Karate athlete representing Team USA in front of family in Tokyo; excited about debut of new Olympic sport

Japan 2020

PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — Karate is one of the new sports that will debut at the upcoming Olympics. It’s fitting, given that the sport originated in Japan.

Sakura Kokumai will compete in Tokyo as one of the three karate athletes representing Team USA. 

Karate wasn’t Sakura Kokumai’s choice at first.

“It was something to keep me busy while I waited for my mom to pick me up,” Kokumai said.

However, it didn’t take long for that to change.

“It just became a place where I always wanted to go back to,” Kokumai said.

Her specialty is kata, which is a routine. The goal is to be as close to perfect as possible.

“I spend a lot of my time by myself in front of a mirror, practicing techniques and moves. Everything has to be very precise, so there’s no room for creativity in terms of changing routines, because the routines are already set,” Kokumai said.

She says the pandemic was tough because of the isolation and lack of competition, but as for training alone, she’s used to that.

“I’ve always trained in the garage,” Kokumai said. “Turned it into a little dojo/gym. I had to collect things slowly, started off with mats and mirrors because those are the most important things. The weight and everything extra, I slowly started to add.”

Now her focus is on Tokyo.

She’s one of the few American athletes who may have family at the games. She was born in Hawaii, but is of Japanese descent, and that’s where her parents live.

“For it to be the biggest tournament I’ve ever competed in, I think a little bit of familiar faces will definitely help.”

Kokumai is also excited about the debut of her sport, in its place of origin, a milestone that is not lost on her. 

“I’m honored that I’m in this position to represent my country, but also my sport,” Kokumai said. “I just hope that people see more of what we do, because for us, we’ve been waiting a long time.”

Karate competitions begin on August 5.

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