The Olympic Games have been around for more than 2700 years, and the only sport that has been a part of the games from the early times to present day is wrestling. But in modern times, wrestling is not the only one, with more Olympic martial arts stepping onto the scene.
Six martial arts are a part of the Olympic Games: Wrestling, Judo, Taekwondo, Fencing, Boxing, and Karate.
Keep reading this article to learn more about these martial arts, how and when they became a part of the Olympics, and their rules and records.
Taekwondo is a kicking-based martial art developed in the 1950s in Korea. It first appeared as a demonstration sport at the 1988 Olympic Games hosted in Seoul, Korea, and again in 1992 in Barcelona, Spain. The sport made its official debut 8 years later at the 2000 Olympic Games hosted in Sydney, Australia.
Countries with the most Olympic Taekwondo medals:
Olympic Taekwondo Rules
The IOC adopted the “WT” rules as official Olympic rules. There are four different weight classes for both men and women, and contestants compete in an elimination format.
Contestants win a match by scoring more points, a 20-point gap, or if one of them gets knocked down and can no longer continue. In case of a draw, there is one extra round called the “Golden Point.”
They compete wearing a:
- Dobok uniform
- Trunk and head protectors
- Open-fingered gloves
- Forearm and shin guards
- Sensing socks and mouth guard.
Each match includes three rounds with two minutes each, and there is a one-minute break between each round. When it comes to scoring, the valid points are:
- One point for a punch to the trunk protector
- Two points for a kick to the trunk protector
- Three points for a kick to the head
- Four points for a spinning kick to the trunk protector
- Five points for a turning kick to the head
Boxing is one of the oldest Olympic martial arts, with the earliest records dating back to the 3rd millennium BC in Egypt. But as an official combat sport, boxing first appeared at the 23rd Olympiad in ancient Greece in 688 BCE.
These early boxing events were brutal and dangerous. Boxers would wrap their hands in leather thongs and fight each other in matches without rounds, weight classes, or time limits until one of the two could no longer continue.
Boxing needed to undergo many changes to become a part of the modern Olympics. The most significant change came in 1865 with the birth of “Queensberry” boxing rules created by John Chambers.
These rules made the sport safe and suitable for a broad audience.
As a result, the ICO accepted boxing as a part of the summer games in 1904. Since then, boxing has been in just about every Olympics event. The only exception was 1912, when Sweden hosted the Olympic games, and boxing was illegal then.
Women competitors came almost over a century later, in 2012.
Boxing Olympic Rules
Olympic boxing AKA “amateur boxing,” lasts 3 rounds, with each round being 3 minutes long, and there is 1 minute of rest between rounds. Women’s matches have 4 rounds, each being 2 minutes long.
There are ten weight classes for men and four for female boxers.
The biggest change in rules came in 2016. All Olympic boxers needed to wear a head guard until that point.
However, a study performed by AIBA and IOC showed that a head guard increased the risk of head injuries.
And as a result, contestants no longer have to wear it. However, this rule change does not apply to female boxers.
Wrestling is the oldest combat sport and the oldest Olympic sport. It was a part of the first Olympic events organized in 708 BCE in ancient Greece.
There are two styles of Olympic wrestling:
- Greco-Roman — is widely regarded as the original style, similar to the one from ancient times. Greco-Roman wrestling was a part of the first modern Olympic events hosted in 1896. Contestants are not allowed to grab the opponent below the waist and manipulate their legs to score or stop takedowns.
- Freestyle — debuted eight years later in 1904 in St. Louis, US. Enables wrestlers to grab and hold the opponent below or above the waist.
Women wrestling debuted in 2004 in Athens, and women only compete in freestyle.
Countries with most the Olympic wrestling medals:
Olympic Wrestling Rules
The wrestling match is split into two periods, each lasting three minutes, and a 30-second break in between.
The contestant who scores more points over this period wins a match.
They can win a match before the time runs out if they secure a 10-point lead in freestyle or an 8-point lead in Greco-Roman.
Both men and women freestyle wrestlers compete across 6 weight classes, while Greco-Roman also has 6 weight classes.
Judo is a grappling martial art created by Kano Jigoro in 1882. Its emphasis is on taking the opponent down with powerful throws, trips, and sweeps and subduing them on the ground with pins and locks.
Judo became a part of the Olympics in the 1960s, around two centuries after its foundation. The initial step was made in August 1960 when IOC members decided to include Judo in the Olympic events; the first time in history a sport from Japan received such a privilege.
