How is Karate Scored? Karate Rules Explained

How is Karate Scored? Karate Rules Explained

Karate a martial art popular all over the world. Millions of people practice it, both recreationally, and competitively. There are tournaments held and regulated on a global level. They use a specific set of rules for combat Karate, and the winner is determined by point-scoring. So, how is Karate scored?

There are three different categories of techniques that bring points in a Karate match. Yuko is worth one point, Wazari is worth two points, and Ippon is worth three. Full contact isn’t allowed in most of the competitions, and there are strict sanctions for breaking the rules in a match.

Be that as it may, there are many things to consider when in a Karate match, and different types of competition. Every type has a different ruleset. Some types of competition, such as Kata, don’t even have an opponent and are scored differently. Let’s get deeper into the world of Karate and explain the rules of each type.

What Are The Basic Rules of Karate?

Unlike almost any other martial art, Karate isn’t oriented towards knocking the opponent out or hitting them with full force. Instead, a point scoring system has been developed and regulated by the World Karate Federation. Of course, there are versions where full contact is allowed and the point scoring is much different, but the most important competitions are regulated by the WKF. Therefore, the rule set is considered to be the authority when it comes to Krata as a sport.

But, before you get into the point-scoring rules and regulations, you should know the origins and the philosophy behind Karate. That way, you will have a much better understanding of why it isn’t a full-contact sport and why are the rules set the way they are.

A brief history of Karate

It all started centuries ago in Okinawa, Japan. People from there used to train martial arts in China because it was a lot closer to them than to go to Japan’s capital cities at the time. In China, they learned the crafts of several different ancient Chinese martial arts. 

When they came back to Okinawa, they started teaching their peers what they learned in China but modified and refined it thoroughly, combining different elements into their learnings. They specifically designed their techniques to be quick and effective in self-defense, and thus – Karate was born (known as Te at the time).

The new martial art used some techniques from the Chinese martial arts but refined them based on their needs and tradition. Ultimately, their Te barely resembled the Chinese martial arts. Only some movements and basic techniques can be recognized. 

The main thing that they carried over isn’t in the techniques at all but the mental preparation and peaceful philosophy. Te wasn’t designed to hurt or injure anyone, but to incapacitate them quickly to give yourself time to call for help or escape. They work on Buddhist principles of meditation, calmness, and peace.

What drove them to develop Te, though, were the circumstances they found themselves in. They weren’t allowed to carry weapons by law, so they had to develop a method of self-defense that uses no weapons. It wasn’t until the 20th century that Te was introduced to the Japanese mainland, and subsequently to the world. That is also when the name was changed from Te to Karate, meaning “open hand”.

Because of the origins of the sport, and the peaceful philosophy behind it, the goal of a Karate practitioner isn’t to hurt their opponent, nor to cause any unnecessary damage. It’s designed to defend yourself effectively while avoiding both taking harms, and harming the opponent. That philosophy is what separates Karate from other martial arts, and is also the reason why the competitions nowadays aren’t full contact, but rather regulated.

To be successful in Karate, you have to get into the right mindset, which is why mental preparations and empathy for the opponent are crucial to be successful in the sport.

Basic Rules of Karate

Every martial art has a distinct rule set that determines which techniques are allowed and which are not. Karate is no different, except it had even more rules because of the nature of the sport. Different competitions have different rule sets, but we will focus on the ones that are regulated by the WKF.

There are two common types of competition under WKF. The most common type – and the one that is widely regarded as sport Karate – is Kumite, or battle, while the other one is Kata, which has more of a demonstrational spirit.

Kumite Rules and Regulations

Kumite is known as the battle part of Karate, or combat. It translates literally to “the meeting of hands”, which is basically what it is. Two Karateka (Karate practitioners) face off in a battle of points. What that means is that the goal is not to knock your opponent out or cause injury, but rather to utilize the better techniques to score points and win. There are several different scoring methods, and they carry a different amount of points. We’ll get into the scoring a bit later.

Before the competition even begins, you have to have the required protective equipment. That equipment includes a mouth guard, a body protection garment, and shin guards with instep padding. All of the equipment must be WKF approved, and you cannot fight with non-approved protection garments. A groin guard is also recommended by the WKF, but not required in competition.

