Karate will be an Olympic sport for the first time in Tokyo this year. It might be the last: Japanese Olympic organizers added it to the list of sports at this year’s Games under new IOC guidelines that allow organizing committees of each Olympics to include provisional new events for the Games they host. Karate will not be a competition at the 2024 Paris Olympics, and its status for Los Angeles in 2028 has yet to be determined.

So this might be your last chance to see the world’s top karatekas practice their craft on the world’s biggest athletic stage. Here’s what you need to know about karate at the Tokyo Olympics.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How does the Olympic kata competition work?
  • How does the Olympic kumite competition work?
  • Where will the Olympic karate competitions take place?
  • What is the schedule of Olympic karate events?
  • Who are the top American hopefuls in Olympic karate?
  • Who are the top international hopefuls in Olympic karate?

How does the Olympic kata competition work?

Athletes will compete in two karate competitions in Tokyo: kata and kumite.

In kata, athletes demonstrate offensive and defensive moves against a virtual opponent. In each demonstration, athletes must choose from one of 102 kata movements that are recognized by the World Karate Federation, and they are not allowed to perform the same kata twice in one tournament.

Points are awarded by a panel of seven judges for stance, technique, transitional movement, timing, correct breathing, focus and conformance (70 percent of the score) and strength, speed and balance (30 percent of the score). The two highest and two lowest scores garnered by each performance are thrown out, and the remaining three scores are added up.

All athletes compete in the same weight class in kata, so only one set of medals will be awarded in men’s and women’s kata.

How does the Olympic kumite competition work?

In kumite, two athletes square off on an 8x8-meter mat. Matches end either after three minutes or when one of the competitors has amassed eight more points than their opponent, whichever comes first. Points are awarded for straight punches delivered to the body or face (one point), middle kicks delivered to the body (two points) and high kicks delivered to the head or punches delivered on an opponent who has been taken to the ground via sweep or takedown (three points).

If three minutes elapse, the competitor with the most points wins. In the event of a tie, whoever scored the first point is declared the winner. Scoreless draws are broken by a panel of five judges.

Medals will be awarded to different weight classes in kumite: under 67, under 75 and over 75 kilograms for men; and under 55, under 61 and over 61 kilograms for women.

Where will the Olympic karate competitions take place?

The karate events will be held at the Nippon Budokan, which was originally built to host the judo competition at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics and will again host judo this year. Yes, it’s the same arena where Cheap Trick’s 1978 live-album colossus “Cheap Trick at Budokan” was recorded.

What is the schedule of Olympic karate events?

Aug. 4-5

Women’s kata, women’s kumite (under 55 kg), men’s kumite (under 67 kg)

Aug. 5-6

Men’s kata, women’s kumite (under 61 kg), men’s kumite (under 75 kg)

Aug. 6-7

Women’s kumite (over 61 kg), men’s kumite (over 75 kg)

Who are the top American hopefuls in Olympic karate?

Sakura Kokumai, a native of Hawaii, is the only American woman competing in karate and is ranked seventh in the World Karate Federation’s world kata rankings. Her parents both hail from Japan, and she has family still in the country.

Thomas Scott (ranked sixth globally in under-75-kg kumite) and Ariel Torres Gutierrez (10th in men’s kata) are Team USA’s top chances to medal in men’s karate. Brian Irr rounds out the American karate roster in over-75-kg kumite.

Who are the top international hopefuls in Olympic karate?

The top men’s and women’s kata karatekas per the WKF rankings — Damián Quintero and Sandra Sánchez — both hail from Spain. Japan has both No. 2s (Ryo Kiyuna and Kiyou Shimizu).

In kumite, men’s medal contenders include 2018 world champion Steve Da Costa of France and Italy’s Angelo Crescenzo in the under-67-kg competition. Five-time world champion Rafael Aghayev of Azerbaijan (under 75 kg) and Turkey’s Ugur Aktas (over 75 kg) should also contend for spots on the podium. Croatia‘s Ivan Kvesic (over 75 kg) is a recent gold medalist at the world championships and European championships.

On the women’s side, Ukraine’s Anzhelika Terliuga (under 55 kg) tops the world rankings in her weight class. Serbia’s Jovana Prekovic (under 61 kg) and Azerbaijan’s Irina Zaretska (over 61 kg), both 2018 world champions, will also compete in Tokyo. China’s Yin Xiaoyan leads the world rankings in the under-61-kg weight class and finished second to Prekovic in 2018.