the Olympics Will Bring to Karate
Transformation of Karate-Do
by Kiyoshi Yamazak
was a great year for the estimated 50 million karate
practitioners around the world who have long awaited
their chances to have their Olympic dreams fulfilled.
On June 19, 1999, the 109th Session of the International
Olympic Committee (IOC) ratified the definitive
recognition of the World Karate Federation (WKF)
as the International Governing Body (IGB) for the
sport of karate. What this means is that karate
is now a candidate sport for the 2004 Olympics in
Athens, Greece, and will likely be included as a
demonstration sport. The decision will be made by
the 111th Session of the IOC, scheduled for September
11-13, 2000 in Sydney, Australia.
long and painful dispute with the International
Traditional Karate Federation (ITKF) over the IOC
recognition has finally been settled. Now it is
time to make peace and work together to move karate-do
forward into the 21st century.
in the Olympics will certainly transform karate.
Our next mission is to make sure that karate maintains
its honor, technical integrity and traditional values
so that our ancient art will be accepted and respected
as a constructive member within the greater family
of sports. Karate is a sport cultivated by the Eastern
culture and tradition, and has much to offer the
youth of the world in building strong bodies, minds
and spirits, as well as developing character, compassion
the Olympic family means that karate accepts Olympism
as its guiding philosophy. Such thought might upset
some "traditionalists." However, believe it or not,
this had already occurred in the early 1900s. Let
Origin of Karate as a Sport
after the revival of the Modern Olympic Games in
1896, Baron Pierre de Coubertin extended his invitation
to Japan. The Japanese government chose Dr. Jigoro
Kano, best known as the founder of judo, to represent
the country. Dr. Kano, a life-long educator and
university president as well as renowned martial
artist, became the first Japanese representative
to the IOC in 1909; he also participated in the
5th Olympics held in Stockholm, Sweden in 1912 as
the head of the first-ever Japanese delegation.
This was 10 years prior to the famous demonstration
of karate by Gichin Funakoshi and Shinkin Gima that
took place at Dr. Kano's Kodokan Dojo in 1922.
Kano became the Baron Pierre de Coubertin of Japan.
He founded the Japan Athletic Union, which still
governs all sports in Japan to this day, and dedicated
his life to promoting sports and physical education
among Japanese youth. Judo, which he created, was
without doubt a combination of the traditional Japanese
martial art of jujitsu and the ideal of Olympism
outlined by Coubertin. It was Dr. Kano's effort
to support the Olympic movement as a proud citizen
of Japan in response to Coubertin's call for support:
"Every act of support for the Olympic movement promotes
peace, friendship and solidarity throughout the
Dr. Kano invited Funakoshi from Okinawa and encouraged
him to teach karate in Tokyo, Dr. Kano envisioned
a universal sport that could be practiced by the
youth of the world. The transformation of karate-jitsu
to karate-do signified karate's acceptance as a
sport, rather than as a tool of war. Funakoshi's
dojo kun (motto) includes "Seek perfection of character!"
This philosophy actually originated in ancient Greece
and was handed down to him by Dr. Kano, a life-long
mentor to Funakoshi and a friend of Baron Pierre
Greece and Japan may seem a world away. However,
these two countries share somewhat similar philosophies
and religions. For example, the Kojiki, Japan's
first book on history (written in 712 AD), describes
the day-to-day interactions among mortals and immortals,
and resembles the work of Homer. And a Zen master,
instead of Socrates, might easily have said "His
chief and proper concern: knowledge of himself and
the right way to live."
Olympic Charter states that "Olympism is a philosophy
of life, exalting and combining in a balanced whole
the qualities of body, will and mind. Blending sport
with culture and education, Olympism seeks to create
a way of life based on the joy found in effort,
the educational value of good example and respect
for universal fundamental ethical principles. The
goal of Olympism is to place everywhere sport at
the service of the harmonious development of man,
with a view to encouraging the establishment of
a peaceful society concerned with the preservation
of human dignity."
believe that these goals are consistent with the
objectives of Budo as defined by the Budo Charter:
"to cultivate character, enrich the ability to make
value judgments, and foster a well-disciplined and
capable individual through participation in physical
and mental training utilizing martial techniques."
Students of Budo are required to "constantly follow
decorum, adhere to the fundamentals, and resist
the temptation to pursue mere technical skill rather
than the unity of mind and technique." Instructors
must also "always strive to cultivate his or her
character, and further his or her own skill and
discipline of mind and body."
is where the East meets the West. The global culture
lies upon the universal truth and understanding.
