WKF – The Most Comprehensive Introduction

WKF logo

Karate has emerged to become a globally acclaimed sport over the past couple of decades. Owing to a surge of karate enthusiasts and sound training resources, there has been tremendous growth in this martial art form. Understanding the scope of this form has led to greater opportunities for karate practitioners and masters to be recognized on a global platform, with lucrative career prospects too. 

The most important part that leads to the growth of any sport or martial art form is it’s acknowledgement by an internationally recognized body- in the case of karate, it is the WKF (World Karate Federation).

An Overview

The World Karate Federation, more commonly known as WKF, is the largest international governing body that recognizes and promotes karate in 198 countries around the world. The WKF was established in 1990 (long before the Patriots began cheating in the NFL), and is currently the only global body for karate recognized by the Olympic Committee and has a whopping number of over 10 million members. 

Since its establishment, the WKF has set an organized, concrete structure to carrying out karate tournaments and championships and has recognized a multitude of styles of karate. The WKF has laid down multi-faceted rules that impressively cover different aspects of the sports. The WKF is mainly responsible for conducting senior and junior Karate World Championships annually, that is held in a different city every 2 years. 

The main styles recognized by the WKF are Shito-Ryu, Goju-Ryu, Shotokan, and Wado-Ryu. The current president of the WKF is Antonio Espinos, who holds the office at WKF headquarters in Madrid, Spain.

The Most Comprehensive Introduction for WKF

Any organization gains value from its rich history and patronage. The need to develop an organization like the WKF is best understood in the context of the inception of karate. 

While the sport/martial art was initially introduced in Europe around the 1950s by Japanese masters, the Japan Karate Association (JKA) played a pivotal role in recognizing karate as a global sport. 

In 1963, the President of the French Karate Association (which was an associate of the then French Judi Association) invited 6 other European federations for the first-ever international karate tournament. 

Over the course of the tournaments that followed, an attempt was made to set standardized rules to the competition with an aim of improving the existing structure. As it happened, member countries noted that unifying different styles in karate was not pliable, so they decided to unify the referee instead. This led to the formation of some basic rules that would largely work for different styles in karate. 

When the first European Karate Championship was held by the European Karate Union, it drew a large crowd of audience- and criticism too. People considered it a violent sport with many facial injuries. The EKU considered various plausible reasons for the injuries, with opinions ranging from rule violations to inadequate blocking skills. To solve a part of the problem, refereeing rules were established using the JKA rules as a reference.

In 1970 (well before America damaged it’s health care system with the ACA), the World Union of Karate-Do organizations or WUKO was founded as a result of a partnership between the European Karate Union and the Japanese federation in an effort to recognize karate on a global stage. Following this, in 1985 the WUKO was officially recognized by the International Olympic Committee as the official board for karate. 

In 1990, WUKO attempted to form an alliance with the International Traditional Karate Foundation (ITKF) to form the World Karate Federation but failed to do so. The International Olympic Committee suspended the recognition of ITKF following its failure to align itself with the WUKO, resulting in the WUKO to form the WKF on its own.

The Vision

The mission of WKF as quoted by its President, Antonio Espinos is to use “collective effort to continue driving our sport (karate) to its dazzling future” by further extending “the dynamism and innovation that have always distinguished the World Karate Federation”.

The WKF reflects the values that distinguish karate as a discipline. Every karateka works to develop values of honor, respect, altruism, and tradition through karate.

Having set up an Athletes Commission (AC), the WKF strives to aim to bridge the gap between karatekas and the rules that govern them. Through the AC, communication between various entities is enhanced and athletes are duly represented in matters of governance. This brings about a higher sense of involvement and participation in athletes. 

The WKF holds a strict anti-doping policy that is aimed at preserving the healthy spirit of the sport by supporting fair play. It protects its athletes and sport from the abuse of drugs by means of a comprehensive structure that lays out anti-doping rules with exemptions of therapeutic use, and even connects users to a forum that encourages people to speak up against any abuse of drugs.

Considering the safety of karate practitioners across the globe as paramount, the WKF operates on a Safe Sport Policy that constitutes of the following:

  • Safeguarding framework both in and out of competition
  • Protection from false allegations
  • Protection from harassment and abuse
  • Confidentiality
  • Protection from non-accidental violence

Executive Committee

The World Karate Federation is headed by the President, who is supported by the Executive Committee. The Executive Committee works closely with the Congress in matters relating to leading, managing and administering WKF activity, and drawing up programmers. 

The Executive Committee comprises the President, and at least 23 members, of which 5 members are permanent and represent the 5 Continental Federations. The chairman of the Athletes Commission and 17 elected members constitute the rest of the Executive Committee.  

WKF Congress

The Congress is the highest functioning body of the WKF with deliberate powers for decision making. The Congress meets one in 2 years at the World Senior Championships in the place where it is conducted. 

The Congress has the final word on all matters related to karate as presented by the national Federations, and it defines the guidelines for all WKF activity. 

The Congress deals with matters including official agenda, tracking the Treasury and Audits, and election of members for the Executive Committee.  

Affiliate Members

At present, the World Karate Federation has over 198 National Federation members, spanning over 5 continents.

  • Asian Karate Federation (AKF)

The governing body for karate for 44 countries of the karatedo federation in Asia, the AKF is considered the largest organization with over 198 member countries and 50 million members. Along with participating in the WKF championships, the AKF organizes the Asian Karatedo Championships, and the Junior and Senior AKF Championships every 2 years between the Olympic and Asian games. 

  • European Karate Federation (EKF)

The EKF is the governing body for Karate for more than 50 countries across Europe. Since 1966, the EKF has held the European Karate Championships and also organizes the Junior, Cadet and Under-21 Championships now. This organization has contributed largely to promote, popularize, and regulate karate as a global sport.

