Sunday, November 23, 2008



I’d been looking forward to this tournament since before I arrived in Japan, it was receiving a lot of hype from the English Karate Federation and selections for the England team were still taking place when I arrived in Japan. The hype for the tournament in Japan was great too, a lot of the subways in Tokyo were carrying posters advertising the event and the karate magazines were publishing profiles of the favourites from around the world.

Amy and I were asked in September by Arakawa sensei if we would like to volunteer at the competition to which we both readily agreed. Apparently we were likely to be interpreters. Anyway, the week before the event Amy attended a meeting with Arakawa Sensei and Richard at the Budokan to find out what we would be doing and when. I think someone must have realised that Amy and I don’t speak Japanese because we weren’t on the volunteer list!

Anyway, it was decided that we would be better off watching the event and taking tons of photos instead. The funny thing is that we were still listed in the official tournament program as part of the ‘local organising committee’.

The Nippon Budokan
Amy and I were both working at our day jobs on the Thursday and Friday of the competition, but we could watch it over the weekend. We wanted to be sure of getting great seats so we set off ridiculously early and arrived at the Budokan before most of the teams and officials on the Saturday morning, so we headed to the local McDonalds for a very suspicious looking breakfast!

Amy and I outside the Budokan

At a more reasonable hour we headed to the Budokan to see it decked out in all its glory, 4 matted areas each with a huge electronic scoreboard were set up inside with a huge officials table on one side. There were two big screen TV’s in the top stands and TV camera’s everywhere.

We decided to sit right in the middle of the north seats so we had a great view of all 4 areas, we were also right next to the TV commentary team. This was to be a bit of a pain later on when people kept coming to ask for the famous presenter’s autographs etc... but it did have its advantages, directly in front of us we had a small TV that showed what the TV crew were editing for broadcast at the time, this meant that after every point we got a slow motion action replay! We had the best seats in the house!

Male Kumite -60kg
These guys were very fast and mobile, England’s Ritchie McMillan crashed out in the first round against R. Scott from Wales. He was moving well and trying hard but the Welsh fighter had better timing, the score finished at 4-1.

England Vs Wales

Canada’s S. Larose beat Belgium in the first round and Australia in the second, but lost to Kazakhstan with a 4-1 score in the third. Kazakhstan’s D. Assadilov beat Japan’s Keita Fujimoto convincingly with an 8-2 score in the first round, much to the crowd’s disappointment.

Kazakhstan then beat Serbia and Canada and went onto the finals by beating Iran (2-1) and France (0-0, ref’s decision). Kazakhstan faced off against Croatia’s D. Domdjoni who had beaten Germany, Colombia, Pakistan and Brazil to get to the finals.

Croatia vs Kazakhstan -60kg Mens Kumite Final

Croatia comfortably beat Kazakhstan 5-1 in the final which was held at the end of the day.

One of the many takedowns during the competition

Male Kumite -65kg
Thomas Canham from England comfortably beat Israel 7-0 in round one; and he had a good fight with Kazakhstan in the second but lost the match 8-4.

England's Thomas Canham in action...

Adam Kovacs from Hungary (who helped Oliva Sensei at the Shiramizu champion seminar) easily dispatched New Zealand (round one) and Canada’s L. Lafleur in round two (2-1), he then beat Kuwait and Italy to meet Japan’s Takuro Nihei in the fourth round.

Japan's Nihei in action

Japan had to beat off Switzerland (4-1), Syrian Arab Republic (1-0) which went to extra time, Nihei getting the reverse punch first.

Nihei again

He then beat Azerbaijan (3-0) and got a bye in round 4 because the guy from Netherlands was KO’d in his previous round.

Adam Kovacs (Hungary) and Takuro Nihei (Japan) fought for a place into the finals. The Japanese crowd went nuts when Nihei walked onto the mat, the atmosphere was great. It was a very dynamic fight, despite the lack of techniques, both fighters shifting around looking for a chance to score. Adam looked calm and collected throughout the fight but Takuro looked a little uncomfortable. Adam threw a reverse punch which scored, Nihei eventually equalised with a few seconds left on the timer. The match went to extra time, the crowd start to rally once more behind Nihei, with shouts of ‘NIPPON NIPPON’ that went rippling through the arena. It was over in 6 seconds, Adam threw a solid body punch to get the final point and win the match. It was great to see Adam putting into practise what Oliva sensei was teaching the previous week. The only techniques you throw should score, Adam only threw two techniques in the match, and both scored!

