Karate is making its debut on the Olympics in Tokyo 2020 and the qualifying process has just begun. Many athletes are still not so clear on how the qualification system approved by the World Karate Federation and the Olympic Committee works, however the bottom line is very simple: there are 4 male divisions and 4 female divisions, and 10 competitors will participate in each one. That means that only 80 Karatekas will actually participate in Tokyo.
Now the million-dollar question is, how do you actually get there? Very simple, you need to win many events and aim to be top 10 in your division for a long long time. That means that you need to stay way up there in the ranking for almost two years.
To dominate any given sport for that period of time is a huge challenge and is easier said than done. But it CAN be done. It requires about 6-8 hours training sessions, a strict sports nutrition, a lot of sacrifice, paramount discipline, a bit of luck, and again a lot of sacrifice. Want examples of these type of athletes? I´m talking about Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, LeBron James, Tom Brady or in Karate Rafael Aghayev in Kumite and Antonio Diaz in Kata.
If any athlete is dreaming of going to the Olympics he/she has to put in some serious training and also some serious planning. I truly believe that in order for an athlete to win systematically they need a strong strategy and a holistic view of what is at stake. If they fail to see the big picture, chances are they are not going to make it.
Here I´m going to share a first approach on how to tackle the big picture.
Technique: this is the main platter. All around the world there are different methods of training for both Kata and Kumite. Which is the best one? Is it the Japanese, the Turkish, the Iranian? The best one is the one that gives the best results, and since there are many strong countries in both disciplines, is hard to pick just one. But for the athlete, what´s important is to understand the duration and purpose of each cycle. What`s the objective of that week´s training? The technique training divides itself in three parts: technical, tactical and situational. Each part should be trained with the volume of minutes according to each phase of the cycle.
Conditioning:elite level Karate competition requires a strong athleticism, especially with the new rules. Speed, power, balance, stamina, just to name a few, are being judged both in kata and kumite. Hence the athlete must train very intelligent and adjust the conditioning training for karate. Let me be more specific. An elite level competitor does not need to run 10 miles, swim 2.000 metres, or squat 400 pounds, what they do need is to be as explosive as possible in a very short period of time and then recover even faster. I believe that Hiit (high intensity interval) training is the type of training that will bring the best benefits. This is the type of conditioning that many MMA fighters use.
Judges:in karate this has always been a very debatable and sensitive subject. But if we are to speak freely, then we must say it, a karate judge favors many times the athlete that is well known, the local athlete, the Japanese competitor, or even the athlete that they personally know. I am not making this up, I´ve seen this in many top-level competitions and have been both victim and witness of this type of decisions. Of course, this is not always the case, but it happens. So, given that it does happen, then the athlete and the country´s federation must act accordingly. A competitor must be an example on the tatami, respect its opponent and the referees. Nobody likes a spoiled and disrespectful competitor. And off the tatami it should not be any different. I personally applaud all the top-level competitors that give seminars and share their knowledge. That branding is the type of lobby that they need. And from the country´s federation point of view, they must have judges in all the top-level events. It´s a must. The judges speak amongst themselves like in any other sport.
Federation:if an athlete does not have the support of his/her countries federation, then the chances of going anywhere are very slim. As I said earlier, the qualifying process is complex, yes you need to have as many points as possible but there are events such as the World Championships or the Pan-American/European Championship that could give you a direct ticket to Tokyo. How do compete in those events? Well that varies from country to country. But in any case, I believe that lonely rangers will not make it anywhere, as much as that hurts. If you are not a top 50 athlete then you need to win a couple of Series A tournaments, which are very difficult due to the numbers of competitors. Just in Chile last week there were more than 120 competitors in male kata.
Sponsors: a competitor needs to travel a lot to compete and sum ranking points, but also to train with top level coaches. Usually a federation does not support the competitors for K1 Premier League Events and Series A, which sum 11 events in total, that means that a competitor wishing to assist to all the events, by himself, must raise at least $30.000. This amount for an amateur sport is a lot of money. That´s why an athlete needs sponsors. This many come in many ways or forms, such as family members, friends or colleagues, or any type of company, but what the athlete must keep in mind is that nobody is willing to give money without a tradeoff. There is no free lunch. What can the athlete offer? What can be of interest to that person wishing to support you?
Branding: this basically has an impact in every part of the big picture, especially for the judges, federation and sponsors. An athlete needs to transform itself into a brand and use social media to communicate their training, achievements and hard work. A professor of mine use to say: “ If you don´t communicate it, it does not exist”. Remember this is a two year project, that´s why its approach must be as professional as possible.
Benjamin Franklin said: “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail”. It does not get any more clear than that my dear karateka friends.