Karate at Tokyo 2020: Events, schedule, athletes to watch

Daniel Gaysinsky of Canada, blue, battles against Brian Irr of the United States in men's over 84kg final karate at the Lima 2019 Pan American Games. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, COC, Vincent Ethier)

• How karate became a 2020 Olympic event
• Breakdown of kata, kumite events
• Daniel Gaysinsky the lone Canadian competing

New sport alert!

Karate has been among the more well-known martial arts for much of the 20th and 21st century, with tens of millions of practitioners worldwide, yet it has never been included at the Olympics.

The sport was shortlisted for the Tokyo Olympic Games back in 2015, along with skateboarding, surfing, baseball/softball and sport climbing, and it was approved by the International Olympic Committee in the summer of 2016.

It’s fitting that Tokyo 2020 is where karate makes its Olympic debut since Japan is the birthplace of the centuries-old Okinawan martial art.

Karate joins boxing, judo, taekwondo and wrestling as combat sports we’ll get to see at the Olympics this year.


There are two forms of karate competition at the Olympics this summer: Kata and Kumite. The 80 karate athletes at the Games are split between the two, with 20 competing in Kata and the other 60 in Kumite. There is a 50-50 split among men and women in each competition.

Kata are displays of individual karate skills where the karatekas (people who practise karate) perform various offensive and defensive techniques individually in front of a panel of seven judges. There are 98 different katas that have been approved by the World Karate Federation from which the karatekas can choose to perform. In a sense, it is an event similar to a floor routine in gymnastics.

Karatekas are judged based on technical and athletic performance and given a score ranging from 5.0 to 10.0 – 70 per cent of the score is for technical performance and 30 per cent for athletic performance. The strength, rhythm, power and balance of punches, kicks and defensive maneuvers are taken into consideration by the judges, and karatekas cannot perform the same kata more than once.

Kumite are the fights — the main course. These are one-on-one bouts where the karatekas face off in three-minute matches on an eight-metre by eight-metre mat attempting to land clean strikes against their opponent. The karateka with the most points after the allotted three minutes is the winner, but a match can also end if a karateka earns eight points before time expires.

Points are scored when a clean strike lands to the head, face, neck, chest, abdomen, side or back. No strikes below the belt are permitted. There are three ways to score points in kumite and, as you’ll see in the paragraph below, kicks are key.

A yuko is a landed punch to the head or midsection worth one point; a waza-ari is a landed kick to the midsection worth two points; and an ippon is worth three points when a karateka lands a kick to the head or neck, or is able to throw their opponent to the ground.

There are three different weight classes on the men’s and women’s sides. Men’s kumite tournaments will be held at 147 pounds (-67 kg), 165 pounds (-75 kg) and 165-plus pounds (+75 kg). The women’s kumite tournaments will be held at 121 pounds (-61 kg), 134 pounds (-61 kg) and 134-plus pounds (+61 kg).


The karate events are slated to take place from Aug. 5 to 7 in Tokyo at the famed Nippon Budokan, a venue built ahead of the 1964 Summer Olympics that has hosted numerous international martial arts events over the years, including the Karate World Championships.

Aug. 5:
- Women’s Kata elimination/ranking/medal rounds
- Women’s Kumite -55kg tournament and victory ceremony
- Men’s Kumite -67kg tournament and victory ceremony

Aug. 6:
- Men’s Kata elimination/ranking/medal rounds
- Women’s Kumite -61kg tournament and victory ceremony
- Men’s Kumite -75kg tournament and victory ceremony

Aug. 7:
- Women’s Kumite +61kg tournament and victory ceremony
- Men’s Kumite +75kg tournament and victory ceremony


If you appreciate disciplined, fast-twitch-muscle athletes with remarkable leg dexterity and striking accuracy, then the kumite tournament could tickle your fancy.


There will be 37 different nations or teams represented across the eight karate events. Japan, as the host country, has one competitor in each event, but Turkey (7), Egypt (5), Italy (5), Kazakstan (5), Germany (4) and the United States (4) are also well represented.

Spain and Japan are the clear favourites when it comes to kata.

Spain’s Sandra Sanchez is one to watch with multiple first-place finishes at European and international events since 2015. Sanchez is the world’s No. 1-ranked women’s kata competitor heading into the games. Japan’s Kiyou Shimizu is also a favourite in women’s kata, having won eight golds and one silver at each of the World Championships, Asian Championships and Asian Games dating back to 2014.

On the men’s side, Spain’s Damian Quintero is the reigning World Beach Games and European champion, followed by Japan’s Ryo Kiyuna, who edged out Quintero at the 2018 World Championships.

France’s Steven Da Costa (men’s -67 kg), Iran’s Sajjad Ganjzadeh (men’s +75 kg), Ukraine’s Anzhelika Terliuga (women’s -55 kg), China’s Yin Xiaoyan (women’s -61 kg), Azerbaijan’s Irina Zaretska (ranked at -68 kg, competing in women’s +61 kg) and Turkey’s Meltem Hocaoglu (ranked at +68 kg, competing in women’s +61 kg) are all currently No. 1 in the world in various kumite weight categories, according to the World Karate Federation’s rankings.

The lone representative of Team Canada in the field is Daniel Gaysinsky of Caledon, Ont. The 26-year-old will compete in the +75 kg kumite event on the final day of karate competition. He won silver at the 2019 Pan American Games and is a medal hopeful for Canada.

“His performance in Paris was exceptional and he rightly earned his place among the top 10 men in the +75 kg division at the Olympics,” senior national team head coach Nassim Varasteh said. “He was consistent and methodical in his preparation for this event, despite all the challenges over the last year. The coaches have always been confident in Daniel’s potential and in his ability to perform under pressure.

“It’s a great honour and privilege to have a Canadian athlete qualified for karate’s Olympic debut. This is a historic event for the competitive generations of the past and the millions of karate practitioners in the world. We are looking forward to showcasing our sport while focusing on our objective of having a podium performance in Tokyo.”

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