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Rika Usami: 10 astonishing facts about the Queen of Kata

The picture shows Rika Usami the Kata World Champion of 2012.

Rika Usami is by far one of the most famous contemporary Karateka world wide. She is best known for her Kata victory at the World Championships in Paris 2012. In this article, we present you 10 astonishing facts about her life and Karate career.

by Dr. Christian Tribowski

Rika Usami trained Goju-ryu first and moved then to Shito-ryu

Rika Usami was born on February 20, 1986, in Tokyo Japan, and began Karate with 10 years. However, while she is known today as one of the top Shito-ryu representatives she started her Karate education in a different style, namely Goju-ryu. She explained the reason for this in an interview with Jesse Enkamp a few years ago:

“The reason was because one day I saw a cool female fighter on TV, which made me really curious about the martial arts. Back then, my older brother had already been practising Karate for a while, even letting me wear his gi on occasions, so that helped me a lot when I decided to eventually start practising Karate myself.”

We do not know exactly when she moved on to Shito-ryu. But a lot suggest that it was when she met legendary Yoshimi Inoue (1946-2015), who later became her Sensei in 2005. Inoue, whose athletes collected 20 world championship titles over the course of his career, was one of the major Shito-ryu masters of the last 40 years.

Rika Usami started competing with 12 years of age

Rika Usami began competing with 12 years of age. Back then, she was a green belt as Patrick Donkor found out. After a few local tournaments she attended the national school competition in 2001. While she already showed some talent at that time, it took her two years until she won the first bigger title in 2003: the national high school championships.

9 years later, she reached the ultimate goal and became World Champion in Paris. Rika was 28 back then. Between her first competition and her victory in Paris lay 16 years. Thus, Rika is also a great role model when it comes to perseverance and endurance. Nothing comes easy and without many years of hard training – even for Rika Usami.

Yoshimi Inoue made Rika Usami the champion she is today

The foundation of her success has been, of course, her dedication and hard work. However, both needed excellent guidance to flourish. This guidance came from Yoshimi Inoue as mentioned earlier.

How important he was for Rika Usami show two instances. Firstly, she moved from the vibrant metropolis of Tokyo to the Tottori Prefecture in the north-west of the Honshu peninsula, where Soke Inoue ran the Keishin Kai Hombu Dojo. For people from Tokyo, the Tottori Prefecture appears to be a hicksville at the end of the world. Unlike the industrial belt at the south cost of Japan, the north is less populated, poorer, and winters can become long and harsh. Thus, one needs a very good reason to move from Tokyo to the the boonies. In case of Rika Usami, it was the master tutelage of Yoshimi Inoue.

Secondly, shortly after joining his Dojo, she won her first international Kata title at the 4th World Junior & Cadet Karate Championships held on Cyprus. This first big success was followed by several victories at several All Japan Karate-Do Championships and a third place at the World Championships in Belgrad in 2010 before she finally became World Champion in 2012. The tutelage of Yoshimi Sensei had, hence, a very positive effect on Rikas Karate and competition performance.

Strength Training is very important for Rika Usami

While Yoshimi Inoue had a great influence on her technical precision, he also focused on another aspect of her Karate: physical conditioning. Older pictures of Yoshimi Inoue show his splendid physic.

Until today, Rika Usami stresses the importance of conditioning the body for Karate:

“Strength training is the starting point for my techniques, and it’s actually very important for this reason.”

Even during seminars, she shows how she exercises in order to strengthen her body and to develop the physical foundation for her strong techniques.

Best Kata performance of All Times

On 21 November 2012, the finals of the 21st WKF World Karate Championships took place at the Palais Omnisports de Paris-Bercy in Paris, France. Rika Usamis opponent was Sandy Scordo from France, who also belong to the Top 5 of the Kata world. Thus, the audience was ready to witness an excellent heads competition between two elite athletes.

What happened instead was a stunning performance by Rika Usami that many deem as the best Kata performance during a championship ever. Rika chose the Kata Chantanya Kushanku (for the Kata see video below) from Shito-ryu. The Kata is characterized by several fast changes of the direction and height. Even the fight from below is demonstrated. While it omits high kicks but incorporates a rather simple jump – compared to Unsu, for instance, – at the end, the Kata requires a tremendous body control and balance. Especially, the generation of power through the quick rotation of the body is crucial for an excellent execution.

Sandy Scordo, on the other hand, chose Gojushiho Sho, a Kata, that is nothing less complex and challenging like Chatanyara Kushanku. And Sandy delivered a splendid performance. However, Rika Usami was unbeatable on that day.

Her presents, grace, and spirit created the impression as if she was made for that moment. Being full in her flow, letting the rhythm, execute itself, and maintaining nothing but the highest technical standard she delivered the Kata performances of all Kata performances. She set the benchmark, what Kata is or must be, new during these two and a half minutes.

The audience recognized this true historical moment and started cheering for her even before she finished the Kata. Afterwards, she gained the deserved standing ovations.

Rika Usami Kata Performance has been watched more than 16 Million times

And her performance still enchants the masses. On Youtube, Rika Usamis final Chatanyara Kushanku has been video more than 16 million times, which makes the video, without a doubt, one if not the most watched Karate videos in the history history of the internet. Watch it right below.

She is a Karate instructor at Kokushinkan University

Rika Usamit retired from competitive Karate only one year after her World Championship victory. However, she has not left Karate. While in Tottori, Rika Usami already worked for the Tottori Prefectural Board of Education. Becoming a teacher or Karate instructor was, thus, a logical next step for her. To do so she had to graduate from University first. And she chose the Alma mater of her mother: Kokushinkan University in Tokyo.

Kokushinkan University is also a stronghold of martial arts education in Japan. Especially the Judo club has produced several Olympic Gold Medalist. Also legendary Karate masters like Mikio Yahara studied at Kokushinkan.

Since her retirement, Rika Usami has not solely taught at Kokushinkan. She has held many seminar in different countries throughout the years. Therefore, nobody has to worry: You will have the opportunity to experience her magical Katas sooner or later. Just watch out for a seminar close to you.

Olympics Ambassador of JKF

Rika Usami also remained in a another role important in the field of Karate. She became a Goodwill Ambassador by the Japan Karate Federation in 2015 in order to promote the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo. Karate was supposed to be the first and only time one of the disciplines during the Games. Together with Mahiro Takano and Juri Iwata she traveled through Japan and visited schools to present the art of Karate.

Many would have wished to see Rika Usami start in the Olympic Games. But her retirement and Corona made this dream unimaginable.

Rika Usami promoted the Olympics together with Miki Nakamachi

In October 2019, another unimaginable event took place: Rika Usami and Miki Nakamachi of the non-Olympic JKA joint forces and performed together in a promotion video for the Olympics. The Kata tandem was accompanied by the Japanese Kumite experts Ken Nishimura and Ryutaro Arago.

The movie they shot was meant to be an introduction to the disciplines of Kata and Kumite. Beside that it should make the wider audience of non-Karateka acquainted with Karate during the Olympic Games. As Miki Nakamachi stated did the production company find them through YouTube and approached them. This comes as no surprise considering the success of Rika Usamis video of the finals at the 2012 World Championships.

Rika Usami is a mother of a 3 year old boy

What comes as a surprise for many is the fact that Rika Usami is a mother of a four year old boy. She gave birth on June 9, 2017. Find a picture of Rika Usami and her boy here.

The father is unknon to us. But we know that Rika got married two years earlier. Rumor has it that he is not Japanese.

However, we do not want to convey rumors but wish the greatest Kata champion of all times and her family a long, happy, and satisfying life. All the best to Rika Usami!

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Komazawa University reports about Portrait of Miki Suetsugu

The picture shows two students and the emblem/logo of Komazawa University in Tokyo.

We are very happy to announce that Komazawa University in Tokyo, Japan, has reported about our portrait of Miki Suetsugu in our Women of Shotokan series.

The picture shows the announcement at the Komazawa University website.

Miki Suetsugu: Associate Professor at Komazawa University

The short report covers our feature of Miki Suetsugu because she is an associate Professor at the Sports and Health Sciences Department as well as at the General Education and Research Department at Komazawa University. In addition, she also coaches the Karate Club at Komazawa University.

One of her major research projects comprises the involvement of women in karate. It examines the support structures women have or the systems lacks of during their karate life-course.

Being a Komazawa University graduate Miki Suetsugu also was a member of the karate club. Here she gained the power, the skills, and attitude to win the 1st  place in the Kumite, Team Kata, and Team Kumite competition at the 44th National Championship Tournament 2001.

Komazawa University

Komazawa University (駒澤大學, Komazawa Daigaku) is among the oldest institutions of higher learning in Japan. Its establishment took place in 1592. It first served as a seminary for the Sōtō sect, one of the major ZenBuddhist traditions in Japan. Later it was further developed in a full university with several departments. However, its present curriculum and educational approach still applies Zen Buddhist concepts.

Today, is comprises three main campuses in Setagaya-ku, Tokyo. These three campuses are:

  • Komazawa campus
  • Futakotamagawa campus
  • Fukasawa campus

Famous Komazawa University Karate Club

The Karate Club of the university belongs also to the best and strongest in Japan. Famous karate instructors like Oishi Takeshi, Izumiya Seizo, Kobayashi Kunio, Okuie Satomi, and Kurihara Kazuaki attended Komazawa University and the karate club.

