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The art of perseverance

Japan’s Olympic gold medallist imparts wisdom to Brunei hopefuls

Karate, a martial art steeped in a legacy of discipline and precision, stands as a dynamic dance of power and control. It’s more than just kicks and punches; it’s a symphony of physical prowess and mental fortitude.

For those who aspire to become a world karate champions, the journey is an odyssey through the arenas where strength and strategy intertwine. It’s about mastering the art of combat, navigating the ebb and flow of each match with a blend of agility and technique that sets champions apart.

To wear the crown of a world karate champion is to embody a living testament to dedication and excellence, a title earned in the crucible of relentless training and fierce competition.

It’s a badge that signifies not just victory, but the embodiment of the spirit that defines the very essence of karate itself.

A medallist and a world champion

In a captivating rendezvous of karate excellence, the luminaries of Japan’s karate world, 33-year-old Ryo Kiyuna, the illustrious gold medallist in the karate kata event at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, and 31-year-old Uekusa Ayumi, a formidable force as the world karate champion in kumite, graced the shores of Brunei Darussalam last month.

Their visit was not just a passing spectacle; it was a profound engagement with the local karate community.

ABOVE & BELOW: Olympic gold medallist Kiyuna Ryo and World Karate champion Uekusa Ayumi train with local practitioners. PHOTOS: RAFI ROSLI

Offering pearls of wisdom, Kiyuna and Ayumi echoed the resonant message of perseverance, urging Brunei’s aspiring karate practitioners to forge ahead with unwavering determination.

The duo orchestrated enlightening workshops on November 28 and 29, where Brunei’s karate exponents were treated to a first-hand glimpse into the methodologies that have crowned them as icons in the global karate arena.

A rare audience with these world-class champions unveiled the arras of Kiyuna’s personal journey – a demonstration to resilience and triumph, as well as an odyssey from passion to the pinnacle of global acclaim.

“My journey into karate began when I was just five years old. I recall tagging along with friends who were already immersed in the discipline, eventually leading me to join a karate dojo – an establishment dedicated to training diverse self-defence arts, like judo and karate.

“Through this experience, I discovered the joy of engaging in the sport while simultaneously honing my skills in karate,” said Kiyuna.

As a four-time gold medallist in the men’s kata event at the World Karate Championships and a two-time gold medallist in the men’s team kata event, Kiyuna discovered his passion for kata, which grew into a deep love for the discipline.

“Winning championships opened my eyes to the exhilaration of participating in international competitions, revealing the thrill of not only competing but emerging victorious.

“The journey taught me that the joy and excitement of the sport extend beyond the rigorous training, translating into the electrifying atmosphere of competitive success on the global stage.”

Securing an Olympic gold in Tokyo held profound significance for him, expressing, “Winning the gold medal was very special, especially doing so in front of my family, friends, and the Japanese supporters who cheered during my performance makes it even more extraordinary.”

Reflecting on his journey to success, he emphasises the importance of finding joy in the process of becoming a champion.

Acknowledging that it’s not always easy and entails numerous challenges, he underscores the significance of setting incremental goals and consistently pursuing them through dedicated practice.

The road to becoming number one requires sacrifices, as he attests to sacrificing time with friends and family, fully committing himself to karate with unwavering determination.

Amid his championship in Junior High, thoughts of discontinuing competition crossed Kiyuna’s mind.

However, the influence of Sakumoto Sensei, a highly esteemed Japanese Karate master, served as a source of inspiration, rekindling Ryo Kiyuna’s passion for competitive karate.

Married with two karate-inclined boys, Kiyuna is deeply invested in both his family and the art of karate.

Uekusa Ayumi, who clinched gold at the 2022 Asian Championships and the 2018 Asian Games, on the other hand, fondly reminisced about her initiation into karate, she shared, “At eight years old, I was playing with friends when one of them suggested going to a dojo.

“Intrigued by the idea of playing more, I joined the dojo. The moment I threw my first punch at the dojo sensei, I fell in love with karate – it felt like destiny.”

Continuing her karate journey, Ayumi entered competitions at the age of nine, focusing on the Kumite category. As she matured, her master advised training with boys, a challenge that initially evoked fear during sparring sessions.

Determined to avoid getting hit, she delved into learning effective blocking and counterattack techniques, gradually excelling at them.

Despite her numerous championships, Uekusa Ayumi unveiled the underlying reason for her Olympic challenges, explaining, “During that time, despite winning many championships, I lost my direction and confidence in my punches.

“Overthinking and dilemmas plagued my game, preventing Olympic victory. To rediscover my confidence and reclaim my strength as the best, I began travelling to other countries, conducting seminars, and teaching children.

“Teaching karate to kids brings me immense joy, and I aspire to contribute to making the world better through the practice of karate.”

Brunei’s karate enthusiasm

Within the Brunei workshop, the Olympic gold medallist expressed delight witnessing Brunei’s Karate enthusiasts eagerly absorbing his teachings. The palpable enthusiasm of the participants added to his excitement, fostering a positive learning environment.

In imparting advice to the Brunei karate practitioners, Kiyuna emphasised the vital role of relentless practice, citing it as the cornerstone for aspiring champions.

Ryo Kiyuna, who runs his own Dojo, finds joy in instructing young children in karate and organising seminars.

He expressed his appreciation for the kindness and warmth of the people of Brunei, despite finding the local cuisine spicy yet delicious.

Meanwhile, Uekusa Ayumi observed Bruneians’ love for karate and their genuine enjoyment of the sport during the workshop.

However, much like Kiyuna, Ayumi also highlighted the necessity for aspiring champions to undergo rigorous and demanding training to ascend to the pinnacle of success. – James Kon

Local practitioners during the workshop. PHOTO: RAFI ROSLI