When we think of the Olympic Games, plenty of summer and winter sports come to mind. A dominating event at the summer Olympic Games is the category of martial arts, which is one of the first sports incorporated into the Games dating back to Ancient Greece.
Olympic martial arts is an umbrella term that encompasses various types, so which ones are regularly included in the Games? Let’s take a look.
What Martial Arts Are in the Olympics Today?
Some on our list are pretty standard, but some of the other ones may surprise you.
Karate in the Olympics
If you’re an avid viewer of the summer Olympic Games over the years, then you’ll know that karate wasn’t always an approved event. In fact, karate gained approval only in 2020, in time for the summer games (which ended up happening in 2021 due to the global pandemic) hosted in Japan.
Many believe that it was approved since karate originates in Japan (with strong influence from Chinese kung-fu, a martial art form that is steeped in history). Both kata and Kumite competitions were approved.
If you have seen Cobra Kai, then you may have noticed that the All Valley Tournament featured various demonstrations of skills in the art, such as sparring, breaking, and a show of offensive and defensive techniques (without an opponent). This is the competition where a karateka’s accuracy and skill are evaluated.
For kata, the judges evaluate the following:
- Breath control (breathing)
- Technical precision
- Movement transition
- Focus and conformance
Kumite, or the sparring competition, is where the action happens. It’s where we see opponents go head-to-head to collect points (8) by targeting various areas on the competition’s body. Kumite is assessed by looking at the big 3 – speed, balance, and strength.
Taekwondo in the Olympics
Taekwondo is all about footwork and is one of the Olympic fighting sports that matches opponents according to weight classes. Taekwondo was first seen in the Olympics back in 1988, but since 2000 it has maintained its position as a full medal sport since the Sydney games that year.
The Weight Classes in Taekwondo are:
- Under 58 kg (flyweight)
- 58 to 68 kg (featherweight)
- 68 to 80 kg (middleweight)
- Over 80 kg (heavyweight)
- Under 49 kg (flyweight)
- 49 to 57 kg (featherweight)
- 57 to 67 kg (middleweight)
- Over 67 kg (heavyweight)
The judges have it a bit easier in Taekwondo by introducing Protector and Scoring System technology, which was introduced in the 2012 Games in London. The system is an array of sensors that are built into the protective gear worn by the athletes. The sensors are linked wirelessly to a scoreboard that will register every contact and display the points for all to see.
This technology also makes it more difficult to dispute the end results and reduces the chances of human error.
Wrestling in the Olympics
Wrestling is a sport with a long history. We’ve all participated in wrestling-like activities, especially as children just playing with siblings and friends. It is also one of the first sports introduced in the Ancient Greek Games back in 708 BCE!
There are 2 wrestling styles, Greco-Roman and freestyle (modern), with the former having a longer standing since its acceptance in the Games in 1896. Freestyle wrestling made its debut in the 1904 games held in the U.S. The women’s category of wrestling is considered a form of freestyle wrestling, which was only introduced in 2004.
Like Taekwondo, competitors in wrestling are separated by weight class for equal matchups. It’s understandable as someone in a lower weight class will be at a significant disadvantage if they are matched up against someone larger and heavier.
The weight classes for men and women are:
- 57 kg
- 65 kg
- 74 kg
- 86 kg
- 97 kg
- 50 kg
- 53 kg
- 57 kg
- 62 kg
- 68 kg
- 76 kg
Russia dominates wrestling in the Olympics with the most gold medals, followed by the U.S.
Judo in the Olympics
For those unfamiliar with Judo, it is a form of martial art where Judokas (Judo practitioners) try to take down their opponents. The goal is to get your opponent on the ground with a series of pins, chokes, or locks.
It does share some traits with some of the other martial art forms, such as karate, and there are over 100 techniques a Judoka can use to reach his or her goal. The winner is determined by successful immobilization, but the techniques used are also assessed.
Since the winner is judged by a takedown, opponents are also separated by their weight.
- Under 60 kg
- 60 to 66 kg
- 66 to 73 kg
- 73 to 81 kg
- 81 to 90 kg
- 90 to 100 kg
- Over 100 kg
- Under 48 kg
- 48 to 52 kg
- 52 to 57 kg
- 57 to 63 kg
- 63 to 70 kg
- 70 to 78 kg
- Over 78 kg
Japan is the reigning champion of Judo Olympic medals in the world as of now.