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Miki Suetsugu – Women of Shotokan

The picture shows Miki Suetsugu doing a Shuto Uke.

Miki Suetsugu is a real powerhouse. As karateka she prefers kumite and has won the kumite title at the All Japan Championship 2001. She likes shobu Ippon because it comes close to self-defense. On the other hand, Miki-san has an incredible intellectual and academic record. She holds a position as associate professor at the sports and health department at Komazawa University.

However, although her successes suggest that she never faced any difficulties in her life, Miki Suetsugu experienced challenges. As a child she was “introvert and never succeed[ed]”. She first had to learn to “not give up, good things would come.” Later in her karate career and after she became a mother she suffered an injury. The outlook to never practice karate like before caused a mental depression. But she overcome all setbacks and has grown stronger than before.

Today, she fights for equal rights of men and women in karate. To do so she uses her academic skills to conduct a survey about the “Current Situation of Women Involved in Karate”. The results shall shed light on the difficulties women face who practice karate during different life-stages. Miki Suetsugu is currently looking for international participants in the survey. The Shotokan Times supports the study.

We invite you to let yourself become inspired by this very personal and enriching portrait of Miki Suetsugu. She is not just a champion and great academic, she is also a very humble, thoughtful, and dedicated role model for karate men and women alike.

Portrait of Miki Suetsugu

The picture shows a portrait of Miki Suetsugu.
Miki Suetsugu
  • Name: Miki SUETSUGU (Miki INOKOSHI) 
  • Age: 40
  • Karate since: 1985
  • Origin and residence: Saga/Japan
  • (Kyu/Dan) Rank: 
  • 6th Dan certified by JAPAN KARATEDO FEDERATION
  • Dojo: KOMAZAWA UNIVERSITY & SEIKUJUKU (My husband’s dojo)
The picture shows Miku Suetsugu and her husband Yusuke Inokoshi.
Miki Suetsugu and her husband Yusuke Inokoshi.

Additional information (member of a national team, coach, board member of a Dojo, highest achievements, etc.):

  • Associate Professor, Department of Sport and Health Science of KOMAZAWA UNIVERSITY 
  • A member of Japan Society of Physical Education, Health and Sport Sciences
  • Member of Japanese Academy of Budo
  • Member of Japan Society for Sport and Gender Studies
  • Representative of JAPAN KARATE ASSOCIATION (Representative of a head office direct control group) 
  • KOMAZAWA UNIVERSITY Karate Do Club Coach
  • Triple 1st  place Kumite Women, Team Kata, and Team Kumite at the 44th National Championship Tournament 2001 
  • 5th place Kumite Women, 45th National Championship Tournament 2002 
  • 7th place Kata Women, 45th National Championship Tournament 2002
  • 2nd place Team Kumite, 47th National Championship Tournament 2007 

What was the reason that you started Shotokan Karate?

Miki Suetsugu: When I was six years old, a friend of my mother visited our home with her child. They wore dogi uniforms and showed me Heian Shodan. This was the impetus through which my older sister and I began karate at a nearby dojo. The dojo was of a high caliber, with many national champions among its members. For this reason, I was able to start my life as a karate practitioner in an excellent environment. The sensei of the dojo emphasized kihon. The fact that I was taught the kihon at that time still serves me well today.

The picture shows Miki Suetsugu at the 44th All Japan Championship 2001.
Miki Suetsugu at the 44th All Japan Championship 2001

What do you like about Shotokan Karate?

Miki Suetsugu: I like the emphasis on shobu ippon in kumite matches. The rules at the WKF were amended when karate-do was adopted as an Olympic sport. Together with this, the concept of ippon was greatly altered. Within the present kumite match rules at the WKF, points are added based on the variety of the waza instead of the strength of the waza:

  • jodan geri, etc. are three points – ippon,
  • chudan geri, etc. are two points – waza ari, and a
  • tsuki waza is one point – yuko.

As the Olympics take into account the interest of the audience, it might be said that these rules were devised to be understood more easily by amateurs (easy in terms of determining the basis for superiority and inferiority). But for me as an experienced practitioner of karate, the current WKF matches are not very interesting. I feel that the ippon concept that emerged from budo has changed, and the strength and maneuvering of the waza, the zanshin, the beauty of the form, etc., has weakened. The rules of judo have changed in a number of ways, but not in the same way as karate-do where the points change based on the type of waza.

The ippon judgement standard, which is based on the strength of the waza, has not changed. One can say the system of point alteration based on waza is a unique feature of the WKF. Thus, karate-do became a sport. The important rei aspect in budo has become a shell of its former self. I will speak more on this later. While I think the WKF decision to turn karate into into a sport is fantastic for the future of the discipline, I am more intrigued by the shobu ippon of the JKA, an organization that places importance on tradition.

In addition, I support the fact the JKA has not introduced weight divisions. From a self-defense perspective, I think the shobu ippon of the JKA is more practical. The fact that it places emphasis on shobu ippon matches in the same manner as other martial arts (kendo and judo), based on a comprehensive evaluation of considerations such as the strength of the waza, balance and zanshin, is to me interesting and appealing.

The picture shows Miki Suetsugu and the Komazawa University Team after the 57th All Japan Championship 2014.
Miki Suetsugu and the Komazawa University Team after the 57th All Japan Championship 2014.

Is there something you do not like? What is it? 

Miki Suetsugu: This is not limited to Shotokan. Limited activity on the part of women and limited activity spaces for women are a problems across karate-do. I am engaged in child-rearing and experience mental conflict every day. I cannot be as active as I was when I was single. My husband, Yusuke Inokoshi, and my parents-in-law have an understanding of karate. Therefore, I am blessed with an environment where I can be active. Nevertheless, I have a limited amount of time to be active. I wondered if other women experienced even greater difficulties, so I conducted a survey targeting women involved in karate-do.*

Recently, we created spaces where women play a central role, such as seminars and other events. But we have made very few appointments of women to decision-making bodies. Upon analyzing my own experiences and the results of the survey I felt the karate-do system as a whole to be male-centric. Women, who cannot coordinate their time in the same way as men, face significant difficulties. While one might say that the number of female competitors is increasing, the overall environment is not improving. We still need to address issues in fostering female executives, instructors, referees, etc.

* I have included a copy of the “Summary of Results for the Questionnaire Targeting Japanese Respondents” for your reference.

What has been your greatest and your worst experience so far related to Shotokan Karate?

Miki Suetsugu: My best experience was in 2001. In my fourth year at university, I won the individual kumite and team kata and kumite events at the National Championship Tournament. In particular, at the finals held at Nippon Budokan many people supported me. I was very happy to see those people celebrating my victory. When I was in elementary school, I was an introvert and never succeed. However, this was also the time in which I taught myself that if I did not give up, good things would come. Most of the national level group I learned karate with at the dojo quit. But I continued steadily training, all the while thinking, “Am I not suited for karate?”.  I attribute my success to this.

My worst experience came three years after I became a mother. When I restarted my keiko (training) and injured myself. I constantly trained six years old until I became pregnant. However, I could not conceptualize the deterioration of my physical strength following the period without training. This was the cause of my injury. I was impatient with the difference between my personal ideal and my actual performance. In my all-out drive I tore a muscle performing a mae geri.

The picture shows Miki Suetsugu at the 4th COLUMBUS 1492 Friendly Karate Competition 2019 Italy.
Miki Suetsugu at the 4th COLUMBUS 1492 Friendly Karate Competition 2019 Italy.

While I had experienced injuries before, this injury was due to the reality that my physical strength had deteriorated. Realizing this I fell into a mental depression as well. However, I learned many things as a result of this injury. I realized I was no longer at an age at which I could achieve the impossible, that there were levels to things, and that my physical strength and endurance had deteriorated. As a result of this injury I was able to once again come face-to-face with myself.

What do you do when the training becomes challenging? Where do you get motivation from?

Miki Suetsugu: I was planning to participate in competitions and undergo a rank promotion examination in 2019. But I had to abandon this plan due to an injury. Since then I have been preparing myself a little at a time. When I was injured, my husband said, “While you won’t return to normal immediately after the time off, you resolutely practiced the kihon for many years. You won’t just all of a sudden get bad at it.” While my body did not move as I envisioned, and I came close to faltering many times, these words allowed me to regain my confidence.

My old teacher, Takeshi Oishi, is now more than 70 years old. But he still hits the makiwara and kicks the sandbag. I learned the importance of this, not through words, but with my own eyes. Shihan Oishi taught me the importance of continuing keiko without saying a word. This has become my motivation when I engage in karate-do.

The picture shows Miki Suetsugu at the Komazawa University Gasshuku  in Miyagi in 2004. Together with her on the picture: Oishi Shihan, Kurihara, Okuie, Sugiyama, Inokoshi.
Miki Suetsugu at the Komazawa University Gasshuku in Miyagi in 2004. Together with her on the picture: Oishi Shihan, Kurihara, Okuie, Sugiyama, Inokoshi.

How has Shotokan Karate changed you as a person? 

