Everyone has a goal. Whether that is to become a world champion or not doesn’t really matter. Although your goal may often look hard to achieve at first, if you continually make efforts towards your goal, then your time, energy and commitment will never have been wasted. So, keep it up as much as you can. Stay strong until you win against yourself. And at the end of the day, you will always be a winner you will always be the winner.Rika Usami
The diminutive Rika Usami ranks as one of the most recognisable faces in the world of Karate. As a competitor, she continued the line of great Japanese kata champions, including Mie Narakama, Yuki Mimura, and Atsuko Wakai. Her kata performances were mesmerising displays of grace, strength, speed, all in equal measures.
Rika Usami was born on 20 February 1986, in Tokyo Japan.
When Usami was aged 10 years, She started practising Goju-ryu Karate. The dojo was located close to her family home. Her motivation to learn Karate had come from watching a female fighter on television. Also, her older brother practised Karate.
In 1998 Usami competed in her first tournament. She was a green belt at the time. She started competing in a number of local tournaments. In 2001 she competed in her first big tournament, which was a national schools tournament.
Usami had her first big tournament win in 2003. She won the National High School Championships.
My 2005 Usami has started training with Shito-ryu master, Yoshimi Inoue. He was known as the ‘Trainer of Champions‘. His students included Mie Nakayama and Antonio Diaz. He was also known for his insistence on working on the individual techniques found within a kata. He also placed a large emphasis on kumite. He firmly believed in the connection between the three Ks of kihon, kata, and kumite.
Usami would take a five-hour train journey from Tokyo to the city of Tottori, to train with Inoue. He helped her become mentally focused. Conditioning was an important aspect of her training. This included physical and Karate conditioning. They constantly worked on improving her technical ability.
Inoue’s influence on Usami was beginning to show in her tournament successes. On 11 November 2005, she won the kata title at the 4th World Junior & Cadet Karate Championships, held in Limassol, Cyprus.
On 14 December 2008, Usami won the first of her five All Japan Karate-do Championship titles. At the 36th All Japan Karate-do Championships held at the Budokan, Tokyo, she won first place in the Individual Kata event.
Between 12-13 December 2009 Usami won her second All Japan Kata title at the 37th All Japan Karate-do Championships.
On 27 October 2010, Usami took part in her first World Championships at the age of 24. At the 20th WKF World Karate Championships held in Belgrade, Serbia, she finished in third place in the Individual Kata event. The event was won by Yohana Sanchez of Venezuela, with Hoang Ngan Nguyen of Vietnam in second place.
Usami won another All Japan Individual Kata title at the 38th All Japan Karate do Championships, held on 12 December 2010.
By 2011, Usami, under the guidance of Yoshimi Inoue, had become the top kata competitor in the world. During the year she entered a number of prestigious Open tournaments. This included the Paris Open and the Salzburg Open. She won nearly all the tournaments she entered. This included the 39th All Japan Karate-do Championships.
2012 was a phenomenal year for Usami. She competed in the Paris Open, Dordrecht Open, Jakarta Open, and the Istanbul Open. She won all the tournaments. The next big tournament was going to be her second World Championships.
On 21 November 2012, the finals of the 21st WKF World Karate Championships took place at the Palais Omnisports de Paris-Bercy in Paris, France. Usami had defeated Yaiza Martin of Spain for the right to face Sandy Scordo of France in the final. In arguably the greatest kata performance in a World Championship final, Usami defeated Scordo. After Usami’s performance, the 12000 strong crowd gave her a standing ovation.
Usami’s performance brought tears of joy to the eyes of Inoue. Inoue made history by becoming the first person to coach both the male and female Individual Kata champions. His student Antonio Diaz, had won the Male Individual Kata title.
At the 40th All Japan Karate-do Championships, held between 8-9 December 2012, Usami won her final All Japan Kata title. This was the culmination of a fabulous year for her.
In 2013 Usami retired from active competition. This came as a shock, as it was felt that she would go on to dominate her opponents for many years. However, she had achieved her goal of becoming a world champion and wanted to pursue other goals.
One of Usami’s goals was to attend Kokushinkan University. She also wanted to become a Karate instructor at the university’s Karate club.
Usami continued training with Inoue. In 2013 she travelled to Sweden with Antonio Diaz. She and Diaz gave a kata seminar in Stockholm, where they taught Shito-ryu Keishin-kai Karate.
In February 2015 Usami was named a Goodwill Ambassador by the Japan Karate Federation. This was for the 2020 Olympic Games that were due to be held in Tokyo. Karate was due to be a part of the Olympic Games for the first time. Mahiro Takano and Juri Iwata were also named as Goodwill Ambassadors.
As a Goodwill Ambassador, it was Usami’s role to promote Karate. She visited schools in the Japanese prefectures of Akita, Yamagata, Miyagi, Aomori, Tohoku, and Fukushima.
On 1 May 2015, Usami mentor, Yoshimi Inoue died from cancer. He had been a big influence on her. In honour of Inoue, Usami, Mie Nakayama, and Antonio Diaz travelled the world promoting Inoue-Ha Shito-ryu Karate.
In the years following his death, Inoue’s top students, Mie Nakayama and Usami have travelled the world, promoting Inoue-Ha Shito-ryu Keishin-kai Karate. This includes seminars in the cities of Stockholm and Karlstad, Sweden in 2019 in Belarus in 2020.
It can be argued that Usami retired from competitive Karate too soon. Many people rank her 2012 World Championship win as one of the greatest kata performances.
There are some who have questioned the validity of Usami’s Karate. They would be mistaken. She is every inch a martial artist. She trained under one of the best Karate instructors in Inoue. She learnt that sport Karate is only one aspect of Karate. To fully appreciate the beauty of Karate, all aspects of the art should be embraced. She continues travelling the world to promote her teacher’s style of Karate.
The following videos show Rika Usami in action: