Physically challenged karate champion and the two masters behind her success

Physically challenged karate champion and the two masters behind her success

Aika Arakaki smiling as she informs Tsuguo Sakumoto (left) and Yuka Shimizu (right) of her becoming Japan’s best at Naha, Okinawa.


November 25, 2016 Wakana Hanmine of Ryukyu Shimpo

An unexpected bond between three generations of masters and an apprentice has resulted in a karate champion. Aika Arakaki is a 23-year-old who is deaf and practices karate while working at a confectionery factory in Naha. In October, she won for the first the Women’s Individual Kata in the Persons with Physical Disabilities Division (Deaf/Hard of Hearing) of the 12th All Japan Karatedo Championships for Persons with Disabilities. Behind her success are her two masters.

“I won first place,” Arakaki said as she raised her medal into the sky after the championship. She had raised it toward Shizue Yogi, her master who passed away at age 40 this past March. Arakaki also informed her other master by showing him the medal and certificate of recognition in early November. It was Tsuguo Sakumoto, a 68-year-old former world champion and vice chairman of the Okinawa Amateur Sports Association, who became her new master following Yogi’s passing. Sakumoto says, “It felt like Shizue had sent a message from heaven saying, ‘Take care of Aika.’”

Shizue Yogi next to Tsuguo Sakumoto during a training camp for Urasue High School’s Karate Club (Provided by Kiyomi Yogi)

Shizue Yogi next to Tsuguo Sakumoto during a training camp for Urasue High School’s Karate Club (Provided by Kiyomi Yogi)

Arakaki had been training under Yogi since her high school years, but Yogi passed away this past March from cancer. Meanwhile, Sakumoto read about a woman training alone following her master’s passing in a Ryukyu Shimpo article in July and volunteered to train her.

“(Your master was) Shizue?” said Sakumoto. He was surprised to hear the name of Arakaki’s late master when he and Arakaki first met. In turns out, Yogi was Sakumoto’s apprentice whom he favored and trained directly when they were a part of Urasue High School’s Karate Club from 20-something years ago.

Yogi had not told Arakaki she had cancer and continued to train Arakaki until several months before her passing. Arakaki was despondent for a while and was not able to bring herself to practice karate following her master’s sudden death. It was then that Sakumoto offered her a lending hand. “It really was because of Yogi Sensei and Sakumoto Sensei that I was able to became Japan’s best,” Arakaki said as she broke into a smile.

This was Arakaki’s third time entering the championship. Last year, she finished last because of a lack of practice. “As long as I keep doing what they’ve taught me, I can do this,” she kept telling herself as she performed the kata Seipai, which was handed down by Yogi and Sakumoto. The efforts of her practice bore fruit during the championship.

It was Sakumoto who refined Arakaki’s Seipai, which was taught by Yogi. It so happens that Seipai was Yogi’s specialty kata, which was taught by Sakumoto.

Sakumoto, along with 34-year-old Yuka Shimizu, trained Arakaki at the dojo. Since Arakaki is deaf, Shimizu helped improve Arakaki’s technique by writing down Sakumoto’s advice and showing them to her. Shimizu says, “(Arakaki) can’t hear, but she soaks up techniques by sharpening all of her body’s senses.”

(English translation by T&TC and Chelsea Ashimine)

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