Miki Suetsugu: From an early age, I was an introverted person, who did not continue educational activities for long. The exception to this was karate, which I have continued learning non-stop for over 30 years.  I cannot explain why this was the case. If one were to ask me if I like karate, I would not have an answer. However, there must be some reason why I have continued until now. I suppose almost everyone at the dojo where I began karate thought I lacked talent in this area. And I was aware of this more than anyone.

As a result of my decision to practice karate, I continued without a break. I learned what it means to not quit, to not answer immediately, to continue, and to believe in myself. Because of this I believe I have achieved considerable growth as a person. In addition, I was able to come to understand the fun of keiko with my fellow practitioners. Keiko also taught me to overcome difficulties. Those experiences serve me well today. And I also still have many personal relationships in and through karate.

The picture shows Miki Suetsugu doing a Shuto Uchi.
Miki Suetsugu doing a Shuto Uchi.

How has Shotokan Karate influenced your life? Has it helped you overcome or deal with difficult situations in your life? Is it helping you on a daily basis with the challenges of life?

Miki Suetsugu: One thing I learned in karate is “Rei.” When I first started learning karate, rei was mandatory in the dojo. I always performed rei (the bowing motion) as part of my conduct. At graduate school I conducted research about rei in order to answer why it has been so important in budo.

From the Confucian text Book of Rites: “The rei was established in ancient China, and it possesses a lubricating effect that harmonizes human relationships. People have used the rei from days long past to rectify order within society.” The format of the rei is not only an outward expression of bowing. It also possesses a meaning of placing importance on wa, the concept of joining personal demeanor in a space occupied by multiple persons.

In budo there is a maxim, “Do not be prideful of winning, or resentful of losing; always maintain a moderate attitude.” Within karate-do we have many instances where people come into contact. Without rei, personal feelings would throw the space into disorder. In some matches, the tsuki and keri can become violent. I learned that the rei is the strict observance of the standards, rules and manners that exist within the one-to-one personal relationship of “opponent and self,” and the practical application of the mental strength to continually preserve a feeling of respect for one’s opponent.

While it is difficult to remain in the same state regardless of losing or winning (to not express one’s emotions outwardly), I was able to learn this attitude through karate-do. My personal interpretation of the reason that so tradition places importance on rei in budo and karate-do has helped me in building personal relationships in my daily life. Rei places importance on the wa of human relationships. Putting the rei to practical use has helped me in a wide range of circumstances. But I am still lacking in my training. In particular it is difficult to practice the rei toward my husband and son. In this I am quite self-reflective. As communication skills are necessary in life, I hope to further develop the rei I learned in karate-do and enable myself to develop as a person.

The Picture shows Miki Suetsugu doing a Choku-Zuki.
Miki Suetsugu doing Choku-Zuki.

How has your Shotokan Karate changed over time?

About 20 years ago, I studied tai chi on the recommendation of Shihan Oishi. In my keiko training to that time I was cognizant of how to move my upper body with speed and strength. But in encountering tai chi I became cognizant of my lower body. Tai chi is very slow-paced and has no kime. The unique body movements in tai chi are very difficult, and if your lower body in particular is not balanced you will quickly totter when trying to adjust your weight.

When I first began learning tai chi I understood it to be a discipline separate from karate. When I performed a kata with the kiko of the slow tai chi manner it was quite difficult, and I discovered I could not perform as I had to that point. When moving from zenkutsu to zenkutsu, moving slowly results in my upper body faltering and I cannot perform the finer parts that were being tricked by the speed.  As a repeated the keiko training in which I was cognizant of my lower body I realized my upper body, especially my posture, was in balance. In kumite keiko training as well, I am constantly cognizant of my lower body. Especially during kumite the strain in my upper body has disappeared. The initial motions have lessened considerably, and I sense increased sturdiness in my body trunk.

I can perform the quick motions with relative ease, but now that I can slowly move my upper body without wavering, I have even come to think I may have mastered a waza.

Through my experiences in tai chi I have come to gain an awareness of the importance of the lower body and the difficulty of moving slowly. The scope of my keiko training has broadened considerably and I have rediscovered the deep complexity of karate.

The picture shows Miki Suetsugu showing the kumite glove.
Miki Suetsugu showing the kumite glove.

What are your personal Shotokan Karate short- and long-term goals?

Miki Suetsugu: As I am currently on parental leave, I cannot attend keiko at Komazawa University. My short-term goal is to return to teaching and keiko as soon as possible. I also want to get myself back into a condition that allows me to train together with the students. It will become increasingly important to consider how to make time for my physical strength, conditioning, and keiko in daily life. Consulting with my husband and family, I would like to block time for this and get back to work quickly.

My long-term goal is to continue keiko throughout my entire life like Shihan Oishi. Shihan Oishi taught us not only with words, but also through actual movements. Now that I am in a teaching position, I can tell how difficult this was. In Shotokan, we have many elderly sensei who instruct through movement. Moving forward I would like to train my body to be able to move together with the students, with the goal being “lifelong keiko.”

How should Shotokan Karate evolve in the future?

Miki Suetsugu: JKA has many members, even those only within Japan, and even more globally. This is proof of Shotokan Karate’s attractiveness as a method for personal refinement. Karate-do has been selected as an Olympic event, which has created a great deal of enthusiasm. My expectation is that after the Olympics there will be a growth in interest in karate-do as it relates to tradition.

The picture shows Miki Suetsugu at the 4th COLUMBUS 1492 Friendly Karate Competition 2019 Italy.
Miki Suetsugu at the 4th COLUMBUS 1492 Friendly Karate Competition 2019 Italy.

I hope we will have an increase in the number of enthusiasts involved in karate-do who view it not as “sport karate,” but rather as a lifelong pursuit that conveys knowledge built up by our predecessors. At the same time, I am hopeful for the construction of a keiko and match system that can accommodate people in a wide variety of environments.

Would you recommend Shotokan Karate to your female friends? Why?

Miki Suetsugu: Of course I would recommend it. Shotokan Karate is dynamic and symmetric in its approach to teaching tsuki, keri, and other aspects. For that reason, it is ideal as a training method for improving leg, back, and torso strength, as well as one’s posture. 

I know of a recent public university course called, “Karate Classroom for Women.” Some of the women that first encountered karate-do through that course continue keiko today. Some women began after turning 40. Some women continue keiko even after getting their black belt. Their comments included the following:

“I can participate without overexerting myself.”
“Karate releases stress.”
“I don’t have any goal in mind.”

While we have a tendency to think of karate as an activity performed alone, we have opportunities to interact with people we train with at the dojo, as well as people you meet at competitions and other events. These interactions are some of life’s treasures. I also think it is nice that you can return after a off-period. I have many acquaintances who left karate after having a child. But we promised each other to start keiko together again after things settled down. Shotokan is like a home, and you can always come.

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Hiromi Hishiki – Women of Shotokan

Hiromi Hishiki is an extraordinary Karateka in many respects. She started her training under Masatoshi Nakayama and Tetsuhik Asai. The unprecedented spirit of this time coined her whole later life. Hiromi Hishiki belongs to the pioneer women, who dared to brake through cultural norms and customs.

While Japanese society excepted from her to get married with age 24 and not make a career she chose a different path. She became a successful business women and radio operator. With that attitude she is among the women who paved the way for future female karatekas.

Today, she runs her own dojo in Yokohama. Fighting spirit, equality, values, constant learning, and the will to create a better future for others have guide her actions since then. Let yourself become inspired by Hiromi Hishiki´s portrait and interview in our Women of Shotokan series.

Portrait: Hiromi Hishiki

  • Age: 60s
  • Karate since: 1967
  • Origin and residence: Hokkaido, Japan
  • Rank: 6th Dan
  • Dojo: “Hirokukai”( Hero Karate club), under the direct control of headquarters of Japan Karate Association (JKA) and “Karate lessons for women”, “karate Girls Dojo”, “Karate Kids in English” classes at Yomiuri Culture Center Yokohama, Japan

Additional information:

  • JKA Instructor B
  • 1978: 1st place Kata Women the 16th All Hokkaido Karatedo Championship
  • 2005: 1st place Kata Women (over 55yrs.) the 5th All Japan Jukurensha Karatedo Championship
  • 2006: 1st place Kata Women (over 55yrs.) the 6th All Japan Jukurensha Karatedo Championship
  • 2007: 1st place Kata & Kumite Women (over 55 yrs.) the 7th All Japan Jukurensha Karatedo Championship
  • Master’s thesis: “Dojo establishment by female Karate instructors in their local area and the development of their activities”
  • Member of Karatedo Specialist Subcommittee of Japanese Academy of Budo
  • Oral presentations at:
  • “A study of the founding of dojos by female karate instructors and their teaching activities” at the 1st (2013) International Budo Conference
  • “Karate, English and Children’s General Education: A Collaborative Venture” at the 2nd (2017) one of Japanese Academy of Budo.

What was the reason that you started Shotokan Karate?

Hiromi Hishiki: When I was a high school student, I saw an article titled “Karate girls in New York” along with four pictures. It showed a Shotokan Karatedo Dojo in New York. It took me all by surprise that American girls learned Japanese Karatedo. I had never known or had been interested in Karate before. Fortunately, a JKA branch was found in my town and I started to train.

