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"I want to be the world champ! But, who doesn't, right?"

Aimee-Lee Nash
She comes from South Africa, but a year ago she moved to Japan to practice karate and teach English. What attracts her in Japan, how it happened and how things are with karate in the homeland of Steve Arnail – in our interview.
Tell about your way to Kyokushin. How did it all start?
— Interesting story. My mom actually started before I did. She works with psychiatric patients and there was an incident that made the hospital staff concerned over their safety and well-being. A colleague suggested his karate class for some self defence – she knew it couldn't hurt to just get acquainted with some useful techniques. She called me immediately after her first class, and told me I had to try it. So, I did.
You're from South Africa, but now you live in Japan, right?
— Yes, I'm originally from Cape Town, South Africa. I moved to Japan over a year ago to practice Karate and teach English.
How popular is Kyokushin in South Africa? Do they remember Steve Arnail in his homeland?
— That was a long time ago – but yes Steve Arneil is remembered. There are many styles in South Africa, so overall I'd say martial arts has a relatively large following. However, Kyokushin is probably a little less popular because of what it is – 'knockdown' karate. It's a very tough style, and one has to get used to full contact.
Tell about your dojo. Where do you train? Who is your coach?
— In Cape Town, I trained with Kenny Uytenboogardt Shihan, who heads up Kyokushin Africa. At the dojo headquarters in Cape Town, he is assisted by Jason Dawes Shihan and Mike Shuttleworth Shihan. Kenny Shihan trained under Mas Oyama when he was still alive. Kenny Shihan is a legend in the Kyokushin world, and I have been extremely privileged to have had the opportunity to be trained by him. Not only his skill and accomplishments over the years, but also his dedication to karate, his attitude towards life and respect towards other people, is incredibly inspiring. He's a classic example of how karate makes you a better human.

Now, I live about 2 hours out of Tokyo, in a relatively small town. The dojo is very small. Never more than 8 people training at a time. Hosono Shihan over sees all the dojos that fall under the Western part of the prefecture. The dojo I'm apart of, is run by Shimada Sensei who is assisted by Umino Senpai and Akutsu Senpai. No one speaks any English, and I'm only just getting the hang of basic Japanese. So, most of the time we're expressing ourselves with crazy hand signs or Google Translate. We all just end up laughing at each other. They're all very kind to me and look after me very well.
Doing Kyokushin, you immerse yourself in Japanese culture. What attracts you to the culture of this country?
— The level of respect from the Japanese. Everyone is very considerate of each other. Also, the Japanese are meticulous about time. My definition for being on time, is being 5 minutes early. So, I fit in quite well here in that regard.
What do you like most about Japan?
— The people, the traditional culture, umeshu, sakura and most of all, the matcha Kit-Kats. Haha! I also love the fashion, the modern and the traditional. And, obviously the martial arts. I'm very interested in learning about other styles.
Recently you practiced with a katana. What did you learn? What are your impressions of Iāido?
— I learnt that slicing through a piece of rolled tatami is extremely satisfying. I also learnt it's not as easy as it looks. You need to hold the sword a certain way, making sure your one hand is strong and tight while the other is supple and adaptable.
Kyokushin and Katana
In which discipline do you prefer to perform - kata or kumite?
— I prefer kumite, but that's because I've done more kumite than Kata. When I see the Japanese, women especially, compete in kata on an international level, I'm left in awe of their skill and technique. So, I'd like to focus on kata more and be able compete at that level one day.
kyokushin fight
In which adult competitions did you first take part?
— My first international tournament was the All Japan Open Weight in 2015. That was my 5th fight ever. I was a 5th Kyu (yellow belt).
What is the most memorable fight in your career?
— It would have to be the 2015 one in the All Japan. I was up against a Canadian 2nd dan. I didn't win but, I stood my ground until the whistle blew. I wasn't intimidated back then. But, now that my eyes have opened up with experience, I feel I should have been more nervous than I was. Ignorance is bliss.
How do you prepare for competitions?
— I'll start with clear goal in mind for the competition. I'll list everything I need to do for this to become reality, which ends up as a training program and a mental strategy. Then, I focus on sticking to this plan and pushing myself in both aspects as much as I can before the big day.
Kyokushin is quite traumatic. How do you recover from injuries?
— I curl up into the fetal position on the shower floor, and let the water wash away my tears. Just kidding. An ice bath immediately after I get home takes the edge off. Then a combination of voltaren, arnica oil, arnica ice, and arnica tablets or anti inflammatories. You get used to the pain. It's weird, sometimes I actually crave the feeling. Ask any Kyokushin karateka, they'll know what I'm talking about.
What other sports do you do?
— At the moment just karate. Then running purely for training purposes. At home, in Cape Town, I played hockey, waterpolo, swimming and I surfed a lot too.
Aimee-Lee Nash
Are there any goals in Kyokushin that stand in front of you?
— I want to be the world champ! But, who doesn't, right? My immediate goals are simple – Improvement after every fight. Every fight must make me better or make me want to be better. I'd also like to compete in kata competitions on an international level.
Short questions:
What is the point of defeat?
When you make that decision to give up.
Kyokushin taught me ...
... to be brave.
The best place on Earth?
Home.
It seems to me that Kyokushin in 10 years ...
... will be know world wide, as the strongest Karate.
It's great when a person has a dream. Who knows, maybe Aimee-Lee will soon become a world champion? It remains for us only to wish her good luck and follow her progress. OSU!
Photo: Courtesy of Aimee-Lee Nash