE history of karate’s journey to the Olympics would make a pretty good backstory for a martial arts movie.

Generation­s of determined athletes have collective­ly spent half a century training, studying and working toward their goal, overcoming setbacks and patiently honing their martial art for the big moment.

This epic quest finally ends Thursday when some of the brightest talents in modern karate step onto the tatami at the Nippon Budokan to begin three historic days of competitio­n in its Olympic debut.

“Nothing will be the same for karate after Tokyo,” said Antonio

Espinós, the president of the World Karate Foundation and a prime force behind its Olympic addition.

Espinós has spent his life in karate as a competitor and an executive, and the 73-year-old Spaniard radiates satisfacti­on from reaching this milestone in Japan. Karate is ubiquitous as a stylized cinematic tool and a recreation­al pursuit, yet its current competitiv­e form is often either unfamiliar and misunderst­ood, or derided as boring.

Will casual sports fans like what they see from Tokyo? This won’t look exactly like the All Valley Tournament on “Cobra Kai,” and it’s definitely not a Chuck Norris movie.

Espinós is still confident true karate can captivate the world.

“Its life will change, and many

millions of people will discover the sport, the martial art,” he said. “The Olympic Games, for this sport, are a unique scenario that no other opportunit­y can provide. I’m sure we are prepared. We have been working for many years to have this opportunit­y.”

Karate is already known in every corner of the globe, of course. It’s had an indelible presence in film and television for decades, and thousands of dojos are thriving on city streets and in strip malls across the world.

But as one of four new Olympic sports added to the Tokyo program, the competitio­n forms of karate will receive unpreceden­ted mainstream attention.

The Olympic competitio­n will be held both in kumite— competitiv­e sparring—and in kata, a demonstrat­ion of form often compared to a gymnastics floor exercise.

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