Boxing isn’t just a brutish sport that involves some fancy footwork and a few punches – it’s a martial art. When thinking of boxing, we immediately think of big names such as Muhammad Ali, Joe Louis, Sugar Ray Robinson, Mike Tyson, Floyd Mayweather, Rocky Marciano, Manny Pacquiao, Sugar Ray Leonard, and Evander Holyfield.
Boxing in the Olympics doesn’t see as much fanfare, nor does it fill out stadiums the way it would if one of the big-timers above were fighting.
Boxing is also an ancient sport that appeared in some of the very first games in Greece. Back then, boxing was a lot more violent than we see on TV today. The only protection they had were leather strips around their fists, and the goal was to K.O. the opponent or get as many blows in as possible.
Of course, violence to this extent isn’t allowed in the Olympic games, so a new set of rules were introduced in the 19th century. The new regulations introduced many rules, such as better protection, which we can still see today with helmets and gloves.
Contact sports usually separate the opponents by weight class, and Olympic boxing is no different for men and women alike.
The Various Weight Classes For Men Are:
- light heavyweight
- Super heavyweight
For Women They Are:
The fighters are then split into smaller categories depending on the type of fighter they are and the moves they employ. The subcategories are:
A brawler is exactly what the name suggests, a fighter with power but not the fancy footwork and sleek moves. Each blow from the brawler will be hard to take.
An inside fighter has a lot of technique. Inside fighters are referred to this way because of their proximity to the opponent – they stay close. As the saying goes, keep your friends close, but your enemies closer.
An outside fighter is the opposite of an inside fighter. Instead of keeping the competition close, the outside fighter makes sure to keep a distance. In order to gain points, the outside fighter uses long-range moves.
There isn’t a “most effective” method of fighting. Each fighter is comfortable with a different style.
Fencing – Yep, It’s a Martial Art
Fencing has been a part of the Olympic games for a while now too, with its first appearance dating back to 1896. Not a lot of people would think of fencing when martial arts are mentioned, as many people believe martial arts encompass body-to-body contact sports.
Fencing, unlike the other sports we introduced, uses weapons instead of your hands or feet. There are three types of weapons used in fencing – foil, epee, and saber. The variance between the weapons isn’t so much the appearance but what they are used for. You would use different weapons for different target areas.
All three weapons are fairly lightweight compared to other equipment used in sports (like the tennis racket). The foil and saber both weigh in at 500 grams maximum, while the epee is the heaviest at 775 grams max. Aside from the weight, the usage of each weapon also varies.
Let’s take the foil, for example, which is used for the torso, including the back. The epee is for the entire body and the saber is for the torso, including the head and arms. The point of each weapon is very small, so contact can be difficult to assess with the naked eye. Similar to Taekwondo, Fencing also uses electronic sensors to keep score.
The purpose of fencing is to reach 15 points first or to get the most points within a round. Fencing can be both an individual or a team sport, which consists of 3 competitors.
Mixed Martial Arts at the Olympics
We then have mixed martial arts (MMA), which has attained global recognition and spiked popularity. MMA has been growing in popularity and is a very diverse form of combat sport. It hasn’t yet made it to the Olympics, and we’re guessing that the very diversity that it’s commended for is what’s holding it back.
This is all speculation on our part, but the combination of elements from jujitsu, Muay Thai, and all of the other forms we have covered above can be difficult to judge. The judges would need to be very well-versed in all of the disciplines. Not only that, but the violence is also what deters people from allowing MMA in the Olympics.
If you have ever watched an MMA fight, you will know that it can get pretty bloody with bruises, cuts, broken bones, and knockouts. However, as we are strong supporters of all forms of martial arts, we do hope MMA can become one of the combat sports in the Olympics.
The range of events featured in the Olympic Games continues to grow, and we hope to see MMA eventually seeing its day in the spotlight. For now, the above sports are the only ones included in the Olympics. As major martial arts supporters, we’re happy to see that the Olympic Committee has recognized the essence of martial arts and what it brings to the table.