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Olympic Martial Arts: 6 Self-Defense Forms In The Medal Race

Martial Arts Olympics

Last Updated on February 17, 2024

Martial arts and hand combat sports have been part of the Olympics for centuries. In fact, some games like boxing and wrestling were part of the first Olympics martial arts in 776 BC. This is because physical combat events were popular in the past!


Have you ever wondered how many martial arts are included in modern-day Olympics and when they were introduced to this event?

Olympic Martial Arts

Even though the Ancient Olympics began around 776BC, martial arts were introduced in this competition as early as the 708BC. The first martial art to ever be contested in the Olympic Games was wrestling.

Boxing was introduced in 688 BC and Chariot racing in 680 BC. Pankration, a perfect combination of wrestling and boxing, was later introduced in 648 BC.

Generally, physical combat contributed a huge percentage to the Ancient Olympic Games. And unlike modern Olympics, there were very few rules that all the contestants had to follow in the past. But since they didn't have a set of systems to follow; therefore, these Olympic martial arts were quite violent and brutal.

Unlike the ancient Olympic Games, the modern Olympics, which started in Athens, Greece, in 1896, has strict rule and include competitions for male and females. And over the last few years, it has been hosted in several nations in the world, including London, Brazil, and Japan.

Since the Modern Olympics was launched, several long-standing martial arts events have been included. Some of these techniques have been removed from the Olympics over the years, while other martial arts are still in the Olympics. Some of the martial arts still in the Olympics include:

1. Boxing


Amateur boxing is one of the oldest and most popular sporting events in the Olympics. Amateur boxing is normally overseen by martial arts referees, and it includes a sequence of 1-to-2 minute rounds with five judges overlooking the game.

The work of the five martial arts judges is giving points for every successful hit, and the competitor with more points always wins the game.

Boxing was initially introduced in the Ancient Greece Olympics in 648 BCE, and originally the participants wrapped their hands using leather strips.

And the main goal of this martial art was hitting your opponent until they lost consciousness. By the nineteenth century, some rules were created by the International Olympic Committee and adopted in Great Britain, and one of the main ones was wearing protective gear like a pair of gloves.

These events have featured in the Olympics since 1904, with the exception of 1912, and it includes five judges. Women's boxing was launched at the London Olympics in 2012. 

Generally, there are 3 boxing styles in the Olympics that can be easily split further into several subgroups depending on techniques and punches used. Some of the key ones include:

  • Inside fighter: with this Olympics technique, you have to always stay near your opponent and throw intense punches. The punches may include a combination of uppercuts and hooks.
  • Brawler: Commonly known as a slugger, this technique lacks finesse, but it does have exceptional punching power.
  • Outside fighter: with this technique, you have to keep a huge distance between you and your opponent by playing fast and employing long-range punches.

2. Fencing


Fencing is the only Olympic weapon-based martial art that involves two swordsmen taking part in a duel. Since then fencing made its Olympic debut in 1896 and has been part of the event. Women's fencing was introduced in the Olympics in the 1924 Paris Games.

The three types of weapons used in Olympic fencing sports include saber, epee, and foil.

The key difference between these weapons is their target areas; for the epee, the target area is the entire body, while for the foil, it's the torso.

When working with a saber in the Olympics, the target points include the torso and both arms and head. Other differences include:

  • Foil: this thrusting weapon weighs about 500 grams. Plus, the end of the foil features a small circular disc that protects your hands from getting stabbed.
  • Epee: Like the foil, an epee is a thrusting weapon weighing about 775 grams. With an epee, your opponent's body is a target, but you only become a winner when you hit your opponent with the weapon's tip; the sides don't count.
  • Saber: With this sword, you can target the entire body above the waist except the hand holding the weapon. Hits with the tip and sides of the saber are valid.  

Fencing in the Olympics includes a team and individual event for men and women. But the individual matches last for three rounds, with each lasting for about three minutes.

And the one with the most points wins. You can also win by being the first one to reach 15 points. A point is usually awarded to the person who hits his/her opponent using the weapon's tip or blade.

The team games in the Olympics include 3 members and one reserve fighter who take part in the round-robin format. The scoring for fencing is normally done using an electronic scoreboard, so when you hit that target spot, the lamp lit up, and you score a point.

Russia won the most fencing gold medals in the 2016 events. Italy won the most gold medals in the 2012 events.

3. Judo


Judo is one of the most popular medal sports from Japan that was created in 1882 by Jigoro Kano. In fact, it can trace its origin to Jiu-Jitsu, but the competitive element of this Olympic sport includes take or throwdowns.