Hiromi Hishiki during a foto session for a motorcycle company.
Hiromi Hishiki during a foto session for a motorcycle company.

What do you like about Shotokan Karate?

Hiromi Hishiki: I like the dynamic, exuberant, and gorgeous techniques of Shotokan Karate. But I also like the passionate, dedicated and perspective JKA headquarters instructors, Sempai (senior colleague), friends, and my students, who are all my fortunate and favorite factors.

Especially, Master Asai Tetsuhiko had taught Women classes of JKA headquarters, Ebisu, Tokyo on Tuesdays and Fridays in the 1970- 80’s. He gave us valuable opportunities, such as special women training camps in Tokyo, Chiba, Philippines, Taiwan, Hawaii and karate demonstrations.

In 1974, he organized the 1st All Japan Female Joint Training Camp for the period of 6 days from August 3rd until 8th at the National Olympics Memorial Youth Center, Tokyo. It consisted of 34 participants and scheduled for 15 hours from 6 am. until 9 pm. In those days, female Karate practitioners were still rare. Therefore, Master Asai aimed to teach correct skills to women. He sought to develop female abilities, female instructors, athletes for Kata competitions.

Despite his noble thought, I could no think of anything except putting up with severe training. Now, approx. 45 years passed, more than one third of participants have become active karate instructors. To mention only two: Kikuchi Takako-Sensei, Ooki Rumiko-Sensei. Without Master Asai’s perspective and passionate guidance, I would not have become a Karate instructor despite of my 20-year-break.

Hiromi Hishiki
Hiromi Hishikis QSL Card for Amateur Radio Operators

Is there something you do not like? What is it?

Hiromi Hishiki: It is very regrettable to say that there no female specialist instructors locker room exist in the headquarters Dojo. They have to use the same locker room like general female members including white belts. On the contrary, male instructors have their own locker rooms independently since the early days. The Karate specialist instructor intern training program was made in 1956. This opened the door for female Karateka. Since then there is no female instructors locker room.

Until today, 13 females graduated from the 2 years course since 1960’s. At present, three of them teach as headquarters instructors. Two of them are world Kumite champions. Even the top ranked female instructors are treated unfairly even for a locker room. Being a JKA conference member, I had proposed reform measures for women including this matter. I am still looking forward to find a new female instructor’s room in our 4th stories wide dojo. Will it take forever?

What has been your greatest and your worst experience so far related to Shotokan Karate?

Hiromi Hishiki: My greatest experience was that grand master Nakayama Masatoshi had the chance to explain Karatedo to His Majesty King Juan Carlos I and Her Majesty Queen Sofia of Spain during there visit in Japan in 1980. I had an honorable opportunity to perform Kata “Unsu“ in the garden of the State Guest House Akasaka Palace at that event. In addition, eight other JKA supreme headquarters instructors demonstrated passionately the ultimate synthesis of various Kumite and fighting techniques boasted by Great Master Nakayama. Among them were Master Abe Keigo, Master Tanaka Masahiko, Master Osaka Yoshiharu.

  • Hiromi Hishiki
  • Hiromi Hishiki

My worst experience is that I sometimes suffered injuries, after restarting Karate training since my 50s. My consciousness kept vividly the speed and strength of all movements when I had learned in my 20s. Yet, the rusty body caused my knee to lock. Thanks to my physiotherapy my knee was recovered enough so that I could join our generation’s championship and obtain my 6th Dan. But the ruptures of the gastrocnemius of my leg and biceps brachii of my dominant arm were made in succession last year. It’s such a pity! I am awaiting Doctor’s permission to continue my Karate training.

What do you do when the training becomes challenging? Where do you get motivation from? How has Shotokan Karate changed you as a person?

Hiromi Hishiki: When the training became challenging in my youth, I devoted myself to tough training. I did each Kata and technique 100 times in order to clear my mind without any precise motivation. Karate taught me the limit of my physically and mentally endurance.

How has Shotokan Karate influenced your life? Has Shotokan Karate helped you overcome or deal with difficult situations in your life?

Hiromi Hishiki: Karate delivered me great happiness twice in my life. First time it happened in the 1970s. There was an unreasonable Japanese custom that women should got marriage before 24 years. Society expected from or forced female workers to resign office at that age, which irritated me very much. As I wanted to be stronger, I dedicated myself to Karate training after working in the office every day. Ironically Karate Dojo’s were a typical place of patriarchal society. Nevertheless, I was enchanted by the principles of Shotokan Karatedo, the aura of the karate by the headquarter instructors and my peers.

Second, in 2000, I abruptly went to hospital due to overwork after established my company a half year earlier. Soon after, my respective Sempai suddenly called me to return to the Women’s classes of JKA headquarters for the first time since 1981. I had quit Karate back then in order to balance a full time job and caring a baby, while my husband stayed overseas on business. So, without her offer, I would be neither an instructor nor would I have earned a master’s degree on Karatedo.

Has Shotokan Karate has confronted you with difficult situations in your life?

Hiromi Hishiki: I faced great difficulty in my life after I established my own Dojo for several years. As I have my business career in trading transactions over many decades and a 1st class radio operator, I was confident in dealing with any task. However, I realized that the Karate world differs from the one of business and Radio.

  • Hiromi Hishiki

When I started my Dojo

Hiromi Hishiki: Soon after the registration of my own Dojo to headquarters, I appreciated a high ranked instructor who kindly promised me to support kyu grading tests twice a year in my Dojo. After that, however, all fees and kyu registrations got transmitted to the headquarter and his account without delay. Shortly after, he asked me to use his Dojo’s black belts as instructors in my Dojo regularly. It was impossible that other people were not allowed to teach Karate. Because I had exchanged the contract with the commercial based culture center as an instructor in advance.

Another day, he got offended because I named my own Dojo by myself and not the same as his Dojo. I wondered if an inexperienced female instructor is supposed to meet the high ranked instructor’s desire once she asked his assistance. His way might be the chivalrous spirit. He declared that he stopped his support to my Dojo as he had never seen such a rude woman like me. In fact, there are many female Karate instructors who are willing to work under male instructor as his docile assistant permanently.

Disproportionate Number of Female Instructors

I think, it is natural that I should manage my Dojo independently as well as other male instructors do. In the case beyond my ability, I wish to ask other’s help in part. That does not mean to integrate my Dojo into other ones. My research in 2012 has shown, that there has been a significantly disproportionate number of female instructors compared to males. Of the 925 group and branch representatives only 21 are female.

In the world of amateur radio, many female radio operators organized the international YL (Young Lady) meetings voluntarily and spontaneously in various countries since 1991. I also organized the 2nd International meeting with two ladies in Osaka. Some female hams from Europe and the Americas were so powerful to built up a radio shack and antennas by themselves for DX-peditions even in the Arctic, Antarctic or isolated island in Oceans. They show us what women can do!

The picture shows Hiromi Hishiki in 2018, when she received the JKA diligent award “Seirei-sho”. The award was established in 1957. Since then only 5th female recipient received it.
In 2018, Hiromi Hishiki received the JKA diligent award “Seirei-sho”. The award was established in 1957. Since then only 5th female recipient received it.

How has your Shotokan Karate changed over time?

Hiromi Hishiki: In the 1970s, the JKA headquarter and Dojo surrounded a solemn atmosphere. In addition, there were lots of instructors, trainees and students who all were full of spirit and acted with strict manners. Every training, we had to be prepared to concentrate our minds completely. All headquarter instructors had their individual training ways, which were splendid and marvelous. Not only the women’s classes, but also we were looking forward joining various instructors’ trainings every day.

After training, we, girls, gathered in a coffee shop and reported how we overcame or survived during tense training respectively. Nowadays, many instructors are very tender and friendly in training and in Dojo. That might be in accordance with the changes of our society in Japan, as “enthusiastic teaching is getting outdated”. In 2013, the training by Master Masataka Mori in the New York Dojo impressed me a lot. That clearly reminded me of the training I had experienced in my youth.

Now, two favorable points had been changed. One is that women can take part in Kumite, something I had not experienced in the 1970s. Another is that children and elder people can enjoy Karate training and games, too.

What are your personal Shotokan Karate short- and long-term goals?

Hiromi Hishiki: My short term is to improve Kyu-holder students to Black belts, and to lead present black belts to 2nd or 3rd Dan. So far, about 30 girls and women earned their black belt. For children, I help them to become selected representative members of All Japan elementary and Junior high school Championships.

Being inclusive and make children thrive

Hiromi Hishiki: On the other hand, my kids students recite Dojokun of Supreme Master Funakoshi Gichin both in Japanese and English. Five rules in Japanese are still difficult among kids. I would like to study more how to instruct children to acquire the principles of Karatedo: proper manners, attitudes, respect to others along with techniques, as well as the strictness of Japanese Budo.

Dojokun in Japanese and English by Hiromi Hishiki´s Students

My main purpose to teach Karate is to expand Shotokan Karate’s fan base and introduce the nurturing of a sublime spirit and humility with proper Karate skills to many female and children. Fortunately, my Dojo accepts anybody from beginner to experienced and also those who come from another Karate school. You can take one-day trial Karate lesson in my “Karate lessons for Women” and “Karate girls Dojo” on Saturdays and “Karate Kids in English” classes on Wednesday at Yomiuru Culture Center Yokohama.