Hungary's Adam Kovacs vs USA's George Kotaka

The final was held at the end of the day and it was to be Adam Kovacs (Hungary) against George Kotaka (USA). I’m going to put my neck on the line here and say that I was disappointed with the quality of the refereeing in this match. The referee scored a number of points for the USA unsupported by any of the officials. The match went to extra time with the scores tied at 3-3. The final technique was a weak body kick by the USA fighter which scored and won the Match. My gut reaction was one of outrage, I thought that the referee made a mistake in stopping the match when he did and he panicked into awarding a poor technique the score. The crowd didn’t think the technique was good enough either and complained loudly but this obviously didn’t affect the outcome. The final score was 5-3 to the USA.

Female Kumite -53kg
Canada’s J. Guilette lost in her first round to Brazil, Sarah Donnelly of England also crashed out in the first round against Vietnam so I decided to support my second team – Japan. Natsuki Fujiwara (Japan) was on good form throughout her matches, she beat Kazakhstan (1-0), Israel, Turkey, Italy and Brazil (5-2) to meet Germany in the finals. Once again the final match was held at the end of the day. The bout wasn’t great; both ladies bounced the time away with neither fighter willing to risk losing everything.

Japan's Natsuki Fujiwara in the final against Germany's K.Knuehmann

The fight went to extra time, the referee ended up awarding a point to Japan for a body punch that didn’t look particularly great. A lot of the non-Japanese spectators didn’t agree with the decision and the stadium erupted in a collection of cat-calls and jeers. Right or wrong, the fight was over 1-0 to Japan.

Female Kumite -60kg
Natalie Williams of England is a really good fighter, so I was keen to see how she did in this event.

England's Natalie Williams working hard

Despite this I was also supporting Japan’s Tomoko Araga because she was by far the cutest lady on the Japan team, much to the disgust of Amy!

Natalie (England) beat Costa Rica in round one (7-2), Senegal Republic (5-2) in the second, and the Czech Republic (1-1, referee’s decision) in round three. Canada’s N. Varasteh beat Hungary in round one in extra time, though I actually thought Hungary scored first as both fighters through reverse punches together. I think Canada must have had a better position in relation to the referee’s and judges because she won the point, the match ended 2-1 to Canada. Canada then dispatched India and Turkey to meet England’s Natalie Williams in round four.

England versus Canada, at the start of this match I got an email on my phone off Lawrence it simply said ‘England vs Canada, Area 1’. But I was already watching the fight. I thought the two fighters were very well matched; both score one point and took the match to extra time. Both fighters moved in, I thought Natalie had the score but the referee decided that Canada was their first. Canada went on to beat Spain for a place in the finals against Russia.

Tomoko Araga getting ready for her next fight

Tomoko Araga (Japan) coasted her way through most of her fights, she won round one (3-0) against Dominican republic, in round two she made it look easy with a 9-0 win against Macao and round three 2-1 against Columbia. Round four she was pitted against Serbia. Tomoko dominated the fight, she got a point early on and kept the pressure on her opponent, she held the lead up until a hook kick to the head connected just before the buzzer to win Serbia 3 points. Tomoko came back and dropped the Serbian fighter to the mat with a great takedown but was unable to get the score because she ran out of time.

I thought that Japan would have gone on to win this division because she was by far the best technician out of all the fighters. I was thoroughly disappointed that the cute Japanese lady didn’t go through! In the next round Serbia got beat by Russia.

Final - Canada vs Russia

The finals wasn’t particularly great, Russia verses Canada. Once again both ladies bounced a lot of time away, but Russia eventually came through with 2 points to win the match.

Male Kumite Open
The draw for the open divisions was done the same day, so the fight order wasn’t listed in the programs. This made the next two categories very difficult to follow. To make matters worse, they were running the reperchage on two of the areas during the start of the Open categories too.