Judo is quite popular, and in the Olympic Games, every nation is allowed to only send one Judoka per weight class. There are 7 divisions of judo for both men and women categories. These categories are determined by the weight class.

Judo features 100 techniques, including 32 grappling techniques for both men and women, referred to as katamewaza, and 68 throwing techniques which are known as nagewaza.

4. Karate


Karate is one of the Asian Olympic sports that debuted in the Olympics in 2020. Karate features both kata and Kumite events with more than 80 athletes. Out of the 80 participants in the karate Olympics, 60 take part in Kumite karate events, whereas the others participate in Kata competitions.

Kata is an exceptional demonstration of numerous defensive and offensive techniques against an opponent, while Kumite is a sparring form of karate.

Competitors can pick which kata technique they plan on using in the match. During the Olympic karate match, the fighter throws a sequence of blows at their opponent, and they get points for all their successful hits. The player who scores 8 points more than their opponents in a fixed period wins the match.

The players in these sports are judged by seven judges based on their athletic and technical performance. Some of the factors that affect the judge's decision when awarding points in the Olympic games include:

Technical Points

  • Timing
  • Techniques
  • Stance
  • Conformance and focus
  • Breathing
  • Transitional movements

Athletic points

  • Strength
  • Balance
  • Speed

5. Taekwondo


Taekwondo is an exceptional Olympic martial art that was first featured as a demonstration event in the 1988 Seoul Games. It became a full medal fight in the 2000 Sydney Summer Olympics and it has maintained this status since then. Both women and men can compete in taekwondo.

The medals are awarded in 4 weight categories including:

Women Weight Classes

  • Heavyweight – over 67kg
  • Middleweight – under 67 kg
  • Featherweight – under 57kg
  • Flyweight – under 49kg

Men Weight Classes

  • Heavyweight – over 80kg
  • Middleweight – under 80kg
  • Featherweight – under 68kg
  • Flyweight – under 58kg

Taekwondo matches take place on an 8m by 8m court, and the point is awarded when a valid target region is hit. Taekwondo has a unique scoring system, but you can also lose a point for rule infringement, and four penalty points can result in disqualification.

For taekwondo, you get:

  • Five points for a single turning kick to your opponent's head.
  • Three points for an exceptional and valid kick to the opponent's head
  • Two points for a hit to the trunk region
  • A good turn kick to a fighter's trunk protector earns you four points.
  • One point for an exceptional punch to your opponent's trunk protectors

6. Wrestling

Wrestling has been one of the most popular sports for centuries; it is one of the oldest events ever played in this tournament. Wrestling is a popular sporting event that attracts players from all over the globe. But modern wrestling falls under two categories:

a. Freestyle Wrestling

Freestyle wrestling was initially introduced in this competition in 1904. During this Olympic event, the players are allowed to hold their opponents below the waists and wrestle with legs. Both men and women participate in this competition and it's classified into six categories.

b. Greco-Roman Wrestling

This Olympic martial art is the oldest boxing style ever to take part in the Olympics since its introduction in the competition in 1896. In a Greco-Roman wrestling match, players are banned from tackling their opponents below the waist. In this medal sport, wrestlers cannot use their legs to attack or defend themselves.

Knock-Out Point: We'll digress for a moment and talk about someone special. What do you think of Batman's self-defense skills? He did not join any clubs but managed to learn and master the deadliest martial arts forms. Read about his skills here -- How Many Martial Arts Does Batman Know.

Watch This!

Frequently Asked Questions

How Many Martial Arts Are There on the Planet?

Generally, over 170 martial arts on the planet originated from different parts of the world. But most of them, especially the popular ones, originated from South Korea, Japan, and China. You may have heard of taekwondo, Jiu-Jitsu, and karate, but most of them are less popular.

When Was the International Olympic Committee (IOC) Established?

The exact origin of the International Olympic committee dates back to when the Olympics was revived in 1894. This committee was established on 23rd June 1894 at the University of Sorbonne in France. The first-ever modern event was held at the Sorbonne University of Sorbonne and organized by Baron Pierre de Coubertin.

Is Jiu-Jitsu an Olympic Sport?

No, it is not an Olympic sport despite being the source of some of the most popular martial arts. This is because it has too many rules and no international governing body to preside over it. Jiu-Jitsu, however, has been increasing in popularity over the last few years.


Martial arts played a key role in the creation of the Ancient Olympics. In fact, most of these games helped develop this international tournament. 

Unfortunately, in the past, there were no rules governing martial art. These games were quite brutal. The introduction of the International Olympics Committee changed everything in the martial arts world -- with more rules being introduced to help safeguard the competitors.

What other martial forms would you like to see in future Olympics competitions? Write your comments below.

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