Sport is sport, period. You train, you compete, and you retire. Budo Karate is a way of life. You can always go back and start again, over and over, because like life itself, it is a process. We should use Karate as a discipline to look at life. Budo philosophy it’s not only about Karate or martial arts but about anything you do in life, your job, your family, etc. The key is to use Budo for anything you do in your life.Antonio Diaz
One of the most impressive and consistent kata competitors, Antonio Diaz is one of the most successful competitors of his generation. He is a two-time World Champion; a two-time World Games Champion; and a 16-time Pan-American Champion.
Antonio Diaz was born on 12 June 1982 to parents Antonio Diaz Gonzalez and Carmen Fernandez, in Caracas, Venezuela.
Both of Diaz’s parents practised karate. He began learning Karate in 1986, aged five years. The first style he practised was Shotokan Karate. However, after around five months he switched to a Shito-Ryu Karate dojo, where most of his friends were training.
Diaz was not the most athletic child. However, he really enjoyed his training. He also enjoyed other activities such as swimming and playing basketball.
Diaz trained under Shoko Sato, who is known as the ‘Father of Venezuelan Karate‘.
Diaz also trained under Javier Mantilla, who was responsible for teaching the children at the dojo. When Sato eventually left Venezuela, Mantilla became Diaz’s main instructor until 2004.
By the 1990s Mantilla had introduced Diaz to competitive Karate. Diaz became a member of the Miranda State Children’s team.
Mantilla eventually parted ways with the Shitokai and aligned himself to the style of Ryuei-Ryu. He and his group trained with Tomohiro Arashiro. They even had a chance to visit Okinawa where they trained with Tsuguo Sakumoto.
In 1993, at age 13, Diaz was selected to represent Venezuela at the Junior Pan American Championships. What may surprise people is that he started off as a kumite competitor. At the Championships he won the kumite title. With the success, he began to take his Karate seriously. He competed in kumite until around the age of 17.
Diaz transitioned into the senior Venezuelan National Team in 1996. In October of that year, he competed at the 13th World Karate Championships, held in Sun City, South Africa. He competed in the Men’s Individual Kata event, at his first World Championships.
Two years later, Diaz was selected to compete at the 14th World Karate Championship held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in October 1998. He improved his position from the previous World Championships, by finishing in the top eight.
In 1998 Diaz started attending Andres Bello Catholic University, where he studied Social Communication.
Still a teenager, Diaz competed at the 1st Junior World Karate Championships, held in Bulgaria. Having done well at the previous year’s World Championships, he mistakenly thought he would automatically do well in this tournament. He didn’t and realised he needed to train harder.
By 2001 Diaz started having success on the international stage. In August 2001 he won a bronze medal at the 6th World Games, held in Akita, Japan, behind Ryoki Abe and Luca Valdesi.
The following year, Diaz represented Venezuela at the 16th World Karate Championships, held in Madrid Spain. In the Individual Kata event, he won a bronze medal, behind Takashi Katada and Javier Hernandez. Two years later, at the 17th World Karate Championships held in Monterrey, Mexico, he won another bronze medal, this time behind Luca Valdesi and Akio Tamashiro.
Diaz won his first major international gold medal in 2003. At the 14th Pan-American Games, held in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, he won the Men’s Individual Kata title. However, at the games held in Rio de Janeiro in 2007, the kata event was removed from the games.
In 2004, Diaz’s instructor, Javier Mantilla moved to the United States. With no instructor, Diaz mainly trained himself, with the help of the Venezuelan National Karate Federation. They provided him with a training regimen.
At the 7th World Games, held in Duisburg, Germany, Diaz defeated rivals, Luca Valdesi and Akio Tamashiro to win the Men’s Individual Kata title. However, the following year Valdesi got his revenge at the 18th World Karate Championships, held in Tampere, Finland. Diaz won his third successive bronze medal, behind Valdesi and Takashi Katada.
On 6 August 2006 Diaz became the University World Champion in the Men’s Individual Kata. In the tournament held in New York, he defeated Vu Duch Minh Dack in the final.
In 2008 Diaz became certified as a personal trainer by the National Strength and Conditioning Association.
Diaz started training with renowned Shito-Ryu master, Yoshimi Inoue, in January 2008. Another renowned Karate master, Kiyoshi Yamazaki, had suggested Diaz start training with Inoue.
Initially, Diaz visited Tottori, Japan for a month to train with Inoue. He started practising Inoue-Ha Shito-Ryu Karate. Inoue had created the style of Shito-Ryu sometime after the death of his teacher, Teruo Hayashi.
In Inoue, Diaz had found the teacher he needed. It was Inoue who took everything Diaz had previously learned and made it make sense. Diaz made frequent visits to the Tottori to train with Inoue. He eventually joined Inoue-Ha Shito-Ryu Karate.
By November 2008, Diaz’s training with Inoue was beginning to yield success. At the 19th World Karate Championships held in Tokyo, Japan, he won silver behind great rival, Luca Valdesi. This was his first world championship final.
The following year Diaz won a bronze medal at the 8th World Games, held in Kaohsiung, Thailand. Valdesi won the title, with Vu Duch Minh Dack in second place.
Major success came to Diaz in October 2010. At the 20th World Karate Championships held in Belgrade, Serbia, he faced Valdesi in a repeat of the previous World Championship final. This time he was victorious.