Teaching in person and through the internet

Luckily I am happy to have had the opportunity to teach Karate to many women and children from the USA, Canada, Germany, France, Spain, Colombia, Denmark, Sri Lanka, etc. I welcome you to our Karate classes during your trip in Japan!

For the girls and children from remote places, I would like to offer Karate lessons on Internet soon – this is my dream.

For my long-term goal, as a 6th Dan I am eligible to take the test of A rank instructor. I would like to challenge myself to obtain this, continue my study of Shotokan karate and promotion of Shotokan to others.

How should Shotokan Karate evolve in the future?

Hiromi Hishiki: Nowadays, there are lots of young and talented girls who accomplish numerous championships. However, almost all of them face to many difficulties to continue their Karate training because of school, college, work, marriage, family-care, etc. As a result, they quit Karate, which is great loss for the karate world.

Hiromi Hishiki teaching in her Dojo
Hiromi Hishiki teaching in her Dojo

Now, I feel the need for a support system with facilities to help female practitioners who proceed their goals to become champions, instructors, high ranked Dan holders and so on. First, women find out their problems precisely, and they gather, seek for the settlement and take actions. Then, it is sure that Shotokan Karate will be very promising!

Would you recommend Shotokan Karate to your female friends? Why?

Hiromi Hishiki: Of course. It is my great pleasure to recommend Shotokan Karate to my female friends. I would like to see other women become more courageous, focused and developed in many aspects of their lives. I believe that Shotokan Karate can help accomplish this, as well as their goals, in and out of the dojo by making them stronger and confident and, then can contribute to society.

At the end, I would like to express my sincere appreciation to Dr. Christian Tribowski who gave me a chance to be here, although I had not gorgeous Karate career like other female Karatekas.

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The Kumite Queen From Malta: Yuki Nocilla and Her Best Fights

Yuki Nocilla belongs to the highly talented karatekas of her generation. Just last weekend, she proved again her class and won the German Championships. We take this as an occasion to portray Yuki Nocilla and to explain to you why we will see more of her in the future. By Dr. Christian Tribowski

Yuki Nocilla does not create a lot of sensation when she enters the pool. Humbleness, coolness, and calmness seem to be her nature. However, right after hajime she “floats like a butterfly and stings like a bee” (Muhammad Ali). “Her fighting style is very efficient and merciless”, says Keigo Shimizu, member of the advisory board of The Shotokan Times and former sensei of Yuki Nocilla.

Yuki Nocilla: Strong Kihon in Malta as Foundation

How efficient she fights became obvious last weekend during the German JKA Cup. It took her in sum about 4 minutes to eliminate five opponents and to take the trophy back to Malta. “In the last three years, since she lives and trains in Malta, she has improved a lot. The strict focus on excellent kihon in JKA Malta SKA Dojo has been having a huge positive effect on her movement and fighting intelligence” said her former sensei at the Yamato Dojo Düsseldorf, the city, where she lived from 2012 until 2016.

Yuki Nocilla training together with Keigo Shimizu.
Yuki Nocilla training together with Keigo Shimizu in the Yamato Dojo Düsseldorf.

From Japan to Germany to Malta

Yuki started her training at her high school in Japan by the age of 16. A year later, she could already win the North Japanese Championships and also became champion of the Miyagi prefecture. Both became the first milestones in an excellent competitive career. During that time she trained 7 days per week at her high school.

However, Yuki also wanted to broaden her horizon and to live abroad. She made this decision after Northern Japan was hit by an earthquake and right after that by an tsunami in 2011. With 18 she moved the Düsseldorf, the Japanese capital of Germany. While she was working in a Sushi restaurant during the day, she started training karate again at night with Keigo Shimizu. He saw her unprecedented talent immediately and fostered her development for the next three years.

Yuki Nocilla Defeats European Champion

During that time, Yuki achieved one of her biggest successes: The victory at the German JKA Championships 2015. In the finals, she defeated Michaela Rein from Munich, who became European Champion two years earlier. In the same year, the mayor invited her together with other top-athletes from Düsseldorf, who became World-, European or German champions the same year, to the city hall for a joint celebration.

Yuki Nocilla after winning the German Championship
Yuki Nocilla after winning the German Championship

Strong Footwork and Consequent Execution

Yukis fighting style combines an excellent footwork with a strong focus on Ikken Hissatsu. With a height of around 1,65 meters Yuki measures often smaller than her European opponents. A high agility through a dynamic footwork is, therefore, the key to her success. In addition, her disadvantage in height makes it necessary to fight forcefully. She must push for the target merciless, especially when her opponents are taller. Because counter attacks and retaliation punches become even more difficult to handle for smaller fighters.

Yuki Nocilla

Malta as Yuki Nocilla´s Homebase

Today, Yuki lives and trains in Malta. She moved to the peninsula three years ago in order to study English and because the climate is better in the Mediterranean than in Germany. But she found more on Malta than good weather and the language of the Queen. She trains in the JKA Malta SKA as many times as possible. The Dojo maintains a very high skill level due to Edward Aquilina Sensei, who is chief instructor of SKA.

Together with Yuki three other competitors from Malta started in Germany last weekend. All of them made it to the podium and finished among the top three in their group. Therefore, Keigo Shimizu is sure: “We will see and hear more about Yuki Nocilla in the future.”

This prediction maybe will become a reality. Because the chances are high that Yuki will enjoy Malta and training with JKA Malta SKA a little bit longer. Then beside the Dojo she also found the most important thing on the island: a loving husband.

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Women of Shotokan: Carol See Tai

Carol See Tai reminds us about the importance to be a warrior and to develop a strong character. However, one cannot achieve both by staying within ones comfort-zone and to dodge every bullet. Thus, she also reminds us that we have to train hard, fight tough, and except the challenges life confronts us with. Carol does this in an exemplary way. After the passing of her beloved sensei, Shigeru Takashina, she has picked up the torch in order to carry the fire of Shotokan further to the next generation. Her path has not been easy. But she has been accompanied by good fellows. Enjoy this moving portrait of Carol See Tai.

Its that warrior in you that keeps you going. The more that you train and the more that you push yourself, the stronger your character becomes.

Carol See Tai
Carol See Tai with Masahiko Tanaka
Carol See Tai with Masahiko Tanaka


Additional information  

  • South Atlantic Karate Association
  • Women’s team member 1981 thru 1991,
  • National collegiate 2nd place 1981 Sioux Falls, SD
  • National Collegiate champion 1982 Denver, Co
  • Womens team kata 1st place 1983 Santa Monica, Ca
  • Womens team kata 3rd place 1985
  • Chief Instructor and board member of the late master Takashina’s dojo in Coral Springs, Florida.

What was the reason that you started Shotokan Karate?

When I was 12 years old I was enrolled in Ballet classes. My brother Larry went to the Trinidad karate association (Sensei David Chin Leung) to start taking karate lessons. After his 1st session he told me, “ you should come with me to take karate classes, you would like it.” That was the beginning of my martial arts training in Shotokan karate.

What do you like about Shotokan Karate?

I love Shotokan karate because it is a traditional martial art. It dates as far back as master Funakoshi in 1922 when he brought Shotokan karate from Okinawa to Japan and to this day, it is being taught and practiced throughout the world as a standardized martial art. It is like both education and philosophy, in that we are all teaching, learning and practicing  the same techniques  and developing the principles of budo and the perfection of oneself.

  • Carol See Tai during kumite practice

Is there something you do not like? What is it?

In every organization there is the struggle for power and this creates a diversion or disruption of the pursuit of the true objective. The politics destroys the ability to see the true martial art objective, which is the discipline of mind, body and spirit through the way of life, the budo.

What has been your greatest and your worst experience so far related to Shotokan Karate?

My greatest experience was when I enrolled at the University of Miami and I realized that the karate instructor was sensei Shigeru Takashina. This was a continuous great experience for 37 great years. (Four years at college and the rest at the South Atlantic Karate Association Headquarters dojo.)

I can’t use the word “worst”. However, I can say that my “saddest” experience was the passing of master Takashina, my sensei, in September 2013.  This has led me to understand what he meant when he told me “don’t get involved in politics”. I then experienced a rough political path in trying to continue the legacy of my sensei. The details I would rather put behind me. However, I have to mention that I am grateful to some very important people who stepped forward during that time and continue to do so, to contribute their time and effort to get master Takashina ‘s dojo and legacy to where it is today, six years after his passing.

Carol See Tai awarding dan grad
Carol See Tai awarding dan grad

What do you do when the training becomes challenging? Where do you get motivation from?

Training is always challenging.  Sometimes it’s the perfection of the techniques, and sometimes it’s my life outside of the dojo that’s challenging my training. Somehow I am able to find the perfect balance, because without it, I can’t find harmony. I believe that a truly good instructor motivates his/her students. My sensei, along with my classmates and my family members have also helped to motivate and encourage me in the past.

Now that I am the chief instructor, it’s the students that motivate me and who have led me to another aspect of my karate training.

How has Shotokan Karate changed you as a person?

