Which Martial Arts Are in The Olympics?
Martial arts and hand to hand fighting have been a part of the Olympics since ancient times. When the Olympic games started in 776 BC, events featured various hand to hand fighting and athletic contests. Unlike today, these matches were brutal and violent since there were just a few rules in place.
But on the other side, the ancient crowd favored these matches, and fighters were often seen as heroes and gods. Here are martial arts that made a large part of the early Olympic events:
- Boxing (from 688 BC)
- Wrestling (from 708 BC)
- Pankration (from 648 BC)
The modern Olympic games started in 1896 with the initial event in Athens, Greece. In the next decades, there would be many changes in rules and regulations. These changes were there to make the games safer and a real sporting event.
Over the years, various sports have been added or excluded. One of the martial arts that got dropped was Pankration which was a mix of wrestling and boxing. Even though it was popular, Pankration was too brutal.
Following is a list of all martial arts included in modern Olympic games. We’ll explain each one below and bring you all you need to know about them.
Founded by the great Jigoro Kano in 1882, Judo is a modern martial art based on grappling. It has been a part of the Olympic games since 1964 where judokas made their first appearance in Tokyo, Japan. It has also been a part of the Paralympics since 1988 (men) and 2004 (women).
But for the first 28 years, Olympic Judo was for men only. The first time the world saw female judoka was at the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul, South Korea. But, this was only in a demonstration form. Women’s Judo became a part of the Olympics four years later in 1992 in Barcelona, Spain.
Weight classes and “two bronze medals” format
In the Olympics, each country can qualify just one judoka per weight class. Over the years, the number of weight classes has changed many times from four to eight. In the present form, there are seven men’s divisions and seven women’s divisions.
Judokas are then drawn into two separate groups and they compete in a unique elimination format. As in other sports, the winner gets a gold medal and silver is for the second place. Now, the “unique” part is the bronze medal. In judo, there are two bronze medals per weight class which means there is no fourth place.
This is a practice Olympic games took from other Judo events and competitions. First, two losers from the upper half of the sheet compete against each other. Then, the winner will face a loser of the semi-final from the lower half of the sheet, and the winner of that match gets the bronze medal. The process is the same for the two losers from the lower half of the sheet.
Nations with most medals
- Japan (39)
- France (14)
- South Korea (11)
Along with wrestling, boxing is one of the oldest martial arts. People have been boxing for thousands of years. In ancient Greece, boxing became a part of the Olympics in 688 BC and it was one of the most popular sports.
In the modern era, boxing needed to go through many changes that improved its safety. Once it was all set and done, the Olympic games added boxing in 1904 in St. Louis, US, and it has been a part of every event since.
The only time boxing wasn’t a part of the Olympics was in 1912 in Sweden where boxing was illegal at the time. Woman’s boxing became a part of the Olympics an entire century later in 2012.
Rules and weight classes
Up until 2016, both male and female boxers needed to wear protective headgear. But the new researches have found this doesn’t benefit fighter’s safety at all. According to AIBA and IOC, headgear contributes to a higher risk of concussion. Still, female boxers need to wear all the gear, including the headgear.
Like in Judo, weight classes in Olympic boxing have seen many changes over the years. Olympic boxing now has ten weight classes for men and four female ones.
Matches consist of 3 rounds with each one lasting 3 minutes. Women boxing matches include four rounds with two minutes each.
Nations with most medals:
- United States (50)
- Cuba (37)
- Great Britain (18)
The early documented evidence of wrestling goes as far as 3000 BC which is way older than the Olympic games. As said earlier, wrestling has been a part of the Olympic games since 708BC and the modern games since 1904.
The modern Olympic wrestling contest is different from the one in ancient times. Of course, there are various new rules and the competition is much safer. But above all, the modern form has two separate wrestling categories:
- Greco Roman Wrestling
- Freestyle Wrestling
Greco Roman wrestling
Greco Roman has been a part of the modern Olympics since 1896. This form is much closer to the original wrestling style used in Ancient times.
In Greco Roman, you are not allowed to hold the opponent below the waist or use their legs for offense or defense. Or in other words, wrestlers can’t use trips or grab the leg to score single/double leg takedowns. Instead, they use body locks, headlocks, and other moves.
Greco Roman doesn’t include female weight classes, only seven for men. Matches consist of 3 x 2-minute rounds, but, there will be a rule change from 2020 to 2 x 3-minute rounds.
