The origins of karate date back to 17th century Okinawa, an island located between Japan and southern China. After invasion by a Japanese clan in 1609 and the ensuing forced occupation, the inhabitants were forbidden to bear weapons in their daily life. Instead they secretly practiced hand-to-hand combat skills that incorporated striking and kicking, called “te” (translation: hand).
On Okinawa three similar but distinct systems of “te” began to develop, tied to major geographical regions. In 1935 a multi-style group of masters met and decided on a common name for their teachings: karate (translation: empty hand).
Karate features two forms of competition. Kata is a judged competition in which athletes perform a series of choreographed offensive and defensive karate techniques which are scored for their timing, distance, power, balance and speed. Kumite is a series of one-on-one bouts.
Karate has been on the Pan American Games program since 1995. Over the years it has featured both kata and kumite competitions, although only kumite events will be featured at Toronto 2015.
In kumite competition each men’s bout lasts three minutes while each women’s bout lasts two minutes.
Points are scored when a combatant lands successful kicks, strikes and punches to their opponent. These techniques must be applied with good form, timing, vigour and awareness. Depending on the way the technique is executed, judges can award ippon (three points), waza-ari (two points) or yuko (one point).
Bouts can end when one combatant has an eight point lead over the other or when time has elapsed. If combatants are tied after regulation time, the outcome of the match will be decided by a vote of the judges and referee, who award the win to the athlete they assess as having shown superior attitude, fighting spirit, strength, tactics and techniques, or as having initiated actions most frequently during the match.
All competitors in each weight class are divided into two pools for a preliminary round robin within the pools. The top two in each pool advance to the semifinals. The semifinal winners advance to fight for gold and silver while both semifinal losers receive a bronze medal.