Shotokan karate has taught me a lot about respect. The ranks and the ranking system teaches me to respect everyone in the dojo and that carries through to my daily life.

The discipline learnt through the traditional training teaches me to be humble.

It has helped me to develop a strong character while maintaining humility and respect for others.

As we say: mind, body and spirit.

How has Shotokan Karate influenced your life? Has it helped you overcome or deal with difficult situations in your life?

I have been training practically my whole life, and I have gone through some difficult times not related to karate. During these times, I used my karate training to push myself through and find the strength to deal with my controversies.

Its that warrior in you that keeps you going. The more that you train and the more that you push yourself, the stronger your character becomes.

How has your Shotokan Karate changed over time?

They are many technical aspects of Shotokan karate which haveevolved, especially over the last several years. I find that as I continue to train,  I have to adapt and re learn certain basic movements.

 Scientifically, the moves have evolved to become more effective as a whole.

What are your personal Shotokan Karate short- and long-term goals?

For myself I want to keep training to improve all aspects of my karate and become an excellent instructor.

My overall goal is to preserve and continue Master Takashina’s legacy.

Carol See Tai with Yoshiharu Osaka
Carol See Tai with Yoshiharu Osaka

How should Shotokan Karate evolve in the future?

It would be awesome to see all the Shotokan groups in the USA come together, putting aside the politics and focusing on learning  and sharing the  knowledge of the Shotokan way.

 As karateka, not to focus as much on the competition and winning, but to concentrate on the development of budo.

Would you recommend Shotokan Karate to your female friends?

Yes, it is good to develop awareness and for self defense as well as to develop a strong mind, body and spirit.

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Women of Shotokan: Sandra Hoogerdijk Joannes

“There is something magical about Shotokan Karate!” says Sandra Hoogerdijk Joannes, SKIF Kumite World Champion Masters 50+ of 2019. We could not agree more. However, Sandra lost this magic once. After being a very successful competitor in very young years, she felt a lack of sense in her karate. To many competitions gave her the feeling of “being driven by results, rather than my heart.” Thus, she stop training. 28 years later, she found her way back into the dojo. Today, she is more committed than ever. And her commitment pays of and gained her the title of a world champion. Read this inspiring and insightful portrait about a woman, who fought her way back on the tatami: Sandra Hoogerdijk Joannes. By Dr. Christian Tribowski

Portrait: Sandra Hoogerdijk Joannes

Sandra Hoogerdijk Joannes
Sandra Hoogerdijk Joannes
  • Age: 50
  • Karate since: 1977 until 1989 stopped for 28 years and started again in September 2016
  • Origin and residence: Dutch since 1996 living in Schilde Belgium
  • (Kyu/Dan) Rank: 2nd Dan KBN (WKF/EKF), 3rd Dan SKIF
  • Dojo: Honbu Dojo Mortsel Belgium

Additional information (member of a national team, coach, board member of a Dojo, highest achievements etc.):

  • From 1985 until 1988 member of Dutch National Team WKF
  • 1986 Silver Dutch Championship -53kg  KBN/WKF
  • 1987 Bronze European Championship Santander -53 WKF
  • 1988 Bronze European Championship Sopron Dutch Women Team
  • 1989 Gold Open Dutch League WKF
  • 1989 Silver  Dutch Championship Women All categories WKF
  • 1989 Bronze Open English Championship Birmingham Dutch Women Team WKF
  • 2019 Gold SKIF Kumite Masters 50+
Sandra Hoogerdijk Joannes during the SKIF World Championships 2019

What was the reason that you started Shotokan Karate?

Sandra Hoogerdijk Joannes: As a young girl, I was quiet, shy, and I cried easily. That is why, even before I turned six years old, my parents advised me to take up judo to increase my confidence. Two years later, I joined a new karate school.

Because I suffered from chronic asthmatic bronchitis, I found it challenging to train in small spaces. My Sensei, Jim Hubner, from “Seibukan Dojo” taught me how to breathe the right way during training, and as a result, my self-confidence grew quickly. Suddenly I could enjoy the fun and educational karate lessons, just like all the other children.

Almost every night – after my father and I came back from work and school – we went to the dojo where he worked as a sports instructor, and I could take karate classes every evening. And so the dojo became my second home. 

What do you like about Shotokan Karate?

Sandra Hoogerdijk Joannes: There is something magical about Shotokan Karate! It is a perfect art of self-defense and an excellent way to achieve overall fitness and unparalleled control over body and mind.

Kumite is and remains my favorite part of karate, but the basic kihon and kata are also fascinating and very interesting.

During the training, I am always looking for “perfection” because something always remains to be improved. Even simple kihon exercises are never truly perfect. I am always looking for the right positions, timing, kime, balance, and breathing.

I think that it is essential to keep control of all these aspects. And for kumite, I think the more versatile you are, the better you can determine your strategies.

Is there something you do not like? What is it?

Sandra Hoogerdijk Joannes: No, I like every aspect of karate. Except maybe the blisters I have all the time, haha.

What has been your greatest and your worst experience so far related to Shotokan Karate?

Sandra Hoogerdijk Joannes: My most significant experience was returning to karate after 28 years.

Three years ago, I took a karate trial lesson with my friends in the Honbu Dojo in Mortsel, Belgium. My friends didn’t know anything about my experience with karate because I had closed that chapter a long time ago. During the first training session, as soon as I took my first kick, my Sensei Stephane Castrique realized that I had done this before. I was surprised about how quickly my desire grew to do this more and more often. Very soon, I was allowed to participate in the black belt lessons, and I came to the dojo almost every day.

There was something magical about the dojo, and I was inspired by the great passion and knowledge with which Sensei Stephane Castrique taught his classes. I realized more and more that karate was still flowing through my veins!

After a year of hard training, I got my 2nd dan confirmed by SKIF, and a year later I got my 3rd dan.

In these 2.5 years, I reconnected with old karate friends. I increasingly felt that all the pieces of the puzzles were coming together. It gave me a sense of complete satisfaction and purpose. The last piece of the puzzle and the most beautiful highlight was winning the gold at the World Cup in the Czech Republic.

In terms of the worst experience, there is nothing that comes to mind.

Sandra Hoogerdijk Joannes during training

What do you do when the training becomes challenging? Where do you get motivation from?

Sandra Hoogerdijk Joannes: I like challenges. I see them as new opportunities and take them with both hands.

On the one hand, I get my motivation from the fact that challenges make a person better and stronger. And on the other hand, they force me to think about things differently. And when you deliver excellent performance, you get more appreciation. That is also a major motivator.

How has Shotokan Karate changed you as a person?

Sandra Hoogerdijk Joannes: Karate has shaped me as a person. I was in the Seibukan dojo almost every day from the age of nine to the age of nineteen. At that time, I was surrounded by loving people who all shared my passion for karate. I had weekly training sessions with the best Senseis of that time, including Ludwig Kotzebue (kumite) and Jaap Smaal (kata). They taught me not only to work hard but also to stay sharp and focused on achieving my goals. In the national team led by national coach Otti Roethof and Raymond Snel, I trained with the greatest champions of that time!

My friends sometimes ask me whether I truly enjoyed my childhood. They wonder if I ever missed going out with friends. I can only answer that loving, caring people surrounded me, and so I never experienced it negatively. They were my karate family, and I am grateful that they shared not only the passion for karate with me but also some valuable life lessons.

How has Shotokan Karate influenced your life?

Sandra Hoogerdijk Joannes: Karate has had a significant influence on me in every aspect.

I quit karate when I was twenty years old because I lost my passion for it. I felt like I was being driven by results, rather than my heart. Around that time, I also met my husband, with whom I traveled around the world, got married, and have two beautiful children. My husband had his own company, and he worked around the clock. I wanted to stay at home with our son and daughter. I made that choice wholeheartedly without any doubts or regrets. Because of it, I now have a great connection with my children, and I love being a mother.

When my daughter left home at the age of nineteen to study at the UVA in Amsterdam, I felt lost. I had everything my heart desired, and yet I was miserable and anxious. I felt like crying a lot of the time, and I was driving myself crazy.

Sandra Hoogerdijk Joannes during training

So I focused all my attention on our son. When he came home from school, I bombarded him with questions. According to the doctor, I was suffering from empty nest syndrome. He even prescribed light antidepressants for me, but I refused to take them. I had to do something for myself. So as I mentioned before, karate came back into my life at the perfect time. I rediscovered my old passion in which I could always set new goals, and as a result, I flourished. Also for my family it is nice that I have my own goals and they know that I am always there for them when they need me.

How has your Shotokan Karate changed over time?

Sandra Hoogerdijk Joannes: When I was younger and a member of the Dutch national team Kumite, I trained every day. At that time, especially in the later years, karate was more of a sport to me, and so I only trained to achieve good results. That was also what people expected from me.

Now, 28 years later, I train with much more passion and depth. I am also fortunate that, in the SKIF family, I get to train with the best and most inspiring senseis and karatekas. They ensure that I stay sharp and focused.

My goal is to become an even better karateka. But I also want to enjoy every minute on the tatami with people who share the same passion!

How should Shotokan Karate evolve in the future?