Nations with most medals:
- Soviet Union (34)
- Sweden (20)
- Finland (18)
Freestyle wrestling was first introduced in the Olympic games in 1904. Set against Greco Roman, freestyle is a more popular form. In the US for instance, freestyle wrestling is a part of high school and college programs.
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Freestyle wrestling differs from Greco Roman in many ways. A wrestler can use trips or grab below the waist to defend or attack. They can get a hold of the leg, lift the opponent up and take them down.
In freestyle wrestling, there are seven weight classes for men and four for women. As in Greco Roman, matches consist of 3 x 2-minute rounds, but this is about to change with a new set of rules to 2 x 3-minute rounds.
Nations with most medals:
- United States (51)
- Soviet Union (28)
- Japan (28)
Taekwondo is a South Korean Martial Art that puts a lot of emphasis on kicking techniques. It became an Olympic sport in 2000, at the Olympic games in Sydney, Australia. Prior to that, Taekwondo made an appearance as a demonstration sport in ’88 and ’92.
Olympic Taekwondo includes four weight classes for both men and women. In each weight class, athletes take part in a single elimination tournament. The winner gets the gold medal and the runner-up a silver medal. But like in Judo; the bronze medal is a bit “special”
Taekwondo athletes must take part in a unique “repechage” competition to fight for a bronze medal. Every athlete who lost to both finalists at any stage of the tournament can fight for third place.
Nations with most medals:
- South Korea (12)
- China (7)
- United States (2)
Karate is, perhaps, the most popular martial art around the world. It was just a matter of time before we can see karatekas compete in the Olympic games. And finally, karate was set to make its first Olympic appearance in the 2020 Summer games in Tokyo, Japan.
But with the Covid 19 virus taking over the world, the officials postponed the Tokyo games due to all the dangers. Let’s hope karate will make Olympic debut in its country of origin, Japan. It would make every karateka in the world feel proud and emotional.
Rules and disciplines
Olympic Karate will feature events for both men and women, under the WKF rules. There will be three weight classes each and they will take part in two events: Kata and Kumite
Kumite is one of three disciplines of karate and the one most people are familiar with. The word “Kumite” means sparring and a form in which you can apply techniques learned in kata and Kihon. Karateka will win points by landing kicks or punches at the allowed body areas like head, neck, belly, or back.
In Kumite, karatekas will compete in a matted 8m x 8m area and each match will last 3 minutes. In this time span, karateka must score more points than their opponent to win a match. They can finish a match earlier only if one karateka scores eight points more than their opponent in less than 3 minutes.
Kata is a form of karate in which karateka is carrying out a set of pre-arranged moves called “Kata”. In the Olympics, karateka can use 102 kata moves, which have been all approved by WKF. We must point out that they can’t use the same kata move twice during the Olympic contest.
The Olympic kata events will include seven judges who will score the fight based on technical and athletic performance. There will be seven criteria for awarding technical points and three for athletic:
- Transitional movements
- Correct breathing
- Focus and conformance
Fencing is the only weapon based martial art in the Olympics and one of the most interesting sports to watch. There is something special in seeing two swordsmen performing in a duel, just like people used to do in medieval times.
Even before the modern Olympic games, fencing and duels was very popular. There were fencing schools and events where people could show their skills or compete in a duel. And of course, to settle disputes and arguments.
Fencing has been a part of the Olympic games since 1896 and the first women’s events arrived in 1924. There are three main forms of Olympic fencing, which are basically three different types of swords:
- Foil — is a light thrusting sword (around 0.45kg) that is about 90cm long. In foil competition, fencers can’t target anything but the torso area using only the tip of the blade.
- Epee- is a heavier sword ( 0.79kg) that represents a modern version of the one used in duels. The action in this form of fencing is a bit slower since the fencer can target the entire body area. They can use both the tip and the edge of the sword.
- Sabr — is a light thrusting sword similar to foil but more flexible. Fencer can target just about everything above the waist, including head and hands.
During the Olympic games, all fencers must wear full-body protective gear. They compete on the unique 14m long and 1.8–2m wide rectangular strip. There are two referees with one being close to the action and the other watching the video.
All fencers wear electronic equipment which consists of various sensors. This way, each point can be detected and scored electronically.
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