The match is held on a square Tatami, a matted area of 8m x 8m dimensions, with 1m more on every side known as the safety area. If a practitioner exits the Tatami, the bout is stopped and reset to the middle by the referee. Before the match begins, the opponents bow to each other, and the referee starts the match.

There are also several ways to finish the fight. If you can get an eight-point advantage on your opponent (for instance, an 8:0 or a 9:1 lead), you automatically win the bout. If nobody manages to do so before the time runs out, the winner is the Karateka with more points at the moment. Usually, the match lasts for three minutes, and the time is stopped after each point, foul, or reset by the referee. There can be more than one round as well, depending on the competition.

The rules are strict when it comes to allowed techniques. No full contact strikes are allowed and can get you disqualified easily if you use excessive contact. Of course, it can happen unintentionally, in which case you do not get penalized. Using prohibited techniques, though, such as the elbow or knee strikes, can also get you disqualified. Also, unsportsmanlike behavior is unacceptable as well.

Kata Rules and Regulations

In Kata, there are no opponents. You perform Kata demonstrations individually or as a team in front of a panel of judges that give out grades for your performance. Therefore, the rules of grading are different than in Kumite. The judges will grade several different categories.

The first is conformity, which determines how well you’ve adhered to the form and style standards of the Kata. Then, your technical performance is graded. That includes breathing, stances, movements between moves (transitions), striking techniques, timing, breathing, and in the end, the technical difficulty of the performed Kata.

You will also be graded for your athleticism, so it is very important to be in peak physical and mental state. They grade speed, strength, and balance, along with the rhythm you have set (for instance, if you start with fast exchanges between techniques, but slow down as the Kata is performed, your grade will be lower).

As for the penalties, they all affect the final grade, and disqualifications are rare. This includes incomplete or incorrect movements in the Kata, difficulties in balance, using audible cues to help your performance, etc. Even your belt coming loose can be considered a foul, so it is almost impossible to perform the perfect Kata.

How Do You Get Points In Karate?

The point scoring system is pretty straightforward in Karate Kumite. There are distinct techniques that are worth points, and outside of those techniques, no other technique is allowed or worth any points. You can get 1, 2, or 3 points for a properly used technique, depending on which technique is in question.

Yuko is a strike worth one point and is categorized as Yuko A and Yuko B. Yuko A is a clean straight punch to the body of the opponent. It is the most common scoring technique, but can also be hard to perform because it can easily be blocked or anticipated. Yuko B is very similar. The only difference is that the straight punch is delivered to the face, not the body. It is important to be careful, though, because if you perform it open-handed, you can be issued a penalty.

Next, a technique worth two points is called Wazari. It is given out for a kick delivered to the body. It can be placed in the abdominal/chest area, the hips, or the back, depending on the position of your opponent. Various techniques can be used to score a Wazari, but without the use of knee strikes, which are penalized.

Finally, an Ippon is worth three points. Similar to Yuko, there is Ippon A and Ippon B. Ippon A is given for a high kick delivered to the head of the opponent. You should be careful when performing it, though. You need to have incredible balance and control not to go full-contact, but rather to stop the kick with only light contact. It is a hard technique to score with but seen quite frequently in bouts.

Ippon B is the only time in a Karate bout where takedowns are allowed. If you manage to take down your opponent with a sweep or an allowed technique, you need to deliver a punch to the body or head to confirm the Ippon. This technique is also worth three points.

The areas in which a strike is worth points are limited to the head, neck, and torso. Attacks on arms or legs are prohibited, and can only be allowed if used for a takedown. Also, not every punch or kick is worth points. To score, you need to have the proper form, distance, timing, and correct application of the technique.

What Is a Full Point In Karate?

Ippon is considered to be a full point not only in Karate but in other Japanese martial arts as well, such as judo, jujitsu, or kendo. It is issued for a technique that is considered to be decisive and can be considered as an equivalent to a knockout in full-contact martial arts.

If the striking technique is clean, and the opponent has little to no chance of blocking it, it is considered an Ippon. If the strike would likely result in a knockout in a full-contact competition, it is worth a full point, resulting in a win.

It can be a bit confusing, though, because we mentioned Ippon earlier to be worth three points, not an automatic win. In judo, for instance, an Ippon usually means an instant victory, but in Karate, it is a bit different. Depending on the tournament rules, you usually need two Ippons or for Wazaris to win the bout. It is not that common for a single Ippon to be enough to win a fight, although some competitions still use this system.

