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10+ Countries (Places) Where Karate is Popular (and Why)

Karate is not only popular in America and Asia, but also in some seemingly unexpected countries. In terms of martial arts, Karate is one of the most practiced across the globe. I recently wanted to know in which countries Karate is popular. While it is practiced by over 100 million in about 200 countries, I wanted to know which countries produce major Karate powerhouses and have the most world-class training available. And I was surprised by what I discovered. 

Karate is no longer an ancient art reserved only for the Japanese. It is now a sport and martial art for everyone. There’s no denying it; Karate is a global sport and practice, but there are some countries where it is most popular. I have personally spent a considerable amount of time looking into the countries where Karate is popular. I was surprised to find that some countries have few practitioners, but some of the best in the world at the same time. 

Let’s get right to discussing in which countries Karate is popular and what that popularity means for the country in terms of producing skill martial arts practitioners.

These are 10 plus countries where Karate is popular:

1. Japan

Of course, and as expected, Japan has produced the biggest number of Karate champions. However, a series of other countries are coming out of the woodwork as top Karate contenders.

History tells us that Karate was born on the Islands of Okinawa, which are a collection of islands found just off the coast of Japan. It was born in the 14th Century, but it was Gichin Funakoshi who introduced the art to mainland Japan in the 1920s. Thereafter, schools started teaching the art, and so it spread rapidly across Japan. Japan is considered a traditional world power when it comes to Karate as a sport, winning a multitude of gold, silver, and bronze medals at the Karate World Championships.

2. France

In France, a significant portion of martial arts practitioners focus their time and attention on Karate. Henry Plée is considered the pioneer responsible for introducing Karate to France and the rest of Europe. In fact, he has taught many of today’s Karate masters in Europe with a high ranking. In 2012, the Karate World Championships were hosted in Paris. The country comes in second place in the all-time KWC medal count.

3. United Kingdom

The beginning of Karate in the UK goes back to the 1950s when Vernon Bell (known as “the Father of British Karate”) founded the British Karate Federation. It’s important to mention that Bell was a student of Henry Plée. Also, thanks to other associations like the Karate Union of Great Britain, the martial art grew in popularity. Currently, the UK is among the 5 most successful nations in the Karate World Championships. 

4. Spain

Karate has been a popular martial art and sport for many years. In fact, the Karate World Championships have been hosted in Spain 4 times: 1980, 1992, 2002, and 2018. The country holds a top spot in the all-time KWC medal collection.

The Spanish Karate Federation (RFEK) is the national body in control in Spain. This is also the only Karate association with the authority to select and send Spanish Karatekas to the Summer Olympics.

5. Italy

Karate and martial arts, in general, are popular in Italy. Italian Karate practitioners are highly skilled, and you can find instructors and dojos across the country. Italy has never hosted the Karate World Championships, but the country has earned itself an all-time medal count of more than 100, which puts them among the best 5 Karate nations.

6. Turkey

Karate is quite popular in Turkey. The sport was established in Turkey with the founding of the International Traditional Karate Federation and the Turkish Amateur Karate Organization in the early 1970s. Turkey has never hosted the Karate World Championships, but the country is among the top 10 Karate countries, in terms of KWC medals.  

7. Iran

Iran is undoubtedly a world power in Karate. It has its own national body for Karate called the Iran Karate Federation. It is this body that is authorized to select and send Karatekas from Iran to the Summer Olympics. In the World Karate Championships, Iran is part of the top 10 countries, in terms of all-time medals won.

8. Germany

Karate has become quite popular and practiced in Germany. In fact, there are many instructors and dojos across the country. There are even many Karate training programs for children in Germany. Germany has hosted the Karate World Championships twice; 2000 and 2014. In the Karate World Championships, Germany is in the top 10 of all-time medals won.

9. China

Karate is actually a combination of Chinese and Japanese martial arts. Which means it is completely understandable that Karate is popular in China. A significant percentage of the Chinese population practice martial arts. However, how many of them learn/teach Karate specifically is unknown. Chinese practitioners have competed in several Karate World Championships and won a selection of medals.  

10. Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia might not have millions of Karate practitioners, but the Karatekas in the country are highly skilled. Although there are not too many instructors in Saudi Arabia due to cultural ideologies, gradually, the country is going through social liberation, and this is allowing more people to show an interest in martial arts and other sports. On the 2nd of February 2020, female Karatekas broke barriers in the UAE by participating in the 5th Arab Women Sports Tournament in Sharjah.

11. Vietnam

While Karate is not widely practiced in Vietnam, the country is still considered a solid contender in the sport, especially in Asian areas. To see just how skilled the Vietnamese practitioners seem to be, one only has to take a look at the regional Asian Karate Federation Championship results.

Why is Karate so Popular Throughout the World?

One might wonder why Karate has grown so popular on a global scale. There are various reasons why Karate is popular – here they are:

1. Diversity

There are various styles of Karate available for you to choose from. 

2. Safety, Ease, and Effectiveness

Karate classes when properly presented are safe, easy to follow, and effective in the learning of self-defense mechanisms. 

3. Cultural Heritage and History

Karate is a martial art that is rooted in ancient history. The entire practice is purposed and quite beautiful. This is one of the reasons people love to learn it. 

World Karate Federation: Rankings & Statistics

If you want a true reflection of the popularity of Karate in specific countries, you only need to take a look at the World Karate Federation’s statistics. Each year the federation hosts many tournaments and thereafter, ranks champions according to junior or senior status and, of course, their country. 

Over the years, it has become apparent that the champions of these competitions come from a wide variety of countries across the globe. However, many of the above-mentioned countries are considered to be “karate powerhouse nations”. These countries seem to be producing highly skilled Karate practitioners each and every year.

Practicing Karate: Where & What Style

Most countries across the globe have dojos established with qualified and experienced instructors. Whether you are attending a small dojo in your neighborhood or a more well-known international training center, you can expect for the basis of your training to be the same universally. The only variation in what you learn will depend on what style of Karate is being taught. There are 4 main styles of Karate, which include Goju-Ryu, Shotokan-Ryu, Wado-Ryu, and Shito-Ryu.

Last Word

It doesn’t matter where you are in the world, Karate dojos can probably be found in your neighborhood. If you want to practice the sport competitively, it is best to look up the local competitions and tournaments before you set your sights on attending events such as the Karate World Championships.