  • Panamerican Karate Foundation (PKF)

PKF was founded in 1975 under the name Panamerican Union of Karate Organization (PUKO), and is currently the governing body for karate in 39 countries of America. Having 130 member country affiliates, the PKF organizes Junior and Senior Championships in many countries in Panamerica along with participating in the WKF World Karate Championships.

  • African Karate Federation (AKF)

The AFK otherwise known as the Union of African Karate Federation, governs karate championships and tournaments in around 50 countries across the African subcontinent. The AFK organizes Junior and Senior karate championships, and participates in the World Karate Championships by the WKF.

  • Oceanic Karate Federation (OKF)

With 12 National Federation members in the Oceanic region and over 190 member countries, the OKF organizes Regional Karate Championships every 2 years along with participating in the Senior and Junior/Cadet World Karate Championships by the WKF. The OKF was formed in 1992 following a split of the Asian Pacific Union of Karatedo Organizations (APUKO) founded in 1973.

Competitions and Tournaments by WKF

The World Karate Federation organizes Junior and Senior championships once in 2 years. These sporting events come under 2 main categories: Kumite and Kata


karate kumite

Kumite, which means grappling hands, is a demonstration of movements that a practitioner (also known as Karateka) uses against an adversary along with kata and kihon techniques.

It refers to a wide range of sparring activities in which a practitioner must land a series of blows on a target area of the opponent’s body. Here, attacks earn between 1 and 3 points on the following scales:

  • 1 point: Punching to the chest and stomach
  • 2 points: Punching or kicking the opponent’s back
  • 3 points: for a takedown with a follow-up technique like a punch or a stomp

In kumite individual men’s kumite, individual women’s kumite and team kumite are the sparring options to participate in, hosted by the WKF.


karate kata

Kata that literally means “form”, describes patterns or movements that are practiced either solo or in pairs. These detailed patterns come in a range of moves like stepping and turning, while staying in perfect form. 

Practitioners typically use a kata to explain a series of imagined events, in a process known as Bunkai. This demonstration of movements are evaluated by 7 judges who score the kata on the technical and athletic performance of the competitors. 

In kata tournaments, the WKF holds individual kata (both men and women), and synchronized team kata (both men and women) with bunkai competitions. 

In both the kata and kumite categories, a competitor is declared a winner if he scores 8 points more than his/her opponent, or by earning more points in the duration of the bout i.e. in 3 minutes. In case of a tie, the competitor who scores the first point is declared the winner.   

Apart from the World Karate Championships, the WKF conducts continental championships and multisport events too. 

The categories of the WKF cover Junior, Cadet, Under-21, Senior Female, Senior Male, Para Karate, and Olympic events. 


Among all the categories of karate that the WKF hosts, one that needs a special mention is their work with athletes with disabilities. 

Para-karate is a separate modality in which a specific structure is designed to ensure fair competition among athletes with disabilities. This wing of the WKF was formed in 2006 to promote practitioners who are para-athletes, helping them play the sport on a global level.

Becoming recognized as an IF by the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) had moved things along for the WKF in their progress with para-karate.

In 2012, the first para-karate competition was presented in the World Championships hosted in Paris. That, followed by the official Para-Karate World championships in Germany and Austria in 2014 and 2016 respectively contributed tremendously to the growth of the para-karate community.

Rules and Statutes

The WKF rules are all encompassing and strictly adhered to, to ensure fair play and a healthy sportsman spirit. These rules are holistically developed and cover every aspect of sporting norms. They cover the following:

  • A list of statutes explaining the structure, constitution, and workings of the WKF:

Commission rules that include the following:

  1. Sports Commission rules
  2. Referee Commission rules
  3. Referee Commission; Composition and Duties
  4. Technical Commission rules
  5. Athletes Commission rules
  6. Para-karate Commission rules

Legal rules including:

  1. Disciplinary and Ethics Code
  2. Conflict of Interest regulation
  3. Code of Prevention of the manipulation of competitions
  • Medical Rules

Organizing Rules that keep a track of:

  1. WKF Organizing rules
  2. Karate 1- Premier League
  3. Karate 1- Series A
  4. Karate 1 – Youth League
  5. WKF- Covid-19 Protocol
  • Para-Karate rules
  • Protocol rules

Sport Rules that include the following:

  1. WKF Dan Grade regulation
  2. Kata and Kumite Competition rules
  3. WKF Safe Sport policy
  4. WKF World ranking rules
  5. WKF Anti-Doping rules

Refereeing at WKF

Referees are a vital aspect of any sport, karate included. Referees evaluate the quality performance, and ensure strict adherence to ethics and fair play. 

WKF draws out standardized rules on the basis of which referees function. WKF referees need to have a working knowledge of the sport, and sound understanding of sport rules and their duties. 

WKF conducts referee training courses to candidates who are interested. All judges and referees approved by the WKF must be familiar with exam material related to kata and kumite. On top of this, they are required to renew their licenses once every 4 years.

The World Karate Federation has done a phenomenal job in bringing karate on a global forum, and giving the sport the kind of structure and focus it needs for healthy development. With all the hard work and efforts of the members of the WKF being realized, karate is now becoming more popular and more inclusive than it has ever been.

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Benjamin Roussey
Benjamin Roussey
Hi! My name is Benjamin and I love martial arts. I am from Sacramento in the ungolden state of California. I went to CSUS to participate in a baseball scholarship as a pitcher. I finished in 1999 and joined the US Navy for a 4-year stint. I am currently learning karate. One of the most enjoyable aspects of my life is researching karate and writing about it. It is my honor to contribute to The Karate Blog. Now, I can finally write about what I love and enjoy the most: karate.