Is Karate A Sport? Reasons For And Against It


According to dictionary.com, a sport is: “an athletic activity requiring skill or physical prowess and often of a competitive nature”. With this in mind, would karate be considered a sport?

Is Karate A Sport?

Karate can be both an art and a combat sport. For this reason, there are two main types of karate competitions: Kata (where fighters are judged by their form) and Kumite (where fighters spar against each other). Karate made its Olympic debut in the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, Japan.

In fact, the karate competitions that were held in the Olympics were both Kata and Kumite which only further illustrates how karate can be seen as an art and a sport.

But if you are not fighting an opponent, such as is the case with the Kata style of karate, can you still consider karate a sport?

Down below I will go over 7 reasons why karate IS considered a sport and 7 reasons why it is NOT considered a sport. Then read through to the bottom see my final thoughts.

7 Reasons Why Karate IS A Sport

  • Karate is an athletic activity.
  • Karate has competitions.
  • Karate is in the Olympics.
  • Karate requires some level of physical fitness.
  • Karate allows you to spar against other people.
  • Karate has rules.
  • Karate can be practiced and improved upon over time.

Karate Is An Athletic Activity

The first reason why karate is considered a sport is that it’s an athletic activity. This means that you are using physical skills to accomplish something, just like you would in any other sport.

This is seen in the karate competitions, training at your local dojo, and sparring against other people.

If you have ever trained karate then you know it can be physically demanding and breaking out in sweat is not at all uncommon.

Karate Has Competitions

The second reason why it’s considered a sport is because there are competitions involved. And these aren’t just any kind of competition- some of them are Olympic-level events!

There are several different karate styles that competitors can use to compete with including Kyokushin (full contact), Shobu Ippon Karate (point fighting), and Sport Karate International Federation (sparring).

The types of categories may vary by country but all three can be found at the Olympics under Section 19 – Martial Arts.

Karate Is In The Olympics

The third reason why karate is considered a sport is that it’s in the Olympics! This event made its debut in the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, Japan, and is being considered for future Olympic competitions.

Now of course several events in the Olympics would not be considered sports such as figure skating, but having karate in the Olympics supports the opinion of karate being a sport you can compete in.

And how fitting is it that Karate makes its debut in the Olympics in the same country where the martial art originated in the first place?

Karate Requires Some Level Of Physical Fitness

The fourth reason why it’s considered a sport is because you need to have some level of physical fitness to be successful. If you cannot properly do some of the fighting techniques then they won’t be effective in self-defense, competition, or even just demonstrating them at an event like Karate Day.

And while this physical training can vary depending on your instructor, there are some common exercises and moves that you will do regardless of where you train karate.

This is one major thing that karate has in common with most sports. The more physically fit you are, the better your chances of succeeding.

You Can Spar Against Other People

One of the staples of a combat sport is being able to spar against other people. Whether the combat sport is Muay Thai, boxing, or wrestling, sparring is quite common.

And just like those combat sports, karate allows fighters to spar as well. However, sparring in karate is slightly different compared to other combat sports and I’ll touch on that more below.

Karate Has Rules

The sixth reason why karate is considered a sport is that there are rules that must be followed. If you’re not familiar with the ruleset, then you can’t just go in and start fighting someone.

There are specific regulations put in place to ensure fairness and safety amongst all participants. This includes everything from what type of attire you wear, to how many points you need to win a match.

Having a ruleset is a must for a sport or else utter chaos would ensue and karate definitely has a ruleset.

Karate Can Be Practiced And Improved Upon Over Time

The seventh and final reason why karate is considered a sport is that you can practice it and improve upon your skills over time just like any other sport.

This is common in most sports, but you can also become better at karate over time with practice and dedication to your craft.

And just like other sports, there are levels of belts or rankings within the art itself depending on what style you’re training in.

One of the best things about competition is moving up in rank and karate certainly has that with their belt system.

You have heard the reasons why karate should be considered a sport, but now let’s dive into why karate should not be considered a sport.