Sandra Hoogerdijk Joannes: I hope that Shotokan karate remains the way it is. I hope that the traditional style of karate continues to be practiced with all its strict etiquette, depth, and respect for each other.

Would you recommend Shotokan Karate to your female friends? Why?

Sandra Hoogerdijk Joannes: Yes, it is through my female friends that I have found my way back to the dojo. We have a nice club of ladies who train together every Monday morning. We want to get the most out of each other, both as a karateka and in our friendship. In recent years, I have not only seen them evolve from a white belt to a purple one, but I have also seen them grow as a person. They have more self-confidence and they have become stronger, both physically and mentally. And while doing karate, you make friends for life!

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Women of Shotokan: Mirjam Widmer

Mirjam Widmer knows only too well that with passion also comes – sometimes – pain. Karate is her passion and she pursues it with willpower and commitment. For her karate means: “a combat against myself that makes me stronger.” That is the essence of Do. Karate, she says, keeps her going. But for Mirjam karate is not just a matter of fighting spirit. It goes deeper. Karate is about the way we all live together. For her “manners and respect are more important than a superior attitude.” Being humble and thoughtful belongs for her to the central traits of a good karateka. Have fun reading this insightful and moving interview with Mirjam Widmer. By Dr. Christian Tribowski

Mirjam Widmer

  • Age:                                  48
  • Karate since:                   13. September 1991 … it was a Friday
  • Origin and residence:    Zurich, Switzerland
  • (Kyu/Dan) Rank:            3rd Dan
  • Dojo:                                 Seikukan Karate Do Zurich

Additional information:

  • JKA Instructor C / JKA Examiner D /JKA Judge D
  • I opened my own Dojo called Seikukan Karate Do in Zürich in 2011

What was the reason that you started Shotokan Karate?

When I was 12, I had a neighbor who was doing Karate. He taught me the first Kata heian shodan. We played a lot of Karate outdoors. The next dojo, however, was too far away and I was not allowed to go there for training. So, unfortunately I did not start as a child. Only at the age of 20, I finally turned up at the dojo and joined the Karate Club. I still had the kata heian shodan in my mind. After the first class I knew this was what I really want to do.

The reason why I started at that time, were some problems in the office. I needed something that distracted me, on the one hand, and, on the other, reduced my aggression. So, my kime was straight away very good!

I was very keen about learning Karate. As an 8th Kyu I went to London to learn English and ended up in Enoeda Sensei’s Marshall Street dojo. It was the time when I became really addicted to karate.

What do you like about Shotokan Karate?

I love the fact that it takes all my concentration. Therefore, I have to focus my mind and train hard to get better. I like to work on myself, but in a group together with other people. And it is very important for me to follow a master and show my loyalty by doing my best. Shotokan karate is very structured what I really like. I need this. I could never do expressive dance, for instance. ☺

Is there something you do not like? What is it?

It is a pity that, beside to fantastic seminar with outstanding instructors and amazing friendships all over the world, politics in Karate always plays a big role. In my opinion, we all have our master, our source that we follow. Maybe other people have other ideas. Why should one not just respect them? Manners and respect are more important than a superior attitude. By the end, I decide for myself what is best for me. That doesn’t mean it’s the best for someone else.

What has been your greatest and your worst experience so far related to Shotokan Karate?

The greatest experience has been, of course, my time training with Enoeda Sensei and Ohta Sensei at Marshall Street in London. Enoeda Sensei formed my fighting spirit and Ohta Sensei was definitely the best for teaching the technique. I feel honored as well that I had and still have the chance to train with many charismatic instructors. I admire them with my whole karate heart.

However, there have also been sad moments. After I returned from London back to Switzerland, I got kicked out of the dojo at home. I would have changed too much, they said. Of course, I did change after all the training I did in England and maybe I also had just not enough time to arrive back home. Or my teacher at the time had not enough patience to let me settle.

However, it was my destiny. As I had no other Dojo to go and my loyalty to the JKA was so strong that I did not want to go to an other organization. Therefore, I stopped Karate for several years. But I came back – even stronger!

Mirjam Widmer doing a yoko-geri
Mirjam Widmer doing a yoko-geri

What do you do when the training becomes challenging? Where do you get motivation from?

As I train for myself because I don’t have a teacher here in Switzerland I have had many ups and downs. To have a sensei, who is looking after me, is very important. Even though, there is no one in my own dojo, there are many great senseis around the world that helped me a lot. My motivation is not to disappoint them by giving up. To show them that I can do better the next time, I see them in England, Berlin, Japan or any other country on a visit of a gasshuku. This motivation keeps me going.

How has Shotokan Karate changed you as a person?

It is difficult to say what I would have done different in my life without karate. But I think it gave me a structure in difficult times. Even though difficult times were often related to karate. Karate gives me the opportunity to deal with myself. It is a combat against myself that makes me stronger. However, only for a short time and then the struggle starts again. In short: it keeps me running!

Why gave Karate you a difficult time?

In one way, I had this issue when I got kicked out, followed by the struggle to start again. Today, I have my own dojo. Which is great. But, when I started to work part time to be at home early in order to teach the children classes, the financial struggle began. In addition, the place where my dojo is will be closed for two years soon. I do not have a solution yet.

For me Karate is something which just cannot be perfect. However, I must also admit that I maybe need this kind of challenges.

How has Shotokan Karate influenced your life?

Since I started karate, it has been influencing me a lot and by I have built my life around karate eventually. But I think: if I had done something else, it would have been the same. I do something it 100% or I do not do it at all. I put a lot of effort in it. However, I am never happy with the result.

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Is it helping you on a daily basis with the challenges of life?

Karate is the straw to catch when things are difficult, on the one hand. On the other hand, it is pure joy when I achieve something. I guess my emotions are the engine of my karate.

How has your Shotokan Karate changed over time?

At the beginning, I wanted to be very strong. Then, I found out that a good technique is more important. Right now, I try to become more relaxed about everything. Due to the fact that I have not started as a child I never competed in tournaments a lot. My focus was always my technique and this reflects the way I teach in my dojo. I belief I became much better, since I teach. But due to the fact that I do not have have partners for kumite and there is no instructor around I cannot tell whether this is really the truth.

What are your personal Shotokan Karate short- and long-term goals?

I go to Japan to the JKA Autumn Course in October and I would like to take exam for the 4th Dan.

A long-term goal is to stabilize my dojo. I hope to have enough members to keep it up without having to a financially struggle. My dream is a small dojo with a good standard and people that not just consume and come only if they feel like. I would like people that appreciate the training and have ambition.

How should Shotokan Karate evolve in the future?

I hope that young people not just practice karate to win competitions and that elderly people recognize the benefit of karate as a whole-body workout. Karate should be practiced as an art and with together as a family: Young people, older people – but always with the mindset of killing with one blow.

I hope people stay interested in the history of karate and appreciate to learn from the legends that are part of this history.

Would you recommend Shotokan Karate to your female friends? Why?

I wished I had more female karateka in my dojo. Many women are afraid when it comes to punching and kicking. However, karate is a workout that not only strengthens the body but also builds confidence. The weapons of everyday life are not the fists. They are patience, respect, diligence, and willpower. The path of karate do is not just the physical aspect it is also the development of mental strength. Karate helps to focus on the essential values.

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Rika Usami and Miki Nakamachi Shot Movie for Olympics 2020 together

Rika Usami & Miki Nakamachi

Rika Usami and Miki Nakamachi took part in the shooting of a film about karate for the Olympics 2020 in Tokyo last week. We talked with Miki Nakamachi about the shooting and her experiences on the set. Read our exclusive report. By Dr. Christian Tribowski

Rika Usami and Miki Nakamachi performing shoto uke on the film set for the "karate game instruction movie".
Rika Usami and Miki Nakamachi performing shoto uke on the film set for the “karate game instruction movie”.

Rika Usami and Miki Nakamachi Part of the Karate Introduction Movie for the Olympics

According to Miki Nakamachi, the movie introduces the discipline karate. On the one hand, it introduce karate to the media corporations and broadcasting stations, which will broadcast the discipline during the Olympic Games in Tokyo. On the other hand, the movie will introduce karate to a wider audience. Therefore, it will serve as an explanatory video for viewers who watch the discipline but have no relationship and knowledge about karate.

The team behind the “karate game instruction movie” found Rika Usami and Miki Nakamachi via YouTube. After watching several kata videos, the crew decided to approach both karateka and to asked them to perform in the movie. Although neither of them will take part in the Olympics both agreed to the shooting. While Rika Usami ended her career as an active WKF competitor a few years ago, Miki Nakamachi still competes. However, she only starts at JKA tournaments, which has no affiliation with the WKF dominated Olympics 2020.

Here you can watch the full video.

The video by the JKF serves as an introduction for viewers of the Olympics who have no background in karate.

Support for Olympics in Tokyo in the First Place

For Miki Nakamachi her participation in the shooting of the movie was not an support of the discipline karate in the Olympics. On Instagram she stated that she supports that the Olympics Games in Tokyo, her hometown, in the first place.

Ken Nishimura and Ryutaro Araga took also part in the shooting of the film. They performed the kumite introduction because both are national team members of the Japan Karate Federation representing Japan in 2020. Both athletes are string candidates to win Olympic Gold in their weight classes.

