WKF World Championships

By Alexander Egeberg, IOGKF Denmark.

Some IOGKF Denmark members were selected as part of the countries National team to compete at the World Karate Federation's (WKF) International Championships in Tokyo, Japan, under the WKF guidelines...

In November 2008, the Nippon Budokan in Tokyo hosted the 19th WKF Karate World Championships. With close to a thousand competitors from more than 100 different nations, this was one of the largest championships in the history of the World Karate Federation (WKF).

During the last couple of years, the Danish Karate Federation has undergone a lot of structural changes, resulting in a new elite policy and new board members. With Sensei Henrik Larsen as vice-president of the federation, and Sensei Britt Larsen as coach of the Danish National team in Kata - IOGKF Denmark has obtained an even more influential position then previously.

From the very beginning, Sensei Henrik had expressed his deep concerns towards the formation of a national team in Kata. In Kumite, the job is fairly simple; the scoring criteria are the same regardless of your style. In Kata however, there are other things to consider. First off, when teaching, a national coach would have to take into consideration that the basic techniques (even simple things as punches, blocks and stances) are done differently whether the athlete is from Goju Ryu, Shito Ryu, Wado Ryu or Shotokan. Second, there are 9 criteria for the judging of a Kata (10 in the team Kata), which must all be met accurately if the competitor wished to advance in an international WKF tournament. The third challenge, which was the one Sensei Henrik had expressed his main concern towards, was the use of Shitei Kata’s (Shiteigata).

The Shitei Kata’s are standardized versions of Kata’s representing the 4 major styles; Goju, Shito, Wado and Shotokan, which are mandatory to perform in the first two rounds at any sanctioned WKF competition. There are 2 Shitei Katas for each of the 4 major styles. For Goju Ryu, this means that you have to perform Sepai and Saifa. The problem, however, is that the standardized version is the Goju Kai version instead of the IOGKF version. Any deviation from the Shitei version would mean immediate disqualification.

Sensei Henrik was worried, that this would influence the competitors negatively in their training, if they all of a sudden had to start practicing different versions of the Kata’s, and for a long period of time, he was much against the idea. The tipping point came, after the American WKF referee, Alex Miladi, visited Denmark. In his visit, he took time to discuss the rules of the WKF, and the Shitei Kata’s. As it turned out, the variations in the Kata’s were so small, that Sensei Henrik agreed to letting the Danish IOGKF competitors practice the Shitei version of Sepai, and even Seienchin (the Shito Ryu version of Seiyunchin, which is one of the Shito Ryu Shitei Kata’s) to use as an alternative to Saifa.

One reservation that Sensei Henrik made towards the competitors was, that they shouldn’t neglect the IOGKF Kata’s, and he stressed that he felt it important that we continue to practice these.

The preparations for the championships began in January 2008. IOGKF Denmark would participate with two teams in the team Kata - one male and one female team. Working as National coach, Sensei Britt would teach the competitors alongside with Sensei Henrik. An obstacle in preparation for team Kata, is the fact that the three competitors in each team have to be extremely in sync, in even the smallest movements. This requires that the athletes spend a lot (and I do mean A LOT) of time together, rehearsing the moves over and over again. Competing as captain of the male team, I found myself in countless situations of deep frustration thinking “Why do my teammates perform the movement like that, when it’s supposed to be like this!”

The truth is, that team Kata training turned out to be a great way of improving your own performance as well. When all of a sudden you’re 3 persons doing the Kata at the same time, even the smallest detail will stand out if you don’t perform it the exact same way.

Another obstacle was geography. I’ve trained in Honbu Dojo for more than 12 years, but in 2006 I had to move away in order to obtain my university degree. This obviously made the training very difficult. The solution was that I, every single Thursday, had to take the train to Honbu Dojo and back again – which was a total of 5 hours of transport! That went on for 11 months. Five hours of transportation, once a week, for 11 months – you do the math – it wasn’t easy, especially when there also were a required minimum of 15 training hours per week.

Training went on, and in the weekends, we had a lot of competitions in preparation for the World Championships. When going to Golden League tournaments, and going up against teams like the Italian team (the Italians are several times world champions), it quickly became clear to us, that we wouldn’t stand a chance of getting a medal at the world championships. Despite this, Sensei Henrik kept insisting on the fact that it wasn’t important – and in retrospect, I now know what he meant. To him, the result wasn’t important – the journey was… our journey as athletes constantly seeking to improve our skills.

The 10th of November was the day when we boarded the flight to Japan. With a flight time of 18 hours, we were all very excited. When we arrived we were even more excited – and jetlagged! The first couple of days were spent reacclimatizing, training, and exploring Tokyo. With the IOGKF World Budosai just passed, for many of us, this was the second time to Japan in less than 6 month, while for others it was their first time.

First time or 15th time – being in Japan is still an amazing experience, but this was no doubt even more special. The world championships were being held in Japan – the birthplace of Karate. This meant that this would be a very special event. Competitors from all over the world were gathered, and even though Tokyo is a huge city, you wouldn’t have to go far to find someone wearing their National tracksuit.

Finally came the day we had been waiting for. The Danish female team was against the Italian team, a very strong opponent. The male team was against the Egyptian team, which earlier the same year, had become Junior World Champions in the Team event (and the team captain had won the individual event as well). Needless to say, both of our teams lost. But even though neither of us got any medals, we didn’t feel defeated.

The journey towards the world championships had improved us all, physically, technically and even mentally. And having the honor and pleasure to meet Sensei Higaonna, Sensei Terauchi and Sensei Kanazawa (the founder of S.K.I.F), which all were specially invited to watch the championships from the VIP area, we all felt that all of our efforts the past year had been well spent.

We all got an experience of a lifetime – and are already preparing for the next championships!