Martial Arts has a long-standing history in the Olympic Games, dating back to the traditional inclusion in the ancient Olympics of Greece. In modern times, disciplines such as boxing, judo, taekwondo, and wrestling have become regularly included Olympic sports where world class martial artists compete on behalf of their country. The history of each martial arts form in the Olympics differs, with male and female competitors gaining Olympic inclusion over varying years.
Boxing has been around since ancient times and was an event in the original Olympic Games. It made its return to the modern Olympics in 1904 and ever since then it has been a major part of Summer Olympic events. In 2012, women's boxing was introduced at the London Olympics for the first time. To qualify for the Olympics, boxers must go through regional qualifying tournaments to earn their spots on their respective national teams. There are 10 different men's weight classes and 3 women's weight classes in Olympic boxing competitions. The structure of boxing fights is different between female and male competitors with women competing in 4x 2-minute rounds whilst men compete in 3x 3-minute rounds. Boxing is a popular combat sport that continues to grow both within the Olympic games and outside in various competitions and tournaments.
Judo has been a part of the Olympic Games since its introduction at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. It is now included in both the men's and women's categories, with women being allowed to compete for the first time in 1992 at Barcelona. The matches in the Olympics are divided into weight classes and typically last five minutes for men and four minutes for women. Since 1988, judo has also been included as one of several Paralympic sports available to visually impaired athletes, allowing them to take part in this sport alongside their sighted counterparts. The sport has become increasingly popular since its inclusion in the Olympics and continues to be featured prominently throughout the games.
Taekwondo is one of the more recent martial art forms to be included in the summer Olympic games. It became an official Olympic sport in the Sydney 2000 games, having been a demonstration sport in the previous 1988 and 1992 games. Taekwondo was one of the first Olympic martial arts forms where it debuted to both women and men at the same time. Olympic Taekwondo consists of 3x 2-minute rounds with matches being divided into 4 weight classes. Taekwondo is growing around the world with more athletes training to qualify to compete in the Olympics on behalf of their country.
Freestyle wrestling has been included in the Olympics for centuries. It was first introduced to the modern Olympic Games in 1904 and differs from Greco-Roman wrestling as it allows wrestlers to push with their legs, lift and trip opponents and hold them above or below the waist. In 2000, there was a reduction in the number weight classes for freestyle events, which allowed for the introduction of women's events four years later. Initially, matches were three rounds of two minutes each, but this changed to two rounds of three minutes each. In 2013 the IOC dropped wrestling from its list of Olympic sports only to reinstate it again shortly afterwards with new rules changes. Since 2016 both men's and women's divisions have been limited to six weight classes, creating consistency amongst competitors.
Greco-Roman wrestling has similarly been included in the Olympics for centuries and was introduced to the modern Olympic Games in 1986 prior to that of freestyle wrestling. It is a different style to wrestling than freestyle as competitors are not allowed to hold below the waist or trip an opponent. In Olympic Greco-Roman wrestling competitors are more likely to arm drag, body lock, head lock and throw. At this stage there is not a Greco-Roman wrestling event for women at the Olympics but with its growth, this could change in the years to come.
Karate was not mentioned above as it was only an inclusion in the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games, with no plan to be included in the following games to come. This inclusion was due to its history of being originated in Japan, with it being 1 of 4 sports that were included exclusively for these games.
It is extremely significant that the world-renowned sporting organizations such as the Olympics are beginning to recognize martial arts as popular disciplines that sit on par with other sports. The growth of the martial arts sector will continue over the next decade with more awareness of disciplines, growing the number of participation and professional athletes developed.
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