By Masakazu Shimizu / Yomiuri Shimbun SportswriterWith karate added to the Olympic program for the 2020 Tokyo Games, world champion Kiyo Shimizu watched the Rio de Janeiro Olympics with a different perspective than usual.
“As I was watching, I was asking myself what would I be feeling if I were on the Olympic stage. I thought, do Olympic athletes care about such and such? It became a good learning experience,” Shimizu said.
Shimizu is well on her way to getting the answers to those questions first hand.
In December, the 23-year-old won her fourth straight title in the women’s individual kata at the Japan Cup Karatedo Championships with the Emperor in attendance. That followed a second consecutive crown in the same category at the World Senior Karatedo Championships.
She seems without rival at this point, but Shimizu said with a steely look, “I’ve had good results, but I still have plenty of things to do leading up to the big global meets and the Tokyo Olympics.”
In the kata category, the competitor performs solo karate movements that assume the actions of an opponent. Speed, sharpness and exactness account for the score.
In the final at the Japan Cup, Shimizu was at her usual best — performing a high-level kata amid the cheers of a large crowd.
“What makes me good is that I have a strong spirit. I think I was able to bring that out well,” Shimizu said, looking back at her performance.
An Osaka native, Shimizu followed her older brother into the karate training hall when she was a third grader in elementary school.
After graduating from Kansai University, she joined Miki House Co. in 2016 and, with the blessing of the company, has been able to dedicate herself full time to training.
Last year was a fulfilling one for Shimizu, but the Rio Olympics in particular left an impression on her.
“The mental strength of gymnast Kohei Uchimura was incredible. It allowed him to complete beautiful routines even with a bad back,” she said.
The venue at the Tokyo Olympics for the karate events will be the Nippon Budokan, which hosted the Japan Cup and is regarded as the mainland of Japanese martial arts.
“I’ve been working hard with kata to perform on a stage I’ve always dreamed of.
“To do well in the Olympics at Nippon Budokan, I need to become more diligent,” Shimizu said.