For the next few years, Diaz was ranked as the number one male kata competitor in the world.
In 2011 the World Karate Federation (WKF) created the Karate1 Premier League in an attempt to bring together the best Karate competitors in the world, in an open tournament. The first two tournaments were held in Paris and Istanbul.
On 15 January 2011 Diaz won the kata title at the Paris Open. He followed this by winning the kata title at the Istanbul Open on 17 September. With these two victories, he won the inaugural Premier League title. The following year he retained the title.
The 21st Karate World Karate Championships were held in Paris, France, in November 2012. In a coaching career that had seen many highs, two of Inoue’s students became World Champions. Diaz defeated Vu Duch Minh Dack in the final to retain his world title. Rika Usami of Japan won the Women’s Individual Kata event. This was the first time in the history of the championship that a coach had trained both Individual Kata champions in the same tournament.
At the 9th World Games held in Cali, Columbia, in July 2013, Diaz won the Individual Men’s Kata title ahead of Ibrahim Maddy and Ryo Kiyuna. Although he had won, he had been suffering from flu and was not happy with his performances.
The 22nd World Karate Championships were held in Bremen, Germany in November 2014. Diaz finished in third place behind Ryo Kiyuna and Ilya Smorguner. This marked a changing of the guard. Diaz was now approaching his mid-30s and had started to consider retiring from competitive Karate. Inoue suggested that he dedicate himself to teaching others. Diaz continued travelling to Japan to train with Inoue.
On 1 May 2015, Yoshimi Inoue died from cancer. His students, Mie Nakayama, Rika Usami, and Diaz began conducting seminars and courses around the world in his honour, and also to promote his style of Karate.
In October 2016, the 23rd World Karate Championships were held in Linz, Austria. Diaz finished in third place behind defending champion, Ryo Kiyuna and Damien Quintero. He had lost to Kiyuna in the semi-final. Diaz made history by becoming the first person to finish on the podium for eight successive world championships (2002-2016).
At the 2016 Olympic Games held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil the International Olympic Committee (IOC) announced that Karate would be making its Olympic debut at the 2020 Games in Tokyo. Karate in the Olympics had been a dream of many competitors. Diaz decided to put off his retirement plans and work towards reaching the Olympics.
In 2017 Diaz married Paula Ortiz Vidal, a Public Relations and Marketing Executive.
With his focus on reaching the Olympics, Diaz continued to find success in the tournaments he entered. In 2017 he won gold at the Pan-American Championships held in Willemstad, Curação. That year he also won a bronze medal behind Kiyuna and Quintero at the 10th World Games held in Wroclaw, Poland.
In 2018, Diaz retained his Pan-American Championships title in Santiago, Chile. However, at the 24th World Karate Championships held in Madrid, Spain, he could only finish in fifth place.
In 2019 Diaz’s son, Antonio Fernando was born. That year also saw him recognised by the Guinness World Records for winning the most individual medals at the World Karate Championships – 2 golds, 1 silver, 5 bronzes.
At the 18th Pan-American Games held in Polideportivo Villa, El Salvador, Diaz won another gold medal to add to the silver medal he won at the Pan American Championships held in Panama City, Panama.
On 14 February 2020, a Karate1 Premier League tournament was held in Dubai. Diaz finished in second place behind Damian Quintero. This earned him the right to compete at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games. This turned out to be the last tournament before all international competition was suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
With the growing number of COVID-19 cases around the world, Diaz managed to return to Venezuela in March 2020. This was just before flights in and out of the country were suspended due to the pandemic.
On 24 March 2020, the Tokyo Olympic organisers decided to postpone the Olympic Games to 23 July 2021. This meant Diaz would be aged 41 when the games would start. The postponement was good for him, as the cancellation of the games would have brought his Olympic dream to an end.
To increase the interest in Karate, the WKF created an initiative campaign called #LearnKarateWith, for Karate fans from around the world to have online Karate sessions with some of the Karate world’s top stars. On 5 June 2020 Diaz gave the first training session, focusing on Karate basics.
On 23 July 2021, the Opening Ceremony of the Olympic Games took place in Tokyo. Diaz was given the honour of carrying the Venezuelan flag and leading out his country at the opening ceremony.
The Men’s Olympic Individual Kata event took place on 6 August 2021. The event was won by Ryo Kiyuna of Japan, with Damian Quintero Spain in second place and Ariel Torres of the United States in third in joint third with Ali Sofuoglu of Turkey. In his first and only Olympic Games, Diaz finished in fourth place. This marked the end of his competitive career.
Diaz retired from competing, as one of the most successful kata competitors. His major successes include:
- World Championships – 1st place (2014, 2012)
- World Championships – 2nd Place (2008)
- World Championships – 3rd place(2002, 2004, 2006, 2014)
- World Games – 1st place (2005, 2013)
- World Games – 3rd Place (2001, 2009)
- University World Championships – 1st place (2006)
- Pan-American Championships – 1st place (2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012)
Antonio Diaz is one of the best ever kata competitors. However, it is wrong to think of him as just a Sport Karate competitor. For him, competition is just one aspect of his Karate. Karate is a lifelong pursuit. He currently owns a Karate school in Caracas, Venezuela.