So, to answer the question, a full point in Karate is issued with an Ippon technique that is decisive and clean. On some occasions, it results in the bout ending, but it is more common to be worth three points with the fight proceeding.

How Do You Win A Fight In Karate?

The winner of a Karate Kumite fight, as we have seen so far, is determined via point-scoring. You need an 8 point advantage for the bout to win before the time runs out. If nobody has an 8 point lead when it does run out, the winner is the Karateka with more points at the moment. 

If the score is tied, there is no “golden point” as there is in most sports. Here, the referees and judges discuss to decide which fighter is deemed victorious.

You can also win the fight if your opponent is penalized or disqualified for any reason. The regulations are known before the competition and are very strict. Most of the rules are meant for violations within the bout, but you can get disqualified even before. For instance, if you don’t have the proper equipment demanded by the WKF, you won’t be allowed to compete in the tournament.

Finally, if your opponent forfeits, or is unable to carry on with the bout for any reason, you will be deemed victorious.

How Long Is A Karate Match?

The duration of Karate matches varies in different competitions. The most common duration of an individual Kumite bout is three minutes (or less if somebody takes an 8 point lead before). Sometimes, the bout can be set on two or three rounds, as well.

The same goes for team Kumite. There are three practitioners in each team, and they all battle each other. There can be a maximum of 9 bouts, therefore, it can last for as long as 27 minutes.

Kata competitions, both individual and team, are set to five minutes. In that time frame, you need to finish your demonstration properly. If you exceed the time frame, you can get penalized or disqualified. If the competition is in a team, you all work synchronized and at the same time, so the time frame remains the same.

What Is Not Allowed In Karate?

When it comes to penalizing, steps are taken gradually. That means you have to make a very big foul to be disqualified on the first warning. Repetitive fouls, however, can get you out of the game quickly.

Prohibited behaviors are classified, each carrying different weights and penalties. Category 1 is techniques that make excessive contact, or attacks to the throat, leg kicks, groin strikes, or instep stomps. Also, open hand attacks to the face are considered a serious violation, because it endangers the opponent.

Category 2 is slightly different and reserved for other prohibited behavior not necessarily in contact with the opponent. For instance, exaggerating injury can cause a Category 2 violation. Also, exiting the competition area on purpose – that is, without the opponent causing the exit – can get you a penalty in this category, too. This category of prohibited action and behavior encompasses passivity, clinching, grabbing, taunting, and not obeying the orders of the referee.

Depending on the severity of the violation, warnings and penalties are issued. The first step is Chukoku or the first warning. the referee imposes a Chukoku for the first minor infraction in any of the categories. If the infraction is repeated, or if another violation is made, then a Keikoku is issued. It is the second warning.

The third and final warning is Hansoku-Chui. It is a warning of disqualification for a violation that has already been penalized by a Keikoku before. It can also be issued automatically without Chukoku and Keikoku if the violation is more serious or intentional, but not serious enough to hand out a Hansoku.

Hansoku is a penalty that disqualifies you from the fight. If you repeat actions that were penalized before, or if you make a very serious violation, your score will be set to zero and the opponent’s score to eight, ending the fight instantly. The most serious penalty, however, is the Shikkaku. It is only issued for the most serious violations or unsportsmanlike behavior, which disqualifies you not only from the fight but from the entire tournament.

Vladimir Vladisavljevic has been training in the art of kickboxing for over seven years, holds a Taekwondo black belt, and has a master's degree in sports and physical education. He's also a huge mixed martial arts fan. He's a big deal in Bulgaria as a mixed martial arts commentator, analyst, and podcaster.
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Vladimir Vladisavljevic

Vladimir Vladisavljevic has a master's degree in sports and physical education. He has been training in kickboxing for over seven years and holds a Taekwondo black belt. He's also a huge mixed martial arts fan. Vladimir is a big deal in Bulgaria as a mixed martial arts commentator, analyst, and podcaster. He was known as The Bulgarian Cowboy in the Western world. In addition, he has a YouTube channel where he talks about his love of esports, one of the fastest-growing fields in the world. Our testing and reviewing method.
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