7 Reasons Why Karate Is Not A Sport

  • You can compete without ever fighting.
  • You are not allowed to “go all out”.
  • There are no teams in karate.
  • Karate is meant to be used as self-defense.
  • It does not have the same physical demands as other sports.
  • There is a major disparity in the weight classes
  • Karate is a martial art, not a sport.

You Can Compete Without Fighting

The first reason why karate is not a sport is because you can compete without ever fighting. This means that you could theoretically win a competition without ever throwing a punch, kicking or otherwise fighting another person. While you can use karate to protect yourself in a self-defense situation, this is not the same as competing against another person with rules and regulations.

You Are Not Allowed To “Go All Out”

The second reason why karate is not a sport is because you are not allowed to “go all out”. If you’ve ever watched a match in a combat sport and seen two people just going back and forth at each other with all their might, you’ll understand where this is coming from.

In karate, you are not allowed to do this. You have to abide by the rules and regulations set in place which includes not going all out.

Fighting an opponent in karate is more about scoring points and using the right techniques than it is about dominating your opponent.

With this in mind, what kind of sport tells their competitors to hold back and to not dominate their opponent. This is definitely a strike against karate being a sport.

There Are No Teams In Karate

The third reason why karate is not a sport is that there are no teams in karate. This means that you cannot join a team and compete against other teams.

Of course not all sports have teams, look at tennis for example, but some people may decide not to label something a sport unless there is a team aspect to it.

Karate Is Meant To Be Used In Self Defense

The fourth reason why karate is not a sport is that it is meant to be used in self-defense and not for sport. If you’re ever in a situation where you need to defend yourself, then karate is a great option.

However, what does self-defense have to do with competition or sports?

Many will argue that karate was created for fighting and self-defense and has morphed over time into what it is today: competitions and fighters being judged for what their technique looks like.

Does this lead to the question, “Should karate used as self-defense be viewed as a sport?”

It Does Not Have The Same Physical Demands As Other Sports

The fifth reason why karate is not a sport is that it does not have the same physical demands as other sports. This means that you’re not going to be as physically exhausted after a karate match as you would be after a wrestling or boxing match.

Like I mentioned, when you are fighting someone in some of these other combat sports you are literally trying to dominate and subdue your opponent.

In karate, this is not the case. You often hold back quite a bit. This is not to say you will not be tired after a match but it is just not the same exertion as other combat sports or sports in general.

There Is A Major Disparity In The Weight Classes

The WFK, which is the largest governing board for karate, recognizes 5 weight classes in karate competitions.

Compare this now to boxing which recognizes 17 weight classes when it comes to competitive boxing and you will see why completive karate can’t be taken as seriously as other combat sports.

If you have ever competed in, or trained in a certain combat sport then you know that a person’s weight can give them a major advantage or disadvantage.

And the fact that karate only has 5 weight classes leads one to wonder how competitive it can be with so much disparity in the weight classes.

Karate Is A Martial Art, Not A Sport

The seventh and final reason why karate is not a sport is that it is a martial art, not a sport. This means that there are a lot of other objectives in karate besides just fighting.

There are self-defense elements, there is the aspect of mastering your technique which is something that many people never get to, there are different levels of belts and rankings you can achieve through your training.

This means that karate is not just about fighting which some would argue disqualifies it from being a sport.

So in the end…

Is Karate A Sport Or A Martial Art?

Karate is both a sport and martial art. It is a sport because of its athletic nature and competitiveness and it is a martial art given its focus on fighting and self-defense.

However, with that being said, I believe that karate can be done as either a martial art or a sport.

If you only practice karate to learn the moves and to perfect your fighting style then I would view that type of training more as a martial art.

But if you are doing karate to compete and to spar against other fighters then I would say you are practicing karate more as a sport than a martial art.

Regardless of how you train karate, it can be a great martial art to learn basic fighting and self-defense techniques, especially for those just beginning in martial arts.

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Sources

https://www.britannica.com/sports/boxing/Weight-divisions

https://www.cnet.com/health/fitness/karate-at-the-tokyo-olympics-what-you-need-to-know/

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