Sakura Kokumai is the only woman karate athlete from the United States competing on the Tokyo Olympics. Being within the Video games this summer time, she instructed POPSUGAR, is a “dream of a dream” — and she will’t wait to introduce the game she’s so captivated with to the world. For a lot of, she is aware of it’s going to be the primary time they’re seeing karate on a stage this measurement.
In Tokyo, karate makes its Olympic debut with two disciplines: the sparring self-discipline of kumite, which options three completely different weight lessons for males’s and girls’s divisions, and kata, the place athletes compete alone and are judged on performances that includes particular strikes and strategies. Rising up in karate, Kokumai, a world bronze medalist and seven-time national champion, mentioned you have been anticipated to coach each disciplines in your dojo, however she converted to kata utterly by age 17.
Kokumai defined that 70 percent of scoring in kata is technical and 30 percent is based on athleticism. “They take a look at all of the exact issues: the place you punch, the way you’re transferring your toes from stance to stance,” she mentioned. “For athleticism, they’re pace, energy.” She thinks of kata as an artwork type, stating, “There’s simply one thing particular concerning the karate actions that we’re in a position to transfer folks by our efficiency. Each time folks come as much as me and say, ‘Hey, I do not know what you probably did, however that was wonderful. I’ve goosebumps.’ That, to me, is a large win.”
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Kokumai had been dwelling out of a suitcase since 2018, competing within the Premier League to obtain qualifying factors for the Olympics. Going from nonstop touring to being locked down at house was an enormous shift. Nevertheless, the transition training-wise wasn’t an outright adjustment as a result of she was used to working towards on her personal in locations like her lounge and storage. Having iFit-powered house exercise gear from NordicTrack — the NordicTrack S22i bike and NordicTrack Vault health mirror, particularly — she mentioned, helped. Lots of her classes exterior of kata are core- and legs-based and incorporate explosive actions in addition to endurance and stability work.
On the Olympics, Kokumai needs to go for the win, as you’d anticipate, and she or he hopes she can provide folks a cause to observe karate and study extra concerning the sport. She break up her childhood between Hawaii and Japan, the place she nonetheless has household, and she or he additionally studied in Japan for her faculty and grasp’s levels, which make her excited to return again to the nation she considers house.
Karate is not going to be within the Paris Video games in 2024, and Kokumai is upset, however she’s nonetheless hoping that the Los Angeles Video games 4 years later, in 2028, will characteristic the game. “I put every little thing I needed to qualify and get myself there on the Video games,” she mentioned. “And I do imagine that each child deserves to have that dream, to observe karate athletes characterize the US, or another nation, and go on the market to compete on the Olympics.” Proper now, she has her eyes on the prize, and you’ll catch her in Tokyo with a flag signed by her pals, members of the family, and coaches who’ve influenced her profession. On it, too, are the Olympic rings and the US stars and stripes.
To study extra about Workforce USA, go to TeamUSA.org. The Tokyo Olympics start July 23 on NBC. Karate begins Aug. 4.
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