Sports

Canada’s karate king on quest for world title

Eleven-time Canadian senior men’s kata champion Toshi Uchiage of Richmond continues to strive for his first world karate title. - Don Fennell photo
Eleven-time Canadian senior men’s kata champion Toshi Uchiage of Richmond continues to strive for his first world karate title.
— image credit: Don Fennell photo

For the Uchiages, the martial arts—karate specifically—are a way of life spanning the generations.

Patriarch Takeshi Uchiage, who began training under his father Kenzo, opened the Steveston Karate Club in 1973 and subsequently passed on his appreciation for the sport to his children. Toshi and his sisters Hidemi and Sumi continue to compete at a high level and have won several honours in either the kata and/or kumite disciplines.

Toshi, 27, began competing at the Canadian championships at 15 years old and by 16 (in 2002) won the first of 11 national senior men’s kata titles. Prior to winning his fourth title in 2005, the previous individual record was three.

At 17, Toshi became the youngest Canadian to ever compete at the 2002 senior world championships in Madrid, Spain and two years later earned a bronze medal at the worlds in Monterrey, Mexico. But it’s the quest to become world champion that motivates him to continue training.

“If I didn’t think I could win I’d say let’s go do something else,” he says. “I’ve sacrificed quite a bit to get to where I am right now and I don’t want that to go to waste.”

Though he’s always set high goals, Toshi didn’t expect the almost instant success he enjoyed early in his competitive career. And he probably didn’t appreciate how much it takes to just make it to the world championships, which are held every two years. But with age comes experience and wisdom.

With a greater understanding of the skills he’s acquired, Toshi believes he’s more focused than earlier in his career. But he also realizes there are factors out of his control.

In a judged sport like karate, the differences between athletes can be subtle—like last weekend at the US Open in Las Vegas where he lost in the quarter-finals.

“Sometimes calls don’t go your way,” he said. “But there is always something to learn, and you learn more when you lose. Even when you win though, you always need to reflect on your performance and keep improving so one day you can be on top of the world.”

As an elite Canadian amateur athlete, Toshi also faces additional challenges many of his colleagues around the world do not, including paying his own flight and hotel costs to attend international competitions. Those costs are covered by many country’s federations, he said.

“And in some countries they also get a salary for training,’ he added.

The popularity of karate is also much greater in many countries outside of North America, where it is still primarily viewed as a peripheral-like sport by mainstream media. The European championships are broadcast by the equivalent of a sports channel, Toshi said.

But Toshi perseveres, not only excelling in competition but also inspiring others as head coach of a program offered through the Thompson Community Centre.

While cognizant and respectful of the traditional form of karate, Toshi is also always mindful of the need to tweak things.

He says it’s always necessary to maintain proper technique.

“If you have proper technique you can generate more power and go faster,” he explains.

w “I’m always trying to become quicker. When we talk power, even on the world stage, there are few that generate that (elite level) so that’s why also becoming faster is so important to me.”

Next up for Toshi is the North American Cup April 27 in Mexico and the Senior Pan American Karate Championships May 16 to 18 in Argentina.

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