Olympic Karate must represent both Olympism and
the Budo Spirit.
of Karate Competition
these in mind, our next task is to shape the future
of karate-do as a sport. This is an important but
also a risky job. Much as the mighty Roman Empire
caused the decline of the ancient Olympic Games,
narrow visions can lead karate into ruin.
Romans lost sight of the ancient Greek ideals. Athletes
were replaced by gladiators, and the interest in
striving for perfection was ignored in favor of
spectacular actions which pleased the Emperor and
the Coliseum audience. As the original purpose of
the Games was forgotten, Olympism itself began to
decline. Karate must not follow that path.
Pierre de Coubertin wrote, "First of all, it is
necessary to maintain in sport the noble and chivalrous
character which distinguished it in the past, so
that it shall continue to be part of the education
of present day peoples in the same way that sport
served so wonderfully in the times of ancient Greece.
The public has a tendency to transform the Olympic
athlete into the paid gladiator. These two attitudes
are not compatible."
the recent years, karate has enjoyed a rapid growth
in popularity, thanks to the current WKF Kumite
and Kata Rules which made karate competition fair,
fun, exciting and, above all, safe. Although drastic
changes in these rules have been proposed by some,
we must be very careful when attempting to modify
the rules that have brought karate such success,
including IOC recognition. Temptations are always
there to make the sport more spectacular, appealing
and exciting; this, however, would result in fundamentally
altering the nature of the sport and losing sight
of its original purposes, thus causing the sport
to decline due to a smaller number of participants,
and the audience to lose respect for the sport.
are many sports that have successfully avoided such
a trap: golf, tennis and fencing (European), among
others, enjoy their popularity without having had
to modify their rules to be more appealing to the
mass audience. They accomplished this by educating
the public about their sports, rules and traditions,
and by inviting the public to join.
must remain a participation sport and therefore,
the rules must first consider the safety of the
athletes: not only of those who compete in the World
Championships or the Olympic Games, but also of
athletes of all ages and skill levels in local,
regional and national competitions, and even of
those who do not compete at all. I oppose any attempt
to make gladiators out of karate athletes, sacrificing
their safety. Professional wrestling and kick boxing
may be fun to watch but they do not belong in the
karate the right way will take many years of work.
We need to provide better training for the referees
and judges so that the competition will be fair.
We must improve the rules to make it even safer
so that more people (including younger children)
can participate. And we must educate the general
public through a better public relations effort.
The stories about the history, tradition, honor,
dignity and indomitable spirit of the sport and
its athletes must be told so that everyone can understand
and share the virtues that karate provides and the
traditional wisdom it represents.
karate is like classical music or ballet. The music
of Mozart, Beethoven or Bach may be arranged to
some degree, depending on the individual musician's
interpretation of the music. However, if it changes
the basic nature of the music, it is no longer "classical."
It is tradition that provides the depth in art.
Such tradition must remain and stay alive in the
sport of karate.
must also maintain its own identity as an independent
sport. Changing the rules to render karate more
similar to tae kwon do, judo or boxing would have
a negative effect on karate for many years to come,
and will eventually kill it.
Olympic Karate Movement has already brought us a
democratic structure that governs the international
and national federations. As in any other democratic
entity, all members must actively participate in
the decision-making process. If we fail to act promptly,
we all must share the responsibility of failure.
I ask the world karate community to resist the temptation
to make radical rule changes, and to choose the
right way to promote the sport while preserving
its traditional honor, spirit and ideals.
Pierre de Coubertin also said, "Olympism is not
a system, it is a state of mind. It can permeate
a wide variety of modes of expression and no single
race or era can claim to have a monopoly on it."
It is my sincere hope that karate will become a
productive member of the world sport community,
and that future generations of the world's youth
will be able to share in its virtues, developed
throughout ancient India, China, Okinawa and Japan,
uniting the communities of the world in peace.
Kiyoshi Yamazaki is a member of the WKF Technical
Committee. He is also a WKF referee and the chairman
of the Technical Committee of the USA National Karate-do
Federation. As Inter-national Director of the Japan
Karate-Do Ryobu-Kai, Sensei Yamazaki teaches karate
in 25 countries. His headquarters dojo is located
in Anaheim, California, USA, and his students include
such Hollywood celebrities as Arnold Schwarzenegger,
Sting, and Grace Jones. Olympic identification symbol
is the property of the IOC.