You may have heard that Koshokai Karate has become a USANKF affiliated dojo. What exactly does that mean for you? It means that you (or your child) now has a bona fide pathway to competing on the world stage which now includes the Olympic Games. Here’s a short history lesson. Back in the 1980’s there were several US karate organizations vying for the role of national governing body under what was called WUKO, the World Union of Karate Organizations. This unhealthy rivalry led to disagreement about what rules to use and what karate should look like at the world level. There is even another sport that developed that calls itself “karate”; think short-sleeve outfits with racing stripes and tag with boxing gloves (see NASKA). Believe it or not, this spectacle is popular around the world and was poised to become an Olympic sport, but that’s a topic for another day. Then, in the early 1990’s, WUKO splintered into several competing factions, making karate’s inclusion as an Olympic sport even more elusive. Mrs. Fink and I competed in WKO, World Karate Organization, tournaments in Europe in 1998 and 2000. Eventually, the WKF, World Karate Federation, became the governing body and did a fine job of uniting traditional karate organizations around the world. Then, in the late 1990’s, the USAKF, USA Karate Federation, and the AAU formed a cooperative partnership, eventually leading the emergence of the USANKF. Nearly two decades and three attempts later, traditional karate has finally gotten approval, on a trial basis, from the IOC.
Many speculate that becoming an Olympic sport will have a detrimental effect on the sport much in the same way it did for judo and taekwondo which were once very robust martial arts. I don’t think that will be the case. The roads to the Olympics for judo in the 1960’s and taekwondo in the 1980’s were relatively short, forcing organizers to hurriedly synthesize competition formats that everyone would agree on. This resulted in very minimalized sports which specialize in throwing and kicking respectively. The non-practitioner has a difficult time appreciating the technical nuances on display. Karate, on the other hand, has had decades to mature into a diverse and exciting spectator sport that hopefully will grow in its appeal after Tokyo 2020.
So, how does one make Team USA Karate? As you might imagine, it is an arduous undertaking and requires tremendous dedication. It begins in the dojo. Attend classes regularly and give one-hundred percent every time. But, of course, twice a week isn’t nearly enough. You must become obsessed! Train every day, attend seminars and training camps, and compete every chance you get. Technical training is the foundation, but it is only half the equation. The other half is conditioning. You must work hard to get into the best shape possible and maintain it. If this seems self-evident to you, then keep on reading.
The road to making the Olympic team has three phases. There are two national championship tournaments that qualify athletes to represent the USA in international competition. They are the USA Open in Las Vegas and the National Championships and Team Trials which travels to different cities year to year. Placing in the top six in these tournaments earns you an invitation to try out for Team USA in Colorado Springs. There are only two spots on the team for each of the four male and female weight classes and for male and female kata - twenty spots in all. To qualify to compete as an elite athlete in these events, you must compete in a minimum of two national qualifier tournaments that year. We have our eyes on the two closest which are in Middletown, Ohio, March 10th and Garden City, Michigan, March 24th. So, the whole journey consists of: joining USANKF, competing in at least two national qualifiers, obtaining a US passport, competing in and placing in the top six at the National Championships thus earning an invitation to the team trials, and finally, beating at least four of the top six competitors in the nation. That gets you to the Olympics, but then you have to compete against scores of other world class athletes from around the globe in order to win a medal. As you can see, being one of the best of the best requires unwavering focus and determination. The uncanny alignment of resolve, talent, opportunity, and luck required makes this goal nearly untenable.
There is, however, an only slightly less spectacular and much more attainable goal one can achieve. There exists a WKF rankings list which contains the names of every karate athlete to ever compete in any international tournament since the inception of the WKF. At first glance, there seems to be a lot of names in the USA drop down menu. But considering it spans nearly twenty years, it is really a sparse group. There are many people on the list I have met from Elisa Au-Fonseca, John Fonseca, George Kataka, and Tommy Hood who competed in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s to our friends Adrian Galvan, Jenna Brown, and Luke Sartino of recent years. Had Mrs. Fink and I gone with the WKF instead of the WKO, our names would be there. Not every one who is good enough to be on Team USA can be, but everyone good enough can make the rankings. It will be no less rigorous a road to travel. And it will involve considerable expense (US athletes must compete abroad since, as of yet, there are no international tournaments held in the US).
We do not intend to require our students to become USANKF members. For one thing, it is expensive ($50 per year). For another, there are few sanctioned tournaments nearby, therefor, forcing an active competitor to travel extensively. Furthermore, karate can provide a challenging and fulfilling experience simply by competing on the local level or not at all. If, however, you have the desire, we are dedicated to providing you with the training and guidance to get you as far as you aspire to go.