Some people are upset whenever art becomes sport on a scale as grand as the Olympics. Others are pleased. In the case of karate, Black Belt Hall of Famer Tokey Hill is among those who are happy. Here's why.

For decades, officials in numerous karate organizations, both international and domestic, have labored to get karate added to the Olympics. Many martial artists thought it would never happen, in part because of redundancy. After all, the Games already have two striking sports (boxing and taekwondo) and a kicking sport (taekwondo). Adding karate sparring, they argued, wouldn’t bring anything new to the event.


Then on August 3, 2016, the International Olympic Committee voted to add karate, along with baseball, skateboarding, surfing and climbing, all in an effort to attract more young people to the Games. Yahoo! Sports reported that the inclusion of karate will bring approximately 80 martial artists from around the world to Tokyo to vie for medals.

Presented here is an interview we did with Black Belt Hall of Famer Tokey Hill, the man at the forefront of the U.S. effort to have karate added to the Olympics. It was conducted several months before the IOC's announcement.

— Editors

Tokey Hill

ART: KARATE

ADDED TO THE OLYMPICS: 2020

EXPERT: Tokey Hill, Black Belt Hall of Famer, former karate world champion

QUESTION: Are you optimistic that karate will become an Olympic event? If it does, will it change the art?

TOKEY HILL: Yes, I think it will be in the Olympics, and that will really change the art. But I like to look at the positive side of the issue. If the Olympic rings are on display at any karate training center, it’s going to have a positive impact and great advertising value. Programs will need to have Olympic accreditation to maintain the highest standards.

This way, it will ensure that an instructor and a dojo have the right technical background and knowledge. I talk with a lot of Olympic Committee members from this country and others, and they all agree on these issues.

QUESTION: If karate becomes part of the 2020 Olympics, will it change from a martial art to a martial sport?

TOKEY HILL: For sure. However, the World Karate Federation, which is recognized by the IOC, is trying to keep the philosophical content of karate as a martial art in its purest form, which means maintaining its traditional background.

QUESTION: Many martial artists are against arts becoming sports, but you seem to be in favor.

TOKEY HILL: As long as we preserve as much tradition as possible — respect, discipline and the core values — it can be a good thing.

QUESTION: Do you think being in the Olympics would boost the popularity of karate overall?

TOKEY HILL: Absolutely. If a country’s national governing body for karate strategically puts in place a public-relations and marketing campaign, it will directly affect karate at the grass-roots level. Of course, that will require proper instructor education.

QUESTION: Would the transformation from art to sport cause karate to lose its lethal fighting techniques?

TOKEY HILL: Yes and no. However, even people who compete in karate now focus on major strikes that can immobilize an opponent as well as an attacker, and those strikes are not necessarily lethal ones. Most parents take their children to the dojo to learn discipline, self-confidence, character building and self-esteem, all of which makes them pillars in society. And they would still be able to do that.

The small percentage who want their children to become sports champions would have what they want, too. Karate can serve as a self-defense system with or without lethal techniques. All forms of karate are great as long as they’re taught with the right values.

SPECIAL POST-ANNOUNCEMENT UPDATE!

QUESTION: What are your thoughts on yesterday's announcement from the International Olympic Committee?

TOKEY HILL: It is a historic moment. Our sport has finally achieved acceptance into the 2020 Olympic Games. This is a victory for all the past generation’s leaders, sensei, athletes, officials, organizers and volunteers who worked endlessly for this dream to become a reality. Now, this victory belongs to athletes and future generations — and how they will honor the opportunities that lay before them.

QUESTION: Which international karate organization will be running the show?

TOKEY HILL: The World Karate Federation.

QUESTION: Which organization will oversee things in America?

TOKEY HILL: The USA National Karate-do Federation.

QUESTION: Will the karate competition at the 2020 Games include kumite, kata and weapons?

TOKEY HILL: Kumite and kata only.

QUESTION: Do you know what your role in all this will be?

TOKEY HILL: For sure, developing athletes as a coach within Team USA. Also, possibly in a technical capacity.

As we get closer to 2020, Black Belt will publish more in-depth looks at Olympic karate, as well as additional comments from karate leaders.

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Kenneth Baillie: TKD has changed over the years. WTF changed to traditional TKD at our school because our chief instructor didn't like the Olympic status. He said the sport detracts from the tradition. We had a certain rivalry even back then with ITF. The two can merge, I believe. There are differences but anything can be achieved. Positives are easy to find here!

Boston George Legaria: I'm not a TKD practitioner but I've been in martial arts for 26 years (kyokushin, muay Thai and krav maga), and from what I can see, a solution is for those two organizations to come together and reform the art so it can stay relevant. In combat sports, a lot of people leave TKD in favor of BJJ or muay Thai, while in self-defense people leave TKD for styles like Russian sambo, krav maga or Keysi Method. As for a business model, they need to leave the black belt mill because even though that gets parents interested so they can show their little one's "progress" on FB, in the long run, TKD loses its credibility when people see a 6 year old "master."

Michael Watson: Follow grandmaster Hee Il Cho's lead — he does both styles and without the negative of the Olympic sport aspect. I studied ITF growing up, but I also researched a lot on grandmaster Cho and I love his way.

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