Age and Karate athletic performance

At what age is a Karate Athlete at his or her peak to perform?  

By Julian Forbes
CEO Karate Athlete, Inc.
At what age is a Karate Athlete at his or her peak to perform? If one studies the statistics one would conclude that somewhere in between the early 20's and early 30's would be in an accurate ball park (American expression meaning "the right area"). Keep in mind that there are always exceptions to just about every rule, so this information should be used as a guideline of the historical norm. It should in no way discourage younger athletes, or indeed older ones, from competing and expecting good results.

Once again, I apologize to Kata competitors for focussing on Kumite. However, you should assume that similar guidelines prevail with the exception of possibly being able to continue longer due to less injuries and the less violent nature of your discipline. Again, sorry... I don't mean to seemingly neglect you folks... I love you really.... Its just that I know more about kumite.

Due to easy access, I will use the data from the three great champions listed below. I will add others to the tables as their info rolls in the next month or so.
WKF sports karate atheltic ability

Why so late? When other sports have athletes peaking as early as 12 or 13? Glad you asked... Lets break it all down...

What makes most champions win from their early twenties to early thirties?

1. Most people start karate as adolescents and are therefore ready to perform at World levels after at least 7 years of intense training and competing experience. The more they compete and train, the more tricks they accumulate, the less surprises they come across in the ring, and the smarter they become about training and fighting.

athletic wkf karate world champions

2. Karate requires mental maturity which generally is associated with age and experience in order to strategize and implement strategies.

3. Physical Abilities: Lets next look at the peak ages for six physical attributes a karate champion needs in order to excel. In the following statistics the compiler has taken 70% as the level of ability which is inherent (born with), and 30% as the amount by which we can further enhance our abilities through training. As always, keep in mind that each individual is different and that you may peak at a different age than is the norm. However these figures should give you a guideline of what is most common.

karate athletic performance

Out of the above six physical attributes, which are all necessary to one degree or other depending on the types of techniques you personally prefer to use, I would say that Speed, Explosive Power, and High Pace Endurance are the most crucial in winning Gold. Again, that's not to say that you don't need strength or flexibility etc... these are just the ones that in my humble opinion are the most crucial.

Now, if you look at the peak inherent age ranges for these three, you see that for the most part they mirror the statistical results shown at the top of this page for our three champs.

High Pace Endurance and overall fitness are extremely necessary especially as you find yourself fighting 6 fights in one day, sometimes with only a 3 minute break in between (twice that if you're fighting in multiple divisions on the same day). There is nothing worse than losing a tournament to this as its probably the easiest to enhance through proper training. I know, I've been there... got to the semi-finals of a National Championship and just ran out of steam... I had fought the preliminary rounds of the kilo division and was now fighting the Open Weight - all the same day. The worse thing was that everything else that day was dead on! I was kicking butt!!! If you lose, you want to be able to know that you did everything to prepare... otherwise there's no point stepping into the ring. This is why when we train pad sessions we do 3 minute rounds with 1 minute breaks and more rounds than you're likely to have in a tournament. (See Focus Pad Sessions, in the Training Center.)

Why do Karate Champions retire in their early-mid 30's?
Several reasons. The truth is that they could go on to compete and indeed win over younger athletes if they so desired. As the above charts show, although pushing their peak of inherent abilities, they are still not that far off the mark to not be able to make up the difference by training harder. The biggest problem is motivation! At 33, with say 6, or in the case of Wayne Otto, 9 World Titles, an athlete has little more to prove and the importance of another title is dimmed by the extra training time needed to keep themselves at the same peak level as younger athletes. As we've seen with boxers, older athletes can rise above the age barrier and compete successfully. Unfortunately in Karate we don't have $20 million dollar purses to motivate the athletes to keep training and fighting. It would be nice though.... :-)

The other main reason is the accumulation of career injuries and the fact that new injuries take longer to heal with age.

Reference Material:

Bioperformance Parameter charts from Dr. Milorad V. Stricevic's "Conditioning and Training of Karate Athletes"

Thanks to the Author:
Thanks to Julian Forbes at Karate Athlete ( a website devoted to sports karate.

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