Form is a mirror of attitude
Nikaido : Karate has been added to the sports program for 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games, right? Congratulations!
Usami : Yes. Thank you very much. It was a long-cherished dream not only for me but also for the whole Karate industry, so when I heard the news, I was so over the moon.
Nikaido : Actually, I used to do karate a bit when I was a child.
Usami : Did you really?!
Nikaido : Yes, I was learning "kata" at that time. So when I saw your demonstration in a video clip, I was so amazed. Your "katas" are so beautiful! Well, I’m not the one to be telling you that; I’m sorry if I sound arrogant…
Usami : Not at all! I feel honored.
Nikaido : I think "kata" is very much a reflection of emotions and attitude; for example, if you are not concentrated, not confident or poorly-prepared, your attitude wavers and the spectators can easily feel your uneasiness through your performance. You cannot cheat or disguise…
Usami : Yes, that’s true. "Kata" is a mirror of your attitude. If you get nervous, your body will be stiff and make your "katas" awkward and clumsy. So I would say it is vital for a Karateka to know how to control emotions and assume a proper attitude.
Nikaido : How do you control your emotions and assume a proper attitude when you go for a one-off competition such as World Championships?
Usami : I first participated in World Karate Championships in 2010 and lost in the semi-final. I was very upset, and since then I was driven by the disappointment and frustration and went for hard training days and nights for two years aiming at the next championship.
Nikaido : Well, I suppose once you experience a defeat, you may be overwhelmed by pressure and fear…
Usami : When I lost, I was somewhat humbled. I had gone through lots of hard trainings so I took it for granted that I would win, but I was just overwhelmed by the air of the venue and I couldn’t pull myself together, thinking, “No, I can’t make it”. Looking back, I was not fully focused on “winning”, I suppose.
Nikaido : Are you saying that beautiful "katas" are not enough?
Usami : Well, I believe assuming an attitude and developing a fighting spirit are also required for a Karateka. In that sense, I could demonstrate a good focus and fighting spirit in the 2012 Championships, so I won the title.
How you develop your "katas"
Nikaido : When seeing a beautiful performance, there is a split-second when we can actually visualize an invisible opponent. This may be the art of Karate.
Usami : It is very important to have an image of an opponent while training, to understand the real meaning of techniques, so sometimes I do "kumite" as well. At the same time, a good command of "katas" can help improve "kumite" techniques, so both are very important.
Nikaido : Have you actually trained for both "kata" and "kumite"?
Usami : I had been training for both until my freshman year at University and then shifted to concentrate on "kata".
Nikaido : After I had quit Karate, I started classic ballet. Basically ballet has the elements of music and story. Ballet and Karate look very different in form, but I think they have something in common, such as basic poses. However, to deliver a really compelling performance, it may be very important to create “own style” as well as learn the basic poses. I’ve once heard a Kabuki actor, Nakamura Kanzaburo, saying that only the actors who fully mastered basic forms can deliver an out-of-the-box performance.”
Usami : Very convincing. Maybe, we have something in common with actors, like “inspiring people” and “conveying an attitude”. In fact, I learn a lot through watching TV dramas and movies.
Nikaido : Really?!
Usami : Yes. For instance, when I need to express fighting spirit in a demonstration, I cannot deliver a good performance if I express real anger, because my body gets tense. So it is also crucial to demonstrate as if fighting while being relaxed. So when I watch a TV drama, I tend to follow actors’ expressions and acting. I have often drawn into your acting, Nikaido-san, feeling like I cannot take my eyes off the screen.
Nikaido : Thank you very much. Well, I’m blushing! (Laughs)
The spirit of martial arts in the hearts of the Japanese
Nikaido : A growing number of women are currently enjoying martial arts and some of them are being very active around the world like you, Usami-san. At the same time, there is still a strong gender bias that women should have feminine manners and men are to act like men. Of course such an idea is important, I think, but how do you actually feel about it?
Usami : I got interested in Karate when I saw a TV drama in which a female fought against a man and beat him up. I thought she was so cool. Then, when I was at the fifth grade of elementary school I started taking Karate classes, finding few girls there. Actually I was the only girl in the school who did Karate. I was embarrassed to tell friends that I was learning Karate.
So, compared to those times, the situation has changed drastically. There are more girls doing Karate, some starting at the age of three, and also many parents are expecting their child to learn courtesy, good manners and attitudes. Female adults enjoy Karate for various reasons, such as to keep fit, master self-defense or improve mental health, etc.
Nikaido : Wow, that sounds wonderful. Women who do martial arts, like you, Usami-san, are very attractive, seem like appreciating beauty in everyday lives and polishing themselves from inside. I am hoping that more females will enjoy martial arts and we will see more gender equality in sport.
Usami : I believe that the spirit of martial arts is inherent in Japanese people, men and women alike, thanks to their long history. I would like to continue to support sharing this spirit.
Nikaido : Do you visit many places to promote Karate?
Usami : Yes, I do. At present, I work mainly in Tottori prefecture, teaching local kids and selected competitors, and sometimes visit training camps of the national team and teach there as well. I am also called for seminars abroad quite often.
Nikaido : Which countries have you been to?
Usami : I have just come back from Jamaica.
Nikaido : Do Jamaicans do Karate?!
Usami : Apparently, Karate is widely spread and known by many people around the world. 191 countries and regions have their competition federations, and Karate practitioners are as many as 130 million!
Nikaido : So many people! World-wide sport, right?!
Usami : Taking this opportunity of inclusion into the Olympic program, I would like to introduce and promote Karate even further in the world.
Nikaido : I’m definitely with you. I am really looking forward to watching Karate competitions at Tokyo Olympics 2020!