The tournament is an acknowledgment of the martial art’s roots in Japan and a nod to its global stature.
By Ken Belson
Karate made its debut as an official Olympic sport at the Tokyo Games on Thursday as 120 men and women from around the world vied for medals.
The Japanese organizers successfully lobbied for karate to be included as a medal sport, an upgrade from the cameo it made as a demonstration sport at the 1964 Tokyo Games.
Two-thirds of the athletes are competing in the kumite portion of the program, where two fighters face off and try to hit and kick their opponents to score points.
The other third will compete in kata, which includes the building blocks of karate performed against an imaginary opponent, traditional aspects of the martial art that purists relish. In kata, athletes perform alone, demonstrating a series of offensive and defensive moves. Karateka choose from among 102 katas, or techniques, that are approved by the World Karate Federation.
Karate originated in Okinawa hundreds of years ago, but truly went global in the 1970s. That was apparent at the introduction of the 11 men’s under-67-kilogram fighters. They came from Azerbaijan, Jordan, Turkey, France, Italy, Latvia, Venezuela and Japan. There was also a fighter from the Olympic Refugee Team.
The fighters wore red or blue belts and matching gloves and foot protectors. The fights were three minutes. In the opening bout, Abdel Rahman Almasatfa of Jordan and Kalvis Kalnins of Latvia got off to a fast start, landing two straight punches, or yuko, in the first minute. Each was worth one point.
But Almasatfa responded with a yuko of his own to narrow the score to 2-1.
He reeled off three ippon, which included a kick to Kalnins’s head.
In the next match, between Steven da Costa of France and Hamoon Derafshipour of the refugee team, the tournament had its first video review, and it appeared to last almost as long as the bout.
Unfortunately for karate fans, karate will not be included in the Paris Games in 2024. But at least for a few days, it will share the biggest stage in global sports.
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