England's Rory Daniels

England’s Rory Daniels fought his way through most rounds but lost out on the finals against Greece by 1 dubiously scored point in extra time. He went onto finish 7th overall in the reperchage.

The most impressive fighter was Rafael Aghayev from Azerbaijan. The crowd loved him, he’s a small guy, one of the smallest in the category, he had some great take downs and his body shifting and timing was excellent. In one of the matches he was fighting a guy almost twice his size, he collected a few points and then spent the last thirty seconds body shifting out of the way of a thousand punches whilst staying in the corner, it was really impressive to watch. Aghayev is also a total showman! He played up to the crowd very well; the Japanese crowd warmed to him immediately and gave him the same attentions and cheers that they gave their own team.

Aghayev in the final

Aghayev beat S. Margaritopoulos (Greece) 2-0 with simple but effective body punches in the final.

Female Kumite Open
The female open was also difficult to follow;

England vs Japan

Natalie Williams (England) lost to Japan’s Yuka 8-0 with a minute to spare! Sato came up against a fighter from the Slovak Republic in a fight to get to the finals. This was a very noisy affair; the crowd was very vocal in this match. I thought there was going to be a riot when the Slovak fighter threw a good hook kick to the head, the kick connected but the referee didn’t score it. To be honest the kick looked like a score. The crowd started jeering but the Japanese spectators didn’t take this lying down. They answered with even louder shouts of ‘NIPPON NIPPON’ which quickly drowned everyone else out. The noise added to the excitement of the match and I think perhaps it should have been the final. Japan ended up winning the match putting Sato in the final against Spain’s G. Casanova Rodriguez.

Female Open Final - Japan vs Spain

The final match wasn’t very good compared with the previous one; both fighters did very little all the way through, the match went to extra time with the scores at 0-0. The crowd was restless, both fighters ended up getting contact violations and the match went to a referee’s decision. Japan ended up winning with 2 flags and the referee’s vote against 1 flag for Spain. The crowd started jeering again; the Europeans that were sat near us clearly thought that there was some bias because Japan was the home team!


The ‘attraction’ was actually a demo of a bunch of very badly choreographed dancers of all ages. When they were in unison it was good, but most of the time people were moving at the wrong time, or on occasion in the wrong direction. For the biggest karate competition in the world, the demo was below par!

All the event finals were held in a special ceremony after the ‘attraction’. Each fighter and all the referee’s for that match were introduced over the loud speaker and there was a light show put on which made the whole arena dark until huge spot lights came on and spun in every direction.

It was good enough to get some ‘ooohs and aaaahs’ out of the crowd anyway. After the final matches most of the crowd hit the Budokan exits.

We stayed for the awards ceremony and the customary national anthems of each winning country.

Male Kumite -60kg

1st - d.domdjoni(cro)
2nd - d.assadilov(kaz)
3rd - h.rouhani(iri) and d.brose(bra)

Male Kumite -65kg

1st - g.kotaka(usa)
2nd - a.kovacs(hun)
3rd - w.rolle(fra) and t.nihei(jpn)

N. Fujiwara - Female Kumite -53kg Champion

Female Kumite -53kg

1st - n.fujiwara(jpn)
2nd - K.Knuehmann(ger)
3rd - G.Celik(tur) and E.Ponomareva(rus)

Female Kumite -60kg

1st - m.sobol(rus)
2nd - n.varasteh(can)
3rd - k.strika(srb) and v.dogan(tur)

Female Kumite Open

1st - y.sato(jpn)
2nd - g.casanova rodriguez(esp)
3rd - e.anicic(cro) and e.medvedova tulejova(svk)

Male Kumite Open

-sorry, no group shot!
1st - rafael raghayev (aze)
2nd - s.margaritopoulos(gre)
3rd - s.maniscalco(ita) and g.arkania(geo)

The day had seriously over ran against the scheduled time, by the time we left the Budokan we had to quick march to the train station to catch one of the last trains back to Sugito. When we got back we headed straight for food and then off to bed. It was past midnight and we were back up again in a few hours for the journey back to Tokyo!

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