Judo debuted at the 1964 Summer Olympic Games hosted in Tokyo, Japan. Anton Geesink would go down into the history books as the first man to win the Judo gold medal in the open division.
Women’s Judo events were first included almost three decades later in the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona.
Countries with the most Olympic Judo medals:
Judo Olympic Rules Explained
According to the rules, each country has one representative per weight class. Next, judokas are split into two main groups, competing in an elimination format, similar to regular judo competitions.
The unique feature is that there are two bronze medals; in other words, there is no fourth place. Each match lasts up to 4 minutes for both men and women.
The main goal in Judo is to win an ippon (a full point) which wins you the match by:
- Executing a throw after which the opponent lands fully on their back
- If a judoka pins the opponent and holds them down for 20 seconds
- Choke the opponent until they tap out or pass out
- Apply a joint lock until the opponent taps out or passes out
Judokas also score waza-ari, which is a half point. They can win a match by scoring two waza-ari which equals ippon. They win waza-ari by:
- Holding the opponent down for 10 seconds
- Executing a throw after which the opponent partially lands on their back
Fencing moved from a military system to a combat sport somewhere between the 15th and 16th centuries. It debuted at the first modern Olympic Games hosted in 1896 in Athens, Greece, and has been a part of the games ever since. The women’s events first appeared in 1924 at the games organized in Paris, France.
Olympic Fencing Rules
Contestants compete in matches that include 3 rounds with each round being 5 minutes long. They compete on a “piste,” which is around 46 feet long and 6 feet wide, and if the fencer gets pushed off the piste, the opponent receives one point.
The main objective is to score more direct hits with your weapon without allowing the opponent to hit you back. Though it may sound simple, it takes many years of practice for a fencer to develop skills and strategies to compete at the highest levels.
There are three primary forms of fencing competition defined by three types of swords:
- Foil — is a light sword with a flexible blade. In this form, fencers must use the tip to hit their opponent’s torso, back, or groin. Hits to the head or limbs do not count.
- Sabre — is a light thrusting sword with a long, thin blade and curved hilt over the hand. The sabre is the only discipline in which fencers can use the sword in a cutting motion to score points, not just the tip. They can target the entire upper body, including the head.
- Epee — is a heavy sword with a big hilt and a less flexible blade. The rules enable fencers to hit the upper and lower body areas without any restrictions. They are usually more aggressive than fencers from the other two forms, and their pace tends to be much faster.
Karate is one of the most popular Olympic martial arts worldwide and the youngest Olympic sport on this list. It first appeared at the 2021 Olympic Games hosted in Tokyo, Japan. The event should have been hosted in 2020 but was postponed due to the Covid-19 restrictions.
Olympic Karate Rules
Olympic karate rules align with the regular rules used in World Karate Federation competitions (WKF).
Karatekas compete in two formats — Kumite and Kata, each with its own rules.
Here is a detailed explanation:
Kumite is also known as “sparring.” The main goal is to simulate the fight and apply techniques you learned in kihon and kata. According to rules, Olympic Kumite is semi-contact, meaning you cannot use full force during the exchanges. The focus is on speed, accuracy, and a high level of technique.
Each match lasts up to 3 minutes, and the winner is the karateka who scores more points when the time expires. Or, they can win a match if they achieve an eight-point lead.
Points scoring works as follows:
- Ippon (three points) — for hitting the head or neck of the opponent with a kick
- Waza-ari (two points)- for landing a kick to the belly, side, back, or torso
- Yuko (one point) — for landing a punch to the head, neck, belly, side, or torso of the opponent
Kata is a set of pre-arranged moves that a karateka performs alone. The key is to execute a specific technique or combo with high focus, technique, and balance. A panel of 5 judges determines the winner.
Muay Thai is recognized as an Olympic sport but is yet to make an official debut. In 2016, the sport received provisional recognition by the IOC board panel. Five years later in 2021, the IOC board met again to give Muay Thai full Olympic recognition.
MMA is not a part of the Olympic Games, nor is it recognized as an Olympic sport. Whether MMA is going to enter the Olympics is uncertain. The sport is still young, evolving at a high rate, and developing in terms of regulations worldwide.
Jiu-jitsu is not an Olympic sport, but considering the rise of the sport, it might become one in the near future. The main issue is the lack of a unified international governing body that will be responsible for all the athletes who will compete in the Olympics. Currently, BJJ has too many different organizations, each with unique rules and regulations.