Should forms be part of Taekwondo at the Olympics?

Taekwondo has been an Olympic medal sport since the 2000 Sydney games. It is the second East Asian martial art to be introduced to the Olympic Games – the first being Judo. In 2020, at the Tokyo Games, Karate will be the third East Asian martial art to be included in the Games.

At most non-Olympic Taekwondo competitions, there are a variety of events: sparring, tag-team sparring, forms, team forms, board-breaking, and sometimes even musical forms. In the Taekwondo at the Olympics, there are only sparring events – sparring being one of the better spectator sports. However, when Karate joins the Olympics, there will be both kumite (sparring) and kata (forms) events. This leads me to ask: should there also be forms events for the Taekwondo at the Olympic Games?

Firstly, the Olympics are odd in how they include East Asian martial arts. It’s odd to include only Judo, Taekwondo, and Karate, and not so many of the other equally-valid East Asian martial arts, such as Kendo or modern Wushu. The Olympics are, of course, originally a European tradition, which is why they include so many of the traditional European sports, such as javelin, discus, shot put, the triathlon, and the pentathlon, but if East Asian martial arts are going to be included, why only those three? And given the similarity of Taekwondo and Karate, why is Karate only being included in the Olympics 20 years after Taekwondo?

Part of the reason for this may be which sports and events are best for spectators. Taekwondo and Karate are similar, so will spectators want to watch both? And this may also be part of the reason why forms are not part of Olympic Taekwondo. Sparring is faster and more explosive, so more exciting for spectators to watch. It’s also easier to understand – whoever lands the most shots (generally) wins. With forms, however, unless you have some training in Taekwondo, it’s difficult to know when watching a form whether it’s been performed well or not.

However, if forms are being included in the Karate events, then there’s no reason why they can’t be included in the Taekwondo events. Also, since forms are part of every other Taekwondo competition, and the Olympics are supposed to be the ultimate world competition for the sports that are included, then there should be forms events in the Olympic Taekwondo. As for making the forms events interesting for spectators, that’s what commentators are for – commentators are experts on the sport who guide the audience through what’s happening.

So I think that forms should be included in the Taekwondo at the Olympics. They show a different set of athletic abilities to sparring – jumping reverse turning kicks are rarely used in sparring, but they are difficult to perform well and spectacular to watch. Kukkiwon recently announced the development of ten new forms specifically to be used for competitions, and they are notably ‘flashier’ than the other Kukkiwon forms (and than most other forms in Taekwondo), with more kicks and kicking combinations, and more complicated kicks. Perhaps these forms were designed to be more exciting to watch, and thus designed to be used at an Olympic Taekwondo forms event.