On 3rd March, Sensei Asuka Taniguchi has passed the exam for her 3rd Dan black belt at the JKO Grading Test. She continues to challenge the All Japan Karate Championship, where the majority of the competitors are in the younger generation. Why is Sensei Taniguchi eager to fight? We asked her what the reason, which motivates her to put in the tireless challenges is; there she revealed her resolution and determination behind. In the interview, she shared her vision toward the future as a competitor and as an instructor.



― Congratulations on your promotion to the 3rd Dan!!


“ Thank you very much. It has been five years since I obtained the 2nd Dan, but I have never imagined myself getting the 3rd Dan even in a dream.



When Shihan proposed me to challenge the grading exam, the feeling of surprise and the gravity of the fact overwhelmed me, and I couldn’t say “OSU” at once: I have never imagined that I could reach to such higher ranking, the 3rd Dan is something that was very far from my reality. Now I was permitted to have my 3rd Dan belt, and I am humbled and full of gratitude.”



― It has such a significant meaning to you to get one rank higher.




“ Yes, indeed. I think it is so when we get the higher Kyu, but obtaining the higher Dan has even greater importance and meaning.





As I said earlier, I have never imagined having more than 3rd Dan even in a dream. Nevertheless, I started to have more and more opportunities to communicate with the higher-ranking instructors and Shihans visiting our dojo from overseas and teach them in training, and I questioned myself repeatedly whether if I deserve to give them the lessons while being a 2nd Dan black belt.


That was one of the reasons that motivated me to challenge the grading test this time.”



― Once you made your mind to challenge the exam, how did you prepare yourself?




“ Since I became an instructor several years ago, it was the timing for me to change the training to focus on the quality of the content than the quantity of time that I spend. Once I decided to participate in the exam, I spent more time to improve the quality: especially to check the basic techniques of Kihon and Ido.




For example, in the position of Zenkutsu-Dachi, I monitor myself how finely adjust the distance between both feet, the angles of knee and toe-tip and the level of the lifted heel, etc., whether if I can achieve the accurate movement in a shot without bad habits. I became so conscious that I was checking my moves without thinking, not only in the dojo but also at home. When I challenged the 2nd Dan, I tried to do the action after having imaged these elements beforehand. This time, it was different. I was unconsciously making the checking movements even before I realized it. The fact made me convinced that I should have improved my skills compared to the last time.”



― I think the Kumite exam was harsher than we could imagine.




“To be honest, already in the first exam, my physical capacity has almost reached its limit. JKO grading exam takes place in front of President Midori and all the high-ranking Shihans who act as examiners. Naturally, it makes us more tense than usual. I was honored to have their attention to my performance in details, but was nervous at the same time feeling the enormous pressure: as a result, I have used up all my energy in Kihon, and in Ido exam, I was so exhausted that my legs started to shake because of the fatigue.



― Even you practice the fundamentals daily, the exam was the different story, I suppose.




“ Of course, I put all my strength every time I train. Nevertheless, the grading exam has its particular atmosphere, it is a special occasion that makes you face yourself, and it drains out your energy.




Kumite session in the second exam was very hard, but thanks to all the Shihan and Sensei who encouraged me, and the branch members, who came to cheer me up spending their precious holiday, I gained my force to complete the trial. This experience also made me feel the love around me.




In my Kumite exam, many female members, mainly the youth members, came to collaborate as the opponents. The bouts with them were severe, though I had so much to learn from their different rhythms and movements of combats.”



― You have succeeded in your great challenge to obtaining 3rd Dan. You also have remarkable achievements such as the double victories in both Kata and Kumite competition. Yet you continue to challenge the All Japan class tournament. Where come from your motivation? What makes you keep going?




“ There are some reasons for that. I have started to teach karate in Tokyo Bay Minato branch, and the children whom I have been teaching since the age of kinder garden have grown into junior high schoolers, and they will enter the high school soon.




Even though the All Japan Karate Championship has a high hurdle to challenge, I want my pupils to watch me fighting as a competitor, who keeps challenging, never gives up and believes in myself. I am continuing to challenge the All Japan Championship because I have a strong determination that I would keep showing myself fighting as an active competitor until when my students become the age to participate in the general category.




At the same time, by fighting with the younger competitors, I can sense their mastery and techniques, and I can learn from them. Besides, I feel my improvement by experiencing high-level competitions. It also brings me joy to be able to communicate with younger athletes without the barrier of age.”



― It is always just one person who wins the tournament. I think it is not an easy choice to put oneself in such a severe condition of competition and keep challenging.




“ It’s not easy indeed. I am often forced to face a cruel reality. Nonetheless, losing the fight is not so discouraging, compared to when you couldn’t output what you have prepared in training.




I used to hate Kumite. Every time I train, I got hurt myself. I barely obtained till brown belt, though, to achieve the black belt, I needed the strength in Kumite. I think it was an inevitable trial for me. When I decided to challenge the 1st Dan, I made myself to tackle seriously with Kumite.




Then, I found myself getting hurt less often, getting more in shape, rarely catching a cold, and literally I got healthier than before. I felt the changes in my body, and from that moment, I started the challenges in Kumite in earnest.”




― Among those who compete in the All Japan Championship, the majority is the competitors who started doing karate from their childhood. By contrast, Sensei Taniguchi, I heard that you began to learn karate very late.




“ Yes, I started to practice karate when I was 28 years old. We can say that it was very late compared to other athletes. However, my challenge spirit isn’t going down even at this age, it is maybe thanks to that, as I feel that I haven’t done enough yet.




I’m someone who hates losing. So, I thought it wouldn’t worth challenging All Japan Championship if I do it halfway. Once I decide to do something, I do it until I would convince myself. That is why I play still as an active competitor.”



― At the same time that you being a competitor, on the other hand, you are a female instructor. Is there anything in particular that you keep in mind when you teach karate?




“ What I pay attention in a dojo is to catch the small changes in each person. It is one of the fundamental instruction policies, which Shihan Koi applies: That is, not only focusing on the improvement of the techniques, but to give my mind to one’s heart, and I try to communicate with the members when it is needed, feeling the small signs.




In general classes, many members are in the vital position in their workplaces, but they are humble to learn in the dojo: the persons who have much more experience in life than me, are eager to learn from my coaching. I see a lot to learn from their sincere attitude, and I often feel respect toward them.”



― How do you feel toward female members?






“ I am very pleased that we have an increasing number of female members in our dojo. In our branch, we have “karaty mama” class in the morning, which is designed for the moms who have small children or who are not available in the time slot of the usual general class. Also, there is a “Yuru Kara” class, which is not exclusive for women, but targeted to those who want some light practice of karate for the reason of injuries or the restricted physical conditions. I want to respond to each needs possible as I can.”



― Lastly, do you have your motto in teaching?




“ My motto is < Smile, but be strict>. Especially toward children, when they make errors, I try not to reprimand them, but to come in contact with them like their mother or sometimes like their elder sister who cares them with tender affection, and when it is necessary, I give them a good telling-off, facing them with caring love. I would like to have both sides in me: a big love and a strict side. Also, I value the communication with the parents very much, to exchange and share the information about their children.”




― As an active competitor, as a female instructor and as a secretariat, I suppose you will continue to challenge.




“ I would rather choose to regret doing something than to regret not doing something. I want to continue holding on the courage to step forward, not to be afraid of making an mistake.”

Translated by Aya Suzuki