Is Karate a Sport? 5 Reasons “Yes” & 5 Reasons “No”

For many people, the status of their martial art is something of great importance. For others, it’s not that important at all. What you need to do is decide just how much you care about whether your beloved martial art is deemed a sport or not. What type of martial art practitioner are you? Do you believe that your art is a sport, or are you unperturbed by the designations attached to practices? 

For me, I have been intrigued by what a “sport” and “non-sport” designation is based on. As such, I have done some considerable research into both sides of the argument, especially when it comes to Karate. Karate is a firm favorite of mine, and so the outcomes of my research were of interest to me.

Is Karate a Sport?

YES (for)NO (against)
1.Karate imposes physical exertion on practitioners.Karate was designed as a form of self-defense. 
2.Karate requires skills that are learned and improved over time.There are no “teams” involved in Karate. 
3.Karate requires physical fitness.Karate is more than just a form of exercise and sport – it is a lifestyle.
4.There are Karate competitions where opponents compete for entertainment (and to win). Karate is defined as an unarmed form of combat.
5.Karate is included as a sport in the Summer Olympics.Karate has only recently been considered an Olympic sport. 

When considering whether Karate is a sport or not, one must take into consideration the actual definition of the word “sport”. If you Google search the word sport, you will find the definition is as follows from the Oxford English Dictionary

“an activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others for entertainment”. 

Lexico.com Powered by Oxford

This makes it seem easy to decide what activities are sports and which are not, but it’s really not that simple. Some activities fall into both categories – or there is an overlap in terms of definitions. I wanted to take a closer look at the reasons for and against Karate being a sport. To find out what I learned, read on below. 

5 Reasons Why Karate is a Sport

There are many people that firmly believe that Karate is a sport. If you do a bit of online research, you will find many forums where people argue over whether or not Karate is a sport. These arguments can get quite heated, and there seem to be viable points coming from both sides. I must admit that I found my own opinion on the matter swaying from one side to the other. 

I have found the following reasons why Karate is a sport to be quite valid – in my personal opinion. 

1. Karate imposes physical exertion on practitioners.

According to the definition of a sport, a sport must involve physical exertion. If you watch a Karate tournament in action or a training class, you will undoubtedly see that the practitioners exert themselves physically. Dedicated Karate practitioners will even exhaust themselves while aiming to perfect the moves and maintain an excellent level of fitness. 

Check the clip below to get a better idea of what a Karate competition is like.

Video Source: YouTube / World Karate Federation

2. Karate requires skills that are learned and improved over time.

Another part of the definition of a sport mentions that a sport involves skill. All Karate practitioners are taught the various skills and techniques of Karate. At first, these skills are hard to learn, but as the practitioner practices, these skills develop and improve over time. It is, therefore, easy to assume that Karate is a sport because it requires skills. 

Karate skills aren’t something that you are born with. They are learned over time with consistent and regular practice.

3. Karate requires physical fitness.

Physical fitness is something that sports focus on. You won’t find someone with a couch potato attitude and body being considered a “sportsman”. Being physically fit is absolutely essential when it comes to Karate. If you don’t keep physically fit, your Karate skills will certainly fail you. Someone who has never exercised will struggle to keep up with Karate practitioners due to their high physical fitness levels. 

4. There are Karate competitions where opponents compete for entertainment (and to win). 

The official definition also mentions that a sport involves teams or individuals competing against each other for entertainment. How does Karate fall into that definition? Well, it does and quite nicely too. If you think about it, every year there are Karate tournaments held around the world. Local and international tournaments help practitioners rank in specific levels, and these tournaments also provide great entertainment. Because of this, Karate fits perfectly into the definition of a sport.

5. Karate is included as a sport in the Summer Olympics.

What do the authorities on the matter have to say about it? I think that not too long ago, those in positions of authority when it comes to deeming an activity a sport or not have actually said that Karate is a sport indeed. If Karate isn’t a sport, why has it been included in the Summer Olympics? It’s hard to argue that Karate is not a sport when the world watches the art/sport be part of the Olympics.

5 Reasons Why Karate is Not a Sport

While there are some very compelling reasons why Karate is a sport, there are also some great reasons why it shouldn’t be considered a sport. If you are on the side of Karate not being a sport, you might be interested to hear what other supporters of your argument think, believe, and say about it. 

While browsing around in online forums, I picked up on the same reasoning being mentioned time and again. Below are 5 of the reasons that I have noticed come in several discussions and arguments. 

1. Karate was designed as a form of self-defense. 

I recently heard someone say that Karate is an art form and not an actual sport. I could really see merit in this statement, for good reason. Karate is an ancient martial art created to teach practitioners how to act in a combat situation and protect him/herself. There’s no way to deny Karate’s origins and the initial intention of learning the practice. 

Karate is just as much mental as it is physical. Practitioners need to acquire the right mindset in order to practice the art correctly. While some people do practice it as a sport, it is actually a form of serious self-defense. 

2. There are no “teams” involved in Karate. 

When you think of a sport, you probably think of one team playing against another. Not too many officially recognized sports are based on individual participation. While this particular point is not based on a fact, it is safe to say that some people don’t view individual activities as a sport.

3. Karate is more than just a form of exercise and sport – it is a lifestyle.

A sport is a physical activity that a person can be involved in from time to time. It requires a level of fitness, and the sport itself is a part of a person’s life. Karate is quite different in that it demands more from a person than a typical sport does. 

When a person takes Karate seriously, they don’t just dedicate some of their time to it. They dedicate their entire lives. The lessons and practice sessions are long and regular, and practitioners have to agree to live a certain lifestyle of health in order to participate in it. 

4. Karate is defined as an unarmed form of combat.

According to Encyclopedia Britannica, Karate, like most martial arts, is considered “an unarmed form of combat”. What does this mean in terms of Karate’s status as a sport? This clearly draws the line between Karate being a sport or a non-sport. If it is a form of combat, it is certainly not a sport that is meant for fitness, competition, fun, and entertainment. 

5. Karate has only recently been considered an Olympic sport. 

The consideration of Karate as a sport is actually quite recent. While Karate is now considered a sport in the Summer Olympics, prior to this, it has been deemed not a suitable sport for Olympic Sport inclusion. The fact that it has failed to make the grade for so many years makes it appear as if the majority of people don’t believe it is, in fact, a sport. 

All in all

Whether you see Karate as a sport or not, it is obvious that it is a great form of exercise and can be a lot of fun if you really get into it. If you aren’t too worried about definitions, join a Karate class and see what you think it feels like for you. If you love it, do it – sport or not. If you don’t, keep hunting for the sport or self-defense art for you.