Profile: Suzuko Okamura-Hamasaki

Suzuko Okamura holds a special place in tournament Karate history. She was the first Women’s World Champion in kata. She ushered in a dominance of the kata event for over twenty years by Japanese women that lasted from 1980 to 2004. She participated in Karate at a time when it was dominated by men and in some cases their chauvinistic attitudes.

Born into a martial arts family, Suzuko Okamura began Goju-ryu Karate aged six. She was taught by her father and eventually taught alongside him. Her father, Mitsuyasu had been one of the original students of the legendary Gogen Yamaguchi.

In 1977 Okamura graduated from Doshisha University, based in Kyoto, with a Bachelor of Arts(BA) in English Literature. Her studies in no way affected her training. In fact she continued to teach alongside her father until her move to the United States.

Okamura was selected to represent Japan at the first Women’s kata event, at the 1980 World Championships held in Madrid. Kata was the only event women could participate in. It was not until the 1982 Championships held in that women were allowed to compete in kumite. In the final she defeated her compatriot and future world champion, Mie Nakayama. Japan topped the medal table with a total of eleven medals comprising of four golds, five silvers and two bronzes.

The following year Okumura again met Nakayama in a major international kata final. This time it was at the first World Games held in Santa Clara, California. The result was the same as in their previous meeting. In the same year she also became the All Japan Goju-ryu kata champion, repeating the feat the following year.

While Okumura may not be as well known as some of her  compatriots, she formed the template from which many successful Japanese women would follow. Atsuko Wakai, arguably one of the most successful kata champions, male or female, has said that she was inspired by Okamura.

Okumura’s major honors include:

  • World Championships – Individual kata – 1st place (1980)
  • World Games – Individual kata – 1st place (1981)
  • All Japan Goju-ryu Championships – Individual kata – 1st place (1981, 1982)

After moving to the United States in 1983, Okamura taught Karate at the Huntington Beach dojo based in California until 1989.She taught with Yukiyoshi Marutani, a former United States coach for the National Karate team

Education continues to form an important part Okamua’s life. In 1986 she graduated from the University of California with a certificate in the “Teaching of English as a Second Language”. This was followed by a Master of Arts in “Linguistics with Emphasis on Applied Linguistics” from California State University. She is now a lecturer at the University of California, Irvine.

In 2011 Okamura’s book, “My Life with Karate-Do” was published. It was co-authored with Jun Yokota and shares her perspectives on Karate.

With over half a century’s worth of experience in Karate, Suzuko Okamura-Hamasaki has been a guiding light in Karate. As the first female World kata champion and World Games she became a beacon at the dawn of women’s competitive Karate. Her tireless teaching in the martial arts and also academically has provided a bridge between her birthplace of Japan and her adopted home of America.

Author: Patrick Donkor

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