Rika Usami, Miki Nakamachi, Ken Nishimura and Ryutaro Arago cheering for the Olympics 2020 in Tokyo.
Rika Usami, Miki Nakamachi, Ken Nishimura and Ryutaro Arago cheering for the Olympics 2020 in Tokyo.

Miki Nakamachi: “Rika Usami and I have a lot in common”

For Miki Nakamchi, however, the encounter with Rika Usami was the greatest pleasure. She wrote us: “It was such a great honor to meet Usami san. Even though she does not practice Shotokan, her kata are coined by very clean and strong techniques. Beside that: I have always loved her punches.”

Rika Usami and Miki Nakamachi together on the film set.
Rika Usami and Miki Nakamachi together on the film set.

Both karateka have even more in common. Rika Usami is also a mother like Miki Nakamachi. And both share the same passion. Miki Nakamachi stated about this: “It is always great to get involved with different karatekas and different organizations. Because have so much in common and we realize eventually: we all love karate.”

Watch Rika Usami performing Kata in the finals of the 2012 WKF world championship. Her performance gained her the 1th place against Sandy Scordo of France.
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Women of Shotokan: Elpida Christodoulou

If we had to award a prize for the most beautiful and concise definition of the spirit of Shotokan in 2019, we were very eager to give it to Elpida Christodoulou, our today´s woman of Shotokan. While she offers many thoughtful and wise insights about Shotokan, the following has been the most striking one for us:

Shotokan karate is not just an art of punches and kicks. It is an art composed of people who upgrade your internal world. So, that you can become a better person for yourself and for your society.

Elpida Christodoulou

Besides her deep understanding of the philosophy of Shotokan Elpida is an incredible competitor. Two weeks ago, she won a gold medal at the SKIF world championship women individual kumite U45 in Czech Republic. At the same event, she also became second with her kata team. Therefore, Elpida is a true woman of Shotokan and a huge inspiration. Congratulations, Elpida!

Portrait of Elpida Christodoulou

Additional information (member of a national team, coach, board member of a Dojo, highest achievements etc.):

  • Member of the national team of SKIF  (individual Kumite, individual kata, team leader women kata, team leader women kumite) 2000 – 2019
  • Member of the national team of WKF in different categories – Greece, from 2000-2012
  • Coach of the National team SKIF boys/girls- men/women kata-kumite
  • Instructor in Shotokan Karate Club Ilision “Yamada Kan” since 2005
  • The picture shows Elpida Christodoulou after her victory.
  • The picture shows Elpida Christodoulou During Kumite
  • The picture shows Elpida Christodoulou With Kancho Kanazawa

Highest achievements:

  • Gold Medal Kumite Women -60kg European Championship Oporto-Portugal SKIF
  • Third Place KATA Women World Championship SKIF Durban-South Africa 2003
  • Gold Medal Kumite Women -60kg European Championship Oporto-Portugal SKIF
  • Third Place Kumite Team Women World Championship SKIF Japan 2006- Team Leader
  • Gold Medal Kumite Women Open World Championship OKINAWA 2007 -All Shotokan Federation -In Memory of 50 yrs Gichin Funakoshi
  • Second Place KATA Team Women World Championship SKIF Greece 2009-Team Leader
  • Second Place KATA Women individual European Championship SKIF Budapest 2011
  • Third Place KATA Women European Championship SKIF Dresden-Germany 2014
  • Third Place Kumite Women -60 European Championship SKIF Czech Republic 2017
  • Gold Medal Kumite Women Open U45 World Championship SKIF Czech Republic 2019
  • Second Place KATA Team Women- Masters World Championship SKIF Czech Republic 2019
  • Etc.
Elpida during competition

What was the reason that you started Shotokan Karate?

Elpida Christodoulou: Hahaha😊: I’m starting my answer laughing. Actually, because the reason was quite ridiculous. I was really angry with my sister (age 12). At that time, I used to hang out with a friend of mine who practiced karate. So, I thought to sign up to the karate school that she was going. God bless her for that! The weird thing was that I never used karate against my sister after I joined. The reason I started karate was just a childhood idea that enhanced my life in many levels.

What do you like about Shotokan Karate? Is there something you do not like?

Elpida Christodoulou: About the art of Shotokan karate, I will start by saying that I like everything from the technical point of view – kihon-kata-kumite – and mostly I prefer kata. I like the difficulty and detail which is hidden in between the variety of techniques. And also, how magically they can change your way of life in the best possible way1 When someone practices something so hard, both in the physical and in the spiritual level, as the art of Shotokan karate, he or she is able to gain his/her self-esteem, overcome many adversities in life and become a winner – a winner in life!

What has been your greatest and your worst experience so far related to Shotokan Karate?

Elpida Christodoulou: In my opinion Shotokan karate is like “solid gold”.

Actually, the greatest and the worst experiences come from the people and situations that constitute Shotokan.

  • The picture shows Elpida Christodoulou medailes
  • The picture shows Elpida Christodoulou after her victory.
  • The picture shows Elpida Christodoulou after her victory.

My greatest experience is that, through Shotokan, I was able to travel in many beautiful places and had the opportunity to meet many people with different cultures and ideas. So , that fact made me a more complete person, with friends in different countries. Great experiences were also all the times I won medals in championships, that made myself, my sensei and my country proud. Especially the Gold Medal in Okinawa in 2007 in the World Championship of all Shotokan Federations, in memory of Gichin Funakoshi (on the 50th anniversary of his death), a great and historical event for Shotokan. And finally, the Gold Medal that I won just a few days ago (19/7/2019) in the SKIF world championship in Czech Republic, when I heard the national anthem…

Worst experience? I cannot recall.

What do you do when the training becomes challenging? Where do you get motivation from?

Elpida Christodoulou: In difficult and challenging times, I draw power from my sensei, who is unstoppable no matter whatever problems come his way. So, I think to myself: “If he can, so can I.” My sensei also gives me the greatest motivation to keep going and want the best from myself and my karate students of all ages, especially the youngest generations. I am thinking that it is a huge responsibility to transmit the correct way and knowledge of Karate Shotokan as my sensei along with the Japanese senseis did and still do with me. Keeping that in mind, I try physically and mentally to do my best. As the time passes and life’s obligations grow, I am blissful that I have all the right reasons that never let me quit.

How has Shotokan Karate changed you as a person?

Elpida Christodoulou: Karate has surely changed and improved me as a person. From the moment I began to realize that, if I really wanted to stand out and be the best possible in Karate, I should dedicate myself to it, without leaving my university studies at the same time. It was difficult to juggle both, but I kept in mind my sensei’s words, who always told me that my studies should be my number one priority and Karate should come second. So yes, Karate changed me in a positive way, because it offered me a special path that not everyone can follow, which meant discipline of yourself, a lot of self-esteem and the feeling that you are doing something completely different than the majority of people.

Elpida during competition

How has Shotokan Karate influenced your life? Has it helped you overcome or deal with difficult situations in your life? Is it helping you on a daily basis with the challenges of life?

Elpida Christodoulou: In a very difficult period of my life, Karate helped me find myself again.

I dedicated myself to my purpose and my long-hours of training every day. That, combined with the people that appreciated my desire and appetite for Karate and believed in me, helped me – without even knowing it – to get out of my darkness.

As I mentioned before, I believe that, when someone is practicing something as hard and special as Shotokan karate, he or she can deal with and overcome many obstacles that come his or her way. That is something I cannot forget in my everyday life.

Shotokan karate is not just an art of punches and kicks. It is an art composed of people who upgrade your internal world, so that you can become a better person for yourself and for your society.

How has your Shotokan Karate changed over time?

Elpida Christodoulou: My Karate Shotokan is laid on very strong foundations and I always try to progress. Therefore, my Karate has changed and is still changing in many ways. Slowly and patiently. I participate in many seminars, both in my country and abroad, with Japanese and European instructors and I always try to learn from the best.

  • The picture shows Elpida Christodoulou with Ildiko Redai.
  • Elpida hristodoulou with other women of Shotokan
  • The picture shows Elpida hristodoulou with Nobuaki Kanazawa, Manabu Murakami,and team mates.

What are your personal Shotokan Karate short- and long-term goals?

Elpida Christodoulou: My short- and long-term goal in karate is to have the strongest possible dojo and organization I can possibly have. With students that appreciate and love karate as much as I do. So that I can keep passing on the ideals that Shotokan pursues, such as honesty, good heart, straight way of thinking, discipline, self-esteem, politeness. And so that I give them the necessary knowledge to defend themselves and their families in the best way possible, if necessary.

Would you recommend Shotokan Karate to your female friends? Why?

Elpida Christodoulou: Of course, I would recommend Shotokan karate to my female friends!

Women are a minority in the world of Karate and nature has endowed us with less muscle strength than men, but we are for sure very intelligent, have excellent technique (in many cases better than men) and we are more capable to avoid violence compared to men. As a result, testosterone has destroyed half of our world. Furthermore, as we live in a men’s world, women must exercise as much as they can and learn how to defend themselves if necessary, believe in their physical and mental strength and be healthy and fit at all ages. Stop smoking, do karate. Oss!